Thursday, March 15, 2018

ANS -- Want to save your job and make more money? Buy out your boss

This explains more about worker-owned business as a solution.  It tells about one business in Scotland.  Read it.  

It had all been going so well. In this smoothest of seductions, John Clark and Alistair Miller hadn't had to do a thing. There they were, itching to sell their business and get on with retirement. Then one day in the middle of 2015, this American firm – big-time, way out of their league – swung by the factory outside Glasgow and asked: what price do you have in mind? This was followed by an invitation back to the multinational's European headquarters in the home counties.

So off popped Miller. The two sides were inching towards the dotted line when he casually inquired what the Americans would do with their new Scottish premises. This one question sent the needle screeching across the record.

As soon as the managing director across the desk started talking about "exploring possibilities" and "transferable technologies", Miller knew what she meant. Their Scottish operation would run for another six months, a year tops. Then it would be shut – and the order book and the technology shifted down south. And when the factory disappeared, so too would the jobs and the livelihoods of 60-odd workers and their families. Selling up would hand the owners a huge cheque, and leave their staff on a tiny giro.

"You'd be sitting back with your piles of cash," says Clark, "but at some point you're going to bump into those guys. Some of them have been there longer than me. I know their families."

"Those guys" helped to build this place. Since its launch in 1986, Novograf has gone from printing signs for vans to working with some of the biggest chains in Britain. It has become expert in the branding that envelops you while shopping, eating or holidaying, but which you never take in. Walk around a Co-op supermarket, and the signs guiding you to the wine and beer or fruit and veg aisles will be Novograf's. Pop into a Pizza Hut and the wood-look flooring will have been made and laid by Novograf employees. Stay at an Ibis Styles hotel and the big fat number on your room door probably comes from their East Kilbride factory. Then there's Greggs, Iceland, Tesco, Waitrose …


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Miller and Clark hadn't poured six decades of their combined lives into this venture only to leave a plump carcass for others to feed on. But the two sixtysomethings had run smack into one of the central problems of British capitalism: how to ensure a company's owners look after it. Pretty much any spiv with a chequebook can buy a business in the UK and ruin it as they want. Westminster will ask few questions, expect even less accountability, and never learn any lessons. That fanatical British adherence to open markets and property rights leaves the staff, the suppliers and the public counting for little.

The publisher of Horny Housewives, Richard Desmond, bought the Express stable in 2000 without New Labour ministers raising an eyebrow. A once-great paper was wrecked and hundreds of journalists lost their jobs, but Desmond pocketed nearly £350m before he sold it to Trinity Mirror this year.

In 2005, Manchester United football club was snapped up by the Glazer family, who paid for it by borrowing hundreds of millions that they loaded on to the club's balance sheet – before shifting its headquarters to the tax haven of the Cayman Islands, a 10,000-mile round trip from the club's Old Trafford stadium.

Philip Green may strip BHS bare; Cadbury can be ravaged by Kraft; Australian investment bank Macquarie can run Thames Water into the ground then, as a reward, get the public's Green Investment Bank. Each time owners damage a business, employees and often customers get shafted, and local economies suffer – while a handful right at the top cash in.

John Clark, chairman and former owner of Navograf.
 'I could be sitting back on piles of cash. But at some point you're going to bump into those guys. I know their families.' John Clark, chairman and former owner of Novograf. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

But Miller and Clark can tell you how much depends on the simple fact of ownership. It helps shape the business model, the ethos and culture of a company. However, even as they tried to secure a careful owner for their business, all the plausible options were a no-go.

Sell to a rival? Their staff and values would be discarded like used wrapping paper. Cash out to private equity? A green light for a corporate ransacking. Neither man's children wanted to trudge in their dad's footsteps, and senior management were not in a position to buy them out.

Just then, a postcard flopped on to the doormat. "Thinking of exiting your business?" it asked. When the man from Scottish Enterprise, an agency of the Holyrood government, told them about worker ownership, he got blank faces. The biggest employee-owned firm in the UK, John Lewis, was a Novograf customer, yet all Clark knew about its structure was that once a year the company would be on the news for paying "partners" a tax-free bonus. Which was lovely, Clark and Miller thought, but what did that have to do with them?

Employee ownership is as simple as selling a company to its staff. Over 300 British firms have done it, from Arup architects to Waitrose. But it is as radical as giving the people who create a business's wealth the right to share in it. That wealth is no longer handed over to remote shareholders in the form of share buybacks and dividends.

When Clark and Miller "got off our butts" and visited a few of the 95 Scottish firms now owned by their employees, "we learned that their productivity was higher, that they were more resilient in bad times, that they were more inclusive of all their staff".

Giving workers control over their companies doesn't just make the firms more successful, it also makes the workers a lot better off. Last year, the California-based National Center for Employee Ownership analysed US jobs figures and found that younger workers who are worker-owners enjoy 33% higher wages and 92% higher median household wealth than those who aren't owners.

The British government knows much of this, because it commissioned a report that told it so. The very first line of Graeme Nuttall's 2012 review reads: "Employee ownership is a great idea." After lobbying by Liberal Democrat ministers, two years later chancellor George Osborne scrapped capital gains tax for employers who transferred a majority share of their business to workers. This was back when Osborne and David Cameron would hymn "the John Lewis model".


Just like "the march of the makers" and the "big society", the fad has left little trace. Of the 2,617 full-time equivalent civil servants at the Department for Business, not one is dedicated to promoting worker ownership, as advised by the Nuttall review. The same report also recommends "the appointment of a minister responsible for promoting employee ownership across government". Yet this department confirmed to me that not even its most junior minister holds any such brief.

That silence partly explains why employee ownership remains so exotic. When Clark and Miller announced their idea for selling the company to their staff, they hired a local hotel, put on fancy nibbles and gave a great presentation. "The very first question we got was, 'Have we still got a job?'" remembers Clark. "Nobody had a clue what it meant," recalls factory technician David Anderson. "People assumed that everyone was going to have to get a mortgage to buy the company."

Four hundred miles north of Whitehall, the far smaller Scottish Enterprise employs eight full-time staffers to promote and advise on worker ownership and other "inclusive models" of organising companies. The SNP government is full-square behind it, and the Herald, the Record and the Scotsman newspapers trumpet this Isle of Arran holiday resort or that Hebridean jewellers being taken over by its employees.

Just two decades ago, newly devolved Holyrood paid through the nose for inward investment and prayed that the multinationals would repay their lavish subsidies with lasting jobs. They rarely did. Hewlett Packard, Chunghwa Picture Tubes and many others pulled the corporate equivalent of a one-night stand.

Workers on Novograf's factory floor in East Kilbride
 'Everyone received a decent tax-free bonus last year, and also took part in the first-ever staff survey, which led to sick-pay and leave entitlement becoming more generous.' Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

Holyrood can still relapse – such as when it gifted Amazon £2.5m of taxpayers' money and got back a distribution warehouse in Dunfermline. But Scottish Enterprise's Sarah Deas talks of fostering a Mittelstand – a German-style dense network of medium-sized businesses that think long term and honour their social obligations.

Which is a reminder that British business is not some political monolith – that it can break left as well as right. White-haired Clark is appalled at "the FTSE guys", the chief executives paid 100 times the average wage of their workers. "What are they doing to deserve that?"

Clark is not, he says, "some paternalistic capitalist" or a "crusader". He's "hardnosed", and with Miller got a fair price for Novograf. But they've also taken big risks to ensure their workers could afford it. It proved impossible to raise cash upfront for the purchase price. "Not one of the major banks was interested. Not even our own." So Clark and Miller turned themselves into a bank – handing over the company shares while allowing employees to pay them back over a few years, with interest. And with conditions: as long as the pair retain an interest in the firm it cannot relocate more than 200 miles away, "because that would defeat the entire purpose of the deal".

At the end of 2016, all the shares in the company were transferred from the two original owners into a trust held on behalf of all staff. Just over a year later, the all-new, same-old Novograf still feels eggshelly, as if everyone is trying to gauge what's changed. Its new managing director, Jennifer Riddell-Dillet, has to tell employees: "Remember you're an owner." She both manages and works for her staff, one of whom sat on the panel that interviewed her for the job.

Novografers like to tell you that this isn't "some socialist paradise", that there are still bosses and workers; but the priorities have changed. Formerly a senior manager for two PLCs, Riddell-Dillet says: "Public companies are only about external shareholders. There, employees are the asset of the business – but they're a sweatable asset. Here, you think, 'If I just drive them into the ground it will be less fulfilling, less rewarding and it will be more ruthless.'"

Everyone received a decent tax-free bonus last year, and also took part in the first-ever staff survey, which led to sick pay and leave entitlement becoming more generous. Anderson, a Novograf lifer, says: "The people on the factory floor definitely feel more in control than before. Anybody can now say, 'I don't see why things have to be done that way' – and someone's got to answer."

That power requires some growing into. Production manager Michael Carr has become a director of Novograf, and has struggled to get his head around the accounts. And with no previous experience, Anderson and business development manager Margaret Nelson now make up half the trustee board. The other two trustees will be Miller and Clark, until they're finally paid off. "It's obvious that they know what they're talking about and we don't," says Nelson. "Challenging your old boss is an intimidating thing."

But employees will challenge on their expert subject: their daily work. Just last week, an employee showed Carr a cheaper and quicker way of assembling signs. They would never have spoken up before, he says, yet that one simple thing could save "a few thousand pounds in man-hours and material".

In its first full year of employee ownership, Novograf's sales shot up 20% and the company took on an extra 22 people. That success followed on from a strong performance in 2016, but Riddell-Dillet reckons their direct stake in the outcome did drive employees to put in "the blood, sweat and tears".

Not all the savings are strictly necessary. Not so long ago, now-chairman John Clark, while washing his hands in the gents, reached over to the soap dispenser. He remembers a thin jet of lotion flying out – "Whoosh ... it hit me amidships" – all over his stomach. He charged over to the man responsible for ordering in supplies and told him the new soap was far too thin. While Clark stood dripping, the man nodded. "Aye, that was me," he said. "I've watered down the soap by half to save money."

 We'd like to hear about your experiences with employee ownership. Share your stories via our form, or email them to, and we will be in touch

 This week's instalment of The Alternatives forms part of the Guardian's Upside series, a project focusing on possible solutions to some of the world's biggest problems

 Aditya Chakrabortty is a Guardian columnist

I'm still experimenting.  If you need the URL, let me know.  the system seems to be blocking when it has the URL -- maybe.  

Scientists have established a link between brain damage and religious fundamentalism

Mike Pence pointing

Astudy published in the journal Neuropsychologia has shown that religious fundamentalism is, in part, the result of a functional impairment in a brain region known as the prefrontal cortex. The findings suggest that damage to particular areas of the prefrontal cortex indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by diminishing cognitive flexibility and openness—a psychology term that describes a personality trait which involves dimensions like curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness.

Religious beliefs can be thought of as socially transmitted mental representations that consist of supernatural events and entities assumed to be real. Religious beliefs differ from empirical beliefs, which are based on how the world appears to be and are updated as new evidence accumulates or when new theories with better predictive power emerge. On the other hand, religious beliefs are not usually updated in response to new evidence or scientific explanations, and are therefore strongly associated with conservatism. They are fixed and rigid, which helps promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group.


Religious fundamentalism refers to an ideology that emphasizes traditional religious texts and rituals and discourages progressive thinking about religion and social issues. Fundamentalist groups generally oppose anything that questions or challenges their beliefs or way of life. For this reason, they are often aggressive towards anyone who does not share their specific set of supernatural beliefs, and towards science, as these things are seen as existential threats to their entire worldview.

Since religious beliefs play a massive role in driving and influencing human behavior throughout the world, it is important to understand the phenomenon of religious fundamentalism from a psychological and neurological perspective.

To investigate the cognitive and neural systems involved in religious fundamentalism, a team of researchers—led by Jordan Grafman of Northwestern University—conducted a study that utilized data from Vietnam War Veterans that had been gathered previously. The vets were specifically chosen because a large number of them had damage to brain areas suspected of playing a critical role in functions related to religious fundamentalism. CT scans were analyzed comparing 119 vets with brain trauma to 30 healthy vets with no damage, and a survey that assessed religious fundamentalism was administered. While the majority of participants were Christians of some kind, 32.5% did not specify a particular religion.

Based on previous research, the experimenters predicted that the prefrontal cortex would play a role in religious fundamentalism, since this region is known to be associated with something called 'cognitive flexibility'. This term refers to the brain's ability to easily switch from thinking about one concept to another, and to think about multiple things simultaneously. Cognitive flexibility allows organisms to update beliefs in light of new evidence, and this trait likely emerged because of the obvious survival advantage such a skill provides. It is a crucial mental characteristic for adapting to new environments because it allows individuals to make more accurate predictions about the world under new and changing conditions.

Brain imaging research has shown that a major neural region associated with cognitive flexibility is the prefrontal cortex—specifically two areas known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). Additionally, the vmPFC was of interest to the researchers because past studies have revealed its connection to fundamentalist-type beliefs. For example, one study showed individuals with vmPFC lesions rated radical political statements as more moderate than people with normal brains, while another showed a direct connection between vmPFC damage and religious fundamentalism. For these reasons, in the present study, researchers looked at patients with lesions in both the vmPFC and the dlPFC, and searched for correlations between damage in these areas and responses to religious fundamentalism questionnaires.

According to Dr. Grafman and his team, since religious fundamentalism involves a strict adherence to a rigid set of beliefs, cognitive flexibility and open mindedness present a challenge for fundamentalists. As such, they predicted that participants with lesions to either the vmPFC or the dlPFC would score low on measures of cognitive flexibility and trait openness and high on measures of religious fundamentalism.

The results showed that, as expected, damage to the vmPFC and dlPFC was associated with religious fundamentalism. Further tests revealed that this increase in religious fundamentalism was caused by a reduction in cognitive flexibility and openness resulting from the prefrontal cortex impairment. Cognitive flexibility was assessed using a standard psychological card sorting test that involved categorizing cards with words and images according to rules. Openness was measured using a widely-used personality survey known as the NEO Personality Inventory. The data suggests that damage to the vmPFC indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by suppressing both cognitive flexibility and openness.

These findings are important because they suggest that impaired functioning in the prefrontal cortex—whether from brain trauma, a psychological disorder, a drug or alcohol addiction, or simply a particular genetic profile—can make an individual susceptible to religious fundamentalism. And perhaps in other cases, extreme religious indoctrination harms the development or proper functioning of the prefrontal regions in a way that hinders cognitive flexibility and openness.

The authors emphasize that cognitive flexibility and openness aren't the only things that make brains vulnerable to religious fundamentalism. In fact, their analyses showed that these factors only accounted for a fifth of the variation in fundamentalism scores. Uncovering those additional causes, which could be anything from genetic predispositions to social influences, is a future research project that the researchers believe will occupy investigators for many decades to come, given how complex and widespread religious fundamentalism is and will likely continue to be for some time.

By investigating the cognitive and neural underpinnings of religious fundamentalism, we can better understand how the phenomenon is represented in the connectivity of the brain, which could allow us to someday inoculate against rigid or radical belief systems through various kinds of mental and cognitive exercises.

Bobby Azarian is a freelance writer with a PhD in neuroscience. His research has been published in journals such as Cognition & Emotion and Human Brain Mapping, and he has written for The Atlantic, The New York Times, BBC Future, Scientific American, Psychology Today, and others. Follow him @BobbyAzarian.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

ANS test

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Democrats to unveil $1 trillion infrastructure plan, seek reversal of GOP tax cuts to finance it

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

As the White House struggles to finance an ambitious infrastructure plan, Senate Democrats are proposing one alternative — albeit one unlikely to pass muster with President Trump: rolling back the recently passed Republican tax overhaul.

The proposal unveiled by Democratic leaders Wednesday would plow just over $1 trillion into a wide range of infrastructure needs, including $140 billion for roads and bridges, $115 billion for water and sewer infrastructure and $50 billion to rebuild schools.

The spending would be offset by clawing back two-thirds of the revenue lost in the Republican tax bill by reinstating a top income tax rate of 39.6 percent, restoring the individual alternative minimum tax, reversing cuts to the estate tax, and raising the corporate income tax from 21 percent to 25 percent.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview Tuesday that the plan sets up a stark contrast for voters ahead of the midterm elections.

"We believe overwhelmingly the American people will prefer building infrastructure and creating close to 15 million middle-class jobs than giving tax breaks for the wealthy," he said.

Trump: We can find 'common ground' on infrastructure

Democrats are working to swing public opinion back against the GOP tax plan after months of stock market gains and corporations announcing worker raises and bonuses helped persuade the public that the tax package was a good thing. Now Democrats are trying to divert focus away from the middle-class benefits of the bill back to provisions that mainly benefit corporations and the wealthy, which account for the bulk of the cost of package's cost.

"Now that Republicans are realizing that the president's plan is a nonstarter, and some of them have voiced that, we hope that this will importune them to move in our direction," Schumer said. "I think as they get closer to the election, and they need some real program, something big and significant to get done this year . . . they may move in our direction or at the very minimum propose a real plan with real dollars on their own."

Although much of the Democratic plan would send money to traditional infrastructure priorities like highways, transit and waterways, Schumer highlighted less conventional spending priorities, including $40 billion to build high-speed Internet connections in rural areas and $80 billion to upgrade the country's energy grid.

Republicans dismissed the Democratic proposal Wednesday. Aides said it was hypocritical for Democrats, after months of complaining about the $1.5 trillion deficit impact of the tax bill, to take two-thirds of that cost and devote it to infrastructure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) scoffed at the proposal in floor remarks Wednesday.

"Repeal all these bonuses, pay raises, new jobs, and new investments? Talk about a nonstarter," he said.

Before Trump's election, Schumer and many other Democrats had previously endorsed infrastructure plans that would have raised funds by forcing American companies to move their overseas profits back to the United States and taxing them at a discounted rate. But Republicans used that maneuver, known as repatriation, to help offset the cost of their tax cuts.

That has left little choice, Schumer said, to finance a big infrastructure plan. Democratic leaders, like their Republican counterparts, have rejected one obvious alternative: raising the federal gasoline tax for the first time since 1993.

"We'd rather have the very wealthy and corporations pay for it than average folks who drive," he said.