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    Published on: April 7, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Greenpeace is out with a new report, "Clicking Clean: How Companies Are Creating The Clean Internet," which says that "while shifting businesses to an online model can create significant gains in energy efficiency, the energy appetite of the internet continues to outstrip those gains thanks to its dramatic growth."

    The report says that "six major cloud brands – Apple, Box, Facebook, Google, Rackspace, and Salesforce – have committed to a goal of powering data centers with 100 % renewable energy and are providing the early signs of the promise and potential impact of a renewably powered internet."

    But the report also - it is fair to say - eviscerates Amazon's approach to environmental issues.

    "Amazon Web Services," the report says, "which provides the infrastructure for a significant part of the internet, remains among the dirtiest and least transparent companies in the sector, far behind its major competitors, with zero reporting of its energy or environmental footprint to any source or stakeholder. Twitter lags in many of the same areas."

    The report goes on to say that "with an impressive array of services and the ability to quickly scale based on demand, AWS now serves as the infrastructural cornerstone of many of the most well-known online brands, including Netflix, Pinterest, Spotify, and Vine. Unfortunately, despite its dominant position and well- established business model, AWS has dropped further and further behind its competitors in building an internet that runs on renewable sources of energy, and is the least transparent of any company we evaluated."

    The report gives Amazon an "F" for Transparency, Renewable Energy Commitment & Siting Policy, and Renewable Energy Deployment & Advocacy, and a marginally better "D" for "Energy Efficiency & Mitigation."

    It is a complex and comprehensive report, and you can read the while thing here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2014

    Beef magazine reports that the US District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has decided to vacate its own previous decision to rule against a request by, among others, the American Meat Institute (AMI), that would have prevented the implementation of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rules.

    The original decision would have required retailers to list country of origin as well as provide information on when and where animals were born, raised and slaughtered.

    According to Beef, "The move for the court to vacate its own decision is unusual, observers say. All 11 judges who sit on the appeals court will now review the case, with oral arguments set for May 19."

    In a prepared statement, AMI's senior vice president of regulatory affairs/general counsel Mark Dopp said, "We had strong concerns with the reasoning in the March 28 ruling.  Today’s court order to vacate the ruling signals that some members of the court may share those concerns. We remain hopeful that consideration of the case by the full Court will lead to an injunction against the protectionistic and costly country of origin labeling rule that is hurting livestock producers and meat companies while offering little benefit to consumers."

    The suit, Dopp said, maintains that" the final rule violates the United States Constitution by compelling speech in the form of costly and detailed labels on meat products that do not directly advance a government interest," and he described the mandated COOL rules as "detailed and onerous labeling requirements" that are "arbitrary and capricious," imposing "vast burdens on the industry with little to no countervailing benefit."
    KC's View:
    Except maybe the benefits to consumers, who might like to have the option of knowing where the meat they are eating is coming from.

    There seems to be a bit of a mystery about why the court changed its mind. However, when I saw this story, I immediately thought of Frankie Pentangeli from The Godfather, Part Two. Anything is possible.

    Except maybe full transparency when it comes to COOL. I understand why there are people in the meat industry who think this is a bad thing, but I remain convinced that the constant arguments against COOL in the long run will be worse for the business. One opposes transparency at one's own risk.

    Published on: April 7, 2014

    The Wall Street Journal had an interesting story over the weekend cataloguing how how consumer habits are changing, how CPG companies are responding to those changes, and how these responses are setting in motion a kind of vicious circle that makes it difficult for companies to generate any real growth.

    Basically, it goes like this…

    Consumer buying habits are changing, in part because their needs change. People buy less cereal and soda because tastes change, or use less laundry detergent because of high efficiency washing machines, or use fewer razorblades because beards and/or stubble are "in." Or, they buy less because, like many Americans, they are still feeling the effects of the recession and are spending-challenged.

    This leads CPG companies to respond with "a blitz of deals and coupons in conjunction with retailers. Indeed, over a third of packaged food and household products are now sold with discounts, as retailers and manufacturers struggle to get people to open their wallets." And in some categories - like soda, potato chips and toilet paper - the research suggests that "more than 50% of consumers' purchases include discounts."

    Add to this the growth of value-driven formats - including club stores, dollar stores, and limited assortment stores - and the improvement of store brands as trends that tamp down on what people spend in a wide variety of categories.

    And, it gets worse … because it is increasingly difficult for retailers and manufacturers to generate sampling and impulse purchases at store level, because more people than ever are doing their shopping on the internet.

    And, the story says, "Unemployment remains high, meaning pennies are pinched. The U.S. population is aging, and research shows older people tend to consume and spend less. Americans, meanwhile, have been feeling more strains on their wallet from last year's expiration of the payroll tax break. And even some cash-strapped consumers would rather spend money on their cellphone bills than shell out more money for everyday items."

    And, "consumers are devoting a shrinking share of their wallets to packaged goods as other costs of living rise more sharply, such as health care and education."
    KC's View:
    There are a lot of "ands" in this reasoning.


    The one thing we do know - and the story makes it clear - is that not every category is suffering from this vicious circle. Pet food, energy drinks and greek yogurt all seem to be doing just fine … probably because manufacturers have tapped into new consumer energy.

    The vicious circle occurs when people and companies aren't really moving forward, but just revisit old ideas and old strategies and call it progress. The problem is that these days, there are so many options that you can't hide a lack of innovation … it gets exposed for all the world to see.

    Published on: April 7, 2014

    USA Today reports that Gallup is out with its rankings of the nation's most and lest obese cities, and among the broad brush conclusions that can be drawn are that a) you are more likely to be thinner if you live in Colorado or California, and b) nobody should get too full of themselves since all but one of the 189 cities analyzed had an obesity rate above 15 percent.

    According to the story, "The entire top 10 among the least obese cities were Boulder, Colo. (12.4% obesity rate); Naples, Fla. (16.5%); Fort Collins (18.2%); Charlottesville, Va. (18.2%); Bellingham, Wash. (18.7%); San Diego (19.3%); Denver (19.3%); San Jose (19.5%); Bridgeport, Conn. (19.6%); and Barnstable Town, Mass. (19.6%). It is easy to observe that these cities tend to have concentrations of well-to-do Americans."

    And, the story goes on: "Among the most obese cities: Huntington, W. Va. (39.5%); McCallen, Texas (38.3%); Hagerstown, Md. (36.7%); Yakima, Wash. (35.7%); Little Rock (35.1%); Charlestown (34.6%); Clarksville, Tenn. (33.8%), Jackson, Miss. (33.8%); Green Bay (33.0%); and Rockford, Ill. (33%). Note the concentration of poor cities south of the Mason-Dixon line and in old northern cities where manufacturing industries have been destroyed."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2014

    Reuters reports that Amazon Fresh has unveiled a new product that it is testing in the three markets where it is doing business - Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco - that is designed to facilitate the ordering of groceries.

    The item, dubbed "Amazon Dash," is described as "a black-and-white hand-held wand-shaped remote-control features a microphone, speaker as well as a bar-code reader and links directly to the user's AmazonFresh account."

    Bloomberg Businessweek writes that customers can use the Dash "to add items to a shopping list by scanning barcodes or speaking the name of the product, in the e-commerce company’s latest push into consumer hardware. Users can push a microphone button on the device, called the Dash, and say 'chocolate chips' or 'guitar strings' to have an item in Amazon’s online store automatically added to their shopping carts, according to a new page on the company’s website. People can also press a button to scan barcodes on jugs of milk or bottles of liquid soap when they’re about to run out of the product."

    The Amazon Dash wand is currently being offered to Amazon Fresh customers for free, but only by invitation only.

    The development of Amazon Dash is seen as important in two ways, Reuters writes. First, it points to the attention that Amazon Fresh is getting from the online retailer, which is significant not just because it expands its presence in the food category but also because those Fresh trucks could be part of a broader strategy of controlling the shipping and delivery process in many major markets.

    Second, the story says, "the online retailer has been steadily expanding towards electronics manufacturing businesses, starting with the Kindle e-reader which was first launched in 2007, and the Fire TV streaming set-top box announced earlier this week, even as it seeks new ways to energize a gradually slowing core retail business."
    KC's View:
    This sort of technology has been talked about for a long time, and I have no idea of the Amazon Dash will work. But clearly what Amazon has in mind is establishing or furthering the kind of relationship with its shoppers that its Subscribe & Save and Prime programs have always fostered. it is about making the Amazon the first and most responsive option.

    Published on: April 7, 2014

    • The Washington Post has an interesting story about how Walmart has "overhauled its pregnancy policy, " a move that could "ease the way for hundreds of thousands of … female employees who could have babies down the road."

    The backstory, is that pregnant Walmart employees who felt the company could have been more accommodating began networking on social media, and then were contacted by OUR Walmart, which conducted a campaign for pregnant workers' rights.

    "Such problems certainly aren't unique to Wal-Mart," the story says. "The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 5,797 pregnancy-related complaints in 2011, from all sectors of the economy; with more women working through pregnancy, employers have been figuring out how to modify their duties as they become more difficult to perform."

    Under Walmart's original policy, the Post writes, "pregnant women could only qualify for a change in their work environment that was 'both easily achievable and which will have no negative impact on the business,' which would not include 'creating a job, light duty or temporary alternative duty, or reassignment.' That meant they weren't entitled to the same consideration a disabled person with comparable handicaps would receive."

    While Walmart at first resisted pressure to change its policy, it was also facing charges that its policy toward pregnant women violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

    On March 5th, the Post reports that Walmart "issued a new policy, which says that women 'may be eligible for reasonable accommodation' if because of a 'temporary disability caused by pregnancy' they 'need assistance to apply for a new job, or to perform the essential functions of a job.' In theory, that means that pregnant Wal-Mart employees are more likely to be given less physically demanding work if they're having difficulty carrying out their duties."
    KC's View:
    The kicker, of course, is that Walmart says that the public pressure and even some filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on this matter had absolutely nothing to do with it decision to revise its policies regarding pregnant women.

    Yeah, right.

    I know there are all sort of legal reasons that companies don't want to offer any credit to their critics, but it seems disingenuous to me. What would be so wrong about saying, "These folks had a good idea, and it allows us to be better employers and better people."

    Published on: April 7, 2014

    MarketWatch reports on a new survey conducted by Kantar Retail saying that while Walmart is spending millions to upgrade its online operations, it has a tough hill to climb - because only 19 percent of Walmart's in-store shoppers say they use its website, while 53 percent of them say that they shop on Amazon.

    The survey also found that "74% of shoppers also buy from, but only 18% of shoppers buy from"
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2014

    ...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...

    USA Today reports that New York City health inspectors closed down, at least temporarily, on of Manhattan's most popular bakeries because of concerns about a mouse infestation. The Dominique Ansel Bakery, which created the Cronut (a trendy croissant-doughnut mashup that would have people waiting in line each morning to get the limited supply), reportedly was closed after a customer posted a video on YouTube showing a mouse scurrying across the floor.

    Responding to reports, a spokesperson for the bakery said that inspectors never found any evidence of mice, had previously given the bakery an A rating, and only had found "certain structural technicalities, such as any hole larger than the tip of a ball point pen, (that) were cited as potential for 'infestation.' Each hole amounts to certain points and they used that to shut us down."

    The bakery is expected to reopen as soon as today.

    Didn't any of these guys ever see Ratatouille?

    Reuters reports that "a year after ConAgra Foods Inc. won the dismissal of a lawsuit claiming that its Hebrew National hot dogs were not kosher, a higher authority has given the case new life. A federal appeals court in St. Paul, Minnesota on Friday said a trial judge erred in dismissing the lawsuit brought by 11 consumers in its entirety on the ground that the First Amendment barred him from addressing the underlying religious questions."

    Rather, the case will be returned to state court for trial.

    ConAgra continues to maintain that the case is without merit and that all of its Hebrew National products are kosher.

    • The Washington Post had a report over the weekend about the growth of retail medical clinics, noting that "after several years of very slow growth coinciding with the recession and its aftermath, they are taking off again. Accenture, a global management consulting firm, predicted last year that the number of walk-in retail clinics would almost double by 2015, to nearly 3,000."

    Among the trends driving the trend - a shortage of primary care physicians, the health care needs of an aging population, increased acceptance on the part of consumers, and finally, the Affordable Care Act, which is expected to accelerate the other trends.

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that in the wake of the Target data hacking, the California Assembly is considering a bill that would "strengthen consumer safeguards and limit the type of information collected and retained by retailers … The most controversial feature of the bill would shift the responsibility for any data breach from the banks and credit card issuers to the retail businesses where the breach occurred.

    "Specifically, retailers would be responsible for notifying customers of any hacking incident and would be liable for financial damages."

    However, the Times writes that the bill's chance of passing hardly are assured, and it "may trigger one of the year's biggest disputes over business-related legislation."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2014

    • C-store chain The Pantry announced that Thomas W. "Tad" Dickson, former chairman/CEO of Harris Teeter Supermarkets, has been elected to be its new chairman. He succeeds Edwin J. Holman, with reports saying that Dickson's nomination was in response to charges by some shareholders that the board did not have enough retail experience.

    Reuters reports that Laurie McIlwee, Tesco's CFO, resigned from the company on Friday, though he will stay with the retailer until a successor is recruited.

    The story says that McIlwee's resignation comes just days before Tesco is scheduled to report its latest quarterly results, with rampant speculation that this will include "another sharp decline in profitability."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2014

    On Friday, I devoted the Eye-Opener to a long think piece about the resignation of Brendan Eich from his role as Mozilla CEO, which was forced by criticisms of a $1,000 contribution that he made in 2008 to a California campaign designed to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage.

    I don't want to repeat my reasoning process here…if you;re interested, click here. Suffice it to say that while I disagree with Eich's position of six years ago, I remain troubled by the fact that someone can lose their job so quickly simply for stating an opinion.

    One MNB user wrote:

    In this day and age of transparency, we should all be aware that expressing our opinions may irk some and raise applause from others.  I vent here on MNB, but always anonymously.  I'm certain I lost a job a few years ago when my boss discovered - actually, she insisted on knowing, and I finally responded to her persistent inquiries - who I had voted for.  It didn't happen right away, but the manner in which I was let go was always suspect and never revealed.  I believe it was related at least in part, to my political views.

    So - I may state my opinions, but in social media, I'm careful. Tragic that we can't  seem to have civil discussion though, without it deteriorating into personal affront.

    One of my Facebook friends manages to create lively discussions, and  civil, even when we do not agree, so I know it's possible.

    From another reader:

    First, I want to stress that while I am a lesbian, by no means do I speak for the entire gay community.  That said, 'an issue not related to business' did indeed derail entire careers for many in our community for decades and in some cases cost them their lives (and still does).

    I would like to tell Mr. Eich that it does hurt, doesn't it, when one's lifestyle choices (to reject rights of marriage to same-sex couples in your case) keep you from being "an effective leader."  Countless people from the gay community have thus suffered for quite some time, and while you might suspect I/we'd be pleased with the outcome for you and Mozilla, I am not.  For none of us are free from inequality and judgement until we all are.

    Mr. Eich, I am sorry that your personal life details have resulted in the loss of a job you may have looked forward to very much.  I hope that none of us will have to face that in the near future.  And I hope the balance of the gay community resists the urge to 'pay back' for the decades and more that we have suffered by causing good people with differing personal views from our own to suffer in the same way.

    Thanks, Kevin, for bringing all this to our attention.  I appreciate your interest in bringing to the surface all the twists and turns that affect our lives--both personal and professional.

    And another:

    Whenever I struggle with a story like this, I replace "gay marriage" with "interracial marriage" and ask myself if my opinion would change. The anti-gay marriage arguments today sound too much like the anti-miscegenation arguments a generation ago.

    And still another:

    It’s a travesty that those who ask for tolerance are not able to give it in return.  Each and every person is entitled to their views and their lawful pursuit of happiness.  Eich has been treated as unfairly as have those in the gay community.   Very sad.

    And then, there was this (probably inevitable) email:

    You say that, not being gay, you can’t understand what the flap is all about. I guess that means you’d approve (or at least respect my opinion) if I contribute funds to Somali slavers who are, after all, just earning a living.

    Not so? Maybe you should think harder about the respect owed to bigots who express the Neanderthal opinion that other people ought to be stripped of their rights and respect — and then expect their own bigotry to be respected.

    If you take the view that a bigot who expresses his hate is a “victim” because he is called to account through social media, you are no better than the hater whose rights you defend.

    Remember - Eich did not merely express his views — he supported a concerted, determined, religiously-based crusade to deny civil rights to an entire population of people. If he acted the same way toward blacks, or Asians, or women, or Catholics, I daresay you’d have no trouble recognizing his hateful bias. But you have been infected with the superiority virus, which causes otherwise reasonable people — who themselves enjoy all of the rights, freedoms, and respect due to white, male, middle-aged Americans — to go blind when the issue of gay rights arises.

    Partly, this is due to nurture: entire generations were trained to hate and despise anybody who is different from their own crabbed view of propriety and — in many states, were encouraged to beat the tar out of anybody who expressed any contrary view. A side effect of the virus is the inability to distinguish civil rights — guaranteed under the constitution — from personal privileges, either granted by government — such as a driver’s license — or secured through a vote, such as a ballot question on whether to legalize marijuana.

    Because civil rights are not subject to popular vote — if they were, slavery would still be legal in several states you could name and women would be unable to own property — bigots reject the premise that civil rights is even the issue, and contend that their victims are demanding “special privileges,” which are subject to popular vote. Secure in the knowledge that their fellow bigots will never vote to give the hated minority any rights or respect, they demand that the issue be placed on the ballot as an exercise of true democracy.

    In several backward states, this has been done and, to no one’s surprise, the bigots were willing to amend their basic rule of law — their Constitutions — rather than treat others with respect or allow them to share the rights that the bigots themselves all enjoy. They will do anything in order to enforce their exclusionary denial of civil rights to a minority they deem unworthy, just as Tea Party racists would wreck the economy and default on the public debt rather than recognize a black man as President.

    So, maybe it would be instructive to review your Eich comments, substituting blacks for gays as the unworthy minority … And so, the bottom line is that you would work for Hitler, although disagreeing with his view on Jews — because he was a strong leader.

    I think there is one pretty good rule when it comes to civilized discourse … that when you start using Hitler and Nazis to make your point, you've pretty much crossed the line.

    If you'd actually read and paid attention to what I was trying to say, you'd know that I disagree profoundly with Eich's position. And I pretty much agree with most of your comments about civil rights.

    But …

    Let's at least view the situation in some kind of context.

    The world has come a long way since 2008, and I think it is fair to say that the culture's attitudes toward gay rights and same-sex marriage have progressed a lot farther and faster than most people would have expected. And while we know what Eich thought then, we don't actually know what he thinks now, because as I understand it, he hasn't addressed the issue except to say that he believes in equal rights and equal treatment of everyone in the workplace. (Though it would be true to say that he refused to renounce his past beliefs.)

    I can disagree with him, but also sympathize that for some people, it is harder for them to wrap their minds around same-sex marriage. Often the reasons have to do with religion … which does not justify prejudice or the denial of civil rights, but at the very least I think it is important to try to understand what is going on in people's minds and hearts.

    You are welcome to say that if one shows any sort of sympathy for people like Brendan Eich, one then would show sympathy for Nazis and/or Somali slavers. But I'm not sure that gets us anywhere.

    I would urge you to check out the writings of Andrew Sullivan on this issue. He's gay, he's thoughtful, he's a journalist, and he writes that "if we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us."

    Sullivan adds:

    "What I’m concerned with is the substantive reason for purging him. When people’s lives and careers are subject to litmus tests, and fired if they do not publicly renounce what may well be their sincere conviction, we have crossed a line. This is McCarthyism applied by civil actors. This is the definition of intolerance. If a socially conservative private entity fired someone because they discovered he had donated against Prop 8, how would you feel? It’s staggering to me that a minority long persecuted for holding unpopular views can now turn around and persecute others for the exact same reason. If we cannot live and work alongside people with whom we deeply disagree, we are finished as a liberal society."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2014

    • Mickey Rooney, who made more than 200 movies, married eight times and who played everything from Andy Hardy to a troubled youth in Boys Town (with Spencer Tracy), passed way yesterday. He was 93.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2014

    In the NCAA Final Four men's basketball tournament over the weekend. the University of Connecticut defeated the University of Florida 63-53, and the University of Kentucky defeated the University of Wisconsin 74-73.

    The final game will be played between the Connecticut Huskies and the Kentucky Wildcats tonight.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2014

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    Register and book housing today!

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2014

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    KC's View: