December 26, 2013

McDonalds' suggestion to Employees: Eat somewhere else

McDonalds' internal employee resource website McResource Line on one of the resource website pages has strongly urged its employees to eat... elsewhere.

The advice is given with graphics depicting the ‘unhealthy choice’ and the ‘healthier choice.’
From the Mail:
The fast food giant has advised employees to avoid meals with burgers and fries and to eat healthier options like salad and sandwiches. The advice was dispensed on the now-infamous McResource Line, the employees-only website that has told workers to sell their things and get second jobs to make ends meet.

Despite featuring a vast array of deep fried delicacies, the Golden Arches reminds employees that ‘avoiding items that are deep fried are your best bet.’
The sensible advice also tells McWorkers to ‘limit the extras such as cheese, bacon and mayonnaise.’ Tasty add-ons that are staples of many menu items they serve on a daily basis.

A hamburger, fries and soda are warned against, because ‘eating a diet high in fat puts people at rick for becoming overweight.’ Many locations offer steep food discounts and short breaks to employees, virtually forcing them to eat the unhealthy food, often forcing the hand of workers without the time or means to eat elsewhere.
 ‘It is hard to eat a healthy diet when you eat at fast-food restaurants often,’ the advice continues. ‘Many foods are cooked with a lot of fat, even if they are not trans fats. Many fast-food restaurants do not offer any lower-fat foods.’
In the aftermath of these humiliating revelations we find that the McResource site has been taken down and that MCD workers are no longer strongly advised to eat elsewhere.

Beer Consumption in Europe

August 25, 2013

Berlusconi holding Italy Hostage

A brilliant article on Berlusconi and the sorrow state of Italy by Tim Sparks can be read HERE

A brief summary below:
Vote me out of jail, or I will bring the country down with me. This, essentially, is the message Silvio Berlusconi—four-time prime minister, owner of the country’s three main commercial TV channels, criminal defendant many times over—has just sent to the Italian government, one that clarifies at last the exact nature of what is at stake in Italy at the present moment: is this a modern state where the rule of law prevails or is it the fiefdom of an institutionalized outlaw?
After a dozen trials, many of which have gone through all three levels of Italian justice (primary trial, appeal, counter appeal), after making ad personam laws to have his crimes de-penalized, or using delaying tactics to have trials thrown out because the crimes alleged in them are time-barred, or facing guilty verdicts at one level and acquittals at another, Berlusconi has finally received a definitive and unappealable criminal sentence at the highest level, for tax fraud in the region of €7 million ($9 million) and for the creation of a slush fund of some €280 million ($375 million). Sentenced to four years in prison, he has benefited from a pardon aimed at emptying the country’s jails, which has reduced the sentence to one year—this despite the fact that, being over seventy, he will be allowed to serve his sentence at one of his various luxury homes. However, as an elected member of the senate, he enjoys immunity from arrest and cannot be forced into confinement until the senate approves his expulsion, a vote that could take place in September. He has now made it clear that if that vote goes against him he will bring the whole house down.

June 25, 2013

The New Frontier of IT Espionage

All info below is nothing new, every person with a minimum common sense and some basic IT knowledge has always had doubts it was happening, nonetheless the general  public does not seem to have come to terms with the severity of this issue. 
Even after Snowden leaks ; the general public is still naively posting their full lives on line regardless of any privacy consideration.
Social media does not seem affected or under scrutiny, no major drop in internet traffic is recorded, no sign of confidence loss on behalf of their users and no investigations at all on behalf of the authorities (no surprise there though!).
So if NSA and GCHQ eavesdropping on your life does not scare you what about the following:

If you are near your smart phone – the NSA or private parties could remotely activate your microphone and camera and spy on you.

The New York Times reported in 2011 that German police were using spyware to turn on the webcam and microphone on peoples’ computers:
A group that calls itself the Chaos Computer Club prompted a public outcry here recently when it discovered that German state investigators were using spying software capable of turning a computer’s webcam and microphone into a sophisticated surveillance device.

The club …announced last Saturday it had analyzed the hard drives of people who had been investigated and discovered that they were infected with a Trojan horse program that gave the police the ability to log keystrokes, capture screenshots and activate cameras and microphones.
Reuters documented last year that the U.S. and Israeli governments can remotely turn on a computer’s microphone:
Evidence suggest that the virus, dubbed Flame, may have been built on behalf of the same nation or nations that commissioned the Stuxnet worm that attacked Iran’s nuclear program in 2010 [i.e. the U.S. and Israel], according to Kaspersky Lab, the Russian cyber security software maker that took credit for discovering the infections.

Flame can gather data files, remotely change settings on computers, turn on PC microphones to record conversations, take screen shots and log instant messaging chats.

Kaspersky Lab said Flame and Stuxnet appear to infect machines by exploiting the same flaw in the Windows operating system and that both viruses employ a similar way of spreading. 
PC Magazine tech columnist John Dvorak writes:
From what we know the NSA has back door access into Apple, Microsoft, and Google. What kind of access we don’t know, but let us assume it is similar to what they did about 7 years ago to AT&T. They had a secret room at Fulsom St. in San Francisco and the AT&T engineers had no control and no access to a room full of NSA equipment that had direct access to everything AT&T could do.

Microsoft is the source of the operating system for Windows and Windows cell phones. Apple controls the OS for Macs, iPhones, and iPads. Google controls the Chrome OS, Chrome Browser, and Android cell phones. The companies regularly push operating system upgrades and security updates to users on a regular basis.

Imagine however that the NSA has access to these updates at the source and has the ability to alter these update in order to install some sort of spyware on your phone, tablet, or computer. The software could turn on your camera or microphone remotely, read all your private data, or erase everything and brick your phone or computer.


Italy is facing a EU bailout within 6 months

While the Italian press is rife with big headlines on Berlusconi's clusterfuck and his conviction  to seven years in prison and a lifetime ban on holding public office; the italian economy is deteriorating faster and faster.
The Italian government is giving few signs of intelligent life and treasury investors are starting to lose patience.
All things considered is not surprising that Mediobanca, Italy’s second biggest bank, said its “index of solvency risk” for Italy was already flashing red as the worldwide bond rout continued into a second week, pushing up borrowing costs.

The report warned that Italy will “inevitably end up in an EU bail-out request” over the next six months, unless it can count on low borrowing costs and a broader recovery.

As Ambrose Evans Pritchard noted:

“Time is running out fast,” said Mediobanca’s top analyst, Antonio Guglielmi, in a confidential client note. “The Italian macro situation has not improved over the last quarter, rather the contrary. Some 160 large corporates in Italy are now in special crisis administration.”

Italy’s €2.1 trillion (£1.8 trillion) debt is the world’s third largest after the US and Japan. Any serious stress in its debt markets threatens to reignite the eurozone crisis. This may already have begun after the US Federal Reserve signalled last week that it will begin to drain dollar liquidity from the global system.
The ECB has already backed away from earlier plans to steer credit to small businesses in the Club Med bloc. The Italian banking association said it was bitterly disappointed by the latest break down in eurozone talks on a banking union, warning that it leaves Italy’s lenders at the mercy of a confidence crisis.

Andrew Roberts from RBS said the world has become “a dangerous place” as Fed tightening marks an inflexion point in global liquidity.

Borrowing costs of 5pc could prove crippling for Spain and Italy, both suffering from contraction of nominal GDP.

Mediobanca said the trigger for a blow-up in Italy could be a bail-out crisis for Slovenia or an ugly turn of events in Argentina, which has close links to Italian business. “Argentina in particular worries us, as a new default seems likely.”

Mr Guglielmi said Italy’s industrial output has slumped 25pc from its peak in the past decade, while disposable income has dropped 9pc and house sales have dropped to 1985 levels.

The 1992 crisis was defused by a large devaluation, allowing Italy to restore trade competitiveness at a stroke. Mediobanca said: “The euro straitjacket is clearly not providing a similar currency flexibility today. With the lira devaluation Italy managed to inflate debt away, which it cannot do today. It could take more than 10 years to revert to pre-crisis output levels.

May 25, 2013

Phil Hansen: Embrace the shake

Hansen challenged himself to create art using unconventional materials (dandelion puffs, matches, live worms, hamburger grease) and canvases (a stack of Starbucks cups, his torso, bananas). The resulting time-lapse videos of his creative processes are his meta-art, showing that art is action, not just results. 
Through an integrated view of what sparks creativity, Hansen has devoted himself to teaching others the approaches to creativity that have changed both his outlook and his artistic endeavors. 
Hansen has just started a new project via Kickstarter, inviting people to share their stories of overcoming limitations with him. 
Anyone who calls him at  651-321-4996  and tells him their story will become a part of the work, the creation of which is watchable on a live feed.

Where are the millionaires!

Where is the wealth concentrated in the world! According to a new report from WealthInsight, Tokyo is beating out New York and London. 
The Economist notes that the city, which boasts 460,700 individuals with net assets of $1m or more (excluding their primary residences), is home to over a fifth of Japan's millionaires. However, when it comes to real money London tops the list with 4,224 multi-millionaires.  
But the real surprise is Frankfurt which has the highest millionaires per capita (with 75 out of every 1000 people having at least a seven figure net worth).

Source: The Economist

Cosmetic surgery boom in crisis-stricken Greece and Italy

While the Greek economy remains under the proverbial knife of the Troika, it appears the wealthy are unconcerned by the plight of their fellow countrymen. 
Der Spiegel reports that not only does Greece have the second highest rate of cosmetic surgery per capita in the world but thanks to a slumping economy, surgeons have cut prices by up to 40% while rich Greeks are never as before rushing to improve their looks.

Via Der Spiegel,
The economic crisis has forced thousands in Greece to rely on volunteers for even basic health care services.

Meanwhile, wealthier Greeks are having more facelifts and breast implants than anywhere in the world.


Every year, the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) performs a survey of the number of plastic surgery procedures performed worldwide. When the numbers are compared to a country's population, the results are surprising for Greece. In 2011, 142,394 procedures were performed in the country, with its population of about 11 million. That means that, on average, one in 79 Greeks has had procedures such as liposuction, eyelid corrections and Botox injections performed on them. Worldwide, the Greeks rank only second to the South Koreans in terms of the number of cosmetic procedures performed per 1,000 inhabitants (see graphic). In Germany, with a population of about 81 million, there were 415,448 procedures in 2011, or one in about 200.

2011 was the year of the economic crisis, and yet Greece rose even higher in the international ranking. Looking good still seems to be important to the Greeks.

April 30, 2013

It is Bunga Bunga all over again!

With the election confirmed today by the Senate of the new Italian government Berlusconi has managed to place himself in power once again. 
No wonder that Berlusconi is having a very good time these days; with two trials pending and a new government controlled by him, he has managed again to shield himself from going to jail. 
The old fox has outwitted his antagonists once again.

Beyond the politics of the moment Italy though is besieged by a very serious crisis.

As the various central banks dump money into the system, the yields on Italian sovereign debt have gone down but this does not change the economic difficulties.

The official debt to GDP ratio is 136% but the actual number is somewhere around 280% which is unsustainable by any measure.

Italy's Real GDP is back to 1990s levels practically erasing any growth accumulated in the last 10 years.

The Italian banking system is also in dire straits.
Italian banks are seeing a sharp deterioration in the quality of their assets. The rate of acceleration in newly impaired loans is staggering as it appears the current recession, driven by falling internal demand, is more insidious than the export-led crisis in 2009.

And no matter how the Italian banks try to differentiate their bad loan composition, it is an ugly picture.

The Italian House Price Index (IPAB) decreased 4.6% YOY as a result of tightening credit conditions, new property taxes and a difficult macro environment.

Italy's industrial base has one important peculiarity: 95% of companies have under nine employees. In fact the average is four. They are micro companies and as such, their balance sheet is modest and so is their ability to withstand prolonged contraction in demand (external or domestic depending on the line of business).

Italy has a second important peculiarity. It has significant household financial wealth and an aging population, including a high average age of entrepreneurs.
This implies that on the margin more entrepreneurs are likely to decide to scale back operations as expected profitability has diminished due to weak turnover, high red tape and growing fiscal burden.

On the margin, opting for early retirement looks like an increasingly appealing option.
Be it because of severe balance sheet pressures or because of less attractive future returns, the economy is losing productive capacity at a disturbingly high pace.

But despite private wealth and assets the public sector is quite close to going over the cliff.

Italy’s difficult position was enumerated in a Bank of Italy report to parliament last week which said the economy was going through its most acute crisis since World War II. Economic output last year was nearly 7% below that of 2007, while disposable incomes had fallen 9.5%. Industrial production had collapsed by 25% over five years, while the building sector shrank 22%. Unemployment had nearly doubled to 11.7% the Italian central bank said.

In the meanwhile Berlusconi's ratings are at an all time high, his PDL party in the latest polls is showing an increased popularity eroding support at PD and MS5.

Simply wondering if the Italian people are completely deluded or simply insane, I propend for the second option!

“Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”


April 20, 2013

Italy political chaos reach new highs with president re-election!

Italy, which has devolved into total political chaos since the February 25th inconclusive elections has managed to re-elect the current president Giorgio Napolitano for a second consecutive 7 year term. 
So if not a prime minister, the country at least has a president.
There is one problem: Napolitano is 87 years old.
Perhaps the prospect of a 95 year old president in 7 years is precisely the the kind of stamina and  impetus the country needs to shift its economy into overdrive!

Yet while the presidential election was largely a farce, it is the problems in Italy's Democratic Party (PD) that are now center stage, following what appears to be a complete implosion in the party.

From Reuters:
Center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani announced his resignation on Friday after party rebels sabotaged two separate candidates he had backed for state president, deepening Italy's political chaos.

Bersani told a meeting of parliamentarians he would quit as Democratic Party (PD) leader as soon as the election of the next head of state was completed, following two dramatic days of parliamentary voting in which successive center-left candidates were scuppered in secret ballots.

"He accepted his responsibility after the disgrace of what happened," Paolo Gentiloni, a senior Democratic Party parliamentary deputy said after Bersani's announcement.

Then disarray in the center-left, which has the most seats in parliament, could make a snap election in the summer more likely to end the political deadlock, but there is no clarity about the next moves after weeks of chaos.

It is unclear who will take over leadership of the badly split party but Bersani's departure could clear the way for arch-rival Matteo Renzi, the dynamic 38-year-old mayor of Florence, to take over.

Bersani's announcement came shortly after former Prime Minister Romano Prodi announced he was pulling out of the race for president after more than 100 center-left electors disobeyed Bersani's instructions to vote for him in parliament.

It was the last of a series of humiliating setbacks for Bersani and blunders that have shredded his ability to hold the center-left bloc together.

The collapse of efforts to secure the presidency for Prodi, a respected international figure, underlined the deep fractures running through politics in a country still seeking a government nearly two months after February's inconclusive general election.

"The politicians should be ashamed of what they're doing to the country. Today we're seeing a level of irresponsibility that goes beyond all limits," said Diego Della Valle, head of shoe group Tod's, one of Italy's most successful clothing companies.
The biggest winner as a result of all of the above? Silvio Berlusconi of course!
Since Berlusconi's star seems on the rise again I thought to follow the BBC track and highlight some of his most enlightened words such as these:
"I am without doubt the person who's been the most persecuted in the entire history of the world and the history of man."

"In my opinion, and not only mine, I am the best prime minister we can find today."

Previously, on the same theme: "I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone."

"The best political leader in Europe and in the world."

"There is no-one on the world stage who can compete with me."

"Out of love for Italy, I felt I had to save it from the left."

"The right man in the right job."

"I don't need to go into office for the power. I have houses all over the world, stupendous boats... beautiful airplanes, a beautiful wife, a beautiful family... I am making a sacrifice."

"In Italy I am almost seen as German for my workaholism. Also I am from Milan, the city where people work the hardest. Work, work, work - I am almost German."
And to put current Italian events into context it is worth quoting Benito Mussolini:
Democracy is talking itself to death. The people do not know what they want; they do not know what is the best for them. There is too much foolishness, too much lost motion. I have stopped the talk and the nonsense. I am a man of action. Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy.