Saturday, June 27, 2020

Fed worries about small business failures due to coronavirus

A large number of small US businesses could fail during the coronavirus recession, the Federal Reserve said on Friday, slowing recovery and creating lasting damage to the world’s largest economy.

“The nature of the economic recovery that follows the COVID-19 crisis will depend in part on the survival of small businesses,” the Fed said in its biannual monetary policy report to Congress on Friday. “The pandemic poses acute risks to the survival of many small businesses [whose] widespread failure would adversely alter the economic landscape of local communities and potentially slow the economic recovery and future labor productivity growth.”
Congress has extended some help, including $660 billion to cover payrolls and overhead. About three-quarters of small businesses with employees have applied for the aid, with many getting funding, the Fed said. Still, “some industries may face an ongoing need” after the program expires this summer.
Meanwhile, job losses have been steeper at small businesses than large ones, with many small firms stopping paychecks entirely, the Fed said. Some 30 percent to 40 percent of small firms in sectors most affected by social distancing have gone inactive since February.
Spending at small restaurants was down 80 percent by April during the height of the nation’s shutdowns and was still down by half in early June, the Fed said, citing data from credit card transaction processor Womply.
Small businesses account for nearly half of jobs in the private sector, and new business formation fell steeply in the early months of the crisis, data from the Census Bureau shows.
Small business failures not only destroy jobs but “erase the productive knowledge within the firms, deplete the assets of business owners, alter the character of communities and neighborhoods, and, in some cases, deprive the country of innovations,” the Fed said.

Mark Zuckerberg loses $7.2B over major advertising boycotts on Facebook

The company’s shares fell 8.3 percent Friday, the most in three months after Unilever, one of the world’s largest advertisers said it would stop selling its products on Facebook, Bloomberg reported. The company joined other large firms such as Verizon Communications, Hershey Co. and Honda in pulling their ads from the social media giant. Coca Cola said it would suspend its advertising on all social media platforms for at least a month.
The share-price drop eliminated $56 billion from Facebook’s market value and pushed Zuckerberg’s own net worth down to $82.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The move left Facebook’s chief executive in fourth place on the list, overtaken by LVMH Moet Hennessy boss Bernard Arnault, who is now in third place behind billionaires Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates.
In a response to the ad boycotts, Zuckerberg said the company would label all voting-related posts with a link encouraging users to look at its new voter information hub. The company also announced that it would prohibit “claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others.”

Monday, June 22, 2020

The world of SEO continues

The world of SEO continues to change day by day. The big search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing continuously fight to give the best and most accurate information to their users. Algorithms like PANDA, PENGUIN, BERT, PIGEON, HUMMINGBIRD have been designed so that the results are the most important in each search.

 SEO Professionals

  It is no longer valid to create "with bad techniques & software" low quality content and backlinks. All the Seo that apply this type of techniques are seeing the websites of their clients punished. Following the editorial rules of the big search engines is what a good SEO should do. Google, Yahoo, Bing are not an enemy.

A lot of website owners think it's the end of the world and SEO. However, there are still very important uses for SEO services, and there are still many ways that these services can benefit your website and your business. The only thing that has changed in the SEO world is that bad SEO professionals are disappearing, and that good SEO professionals have to be more aware of the changes to get results for their clients.

Friday, June 19, 2020

After Covid-19, the Climate

WILL THE RESPONSE TO COVID-19 BE CITED AS A PRECEDENT BY CLIMATE CHANGE ACTIVISTS?:  You bet it will.  Indeed, it already has been.  This is from a blog piece in the London Review of Books:
If there is a silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is what it might mean for the climate crisis. Not only have attempts to control the virus led to a reduction in carbon emissions, they have also led to a significant shift in the way individuals, institutions and politicians discuss our responsibility to protect vulnerable groups in our societies.
By late last year, it seemed clear that decades of attempts to coax governments and business leaders into taking seriously the risks posed by the climate crisis were leading nowhere. Yet faced with the far more immediate threats posed by a global pandemic, states that for decades had been committed to neoliberal thinking have slowly begun to embrace such radically old-fashioned ideas as planning for the future, relying on scientific expertise, or calling on their constituents to make sacrifices in order to protect vulnerable members of society. Environmental campaigners and journalists have begun to document the effects that the shut-down of factories, cancellation of large conferences, postponement of sporting events, and limitations on freedom of movement have had on carbon emissions.
For those of us who work in universities, the possibility that academic life can go on despite a major reduction in air travel may prove to be a turning point. In recent years, many faculty had begun to reflect critically on the carbon footprint of academic conferencing. That conversation intensified after Greta Thunberg sailed from Stockholm to New York to take part in the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit. Yet most of us continued to decide that our careers, the connections we made from attending events in person, the insights we were bringing to the world, or simply surviving in the hyper-competitive and entrepreneurial world of the modern university, justified continuing to travel regularly rather than rethinking our addiction to a carbonised academic lifestyle.
As the Covid-19 situation began to unfold, however, that calculation shifted. The week before last, faculty at my law school in Melbourne received an email advising us that we should cancel all non-essential travel for the foreseeable future. Many employees of universities, companies, hospitals and research institutes received similar advice. If travel was avoidable without major impact – because it could be postponed, or we could attend online – it should not proceed. If we believed our travel was essential, we could present our case to the dean. Yet with medical experts engaged in disaster management planning, trying to conjure up extra intensive care beds, ventilators, protective equipment and medical staff in preparation for the tsunami of acute respiratory cases that will arrive in the new few weeks, our reasons to travel seem far less compelling than the reasons to stay still and play a part in delaying the spread of the virus.
Numerous governments have now introduced social-distancing policies to win time for front-line medical staff and for the elderly patients who will be at most risk in the crisis phase. The contrast with the way that governments have approached climate change regulation is stark. In the early days of the environmental movement, the international lawyer Edith Brown Weiss developed the principle of intergenerational equity, arguing that we have obligations to future generations. Yet international lawyers long ago stopped discussing such principles seriously.
Instead, it became conventional wisdom that the appropriate framework for thinking about negotiating climate agreements was rational choice economics or game theory, with the guiding assumption that rational actors – from genes to individuals to states – will always pursue their self-interest at the expense of others. The idea that people might be willing to make sacrifices for the general good, let alone for a different generation, seemed utopian. Our ‘way of life’, as George H.W. Bush bluntly declared at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, is ‘not up for negotiations’.
Yet in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, government leaders are now directly, and properly, calling on all of us to make whatever sacrifices we can to slow down the rate at which this disaster unfolds. That includes closing schools and universities worldwide to delay the spread of infections among students in order to protect their grandparents’ generation.
A similarly stark difference can be seen in the way that governments engage with experts and corporate lobbyists. The response to Covid-19 has relied heavily on the advice of public health experts, statistical modelling and logistical planning. The idea that ageing leaders might dismiss the whole crisis as fake news or partisan politics is not sitting well with a public looking for guidance, clear advice and funding for vital testing and medical infrastructure. The entrenched model of corporate lobbyists shaping the priorities of government decision-makers is coming under increased scrutiny.
The Australian government imposed travel bans on China, South Korea and Iran, but exempted travellers from Northern Italy until the evening after the Formula One teams had arrived for the Australian Grand Prix. The news that Ferrari had weeks ago demanded ‘assurances’ that it would not be faced with any regulatory surprises has raised questions about the role of lobbyists in increasing risks to human life and health. Yet when it comes to climate change, the dismissal of scientific expertise and the commitment to protecting corporate investors from the risks that future environmental or health regulations might pose to their bottom line have been central for decades.
The regulatory responses to the crisis of Covid-19 remind us that there are many ways in which individuals, communities, law-makers and states may respond to a crisis, and that policy-making can be driven by something other than appeals to self-interest. Ideals of intergenerational equity, the collective good and making sacrifices to protect the vulnerable have reappeared in political discourse. Perhaps, once the Covid-19 pandemic is finally over, governments may be ready to bring that wisdom to bear on the crisis of climate change.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Supreme Court rules LGBT people protected from job discrimination

 WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a landmark civil rights law protects gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination in employment, a resounding victory for LGBT rights from a conservative court.
The court decided by a 6-3 vote that a key provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 known as Title VII that bars job discrimination because of sex, among other reasons, encompasses bias against LGBT workers.

“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas dissented.
“The Court tries to convince readers that it is merely enforcing the terms of the statute, but that is preposterous,” Alito wrote in the dissent. “Even as understood today, the concept of discrimination because of ‘sex’ is different from discrimination because of ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity.’”
Kavanaugh wrote in a separate dissent that the court was rewriting the law to include gender identity and sexual orientation, a job that belongs to Congress. Still, Kavanaugh said the decision represents an “important victory achieved today by gay and lesbian Americans.”
The outcome is expected to have a big impact for the estimated 8.1 million LGBT workers across the country because most states don’t protect them from workplace discrimination. An estimated 11.3 million LGBT people live in the U.S., according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA law school.
But Monday’s decision is not likely to be the court’s last word on a host of issues revolving around LGBT rights, Gorsuch noted.
Lawsuits are pending over transgender athletes’ participation in school sporting events, and courts also are dealing with cases about sex-segregated bathrooms and locker rooms, a subject that the justices seemed concerned about during arguments in October. Employers who have religious objections to employing LGBT people also might be able to raise those claims in a different case, Gorsuch said.
“But none of these other laws are before us; we have not had the benefit of adversarial testing about the meaning of their terms, and we do not prejudge any such question today,” he wrote.
The cases were the court’s first on LGBT rights since Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement and replacement by Kavanaugh. Kennedy was a voice for gay rights and the author of the landmark ruling in 2015 that made same-sex marriage legal throughout the United States. Kavanaugh generally is regarded as more conservative.
The Trump administration had changed course from the Obama administration, which supported LGBT workers in their discrimination claims under Title VII.
During the Obama years, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had changed its longstanding interpretation of civil rights law to include discrimination against LGBT people. The law prohibits discrimination because of sex, but has no specific protection for sexual orientation or gender identity.
In recent years, some lower courts have held that discrimination against LGBT people is a subset of sex discrimination, and thus prohibited by the federal law.
Efforts by Congress to change the law have so far failed.
The Supreme Court cases involved two gay men and a transgender woman who sued for employment discrimination after they lost their jobs.
Aimee Stephens lost her job as a funeral director in the Detroit area after she revealed to her boss that she had struggled with gender most of her life and had, at long last, “decided to become the person that my mind already is.” Stephens told funeral home owner Thomas Rost that following a vacation, she would report to work wearing a conservative skirt suit or dress that Rost required for women who worked at his three funeral homes. Rost fired Stephens.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, ruled that the firing constituted sex discrimination under federal law.
Stephens died last month. Donna Stephens, her wife of 20 years, said in a statement that she is “grateful for this victory to honor the legacy of Aimee, and to ensure people are treated fairly regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The federal appeals court in New York ruled in favor of a gay skydiving instructor who claimed he was fired because of his sexual orientation. The full 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 10-3 that it was abandoning its earlier holding that Title VII didn’t cover sexual orientation because “legal doctrine evolves.” The court held that “sexual orientation discrimination is motivated, at least in part, by sex and is thus a subset of sex discrimination.”
That ruling was a victory for the relatives of Donald Zarda, who was fired in 2010 from a skydiving job in Central Islip, New York, that required him to strap himself tightly to clients so they could jump in tandem from an airplane. He tried to put a woman with whom he was jumping at ease by explaining that he was gay. The school fired Zarda after the woman’s boyfriend called to complain.
Zarda died in a wingsuit accident in Switzerland in 2014.
In a case from Georgia, the federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled against Gerald Bostock, a gay employee of Clayton County, in the Atlanta suburbs. Bostock claimed he was fired in 2013 because he is gay. The county argues that Bostock was let go because of the results of an audit of funds he managed.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Bostock’s claim in a three-page opinion that noted the court was bound by a 1979 decision that held “discharge for homosexuality is not prohibited by Title VII.”

401(k) plans move a step closer to pooling with private equity

The Department of Labor on Wednesday issued a letter that clarifies how, under existing rules, certain retirement plan sponsors, including 401(k)s, can put money into private equity investments that are usually reserved for the super rich and big institutional investors.
Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said the new guidance “helps level the playing field for ordinary investors and is another step by the department to ensure that ordinary people investing for retirement have the opportunities they need for a secure retirement.”
But it’s unclear how quickly the managers of big retirement plans will embrace private-equity investments. Vanguard, one of the largest managers of 401(k) plans in the country, declined to comment on the letter. Another major manager, Fidelity, did not respond to a request for comment.

Consumer advocates and some regulators have been wary of giving ordinary investors broader access to investments in businesses that do not adhere to the same disclosure rules as public companies and that could put them at risk.
Even without access to this untapped pool of capital, private equity managers have been able to raise record amounts in recent years. Fund managers in the United States had access to $914 billion as of mid-May, according to investment data firm Preqin.
Many of those dollars come from wealthy clients, but big pension funds, such as the Texas County and District Retirement System, also put their money into funds managed by private equity firms.
But the move away from traditional pensions and into defined contribution plans means most retail investors don’t have access to those kinds of investments, which proponents say can provide added diversification to an investment portfolio.
“This is a positive step toward helping more Americans gain access to private equity investment,” Drew Maloney, chief executive of the American Investment Council, which represents the private equity industry, said in a statement.
Private equity investments in new startups or in growth businesses can produce high returns. The private equity funds in the top 25% for performance earned at least 16.2% over the 10 years that ended in September 2018, according to PitchBook.
But that comes with numerous risks.
As the term “private equity” suggests, investments can be opaque. Companies in such portfolios don’t have to disclose as much information as publicly traded businesses. Investors also can’t cash out as easily as they can with public investments. Money is often locked up for eight to 10 years at a time.
And while private equity can score big by investing in the next Facebook, it can also lose money when a company doesn’t get off the ground. According to the same PitchBook data, the bottom 10% of funds had negative returns over 10 years.
In November, Andrea Seidt, the Ohio securities commissioner, told the federal Securities and Exchange Commission that a review of 100 enforcement actions over the prior two years — a partial snapshot — showed that more than 1,000 investors had lost in excess of $100 million in private offerings gone wrong.
The private marketplace has become increasingly important as startups stay private longer. Also, there are half as many public companies as there were two decades ago, leaving fewer places for everyday investors to store their money.
The Labor Department outlined the new guidance in coordination with the SEC. Jay Clayton, the commission’s chairman, said in the statement that the clarification “will provide our long-term Main Street investors with a choice of professionally managed funds that more closely match the diversified public and private market asset allocation strategies.”
The SEC has supported giving smaller investors access to private equity through special investment vehicles that might work like mutual funds. Right now, only accredited investors — those with at least $1 million in assets not including their home, or $200,000 in annual income — can participate in private equity deals.
In December, the agency proposed rules that would relax the accredited investor rules, but it stopped short of figuring out a way to make private equity more widely accessible. The Labor Department’s guidance was a response to Partners Group, a private equity firm with $94 billion in assets under management, and Pantheon Group, which has $49 billion in assets under management and is controlled by Affiliated Managers Group, a publicly listed company that specializes in asset management.
Susan Long McAndrews, a partner at Pantheon, said in a statement that the change was “a critical step toward improving retirement outcomes.”
Tara Siegel Bernard contributed reporting.