Cited: CNN

Most of the news about Apple continues to be rosy for the tech giant, that is of course except for the recent death of its founder Steve Jobs. The stock price is soaring and every new gadget is met by hoards of techie lovers that have to be the first ones to own anything Apple, i.e. the iPad3. But along with the positive financials and popularity of their products is a report released earlier this year highlighting some shady goings-on in Apple factories overseas and working conditions that are not up to par.

Now an independent agency that Apple recently joined called the Fair Labor Association (FLA) a labor rights organization, will be doing a full inspection of the Apple suppliers and will report back soon on their findings. The main area of concern is a mega plant located in Shenzen, China called Foxxconn where the company manufactures components for all of their gadgets. The FLA plans on interviewing thousands of workers at the plants to check on working conditions, benefits, and access to medical and other professional services that were supposed to be part of their employment at Foxxconn. Apple is the most popular and most visible of all the tech companies that outsource the making of the components for their products but they are not the only ones and all have come under increased criticism lately for working conditions at the factories that do not comply with the company handbook.

For its part, Apple has always conducted its own audit of conditions at the factories and earlier this year they posted a report on their Web site that highlighted more than two dozen violations of policies meant to ensure that worker’s rights were not being trampled under in the barrage of orders flowing in for Apple products.

Apple says that they have instructed their Chinese suppliers to give the representative of FLA their complete cooperation and they say that this type of scrutiny is unprecedented in the electronics industry. However, Apple management is also well-aware that the public perception is very important and they have gone to great lengths to stress their support for worker’s rights and better working conditions in their factories producing components for their products.  One Foxxconn worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that conditions at the factory were indeed harsh. She made less than $1 per hour for her work and that the owners of the facility work the women like men and they work the men like machines.

My take:

Apple can well afford to ensure that the workers making their products are taken care of and more than that, this is a tremendous opportunity for the company to be a leader in advocating for worker’s rights overseas. Let’s face it, they, and others like them only produce over there because it is so much easier and cheaper to make a part when you can get away with paying someone less than $1 hour while at the same time not having to pay attention to labor laws, environmental regulations, restrictions on polluting the environment. Maybe it’s time for Apple to convert some of their wealth into a worthy cause that will benefit everyone, including them in the long run.

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Cited: CNN

There are all sorts of fad gifts that hit the market for Valentine’s Day and the trend is continuing full force. Everyone is familiar with the Vermont bears, and the Pajama Gram, as well as a few other more intimate gifts for the little lady, but if you’re thinking of her appetite, you might want to forgo the chocolate and order a heart shaped pizza; or get both. According to marketing analysts following advertising on Google the number of searches for hearth-shaped pizza has increased by 230% since January, a clear indication that the big pizza chains had better have thought of the novelty pie if they want to get in on the public’s fascination for heart-shaped anything for Valentine’s Day, particularly those pizza makers in Illinois, Texas, and California, which report the most searches for the love pies.

One of then biggest pizza chains in the United States, Papa John’s, says that in 2010 they sold over 60,000 heart-shaped pizza pies and that in 2011 the number was probably similar. This year they expect to sell more than 75,000 of the novelty pies and they are marketing them big time to try to capture some of the dining-in business for the holiday. They say that the pizza is very popular with families that celebrate the day together.

It’s no surprise that Chicago is a popular area for the Valentine’s Day pizza pie considering their long tradition with the deep-dish variety of the American fast-food staple. One popular pizzeria in Chicago,  Lou Malnati’s, says that weeks before Valentine’s Day their deep dish version of the heart shaped pizza becomes their most popular pizza pie and that now Valentine’s Day is their second businest time of the year, just behind the holiday season around Christmas. They have been making a heart shaped pizza pie for the event for the last 22 years, when the son of the original owner came up with the idea.

They now ship their pizza’s all over the United States in addition to their multiple locations in Chicago, and the orders for this year’s heart pizza pies appear to be on pace for a new record.

My take:

I think its a novel idea for the holiday but I never thought that anyone could actually have the heart-shaped pizza become such a big money-maker. Chicago is the perfect location for the deep dish version of the pizza since it definitely makes for a much more dramatic presentation.

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Cited: CNN

Sometimes it pays to be a small, mom and pop retailer; or in this case, a husband and wife business. Jeff and Lynette Damir own a small Seattle company called Swaddle Designs, which today won the first ever license to produce Angry Birds children’s clothing, taking the popular online game into the apparel business. Angry Birds is a video game that industry experts say has been downloaded more than 500 billion times since it first hit the cyber waves back in 2009. The Angry Bird franchise of products, which include t-shirts, toys and backpacks may already be worth over $1 billion.

The new line of children’s clothing with the Angry Bird logo that will be produced by Swaddle Designs will feature baby body suits, blankets, swaddle and burping cloths. The Damir company has been in business for the last ten year and has 20 employees. Annual revenues to date have been in the neighborhood of $5 million but now the owners expect that sales could double with the addition of the Angry Bird line of children’s clothing. Both Jeff and Lynette say that it is important for tto produce their products in the United State despite the hurdles that have to be overcome when doing so versus manufacturing overseas in countries like China, India, and Vietnam, where the rules are not quite as rigid and the regulations much more lax. Their products now can be found in many high-end boutiques as well as on Amazon.com.

The idea for adding the baby cloths with the Angry Bird logo comes from the youngest Damir, their daughter, who was playing the popular video game on her new iPad one day when Jeff Damir was keeping an eye on her. After finding out a little more about the game and the popularity of it, Jeff approached the company that produces it, Rovio, and pitched a line of baby cloths to the video game maker. The told Jeff that his timing was perfect and that they had been considering a business partner to put out a line of cloths with the Angry Bird logo. The owners of Rovio liked the designs that Damir sent as samples as well as the quality of the products they were already producing. Now they are bracing for a surge in sales and hoping that they can keep up. It will be a good problem to have to deal with.

My take:

You really do find that a little creativity and an idea can go a long way. I hope that this company can do well and that they will be able to produce most if not all of their products in the U.S. From the sounds of it I think they will make every effort to do so.

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Cited: CNN

Embattled former Penn State football assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky,  can visit with his grandchildren according to a ruling by a judge overseeing the case. The former Penn state assistant is currently under house arrest awaiting trial in the sexual molestation case that has surrounded Sandusky and the entire Penn State football program and university since the startling revelations earlier this year. Prior to today’s ruling, the terms of Sandusky’s house arrest prohibited him from seeing any of his eleven grandchildren.

Judge John Cleland ruled today that Sandusky can visit with eight of his eleven grandchildren while under adult supervision. The other three children are in the middle of a custody case and their mother has requested that Sandusky not be allowed to visit with her children. Others close to the case such as State Attorney General Linda Kelly said that she is opposed to Judge Cleland’s decision and that Sandusky is lucky to be out under house arrest considering the gravity of his alleged crimes, 52 counts of sexual abuse. She went on to say that Sandusky should not be allowed out of his home, free to walk around the grounds because neighbors and a local school that have expressed their concern about Sandusky being out in public with so many young children surrounding their home.

Judge Cleland ruled that the state did not present any evidence showing that Sandusky tried to contact any local school children and therefore posed no risk to the community while confined to his home. He also ruled that Sandusky could receive visits from adult friends and family and that he can leave his home to meet with legal professionals working on his case provided that he advise an probation official about the trips.

Sandusky’s trial is tentatively set to begin on May 14, and could go on for quite some time considering the number of allegations he is facing as well as the evidence that will be presented against him. Along with Sandusky, two other Penn state officials are facing charges stemming from the crimes committed by Sandusky. Tim Curley, former Penn State AD and Gary Schultz, head of campus police, are charged with perjury and failing to report a sexual assault of a child.

My take:

I guess he should be allowed to see his grandchildren as long as its ok with their parents. I would love to find out more about the one family within the family that doesn’t want him to see the kids. It sounds like one of the Sandusky children is going through a divorce and the kids are being put in the middle of the fray.

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Cited: MSNBC

For the over 40 million Americans that suffer from environmental allergies of one type or another, the winter brings welcome relief. While the cold is not always a welcome breath of fresh air for many, for allergy sufferers the cold of the winter can provide some relief for the symptoms that may otherwise find them with a running nose, constant sneezing, itchy eyes, watery eyes, and other such symptoms of allergies. However, this year, most parts of the U.S. have enjoyed a relatively mild winter season (sorry Alaska) and while the lack of severe cold and snow is always a bonus, it also means that the allergy season is already starting for many, and that it could go on for quite some time.

Allergists and pharmacists around the country report that many of their patients tell them that their symptoms are already starting and it’s on February. They say that they are waking up sneezing, at first thinking that perhaps they have contracted a nasty winter cold, but they realizing that it is their allergies come back for an early visit. Scientists say that the mild temperatures across the U.S. are the reason underlying the increase in allergic symptoms being experienced by so many Americans so early in the season.

A recent study in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Science shows that the ragweed season in the United States is now almost 27 days longer than it was in 1995, with most of that increase attributed to the warmer climate. Another study conducted on allergy symptoms by another leading research organization found that from 1981 to 2007 there was an increase in the length of the pollen season due mainly to a longer season because of later and later frost.

And its not just the allergy sufferers that have to be on guard. Doctors say that as the duration of an allergy season drags on longer and longer, everyone is exposed to higher levels of pollen for longer periods of time and as such many more people can start to become allergic to pollen and other allergy triggers where as they never experienced any symptoms in years prior.

My take:

I’ve been sneezing like crazy all winter and I thought it was just because I am allergic to dust. I’m going to take precautions and get my meds early this year and if necessary, get a shot of cortisone before I am a sneezing, wheezing, sniffling mess.

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Cited: MSNBC

The Obama Administration knows that as the economy goes so go the odds of the President being re-elected. And while the jobs market is moving in the right direction, it has been a slow go with unemployment still over 8%. But at the same time the recent rally in the stock market has Wall Street smiling and probably more than a few people in the White House too.

The recent rally in the markets to start 2012 is the biggest seen to start a new year since 1991, climbing over 7.5%. With an improving economy, at least in the equity markets, the chances of President Obama being re-elected have also increased. One interesting gauge of the President’s chances for a second term is the bookmaker Intrade, which is based in Dublin, Ireland. Since the start of the year a bet on Obama has risen by 14%, and a lot of the rise has to do with the improving prices for global equities.

Online betting is a huge business around the world and the things you can place a bet on are as varied as you can imagine. While betting on these sites is severely limited in the U.S. and banned all together for sporting events and other such contests, that does not mean that others, outside of the U.S. aren’t making book on all things Americana, including our elections. The price for a bet on the President has been rising and falling with every dip and upswing in the economy since 2011 and no doubt will continue to do the same as we move closer to the elections later this year.

Intrade has a very good track record for predicting the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, correctly putting Barack Obama into the pole position going into the 2008 election for most of that campaign, with John McCain getting no better than a 33% chance of winning at any time. If the odds maker is correct again, Obama is the lead horse; at least for as long as the economy continues to make the American public fell just a little better each day and that eventually the rise in the equity market will spillover into the jobs market. An unemployment rate dipping under 8% will be a tremendous boost to the President.

My take:

If it looks like the economy will turn around going into the election, the GOP will turn the presidential race into an battle over ideology, which they will probably do anyway. Even if the unemployment rate drops to 7%, they will find some reason to say that things are still dangerous out there and that the President is the most dangerous one of all.

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Cited: CNN

High schools students at Olathe Northwest High School in Olathe, Kansas have become something of a high-tech call center for the local police department. Four years ago, a robot used by the Olathe Police Department was rendered inoperable and has been sitting idle ever since. The robot, called SWAT BOT, remained in a closet for the last four years because the company that originally made the heavy piece of equipment was out of business and others contacted to try to get the robot up and running were unable to find the source of the problem.

The student resource office at the Olathe Police Department then got a novel idea, ‘why not give a call over to the engineering teacher at Olathe High School and see if the students might like to have a shot at fixing SWAT BOT’. One of the students, Jordan Brouwer was particularly useful in getting the robot fixed because his brother is an engineering student in college, working on robotics, and he was home in Kansas for the holidays and lent the kids at the high school a hand.

Jordan’s brother was able to easily understand the problem with the robot because he is working on defense type robots in school in Boston so the inner workings of the SWAT BOT were easy enough for him to understand and to then diagnose the problem for the high school volunteers. According to Brouwer, the remote was not connecting to the main brain in the robot. After a little rummaging through some home electronics lying around the students were able to construct a new antenna system that would make contact with the robot and get it rolling again.

For it’s part, the Olathe Police Department has been trying to get the robot fixed for months but they haven’t been able to find anyone that knew anything about this robot. Luckily for them they turned to the local high school, which just happened to have the perfect resource, a former student that is now working on high tech robotics in college. The cost? Well the police only had to foot the bill for new batteries.

My take:

The police were smart to ask the school for some assistance. I’m not sure where Olathe is in Kansas but you would think that over the past four years someone at the police department might figure out that perhaps a local college might be able to assist them with their technical problem. You can bet that if they need any help in the future they’ll be calling on the kids…..rather than chasing them out of the park for a change.

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Cited: MSNBC

The financial markets around the world have been closely watching developments in Greece for any sign that the government is taking the necessary steps to deal with their budget woes. Today the Greek parliament passed a budget that includes severe austerity measures, which is being well-received by the global financial markets but not so much by the Greek people. After passing a bill that will help Greece to secure a bailout package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, the government then turned its attention to rioters, who set fire to buildings in Athens and threw gasoline bombs at police in response to the measures included in the budget.

The new budget opens the way for Greece to receive approximately $170 billion in aid from the international community ensuring that it won’t default on its debt obligations, which would’ve undermined financial markets around the world. However critics of the plan warn that the budget cuts, which included a severe reduction in minimum wage and the elimination of 20% of government jobs, will cast the Greek economy into a further downward spiral and condemn them to economic collapse in the years to come.

The riots in Greece are the worse that this country has seen since the financial crisis gripping their economy was first discovered just after 2009. Journalists say that at least 100,000 protesters gathered in Athens and set fire to 45 buildings in the capital city. Police tried to push the rioting crowds back away from government buildings but the protesters greeted the police with a line of gas bombs as they tried to hold their ground.

Both police and protesters were injured and hospitalized while violent protests also broke out in other parts of the country with other government buildings being set ablaze by angry protesters.

Greek PM Lucas Papedemos urged members of Parliament to back the austerity measures in the budget plan saying that failing to pass the bill would ensure that Greece would default on its debt and would be cast out of the euro. However, while the budget did pass, 43 ministers from both parties did not support the bill and therefore were expelled by their respective political factions.

In order for Greek to receive the additional bailout money, the international financial community made it quite clear that unless the government did something to close the holes in the budget the money would not be approved. The austerity measures called for by the international lenders will cut even further into a Greek economy that is reeling from high unemployment, higher taxes, and dim prospects going forward. Greece has been under heavy pressure to get its act together, particularly from Germany, which is the strongest economy in the EU and is one of the few countries in a position to lecture to the Greeks about their economy.

My take: 

Things have always been a little dicey when it comes to the Greek economy. Even the way in which they first got into the euro seemed to be more smoke and mirrors than a healthy balance sheet. It is a shame that this has led to such violence but it always seems to be the case. It might not be long until we see similar events here in the U.S.

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