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    Published on: July 15, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    USA Today reports that the US Treasury Dept. has decided that American banks will no longer be able to sell US Savings Bonds, beginning in 2012.

    According to the story, “investors who want to buy Savings Bonds after Dec. 31 will need to purchase them electronically through TreasuryDirect, a Web-based program offered by Treasury's Bureau of Public Debt.

    “The shift from paper to electronic Savings Bonds will save the government $70 million over the next five years, Public Debt Commissioner Van Zeck says. ‘That's a real economic advantage to Treasury in these times when we really need to look at the cost of government programs’.”

    In addition, the paper reports, “Treasury hopes the phaseout of paper will give savers the nudge they need to embrace electronic Savings Bonds, Zeck says. Electronic Savings Bonds are less likely to be misplaced, he says, and are automatically redeemed when they mature. Treasury estimates that more than $16 billion in unredeemed Savings Bonds are no longer earning interest.”

    (I can attest to this. A couple of them are in my sock drawer, and there a few more in the safe deposit box. I think they are, on average, 45-50 years old. I am glad to know that I’m not the only one.)

    The simple fact is that the purchasing of savings bonds has dropped by more than half since 2003, when 43.6 million of them were bought, compared to just over 20 million last year. Critics of the decision argue that the lack of broadband internet access for some people - especially senior citizens - will make it harder for them to buy the bonds.

    Still, it is 2011. The world is changing, and these are the kinds of shifts that will continue to happen as our culture adjust to new realities. It may hurt a bit, but that’s the price of an Eye-Opener.

    The upside? Extra room in a lot of sock drawers.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 15, 2011

    The Associated Press reports that a coalition of food companies, including General Mills, ConAgra Foods and Kellogg, is proposing new advertising standards that will result in a further reduction in advertising of so-called “unhealthy foods” to children.

    According to the story, “The new standards, which will allow companies to advertise food and beverage products to children if they meet certain nutritional criteria, could force some brands to change recipes to include less sodium, fat, sugars and calories. While many companies have trumpeted their own efforts to market healthier foods to kids, the agreement would apply the same standards to all of the participating companies.”

    The move is seen as an effort to avert the imposition of mandated guidelines by the federal government.

    There are differences between the proposed government standards and what the companies believe is acceptable.

    The AP writes: “The industry guidelines for children's cereals, for example, would allow them to be advertised if they have around 10 grams of sugar a serving, while the formula used by the government would discourage advertising for cereals that have 8 grams of sugars in an equivalent serving. That would mean General Mills would still be able to advertise Honey Nut Cheerios cereal under the industry guidelines but would be discouraged under the voluntary government guidelines. Other sugary cereals such as Trix, Lucky Charms and Count Chocula would also make the cut under the industry numbers.”

    The proposed government rules also include packaging, while the industry’s standards do not.

    The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), not surprisingly, lauded the announcement, calling it a “groundbreaking agreement to update and strengthen the CFBAI initiative with the adoption of uniform nutrition criteria for foods advertised to children.”
    KC's View:
    Here’s where the whole thing falls apart for me.

    Trix, Lucky Charms and Count Chocula “make the cut” as cereals appropriate for kids, under the CPG companies’ plan. I’m a little skeptical of any plan with this sort of rating system.

    That said, who the hell else would you market these cereals to?

    Published on: July 15, 2011

    David Pogue, technology columnist for the New York Times, writes about a conversation he had with Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey about the company’s 60 percent price increase, which was announced this week and instantly generated cries of customer outrage from thousands of customers.

    Swasey made the following points, Pogue writes:

    “Six years ago, the ‘one DVD at a time’ plan (no streaming) was $10 a month. Four years ago, it was $9. Today, it’s $8. So if you’re interested in DVDs only, Netflix’s new price is actually the lowest it’s ever been.

    “The price for unlimited streaming (no DVD rentals) hasn’t changed. It’s still $8 a month.

    “The only prices that have gone up are the DVD plus streaming plans. For one DVD at a time, that’s gone from $10 to $16 a month. (For two DVDs at a time plus streaming, it’s now $20 a month.)

    “Netflix knew that there would be a nasty backlash, and has already taken the subscriber defection into account in its financial forecasts. It still figures it will come out ahead. (I found this part a little creepy.)

    “I kept saying to him: ‘O.K., look. In November, $10 a month for one-DVD-plus streaming seemed like a viable offering. Now, eight months later, you need to charge $16 for the same exact offering. You say your costs haven’t changed that much. You say the new studio contracts aren’t to blame. The only other possibility I can think of is that your initial $10 pricing was a mistake.’

    “He wouldn’t agree. He sort of came close, though, when he said that the unexpected success of the streaming service shifted the balance of power between it and the DVD business. Originally, it was ‘pay $10 for one DVD—streaming free!’ Almost overnight, though, people began thinking of it as, ‘pay $8 for unlimited streaming—and get one DVD for $2 more!’

    “‘That’s not sustainable for the longer life of DVD’s,’ Mr. Swasey said. ‘We need more revenue. It’s a business concern we have to address. We want two separate business units, each side of the service. We were not able to fulfill the requests for DVDs at that cost’.”

    In other news, Reuters reports that Dish Network-owned Blockbuster Video stores have “launched a promotion that offers disgruntled Netflix customers free trials to its movie service after Netflix hiked its subscription fees this week ... customers who switch to one of Blockbuster's ‘total access’ plans to receive DVD's by mail will receive a 30-day free trial.”
    KC's View:
    At best, Netflix can be fairly accused of being insensitive. Maybe customers perceived the old (eight month old!) program one way, while Netflix saw it another once it was set up, but by simply raising prices so soon after the last increase, the company risks a rupture in the strong connection that many people feel to it.

    Published on: July 15, 2011

    Home Media Magazine reports that NCR Corp. chairman/CEO Bill Nuti has told investors and analysts that his company is looking for a partner in its DVD rental kiosk business that is branded as Blockbuster Express, and that it will even consider an outright sale of the business, saying that it is not a core business for the company.

    Two possible buyers for the business: Coinstar, which owns Redbox, the biggest DVD rental kiosk business; or Dish Network, which already owns the brick-and-mortar Blockbuster business.
    KC's View:
    You gotta figure that Dish would be highly motivated to make this deal, so it can do something about maximizing its investment in obsolete brick-and-mortar.

    Published on: July 15, 2011

    Reuters reports that Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen “is asking Groupon, the largest online daily deal company, for more information about its business practices because of concerns the expiration dates imposed on some offers sold in Connecticut may violate state law pertaining to gift certificates.”

    The problem could be that if Groupon’s coupons are legally classified as gift certificates and have expiration dates, that would be in violation of Connecticut law.
    KC's View:
    The bit about expiration dates is a slam-dunk ... I checked a bunch of Groupon offers that I’ve received (I live in Connecticut) and they have them. The only thing remaining to be determined is if these things are gift certificates.

    Published on: July 15, 2011

    Internet Retailer reports that online CPG purveyor is expanding into Europe by acquiring “, a start-up e-marketplace headquartered in Spain, for an undisclosed amount ... Koto will be rebranded as, using the country domain for Spain, and launched as an e-commerce site by the end of the summer.”

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that plans to release a tablet computer in October, furthering its ongoing competition with Apple by taking on the iPad.

    According to the story, “While Amazon has long offered digital content on its website, it has lacked much of the hardware to go with it. Now the Seattle company hopes customers will use its tablet to buy and rent that content, said people familiar with its thinking.”

    It is speculated that Amazon could sell its tablet at a loss, undercutting the iPad, as a way of building market share.

    • The Australian reports that is considering a move Down Under for its online retailing business. According to the story, now sells directly to customers in Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Austria, Japan and China.

    Amazon CTO Werner Vogels says: "For a very long time we actually halted our international rollout. And we just started again with Amazon Italy and again, just like with the web services, we are evaluating what will be the next places to start rolling this out. Given that we recently rolled out Amazon Italy it is clear that we are continuing to look at (the) rollout (of) other locations that might be beneficial for our retail operation.

    “And I think every country in the world is probably on that shortlist," he says.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 15, 2011

    Yesterday, MNB took note of a new study from French researchers suggesting that moderate, daily alcohol consumption - believed by many to be helpful in fighting heart disease and cancer - is not so good for you after all.

    Now, the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia has a story saying that “the standard advice to drink eight glasses of water a day has been damned in one of the world's most esteemed medical journals, despite it being a recommendation of government health departments around the world.”

    "This is not only nonsense," writes Scottish GP Margaret McCartney in an opinion piece published in the latest British Medical Journal, but it is "thoroughly debunked nonsense” that she says has been perpetuated by bottled water companies looking to drive up their business.
    KC's View:
    If I have to give up one of these, I’m definitely giving up water.

    Published on: July 15, 2011

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Carrefour is predicting a 23 percent decrease in first half profit, owing partially to the fact that “efforts to revive Carrefour's slumping hypermarket chain ... didn't seem to register with consumers.” In addition, the company is perceived by many shoppers as having high prices, which does not serve it well in an economic slump.

    The good news is that some of Carrefour’s global divisions are doing well, especially Brazil ... though sales in China are relatively flat. Carrefour is embarking on a company-wide cost-cutting program as a way of repairing some of the damage.

    • A new study by the Harvard School of Public Health, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, says that it appears that “men and women who consumed a diet with high-scoring foods on the NuVal system lived longer and lowered their risk for chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”

    The NuVal system uses a proprietary rating system of 1-100 to score foods and beverages according to their nutritional value.

    • The Newark Star Ledger reports that BJ’s Whole Club is getting local in its approach to fresh summer produce, and that the company’s 20 New Jersey stores “will sell tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, sweet corn and cucumbers grown by South Jersey farms: Porch Farms in Pedricktown, Maugeri’s Farm in Woolwich Township, Cassaday Farms in Monroeville and Landisville Produce Co-op in Landisville.”

    BJ’s has committed to only labeling products as “local” when it comes from the same state as the store where it is being sold.

    • The Boston Globe reports that Walgreen Co. “has agreed to pay $2.8 million to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and to 75 Massachusetts cities and towns to resolve allegations that it overcharged public entities for prescription drugs, the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said today.

    “Coakley alleged that Walgreens billed and received payment from cities, towns, and state agencies for filling prescriptions for workers compensation claimants at prices higher than those permitted by Massachusetts laws.”

    Walgreen, while writing a big check, said that it is not conceding any liability or wrongdoing.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 15, 2011

    Bloomberg reports that Walmart has named Sean Clarke, CFO for its Canadian business, to be its new COO in China.

    Steve Smith, a former senior vice president at Delhaize, has been named CMO for Walmart’s China business.

    • Ahold USA has named Raymond McCall, who most recently was vice president of pharmacy operations for Albertson’s, to be its new senior vice president, pharmacy and health & beauty care. In his new role with the company, McCall is responsible for the strategic leadership, direction and business plan design and execution for the pharmacy and health & beauty care teams across Ahold USA.

    • Safeway announced that Don Keprta, president of its Chicago-area Dominick's Finer Foods division, has resigned. Brian Baer, Dominick's CFO and Vice President of Finance, will assume the role of Acting President of Dominick's.

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports that “Michael Clarke, Kraft's executive vice president and president of the Northfield-based company's European unit, will leave in mid-August to join an unnamed U.K.-based firm. Mr. Clarke has held the Kraft post since he joined the company in January 2009 from Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co., where he had been president of Northwest Europe and Nordics.

    “Kraft named Timothy Cofer, 42, senior vice president of strategy and integration in charge of the Cadbury integration, as his successor to be based in Zurich, Switzerland.”

    Crain’s calls the change “the latest in a string of departures since the company's 2010 takeover of Cadbury Plc.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: July 15, 2011

    Bloomberg has a story that ought to get some people thinking - that Facebook and other social networking venues may be bad for the institution of marriage.

    According to a survey cited by the story, what social networking does is allow people to easily revisit old relationships and rekindle past feelings to an extent that would have been impossible - or at least a lot harder - just a few years ago. That’s not good for current relationships, because even if these people are romanticizing the past, it still undermines the present.

    Bloomberg notes that “while the overall divorce rate in the U.S. has declined over the past 20 years, it has doubled for Americans aged 50 and over. Today, more than one in three in this category has ended a marriage.” In addition, “ More than 80 percent of divorce attorneys recently surveyed by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers said that in the past few years they have witnessed ‘an increase in the number of cases using social networking evidence’.”
    KC's View:
    Certainly not a business story, but I found this intriguing ... and certainly yet another suggestion of the power of all these technologies that are being unleashed. One would hope that people would use these powers only for good ... but that’s not always the ways these things work.

    I just thought this was interesting.

    Published on: July 15, 2011

    MNB had a story yesterday about an Associated Press report on an opinion piece that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggesting that the parents of extremely obese children ought to lose custody of their kids, at least temporarily. Roughly two million children in the US would fall into this category.

    State intervention, the piece said, "ideally will support not just the child but the whole family, with the goal of reuniting child and family as soon as possible. That may require instruction on parenting ... Despite the discomfort posed by state intervention, it may sometimes be necessary to protect a child.”

    I commented, in part:

    I have to admit that my first reaction is negative - that this seems like the ultimate in government intrusion in people’s personal lives.

    On the other hand, I’m intrigued by this line in the story: “University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Art Caplan said he worries that the debate risks putting too much blame on parents. Obese children are victims of advertising, marketing, peer pressure and bullying - things a parent can't control, he said.”

    Maybe that’s true, but the fact is that parents are supposed to be there to protect their kids from these kinds of things, or to help their kids be autonomous and self-sufficient and make intelligent decisions. If kids are eating themselves into illness and disease, parents do bear responsibility.

    But does this mean that the government ought to take kids away from their parents?

    I find it hard to wrap my head around this one.

    Lots of reaction. One MNB user wrote:

    I must say that I am surprised that you, who is a parent, would even give this any more thought other than “Heck no!” This has to be the dumbest thing (I refuse to call it a recommendation) that I have ever heard in my life.

    We have government agencies in place now that cannot even get to those kids, who are currently living in abusive and/or drug-use households, who are in real danger of being killed before it is too late. These kids are in a lot more danger than any overweight kids but let’s just throw that on their plate as well. I bet ten to one if this ever came to reality that these government agencies would probably do a better job of getting the overweight kids out of households than those who are really in mortal danger.  Even though I am not a parent, I absolutely do not agree with this at all because the government should have NO say in these matters. As long as they live in a safe home and are happy most of the time, the government should stay out! I believe that there is a book and/or movie (names are escaping me at this moment) where a mother would give birth to a baby and that baby would be taken away from them the moment they are delivered to be raised by a “special” group.

    This article brought this to my mind and all I could think is if we follow this stupid idea, what is going to stop the next person from saying we should just take them away when they are born? If you give a strong enough argument, you will probably be able to convince anyone to go along with you. Shame on the journal for even printing this kind of thing!

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I am STRONGLY opposed to this.  There are SOOOO many worse things many, many children see and are exposed to daily that are so much worse than obesity. Yes, obesity is an epidemic.  Yes, it is bad for our health but there are so many other things that are also bad for kids: violence between parents (this happens a lot and many children are not removed from the home), violence to children, living in impoverished neighborhoods, neglect…I could go on and on.   We as a society and government often choose to ignore all of these things. But obesity?  Really, this is the one that is going to set off people?  If we are also saying we are going to remove children from any home where the parents use drugs, occasionally physically fight with one another, or neglect their kids, then maybe I’m okay adding obesity to the list as well.  But until we are ready to protect our children from ALL things, then maybe we ought to table the obesity discussion. 

    From another MNB user:

    This is a no brainer.  The answer is NO.  Perhaps state offered counseling, meetings with a dietician, along with a physician appointment to determine the root cause for the obesity would be an option.  But to the take kids from their parents is ludicrous.  There are so many outside influences to obesity, along with heredity and genetics.  If you’ve ever known anyone who has suffered with obesity, which I have, then you know how difficult it is to beat this disease.  That’s why the bariatric surgery continues to rise in this country.  Losing weight is hard work, and requires hard choices.  I like you am fortunate not to have to worry about the sacrifices that obese people face.

    MNB user David Vincent Dec wrote:

    Before we punish parents for loving their kids with food, we should focus on parents who physically and emotionally abuse their kids, you know, like letting parents get away with beating or even murdering their kids. Those parents should be put away and loose their children. Children are often treated like a parent's piece of property. So while obesity is a dangerous trend for our kids, I don't think it is at the same level of child abuse. 

    Maybe it is because I am a professional trainer that I think the solution is training. Parents and their kids need to be trained on the topics of long term health and concentrate on a parents' strengths and love for their kids, not weaknesses in their parenting or feeding skills. Parents who over feed and over allow can be taught a new way to love them, and not have them taken away.

    MNB user Bill Hilson wrote:

    Interesting, that you claim to be having a hard time forming an opinion about the ethics of allowing any Government to force children into foster or State-care environments based on their propensity toward clinical obesity. I have no such conflict: the very concept is unethical and idiotic.

    There is no evidence to suggest removing a child from home and parents will have any lasting effect on their weight loss "goals". There is plenty of evidence to suggest that forcibly removing kids from their home environment, for any reason short of abject physical and emotional abuse, has long-lasting negative consequences. Then where does "society" stop? Do we alienate lactose-intolerant kids from parents that have milk and cheese in the 'fridge? Do we monitor blood glucose levels of all students in public schools, then ward the children who are showing early signs of hypo- or hyper-glycemia?

    Maybe we should also warehouse kids away from families who let their kids play outside (germs! dirt! insects!)? And while we're at it, lets force foster care for kids who are allowed to ski, snowboard, ride dirt bikes, train in martial arts. . . obviously signs of "non-protective" parenting? Going by injury statistics, we'll have to outlaw participation in Football too!

    Where does all the nonsense stop? Some parents may not be doing everything "the rest of us" deem essential, but I can pretty much guarantee the State will do a much worse job, at untold expense to the taxpayer.

    One's head should wrap more easily around this one!

    MNB user Mike Franklin wrote:

    While we are taking obese kids away from parents and putting them into rehabilitation camps until they all look and think alike, we may also consider these other “at-risk” children:

    Children with Christian parents, Children with atheist parents, Children with Tea-party parents, Children with progressive parents, Children whose parents are anti-war, Children whose parents are hawkish on war, Children with skinny parents, Children with parents that smoke, Children with parents that spend too much time at work, Children with parents that are unemployed, Children with parents that don’t buy all the latest electronic gadgets, Children with parents that live on a farm, Children with parents that live in the city, Children with a single mother or father, Children with parents that are gay, Children whose parents don’t help them with homework, Children whose parents don’t give them an allowance / or too little allowance / or too much allowance, Children whose parents don’t feed them enough, Children whose parents are not rich enough, Children whose parents don’t live in the right neighborhood, and Children whose parents are normal and cannot provide excuses  for victimhood.

    Good list.

    Of course, I’m screwed on about seven or eight of these.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 15, 2011

    I’ve seen a bunch of movies since last I wrote this column, so let me see if I can go through them for you.

    I actually began my vacation by sitting down to watch a movie on DVD (from Netflix, as it happens) that for some reason, I’d never seen before despite the fact that it has been mentioned to me several times by folks who have attended speeches I’ve given about the book. I have no real explanation or excuse for how I missed it; I’ve also not seen Tommy Boy or Happy Gilmore, for some strange reason.

    In this case, the move was Rudy - a terrific 1993 film, based on a true story, about a blue collar kid who has as his driving motivation the desire to attend Notre Dame and flay football there. There are some terrific performances, especially by Sean Astin in the title role and Ned Beatty as his dad, and in some ways it reminded me a lot of Hoosiers. (It should - Hoosiers was directed seven years earlier by David Anspaugh, who also helmed Rudy.) It also has a great business lesson - how the excellence of a team or an organization often can be measured in the desire, tenacity and talent of its weakest link. It only took me 18 years to catch up with Rudy, but I’m glad I did.

    Other movies from my time off....

    Super 8. This J.J. Abrams movie is set in 1979, and is about a group of kids who are shooting their own movie and then find themselves enmeshed in a conspiracy when a train crash frees a strange presence that threatens their Ohio town. It is a conscious evocation of the Steven Spielberg oeuvre, and a little too much so for my tastes - there are times in the film that I was taken out of it because I was thinking, “this scene is from ET,” or “this is from Close Encounters,” or “this reminds me of .” Abrams is a potent filmmaker, but he doesn’t need to be derivative.

    Larry Crowne. What a disappointment. This Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts film is about what happens to a talented chain store manager (Hanks) who is laid off because he does not have a college education, and who then goes back to school and undergoes a kind of awakening, even while having a positive influence on a jaded professor (Roberts). First of all, the premise is absurd - most companies would want to clone Hanks’ character, not fire him. And for the most part, there is not a single character in the movie who seemed like a real, live human being - they were situation comedy creations who were more annoying than anything else. This is Tom Hanks movie - he produced it, co-wrote it and directed it (the first film he’s directed since the terrific That Thing You Do, so he has to take responsibility for it. But I tend to blame his co-writer - Nia Vardalos - for the bad writing; she had one halfway decent script in her, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but since then she has proven herself to be the very definition of a one-hit wonder.

    I had two thoughts while watching Larry Crowne. One was if the problem of lack of chemistry between the two stars would have been different if Meg Ryan had played the Roberts role, or if Richard Gere had played the Hanks part; I’m pretty sure it would not have solved the script’s problems, but Gere-Roberts or Hanks-Ryan would at least have reminded the audience of previous and better work. And the other was that this means Hanks probably won’t make a film version of How Starbucks Saved My Life, which has a vastly more interesting story with some passing similarity to Larry Crowne. Ah, well....

    Horrible Bosses. What can I say? It is crude, but funny. The three stars - Jason Sudekis, Charlie Day and the always great Jason Bateman - have terrific chemistry. Not by any means a great movie, and it could have been a lot better, but I laughed. (It is possible that the three margaritas I had beforehand helped.) Full disclosure - Mrs. Content Guy hated it, and would have walked out if she had not been with me.

    A few other random notes...

    • During my week off, we went into NYC and saw the musical “Billy Elliott” on Broadway ... and I found it to be really disappointing. Not a good sign, in my experience, to come out of a musical without humming any of the tunes, and not wanting to buy the soundtrack. I also thought the script was weak, and went off track every time the script decided it was time for an “Elton John moment” (he wrote the music). I know a lot of people loved it and that it got a lot of awards, but I don’t get it ... (I also love musicals, by the way, so it isn’t a matter of me not linking the form.)

    • Not sure if you’ve been watching it, but “Men of a Certain Age” continues to deliver - at least to men of a certain age, like me - an evolving, affecting and affectionate portrait of three guys in their fifties, played with charm, flaws and insecurity by Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher. The just-concluded second season on TNT seemed to get deeper with each episode, balancing humor with serious issues, yet never crossing the line into pathos.

    • During my trip to Las Vegas this week, I tried Todd English’s P.U.B. (Public Urban Bar) ... and this one definitely makes it into the rotation for favorite places when I go to Vegas. (Some people gamble, some people go to shows ... I eat and drink.) The burgers are excellent, there is an appetizer called “duck buns” that is to die for, and I even tasted and fell in love with a beer cocktail that I’d never heard of before - a “Black and Blue,” which consists of Blue Moon and Guinness. Wow!

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View: