Romney hits Obama on China policies

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Saturday accused President Barack Obama of failing to “stand up to China” after the U.S. Treasury put off releasing a politically sensitive report on the currency policies of major U.S. trading partners.

XL Foods Announces Temporary Layoff Of 2,000 Employees

XL Foods, the chain behind the biggest beef recall in Canadian history, announced Saturday that it is temporarily laying off 2,000 workers at its Brooks, Alta. plant.

It is with deep regret we have announced the temporary layoff of 2,000 employees today,” said Brian Nilsson, Co-CEO of XL Foods in a release.

Employees have received full pay for the past three weeks, he said, adding that, “We have paid our valued team members out of a commitment to our workforce and to assist them through this difficult time.”

The plant is currently working under a temporary license and resumed limited processing.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has not provided a definite timeline for when relicensing will be approved for the plant.

It is this uncertainty that has forced the temporary layoffs, said the release.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed last week that it will be audited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the first time in three years.

Meanwhile, Alberta Premier Alison Redford said that a government program to help beef producers should be enough to get XL Foods through the temporary shutdown.

“We are hopeful that the CFIA will bring this to a swift and viable resolution,” Nilsson said.

Kindle owners—your e-book refunds are coming

On Saturday, Amazon started e-mailing its Kindle customers, alerting them to a possible credit coming their way courtesy of Hachette, Harper Collins, and Simon & Schuster. The three publishers were pulled into an antitrust suit in April by the Department of Justice, along with two other e-book publishers (Penguin and Macmillan) and Apple, as part of a massive antitrust case that started after the EU began investigating e-book prices. 16 states filed their own antitrust suits against the publishers and Apple as well.

“Hachette, Harper Collins, and Simon & Schuster have settled an antitrust lawsuit about e-book prices,” Amazon’s notification reads, “Under the proposed settlements, the publishers will provide funds for a credit that will be applied directly to your Amazon.com account. If the Court approves the settlements, the account credit will appear automatically and can be used to purchase Kindle books or print books.”

While the settlement still needs to be approved by the court at a hearing on February 8, 2013, Hachette, Harper Collins, and Simon & Schuster have already set up a $69 million fund to pay back customers. According to Amazon, customers can expect a credit in the range of $0.30 to $1.32 for each eligible e-book the customer bought between April 2010 and May 2012 on a Kindle. Customers can also request the credit in the form of a check.

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Study: Europeans Quickest To Adopt iOS 6, Overall Updates Growth Continues

ios-6

We’ve got some new and interesting numbers to share about iOS 6 adoption three weeks after launch, from a couple of different sources, both of which show users continue to update to the new mobile OS from Apple. There are also some interesting differences depending on region, with some countries lagging far behind the U.S. in terms of adoption and some surging far ahead.

First, from Chitika, the news that iOS 6 adoption has climbed to just a hair shy of 68 percent on iPhone devices, based on a snapshot taken October 10 of the traffic coming through millions of ad impressions on Chitika’s network. The iPad is at 51 percent running iOS 6, passing the tipping point of more than half of all users, and the iPod rose to just over 42 percent. Chitika thinks that part of the reason behind the differences might be the overabundance of older devices still in use in the iPod segment that can’t upgrade to iOS 6, whereas all but first-generation iPads are currently compatible, and iPhones enjoy a quicker turnover cycle with consumers thanks to carrier upgrade incentives. Overall, iOS 6 adoption sits at 58.88 percent, according to Chitika’s data.

The numbers from Chartboost paint a slightly different picture. Overall, they see iOS 6 adoption sitting at just under 50 percent. That’s still an improvement from when it showed growth nearly stalling last week, but considerably under Chitika’s picture. But both continue to show an upwards trend.

In addition to looking at overall OS version adoption, Chartboost also broke down country-by-country uptake, and that showed some interesting variances depending on where users are in the world. Top iOS 6-adopting nations include Italy (65 percent), Germany (62.3 percent), the Netherlands (60.6 percent) and the UK (57.6 percent). On the other end of the spectrum, China is among the lowest adopting countries, with just 24.5 percent on iOS 6. You can see a number of other nations in the chart below.

One more chart from Chitika below shows how various countries stack up relative to the U.S. The geographical iOS 6 adoption breakdown provides an interesting look at where users are more eager to be on the latest version, but other factors like device distribution and access to reliable Wi-Fi connections could be at play.

Amazon says Kindle users are entitled to e-book refunds

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Owners of Amazon.com’s Kindle e-readers will receive refunds on past e-book purchases and see e-book prices drop if a judge approves legal settlements with publishers accused of fixing prices, according to the Internet retailer.

Life As An Writer Taking Orders From Readers

When author Holly McDowell has writer’s block, she doesn’t get up for more coffee or browse the web. Instead, she just consults her readers.

McDowell is writing her interactive serial novel King Solomon’s Wives armed with a computer, her imagination and lots and lots of data about her readers. Thanks to McDowell’s publisher Coliloquy, a pioneering digital publishing startup that lets readers determine a book’s outcome, when her readers stop reading, she knows. When they go back to reread a section, she knows. And when they want to hear more about a character, she knows — because she asks them.

At the end of each installment of the serialized story, which sees a new “episode” released every three to four months, readers get to vote on what should happen next or which character should take center stage. Recently, the readers weighed in to determine the setting for a forthcoming episode. Chicago and New Orleans beat out Paris, Venice, Rome and Istanbul. In a forthcoming poll, McDowell will survey her readers on which male character they want to take center stage.

“I’m really curious to know the answer,” she said.

We asked her what it’s like to be an author writing by committee and how books that read readers will reshape literature.

What do you learn about readers as they read?
I know how many read to the end of the book and how many go back and reread certain chapters. I know if someone stops in the middle of the story and puts it down. If a lot of people stop at the same point, I’ll know that maybe that chapter wasn’t as interesting. It’s incredible.

What data do you use when you write?
The main thing I look at are the choice points people voted on. At the end of episode two, I’m asking people which one of the wives would they most like to see have a romantic storyline, which is dangerous for them [N.B.: the female protagonists have been put under a curse that makes their touch addictive to others]. Which one will they put in trouble? Episode two isn’t out yet, but I’m really curious to know the answer.

Does this data-intensive approach make writing easier? Harder?
It makes it tons easier. It’s like I have a million options and the voting narrows those options down to just two or three, and that gets my imagination going. It’s like a writing prompt. It’s a jumping off point.

It also helps me know if I’m on the right track with the pacing. If I have a lot of exposition and less action, and that did well in one episode, then I know to keep the same level of pacing in the next episode.

Are you on guard against certain information you don’t want to let change the way you write?
There are things I’m trying to say about what it’s like to be a woman in society today and the pressures we have. If all the feedback showed that people just wanted a chase scene and didn’t necessarily want to read about how my characters feel about their world, I might find that a little frustrating.

Do readers know what they want?
They know what they’re interested in and they know what they want to hear more about. For sure. They’ll read a chapter where I’m describing all of the wives, and certain ones intrigue them, and certain ones don’t. They’ll want to hear more about some and not others.

Are we headed for a place where everyone writes by committee?
It is sort of writing by committee, but it’s not exactly a democracy. Because in the end, if I really didn’t want to write about New Orleans, I wouldn’t have to.

Have you ever overridden them?
Not yet. The thing to remember is I get to pick the list of five, say, wives the reader gets to pick from so I’m not opposed to any of them up front.

How will books be shaped if they know how they’re being read? How does that dialogue between text and reader change the text?
What I’m writing now is not really a book at all. I consider it a story.

I think that stories can be significantly bigger. It’s like a TV series: You can explore five big themes instead of two. You can explore many more aspects of your world.

It’s also like role-playing in a video game where you go in as one character, play it through, then go in as another character and play it all again. The story you’re seeing plays out changes and gets bigger and bigger, even though the world it’s in stays the same.

So you move away from the tyranny of the plot? It seems like it becomes about the world you’re creating and the characters in it rather than a sequence of events.
Absolutely. This is not a linear storyline. You can think of it like concentric circles. In each episode you’re moving closer and closer into the center rather than going in a straight line.

How would Anna Karenina or The Great Gatsby be different if the authors had had input from their readers?
Take Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises: The main character in that novel does some things readers aren’t crazy about. He makes some poor choices. Sometimes he’s a little bit of a jerk.

Imagine if Hemingway had released one chapter at a time and he had readers telling him, “This guy is sort of a jerk. Why is he doing that?” It would have been a completely different book if Hemingway had listened.

So the readers might have saved the protagonist from himself?
I wonder. If they did, I’m not sure the book would have been as great.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Anti-Austerity Protestors Storm Streets In Spain

MADRID — Several thousand anti-austerity protesters in Spain marched down a major street in the capital banging pots and pans Saturday.

Many protesters also blew whistles as they blocked part of the Castellana boulevard Saturday carrying placards saying “We don’t owe, we won’t pay.”

“None of us pushed the banks to lend huge sums of money to greedy property speculators, yet we are being asked to pay for other’s mistakes,” 34-year-old civil servant Maria Costa, who was banging an old pot along with her two children, said.

With unemployment nearing 25 percent, Spain has introduced biting austerity measures as well as financial and labor reforms in a desperate bid to lower its deficit and assuage investors’ misgivings.

Spain has been granted a (EURO)100 billion ($130 billion) loan by the 17-nation eurozone to help its banks worst hit by the collapse of a bloated real estate sector. Still, Spain’s economy is in a double-dip recession with a forecast to shrink by 1.5 percent this year and by up to 0. 6 percent in 2013.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government is also pushing for the European Central Bank to intervene in the secondary market to bring down Spain’s borrowing costs, but the European Central Bank is insisting the country must first formally make an application for financial aid.

“They are cheating us by asking for us to pay by cutting public services,” 19-year-old student Laura Lavinia said.

In the Portuguese city of Braga, several hundred artists and people opposed to their government’s cuts to the culture budget protested under a banner saying “without culture people become dogs.”

Exclusive: Inside Walmart’s Secret Strike Plan

Walmart launched a large-scale response this week to a series of unprecedented labor strikes, according to a confidential document obtained by The Huffington Post.

The seven-page internal memo, issued Oct. 8, is intended for salaried employees only, and contains instructions on how to respond to strikes by hourly workers that spread to 28 Walmart stores in 12 cities earlier this week. The strikes were the first by Walmart retail employees in the company’s 50-year history.

The memo makes clear that Walmart, the world’s largest private employer, views the labor protests as a serious attack, a message that runs contrary to the company’s public comments that the strikes are mere “publicity stunts,” as Walmart’s vice president of communications David Tovar told The Huffington Post Tuesday.

“As you know,” the memo opens, “activists or union organizers have been trying for years to stop our Company’s growth and to damage our relationship with our customers and members. One of the activists’ or union organizers’ tactics is to try to disrupt the business by urging our associates to participate in a walkout or other form of work stoppage.”

The majority of the memo is aimed at instructing managers not to violate workers’ legal right to engage in concerted activity, or non-union labor organizing. Managers are directed not to “discipline” employees who engage in walkouts, sit-ins or sick-outs.

Legal experts said the confidential memo shows an unprecedented level of caution from a company that has taken harsh stances towards employee attempts to organize in the past.

“Walmart probably has in mind that the Obama NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] often sides with unions over management,” said Lance Compa, a labor law professor at Cornell University’s School of Industrial Relations in Ithaca, N.Y. “So they’re being extremely cautious.”

The memo is peppered with Walmart management jargon, offering a window into the secretive corporate culture built by founder Sam Walton. Managers are reminded over and over of the acronym TIPS (Threaten Intimidate Promise Spy) when dealing with potential labor organizing by hourly-wage “associates.” The widely used human resources term serves to remind managers that they cannot, by law, threaten or intimidate workers who organize, promise them benefits if they stop organizing, or spy on their activities.

What managers can legally do, however, is what Walmart calls FOE — offer workers Facts, Opinions, and Personal Experiences about labor organizing. Walmart offers a sample opinion that says, “I don’t think a walkout is a good way to resolve problems or issues.” According to Compa, this is a boilerplate tactic for companies looking to discourage unionizing without breaking the law.

The historic retail worker strikes began last Friday in Los Angeles, when 60-some people walked off work, and they quickly spread across the country. Earlier in September, workers at warehouses owned by Walmart in Illinois and California also went on strike.

Striking workers are demanding that Walmart end retaliatory practices against employees who attempt to organize by Nov. 23, Black Friday. If not, they will strike again on the biggest shopping day of the year, according to Colby Harris, a Walmart worker from Dallas, who participated in Tuesday’s strike.

Walmart spokesman Dan Fogleman said the strikes were largely publicity stunts. “We’ve seen the unions hold these made for TV events outside our stores for about ten years now,” he told HuffPost, “and they want the publicity to help further their political and financial agendas. There is a very small number of associates raising these concerns, and they don’t represent the views of the vast majority of our 1.3 million associates.”

According to Compa, the memo reflects Walmart’s concern over the 20-some charges of unfair labor practices that Walmart workers filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over the past 8 weeks in concurrence with the strikes.

The charges include dozens of allegations from employees who claim they were subjected to harassment, cut hours and other disciplinary actions when Walmart higher-ups learned that they supported OUR Walmart, the United Food and Commercial Workers-backed worker group that organized the recent strikes. If the NLRB sides with the workers, Walmart may eventually be forced to pay a huge settlement in back pay, the specific amount of which would vary for each individual case.

Fogleman said the company has “very strict policies against retaliation. If an associate feels that they have been retaliated against, we want to know that. That allows us the opportunity to look into it and take appropriate action.”

Politics may also play a role in the company’s newfound caution. Top positions at the NLRB are appointed by the president, and Democrats have traditionally been more sympathetic to labor organizers.

Notably, the leaked memo lacks many of Walmart’s famously tough labor policies.

In the past, internal Walmart documents instructed managers to remind employees that they could be permanently replaced if they went on strike, as well as provided talking points on the false guarantees unions make to workers, according to a 2007 report by Human Rights Watch that examined 292 NLRB charges against Walmart. The new document bears no mention of replacing employees.

At one point, Walmart is even more cautious than the law requires. The document does not instruct managers to evict employees conducting a sit-in on company property, as is within their legal right, according to Compa, who also serves as a consultant to Human Rights Watch.

Still, a few of the strategies that made Walmart famous as a union-buster rear their heads in the document. Tacked onto the end of the memo is a definition of the term, “Coaching By Walking Around” (CBWA), or “when managers walk through their facility or department everyday just to visit with associates,” as Walmart explains it. While it may sound benign, the verb “to coach” in Walmart lexicon also means to discipline employees. According to workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Walmart managers have used CBWA as a surveillance tactic to monitor and deter labor organizers.

Fogleman, the Walmart spokesman, defended the CWBA, saying that management uses it as a tool to “remain engaged with everyone working for them and with environment. It helps foster the channels of open dialogue that set us apart as an employer.”

It remains to be seen whether the new directives will have a long-term impact on Walmart managers. “I think it’s one thing to get a piece of paper, but in practice that’s not what people have experienced in these stores,” said Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice, a nonprofit workers rights group. Gupta cautions that one document is unlikely to alter five decades of anti-union corporate culture. “What I worry about is that our experience with Walmart management is they say they’ll respect workers, and then their actions tell a different story.”

Walmart also could have ulterior motives for considering workers rights, such as covering itself in upcoming Unfair Labor Practice proceedings. “Walmart could say, in effect, ‘Look, it says right here, we told our supervisors ‘don’t retaliate’ –- so we must be innocent,” said Compa, the law professor. Compa noted that this is a possible motivation for Walmart to have put such “extremely circumspect” manager instructions down on paper at a time like this.

For Dan Schlademan, director of the UFCW’s Making Change at Walmart campaign, the motives of the memo are less important than its overall effect on workers. “I’ve been doing this work for 20 years, and I’ve never seen a document like this.”

“What’s important about this piece of paper is that it solidifies what people saw for the first time during the strikes, which is that Walmart employees were able to walk out in protest, and the next day were able to return to work. For many of them, that was amazing to see.”

SEE THE WALMART DOCUMENT HERE.