Saturday, February 16, 2008
I've never understood people's fuss over the water they drink when they go to hotels, let alone their willingness to pay for what is otherwise free in most western countries. When I'm out in cities where you can drink tap water, that's what I ask for; when I have to buy mineral water, I ask for the cheapest.
Water is water is water. Having said that, I agree that sometimes the taste is distinct. For example, here in Madrid, mineral water Bezoya and Aquafina taste strange to me; I will drink them if I have to, but I avoid buying those brands -- I don't like water that tastes like something (it's not supposed to taste like anything!), but otherwise I'm not fussed. The whole "tap water isn't good for you" conundrum doesn't phase me in any way.
It totally ruffles my feathers when I go to a posh hotel and people I go with actually have a preference of mineral water, so I would go absolutely bonkers if I went to Claridge's Luxury Hotel in London and was given a water menu with 30 international brands to choose from. 30!
According to a recent article in the BBC: For the most refined palette there is fine artesian water from Japan at $30 a bottle and $40 a bottle, or Mahaolo from Hawaii, described on the menu as "rare deep sea water" that is "very old." And Just Born Spring Drops from India is apparently "light and not aggressive," at $42 per bottle.
WHAT!? THAT'S MORE EXPENSIVE THAN A GOOD BOTTLE OF WINE! And this stuff sells?
"We wouldn't do this if there was a demand for it," says the hotel's public relations manager. Apparently guests not only ask for berg or glacial water, but water with no sodium content or water fortified with calcium and magnesium; they even specify the region from where they want the water! "People are so very, very careful about what they eat these days that it's moved into water."
Have I completely lost perspective here or do you find this as absurd as I do?
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, as amended (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.)(IEEPA), the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.)(NEA), and section 301 of title 3, United States Code,
I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, find that, due to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by acts of violence threatening the peace and stability of Iraq and undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq and to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people, it is in the interests of the United States to take additional steps with respect to the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13303 of May 22, 2003, and expanded in Executive Order 13315 of August 28, 2003, and relied upon for additional steps taken in Executive Order 13350 of July 29, 2004, and Executive Order 13364 of November 29, 2004. I hereby order:
Section 1. (a) Except to the extent provided in section 203(b)(1), (3), and (4) of IEEPA (50 U.S.C. 1702(b)(1), (3), and (4)), or in regulations, orders, directives, or licenses that may be issued pursuant to this order, and notwithstanding any contract entered into or any license or permit granted prior to the date of this order, all property and interests in property of the following persons, that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons, are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in: any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense,
(i) to have committed, or to pose a significant risk of committing, an act or acts of violence that have the purpose or effect of:
(A) threatening the peace or stability of Iraq or the Government of Iraq; or
(B) undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people;
(ii) to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, logistical, or technical support for, or goods or services in support of, such an act or acts of violence or any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order; or
(iii) to be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order.
(b) The prohibitions in subsection (a) of this section include, but are not limited to, (i) the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order, and (ii) the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.
Sec. 2. (a) Any transaction by a United States person or within the United States that evades or avoids, has the purpose of evading or avoiding, or attempts to violate any of the prohibitions set forth in this order is prohibited.
(b) Any conspiracy formed to violate any of the prohibitions set forth in this order is prohibited.
Sec. 3. For purposes of this order:
(a) the term "person" means an individual or entity;
(b) the term "entity" means a partnership, association, trust, joint venture, corporation, group, subgroup, or other organization; and
(c) the term "United States person" means any United States citizen, permanent resident alien, entity organized under the laws of the United States or any jurisdiction within the United States (including foreign branches), or any person in the United States.
Sec. 4. I hereby determine that the making of donations of the type specified in section 203(b)(2) of IEEPA (50 U.S.C. 1702(b)(2)) by, to, or for the benefit of, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order would seriously impair my ability to deal with the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13303 and expanded in Executive Order 13315, and I hereby prohibit such donations as provided by section 1 of this order.
Sec. 5. For those persons whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order who might have a constitutional presence in the United States, I find that, because of the ability to transfer funds or other assets instantaneously, prior notice to such persons of measures to be taken pursuant to this order would render these measures ineffectual. I therefore determine that for these measures to be effective in addressing the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13303 and expanded in Executive Order 13315, there need be no prior notice of a listing or determination made pursuant to section 1(a) of this order.
Sec. 6. The Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, is hereby authorized to take such actions, including the promulgation of rules and regulations, and to employ all powers granted to the President by IEEPA as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of this order. The Secretary of the Treasury may redelegate any of these functions to other officers and agencies of the United States Government, consistent with applicable law. All agencies of the United States Government are hereby directed to take all appropriate measures within their authority to carry out the provisions of this order and, where appropriate, to advise the Secretary of the Treasury in a timely manner of the measures taken.
Sec. 7. Nothing in this order is intended to affect the continued effectiveness of any rules, regulations, orders, licenses, or other forms of administrative action issued, taken, or continued in effect heretofore or hereafter under 31 C.F.R. chapter V, except as expressly terminated, modified, or suspended by or pursuant to this order.
Sec. 8. This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right, benefit, or privilege, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, instrumentalities, or entities, its officers or employees, or any other person.
Like many viewers, I watched this ABC 20/20 report when it first aired in December with jaws-open, eyes-bugging horror. It told the story of two women workers for Halliburton/KBR who had been sent to Iraq. There, one, Jamie Lee Jones, a young computer tech, was gang-raped on her fourth day by coworkers after being drugged; the other, Tracy Barker, was sexually assaulted by a State Department employee. Both immediately reported their assaults, only to have KBR first lock them in isolation, then question their accusations. In the case of Jones, it even "lost" the medical report that documented evidence of gang rape.
Here, then, is the update, posted this week on ABCNews.com. It ain't pretty.
A mother of five who says she was sexually harassed and assaulted while working for Halliburton/KBR in Iraq is headed for a secretive arbitration process rather than being able to present her case in open court.
What it means: instead of having her case heard in court like a normal American citizen, Barker will have it dealt with in behind-the-scenes, private arbitration.
Then read what the judge actually said.
District Judge Gray Miller, however, wrote in his order that "whether it is wise to send this type of claim to arbitration is not a question for this court to decide."
"Sadly," wrote Judge Miller, "sexual harassment, up to and including sexual assault, is a reality in today's workplace."
Whatwhatwhat? Sexual assault is just something women have to put up with in today's workplace? What?
Here was Halliburton's genius (the company formerly run by Dick Cheney has since divested itself of KBR): it made all employees sign an employment contract requiring them to settle all such matters in arbitration instead of court. In arbitration, there is no public record or transcript of the proceedings, meaning that Tracy's claims will not be heard before a judge and jury. What are the chances of justice?
Then the kicker:
Halliburton and KBR had also sought to have Barker pay for their costs of defending their right to arbitrate. That request was denied.
After years of resisting the newsroom cuts that have hit most of the industry, The New York Times will bow to growing financial strain and eliminate about 100 newsroom jobs this year, the executive editor said Thursday.
The cuts will be achieved by “by not filling jobs that go vacant, by offering buyouts, and if necessary by layoffs,” said the executive editor, Bill Keller. The more people who accept buyouts, he said, “the smaller the prospect of layoffs, but we should brace ourselves for the likelihood that there will be some layoffs.”
The Times has 1,332 newsroom employees, the largest number in its history; no other American newspaper has more than about 900. There were scattered buyouts and job eliminations in The Times’ newsroom in recent years, but the overall number continued to rise, largely because of the growth of its Internet operations.
Shares in The New York Times Company rose almost 5 percent Thursday after the newsroom staff reductions were reported, closing at $18.84, up 86 cents.
The Times Company has made significant cuts in the newsrooms of some of its other properties, including The Boston Globe, as well as in non-news operations. Company executives say the overall head count is 3.8 percent lower than it was a year ago.
But with the industry’s economic picture worsening, the company is under increased pressure from shareholders — notably two hedge funds that recently bought almost 10 percent of the common stock — to do something dramatic to improve its bottom line.
For 2007, it recently reported earnings of $209 million on revenue of $3.2 billion.
Newspaper industry ad revenue fell about 7 percent last year, and 4.7 percent at The Times Company, and executives around the industry have projected that 2008 will be equally bad.
Other large newspapers have made much bigger cuts, proportionally, than those The Times is planning; some newsrooms are more than 20 percent smaller than they were early in this decade.
Even so, eliminating jobs has grown harder “because the low-hanging fruit is gone, and so is some of the higher-hanging fruit,” Mr. Keller said. And he suggested that the cuts could not help but affect the newspaper’s journalism.
“To meet our budget goals, we will have to do a little less, and every time we do less, we cede a bit of advantage,” he said. “Our challenge will be to set our priorities in such a way that we do less in the areas that damage our competitiveness least.”
The Times has a newsroom budget of more than $200 million. It is one of a very few news organizations that have not reduced their coverage of Iraq, which costs about $3 million a year, and expenses have also been increased by an unusually long and competitive presidential campaign.
The Times also faces increased competition from The Wall Street Journal, which was acquired in December by the News Corporation. With Rupert Murdoch, the News Corporation’s chairman, calling for The Journal to become an alternative to The Times, The Journal is stepping up its coverage of politics and government.
The Journal has about 750 newsroom personnel, a figure that does not include some of the support staff that most newspapers include in the tally. That is the largest the number has ever been, and News Corporation executives have said they expect it to grow.
The Los Angeles Times has fewer than 900 newsroom employees, down from about 1,200 early in this decade. The Washington Post has about 800, down from a peak of about 900.
While their peers were out making trouble, these young achievers were making bank.
Forever in search of the secrets to entrepreneurial success, we peeked into the inspirational lives of five whiz kids who built million-dollar enterprises before the age of 20.
They partnered with friends, siblings and mentors, or did the work on their own. Three are from the U.S., two from the U.K. All started at age 15 or younger--and one before he broke double digits.
Their common thread: preternatural business sense and demon drive to turn ideas into reality.
Five Teen Millionaire Entrepreneurs: Fraser Doherty, Ashley Qualls, Catherine Cook, Cameron Johnson, Adam Hildreth
While four of the five were making a mint on the Internet, Fraser Doherty was doing things the old-fashioned way. In 2002, at the age of 14, Doherty started making jams from his grandmother's recipes in his parents' kitchen in Edinburgh, Scotland. Neighbors and church friends loved them. As word spread, Doherty started receiving orders faster than he could produce them at home, so he rented time at a 200-person food-processing factory several days a month.
Go With The Flow
By age 16, Doherty left school (with his parents' blessing) to work on his jams full time. In early 2007, Waitrose, a high-end supermarket in the U.K., approached Doherty, hoping to sell his Superjam products in their stores. Within months there were Superjam jars on the shelves of 184 Waitrose stores, hoisting Doherty and his business to new heights.
Doherty borrowed 5,000 pounds (about $9,000) from a bank to cover general expenses and more factory time to produce three flavors: Blueberry & Blackcurrant, Rhubarb & Ginger and Cranberry & Raspberry. Tesco (other-otc: TSCDY - news - people ) followed, adding Doherty's products to 300 stores across the U.K. In March, Superjam will launch at Tesco in Ireland.
Last year Superjam hit $750,000 in sales and is on track to double that in 2008 (about 50,000 jars a month). Based on a reasonable valuation multiple of one times revenue--jelly-maker J.M. Smucker (nyse: SJM - news - people ) trades at 1.2 times sales--Doherty's 100% stake is worth in the neighborhood of $1 million to $2 million.
Not bad for a 19-year-old. Doherty's recommendation to other young entrepreneurs: "Have an attitude of adventure, and enjoy the journey."
Cameron Johnson truly took that perspective to heart, parlaying one hit into the next. Back in 1994, when he was just 9, Johnson launched his first business out of his home in Virginia, making invitations for his parents' holiday party. By the seasoned age of 11, Johnson had saved up several thousand dollars selling greeting cards. He called his company Cheers and Tears.
But the little guy didn't stop there. At age 12, Johnson offered his younger sister $100 for her collection of 30 Ty Beanie Babies, all the rage at that time. The young entrepreneur quickly earned 10 times that amount by selling the dolls on eBay (nasdaq: EBAY - news - people ). Smelling potential, he contacted Ty and began purchasing the dolls at wholesale with the aim of selling them on eBay and on his Cheers and Tears Web site.
In less than a year, Johnson banked $50,000--seed money for his next venture, My EZ Mail, a service that forwarded e-mails to a particular account without revealing the recipient's personal information. He hired a programmer to flesh out his idea, and within two years My EZ Mail was generating up to $3,000 per month in advertising revenue.
Johnson still wasn't done. In 1997, he joined forces with two other teen entrepreneurs, Aaron Greenspan and Tom Kho, to create an online advertising company called Surfingprizes.com, which provided scrolling advertisements across the top of users' Web browsers. Those who downloaded the software received 20 cents per hour (a tiny fraction of the value to the advertiser) for the inconvenience of having ads splay across their computer screens.
The boys employed a classic pyramid strategy to spread the service. Users who managed to refer Surfingprizes.com to a new customer would nab 10% of that new person's hourly revenue.
But Johnson and company didn't just sell software--they wanted a piece of that juicy ad revenue too. Their solution: partnering with companies such as DoubleClick, L90 and Advertising.com that could sell the ads for them. Under the agreements, the middlemen would collect 30% of any ad revenue sold, while the three boys split the remaining 70%, out of which they paid those referral fees.
"I was 15 years old and receiving checks between $300,000 and $400,000 per month," says Johnson. At 19, he sold the company name and software (but not the customer database) to an undisclosed buyer. Says Johnson, "Before my high school graduation, my combined assets were worth more than $1 million."
Now just 23, and with other ventures under his belt, Johnson spends his time giving speeches and promoting a new book. "Put yourself out there," he advises. "Don't be afraid of rejection. Don't be afraid to ask anything."
Stick To A Vision
At 15, Catherine Cook and her brother Dave, 17, were flipping through their high school yearbook and came up with the idea to develop a free interactive version online. In 2005, the two convinced their older brother Geoff, a budding Web entrepreneur himself, to invest $250,000 and his time to help them launch MyYearbook.com, a social-networking site based in Skillman, N.J.
Soon after, the Cooks merged with Zenhex.com, an ad-supported site where users post a variety of homemade quizzes, more than doubling the number of eyeballs taking in their site. But when they tried to expand even further, they hit some snags. Potential investors wanted to move the company's headquarters to New York (the Cooks wanted to stay put). They also wanted to have ads appear on users' personal profile pages (the Cooks didn't).
Good thing the Cooks stuck to their vision. By 2006, MyYearbook had raised $4.1 million from the likes of U.S. Venture Partners and First Round Capital. Since then, the site has attracted such advertisers as Neutrogena, Disney (nyse: DIS - news - people ) and ABC; has grown to 3 million members worldwide; and rakes in annual sales in the "seven figures," says Catherine.
How to compete in an industry dominated by MySpace and Facebook? Mine a niche. "[Our site is] specifically for high school students, and we really listen to the suggestions of our members," says Catherine.
While the Cooks decline to discuss the value of their stake in the business, one MyYearbook investor (who agreed to speak only if unidentified) claims the Cooks' chunk is worth "well over $1 million."
Seven figures is real money to anyone, let alone a teenager. Yet despite their heady success, all of these young world-beaters seem to remain--refreshingly--kids at heart. "I'm not driving around in fancy cars," says Doherty. "I'm in it totally for the adventure."
Profits and perspective: Sounds like a recipe for even greater success in the decades to come.