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Elmwood Avenue Cash Mob – 6/13/13 5PM

Filed under: BuffCashMob

BuffCashMob

Do you want to make a difference in your community? Do you like social media? Are you someone who digs doing cool stuff with cool people? Do you love supporting local small business?  If so, welcome to a very special edition of the Buffalo Cash Mob to be held during the 2013 BALLE Conference!

Not sure what a CashMob is?  Well, click here for the background. In short, we gather 50-100 people to “mob” a business and spend $10-20 each. No coupons, no gimmicks, just shopping with a purpose. It allows you to meet the retailer, spend some time, build a relationship, and have a good time.

Cash mobs were born in Buffalo back in August of 2011 as a simple idea to generate support for local small business. Since the first event, we’ve held over a dozen cash mobs in Buffalo and generated over $70,000 in cash for Buffalo business owners. The idea of cash mobs quickly became a global phenomenon with events being held in over 500 cities spread across six continents, resulting in over $700,000 being spent at locally owned establishments. The movement has been profiled in media big and small, including NPR, NBC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Time Magazine.

More importantly, cash mobs have raised awareness about the importance of buying local and have driven media exposure for plucky entrepreneurs in cities across the world.

So, to celebrate the 2013 BALLE Conference, what better way to show off Buffalo then to invite the conference attendees to mingle with Buffalonians at some of our fantastic locally owned businesses?

This time, we won’t just be visiting one business, we’ll be supporting an entire block of businesses located on one of our most vital urban corridors, Elmwood Avenue!  On Thursday night, starting at 5PM and running until 7PM, we’ll be throwing the biggest cash mob in history, spanning Elmwood Avenue from Breckenridge Street to the Lexington Co-operative Market. Businesses that will benefit include The Blue Monk, Annie Adams Jewelry, Community Beer Works, Buffalo Fleece & Outerwear, Shoefly, The Treehouse Toy Store, Everything Elmwood, Positively Main Street, and dozens more (click here for a full listing of businesses). It will be a great night filled with music, fun, shopping and the best that Elmwood has to offer.

Music promoter and all around awesome guy, Seamus Gallivan from The Good Neighborhood has organized an awesome lineup of music for the night. Each establishment along this strip of Elmwood will host a performer to plus up the party atmosphere.

Abraham’s Jewelers, 798 Elmwood – Pamela Ryder

Artisans’ Hands, 754 Elmwood – Eliza Schneider

Buffalo Fleece & Outerwear, 758 Elmwood – Tom Stahl

Campus Wheelworks, 744 Elmwood – Folkfaces

Globe Market, 762 Elmwood – Ahavaraba

Lexington Co-op, 807 Elmwood – Shaky Stage

Reimagine, 732 Elmwood – Larkin Plan

Scoop Shop, 648 Auburn – John Martz

Second Chic, 810 Elmwood – Brad Gower (followed by 9pm poetry slam)

Thin Ice, 719 Elmwood – Mike Doktor’s Medicine Man Cigar Box Guitars

Urban Threads, 736 Elmwood, Evan Thompson

7-10pm

Lexington Co-op, 807 Elmwood – The Andrew J. Reimers Country-Punk Extravaganza & The Screaming Jeans

Let’s show a nation of localists that no city supports their local small business like Buffalo does.


The Morning Grumpy – 6/10/13

Filed under: Morning Grumpy

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

 LawdJesus

1. Meet Edward Snowden, the man behind the NSA Surveillance leak revealed last week in The Guardian. In a lengthy video interview with The Guardian, Snowden reveals the reason he leaked information about the broad-based NSA surveillance of American citizens. Snowden has fled the United States and will most likely never return unless under arrest. Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower responsible for the release of  “The Pentagon Papers” was asked for his thoughts on both the surveillance program and Snowden, and said this; “Can it really be a crime to expose crime?”

While I agree with Ellsberg’s sentiment, the sad part is that nothing that Snowden revealed is against the law. It’s all legal (as of now), and was supported by the overwhelming majority of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives (including Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand and Rep. Higgins). Hopefully, Snowden’s actions will force this country to revisit the constitutionality of these laws now that they are out in the open.  As an aside, it’s nice to see Ellsberg back on major news outlets after being condemned to the far-flung outposts of independent liberal media for decades.

2. How does President Obama compare to President Bush on matters of civil liberties, surveillance, targeted killing, CIA black sites, and drone warfare? ProPublica has a handy chart.

3. America’s fifty worst charities rake in millions of dollars each year yet devote less than 4% of donations to direct cash aid for their causes.

Every year, Kids Wish Network raises millions of dollars in donations in the name of dying children and their families.

Every year, it spends less than 3 cents on the dollar helping kids.

Most of the rest gets diverted to enrich the charity’s operators and the for-profit companies Kids Wish hires to drum up donations.

In the past decade alone, Kids Wish has channeled nearly $110 million donated for sick children to its corporate solicitors. An additional $4.8 million has gone to pay the charity’s founder and his own consulting firms.

Before you donate to a charity, check Guidestar to review the charity’s tax documents which breaks down how much of your money goes to overhead or direct program services.

4. Vice put together a fantastic piece about the gun and gang culture in Chicago or “ChIraq” as the locals call it. Really, just watch it. This is America.

5. Conspiracy theorist nutjob Alex Jones visited BBC News this past weekend to discuss his theories on the New World Order and the Bilderburg Conspiracy. Um, it didn’t go well.

I’m a sucker for this guy and his nonsense.

Fact Of The Day: There is a website that allows you to anonymously send a gallon of elephant, gorilla, or cow shit to anyone.

Quote Of The Day: “You can’t wait around for someone else to act.” – Edward Snowden

Video Of The Day: “How a mechanical watch works”

Song of The Day: “What Do I Get?” – Buzzcocks

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The Morning Grumpy – 6/6/13

Filed under: Morning Grumpy

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy. 

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1. Every few weeks, as a public service, I like to post this article. News is bad for you and you should stop consuming it or, at a minimum, radically alter how you consume it.

News is irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of news is irrelevant to you. But people find it very difficult to recognise what’s relevant. It’s much easier to recognise what’s new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organisations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive advantage. Many fall for that. We get anxious when we’re cut off from the flow of news. In reality, news consumption is a competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger the advantage you have.

The daily flow of news distracts from the larger realities around us. The hourly/daily updates on internecine political war, crime updates, inaccurate weather forecasts, murders, robberies, and other issues the media prop up as “BREAKING!!@!$” News are simply a waste of your time. I truly believe that.

I know this seems counter-intuitive from a blogger who curates “news” for his readers. However, if you’re a regular reader of the Grumpy, you know that I try to not link to the daily bump and grind of local or even national news, but instead focus on underlying trends or articles that inform movements and larger shifts in ideology. Daily news is  noise that makes me decidedly less informed. I try to consume longer-form work and investigative articles that challenge my assumptions and spend the time to fill out an idea with persuasive evidence. When was the last time you read or watched a daily news story (most likely partially ghost-written by a press release and/or featuring pre-packaged comments from a press conference) and thought, “I’m glad I read/watched that.”? Not too often, I’ll bet.

My recommendation (take it for what it’s worth) is to focus on explainer articles, long reads, features, and investigative work. Buy a New York Times subscription, read The Atlantic, or The Economist. Smarten up your consumption habits

2. Using a federal court order, the United States government has been collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon since April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.

Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.

The last sentence will be cited frequently tomorrow by defenders of the policy. I mean, they aren’t actually listening to our calls, right? And we aren’t doing anything wrong, so what’s the big deal, right? Well, wrong.  Last August, The New York Times interviewed NSA whistleblower William Binney and learned that all of our phone calls are being recorded and stored. While no one is actively listening to the content of your calls as they happen, the government can go back and listen to those recorded calls in the future if you are suspected of a crime and a FISA court grants permission.

Two weeks later, driving past the headquarters of the N.S.A. in Maryland, outside Washington, Mr. Binney described details about Stellar Wind, the N.S.A.’s top-secret domestic spying program begun after 9/11, which was so controversial that it nearly caused top Justice Department officials to resign in protest, in 2004.

“The decision must have been made in September 2001,” Mr. Binney told me and the cinematographer Kirsten Johnson. “That’s when the equipment started coming in.” In this Op-Doc, Mr. Binney explains how the program he created for foreign intelligence gathering was turned inward on this country. He resigned over this in 2001 and began speaking out publicly in the last year. He is among a group of N.S.A. whistle-blowers, including Thomas A. Drake, who have each risked everything — their freedom, livelihoods and personal relationships — to warn Americans about the dangers of N.S.A. domestic spying.

Watch the embedded clip in the New York Times story. It’s chilling. This story from Wired gives a little more background as well. This is not some conspiracy theory. It’s happening, and we need to give a shit.

3. All that security theater screening we do at the airport? It’s neither objective nor cost-effective.

The Transportation Security Administration has little evidence that an airport passenger screening program, which some employees believe is a magnet for racial profiling and has cost taxpayers nearly one billion dollars, screens passengers objectively, according to a report by the inspector general for the Homeland Security Department.

According to the report, the T.S.A. has not assessed the effectiveness of the program, which has 2,800 employees and does not have a comprehensive training program. The T.S.A. cannot “show that the program is cost-effective, or reasonably justify the program’s expansion,” the report said.

As a result of the T.S.A.’s ineffective oversight of the program, it “cannot ensure that passengers at U.S. airports are screened objectively,” the report said.

So, that’s all going pretty well, eh?

4.  The student loan debt crisis in nine revealing charts.

debt quadrupled[1]

and

costvstuitionv2

5. Proof the IRS Didn’t Just Target Conservatives – Almost one third of the tax-exemption applications selected for additional scrutiny by the IRS were from groups that were not conservative.

Close to a third of the advocacy groups named by the Internal Revenue Service as recipients of special scrutiny during tax-exempt application reviews were liberal or neutral in political outlook, a leading nonpartisan tax newsletter reported after conducting an independent analysis of data released by the agency.

irs_tax_groups

All told, around 470 groups were flagged as “potential political cases” between 2010 and 2012, including 298 whose experiences were analyzed in a Treasury Department inspector general’s report. Because the IRS by law must not name groups that have not yet been approved or which were rejected, only a subset of their names was made public in May by the agency — 176 cases.

Let’s just agree that it’s not right to target one specific type of group and also agree that obviously political groups are not “social welfare organizations” in need of non-profit status, ok?

Fact Of The Day: US Military Veterans can now choose the Hammer of Thor (Mjölnir) for their headstone emblem.

Quote Of The Day: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize” – Voltaire

Video Of The Day: Slo-Mo Videos are the heroin of the Video Rabbit Hole. This is my favorite.

Song Of The Day: “Kentucky Fried Flow” – Armand Van Helden

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The Morning Grumpy – 6/4/13

Filed under: Morning Grumpy

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy. But first, let’s check in with “Old Economy Steve“, the best meme on the Internet.

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1. As I hope you know, the school budget battle being waged in Clarence and the annual fight over charter schools in Buffalo is part of a larger national war on public education. While each battle is fought on individual terms and on different fronts – the overall goal is the same – to privatize and dismantle the public education system. David Sirota takes on the “reform” movement.

In the great American debate over education, the education and technology corporations, bankrolled politicians and activist-profiteers who collectively comprise the so-called “reform” movement base their arguments on one central premise: that America should expect public schools to produce world-class academic achievement regardless of the negative forces bearing down on a school’s particular students.

For education, technology and charter school companies and the Wall Streeters who back them, it lets them cite troubled public schools to argue that the current public education system is flawed, and to then argue that education can be improved if taxpayer money is funneled away from the public school system’s priorities (hiring teachers, training teachers, reducing class size, etc.) and into the private sector (replacing teachers with computers, replacing public schools with privately run charter schools, etc.).

Meanwhile, despite the fact that many “reformers’” policies have spectacularly failed, prompted massive scandals and/or offered no actual proof of success, an elite media that typically amplifies — rather than challenges — power and money loyally casts “reformers’” systematic pillaging of public education as laudable courage (the most recent example of this is Time magazine’s cover cheering on wildly unpopular Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel after he cited budget austerity to justify the largest mass school closing in American history — all while he is also proposing to spend $100 million of taxpayer dollars on a new private sports stadium).

The way we need to educate our children has drastically changed in the last twenty years due to radical shifts in technology, tools, and family structure.  However, I’ve always found the arguments behind the charter school movement and most reform programs to be wholly disingenuous. We need a national conversation on education policy, curricula, classroom innovation, and cost; what we get instead is bleating by entrenched interests and wars fought over the most incendiary of issues, dollars. We do a disservice to our children by putting money first when we should first do no harm.

2. Before we can address big problems like education policy, perhaps we should discuss the real problem. Larry Lessig breaks it down for us.

There is a corruption at the heart of American politics, caused by the dependence of Congressional candidates on funding from the tiniest percentage of citizens.

3. Craig Kanalley is the senior editor for “Big News and Live Events” at Huffington Post and operates at the forefront of new media and journalism. If something is happening in the world, you can count on him to curate the news, weed out the phony information and bring you the story that matters. In other words, he’s doing it right in the confusing world of journalism in 2013. Craig also happens to be from Buffalo and is universally regarded as a nice guy with an excellent ethical compass.

Several years ago as a journalism student at DePaul University, he started a Blog/Twitter Account called “BreakingTweets” which revolutionized how news was distributed on Twitter. He wrote about how he grew his little project into a global phenomenon and turned it into a job at Huffington Post and (for a spell) at NBC News before returning to a senior position at HuffPo.

The Internet, I’ve learned, is a great place to throw up ideas and see what sticks.

Some things resonate with people more than others. Some things that deserve attention, sadly, don’t get it. Some things you don’t expect to get any attention are wildly successful, “going viral.”

In the case of Breaking Tweets, it was a personal blog that I started for fun on Jan. 31, 2009. I had just witnessed the power of Twitter for news as mainstream media highlighted it covering the Hudson Plane Crash on Jan. 15, 2009 and many (including myself) live tweeted Barack Obama’s Inauguration at the National Mall on Jan. 20, 2009.

Twitter was becoming a powerful tool for breaking news, and I wanted to round up — again, just for fun — tweets about breaking news events around the world in one place.

The idea was to go to the scene of breaking news, to get as close as possible through eyewitness tweets. Photos? Even better. Along the way, I used a series of steps to verify tweets as credible.

If you don’t follow him on Twitter or Facebook, you should. I’m excited to watch his career blossom and see what else he has up his sleeve.

4. Those pinkos over at the RAND Corporation have done some research on Obamacare and have some interesting information to share.

The US Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act in 2012 allowed states to opt out of the health reform law’s Medicaid expansion. Since that ruling, fourteen governors have announced that their states will not expand their Medicaid programs.

As it turns out, states would save money and expand coverage by accepting the Medicaid expansion.

With fourteen states opting out, we estimate that 3.6 million fewer people would be insured, federal transfer payments to those states could fall by $8.4 billion, and state spending on uncompensated care could increase by $1 billion in 2016, compared to what would be expected if all states participated in the expansion.

Wait, it gets better!

Governors rejecting the Medicaid expansion often cite the costs to the state, but the Rand analysis said rejecting the expansion will actually raise those states’ healthcare costs without covering the uninsured.

“State policymakers should be aware that if they do not expand Medicaid, fewer people will have health insurance, and that will trigger higher state and local spending for uncompensated medical care,” Price said. “Choosing to not expand Medicaid may turn out to be the more-costly path for state and local governments.”

The federal government initially pays the entire cost of the expansion, dropping to a 90 percent share by 2020. 

Letting ideology get in the way of smart decisions is a sure ticket to getting voted out of office.

5. I love oral histories/long reads about absurd pop culture touchstones, like this one about the duo behind the 90’s hip-hop classic “Whoomp There It Is“.

In 2003, the actor Will Ferrell danced to “Whoomp!” in a scene for the movie Elf. DC didn’t know the song had been picked up for the movie until he was sitting in a theater. “All of a sudden, the song comes on and I smile, because a check will soon be coming to my mailbox,” he says. The movie scored big—and just like that, “Whoomp!” was a thing again. The song showed up in three movies the next year—including the Will Smith-Robert De Niro animated flick, Shark Tale—then it started getting dropped into television shows, like South Park and Scrubs. Money rolled in again. Ten thousand here, 20 thousand there. (The song generates up to $500,000 in a good year, which is divvied up among the rights-holders and lawyers; DC and Steve might collect up to $70,000 each, DC says.) The two traveled a bit, to corporate events, mostly, where they’d collect their cash—oftentimes around $5,000 per performance—play the song, and jump the next flight out of town.

Then, in 2010, “Whoomp!” got more juice when a gawker.com writer thought he saw President Barack Obama in the song’s video.

As an aside, here’s a list of 20 rap songs that were ruined by white people.

Fact Of The Day: Greenland has the highest suicide rates in the world — 1 in 4 people will attempt it at least once in their lifetime. No word on whether it was Cleveland or Detroit that finished second in the ranking.

Quote Of The Day: “You never know what is enough, until you know what is more than enough.” – William Blake

Video Of The Day: This dog has seen some shit. Every time he barks, the neighbors probably call 911.

Song Of The Day: “Got To Give It Up” + “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” = “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke

(NSFW Version of Video Here, SFW version embedded below)

The video (especially the NSFW version) is an absurdist romp that is also a heavy-handed homage to the work of Terry Richardson. At least, that’s what I’ll tell anyone who makes an issue of a nudity filled video. It’s all about the art.

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The Morning Grumpy – 5/31/13

Filed under: Morning Grumpy

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

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1. Brad Riter and I recorded a podcast about grocery store etiquette. It’s absurd, trivial, and thus far is the most popular podcast we’ve ever recorded. Which says a lot about the listeners. Enjoy.

2. The average American is as likely to be crushed to death by televisions or furniture as they are to be killed by a terrorist.

3. How activists are turning Chicago’s housing crisis into a huge opportunity.

The U.S. Postal Service, which tracks these numbers, reported that 62,000 properties in Chicago were vacant at the end of last year, with two-thirds of them clustered as if to form a sinkhole in just a few black neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. Currently about 40 percent of all homeowners in these communities owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, and countywide 80,000 foreclosures are wending their way through circuit court. Last spring, a nine-month study conducted by the National Fair Housing Alliance revealed what everyone in these neighborhoods already knew: After forcing out families in foreclosure, banks failed to properly market, maintain and secure the vacated homes. Thieves subsequently entered many of the properties and stripped them of copper and anything else that could be trafficked.

Sound familiar, Buffalo?

It’s not that the City of Chicago and its public and private partners don’t care about the areas gutted by foreclosures; it’s just that as investments, the numbers on these blocks simply don’t add up, and no amount of good intentions is going to change that any time soon. Since 2009, the city has funneled $168 million from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program into the purchase of 862 vacant foreclosures, fixing up 804 of them, at an average cost of $110,000. It sank $350,000 into the repairs of one home, but even at the asking price of $105,000, no buyers could be found. So far only 91 of the units have sold.

Yup, sounds familiar. What does a city do if the property value doesn’t support renovation for purchase or rental?

Cook County now plans to form what will become the nation’s largest land bank, an entity that will acquire thousands of vacant residences, demolishing some, turning others into much-needed rentals and holding onto others until they can be released, strategically, back into the market. By clearing titles and back taxes, the land bank hopes to attract the most responsible of the investor groups that are currently gobbling up distressed housing in neighborhoods with far better prospects.

And activists are filling in the gaps. The article is filled with solid ideas to benchmark for use in Buffalo.

4. How to hire good people rather than nice people.

Nice people care if you like them; good people care about you. Nice people stretch the truth; good people don’t. If you tell a nice person to do something evil, they might do it because they do not want to upset you; a good person will refuse to do it.

You might think you are a good person, but you are fallible, so if you want to avoid inadvertently doing something evil you must surround yourself with good people, not nice people.

How do you separate the good from the nice? If you do what I do, it will be a piece of cake.

Nice people will allow you to hire them even if they know they are not among your best candidates; a good person won’t let you hire them unless that is what is best for you.

If only more hiring managers in the corporate thought this way and followed this guys tips…

5. Why are athletes and affluent sports fans so obsessed with the idea of a “blue collar” work ethic? Seeing as how most actual “blue collar” folks can’t afford a ticket to a pro sporting event.

They are pro athletes who have chauffeurs and nutritionists and such. Most of the fans in the arenas watching them are probably not blue-collar either, in the sense of working with their hands or performing other physical labor. For one, there just aren’t that many blue-collar workers anymore: Half as many Americans work in manufacturing now as they did in the 1970s, for example. That doesn’t mean it isn’t still possible to make a decent living in a blue-collar job, but probably not a nice enough living to afford the $955 ticket that will get you on TNT behind the announcers in Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Meanwhile, the current fashion in building and promoting the arenas and stadiums that teams play in is to play up the luxury factor; everything is premium state-of-the-art this and black-leather Wi-Fi-enabled that. Buy into the Krieg DeVault Club Level at a Pacers game and you’re guaranteed your own “dedicated service staff member.”

As I get older the phoniness of professional sports becomes increasingly disheartening.

Fact Of The Day: The terms “left wing” and “right wing” refer to the seating arrangements in the French National Assembly just before the French Revolution.

Quote Of The Day: “Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots. It is a set of general principles- distilled over the course of the twentieth century, spanning fields as diverse as the physical and social sciences, engineering, and management. …During the last thirty years, these tools have been applied to understand a wide range of corporate, urban, regional, economic, political, ecological, and even psychological systems. And systems thinking is a sensibility- for the subtle interconnectedness that gives living systems their unique character.” – Peter Senge

Video Of The Day: Prancersize

Song Of The Day: “World Destruction” – Afrika Bambaataa with John Lydon

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The Morning Grumpy – 5/29/13

Filed under: Morning Grumpy

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy. But first, let’s see what’s new with Advice Mallard.

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1. Brad Riter and I sat down with Buffalo Mayoral Candidate Sergio Rodriguez to discuss his background, aspirations, and various parts of his campaign platform. Most of the previous coverage dedicated to Rodriguez has been of the “inside baseball” political variety and not anything substantive, so we took a different tack. I hope you enjoy it.

2.Matt Taibbi continues his excellent reporting on the American economy with a look at how the Federal Reserve is radically experimenting with our financial system while Congress is paralyzed with nonsense.

This whole debt debate really began devolving in earnest into total mindlessness once people like Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn started likening the government spending deficits to family budgets, pushing to “make Congress live under the same rules as families across the country and treat the federal budget like the family budget. Families have to live in their means and so should Congress.” Not paying our government obligations, Coburn said recently – remember, this is a U.S. senator talking – might be a “wonderful experiment.”

Comments like these led to Tea Party protesters descending upon Washington screaming about how not raising the debt ceiling is like giving your kids the bad news that they can’t afford to go to the movies – difficult but necessary, a kind of homespun tough love, except that a global superpower intentionally defaulting on its sovereign debt is actually way closer to an act of apocalyptic suicidal madness than it is to good parenting. (“It would be the financial-market equivalent of that Hieronymus Bosch painting of hell,” said JPMorgan Chase chief U.S. economist Michael Feroli.)

The national debt is totally unlike a family budget for about a gazillion reasons, not the least of which being that families cannot raise money by fiat or deflate the size of their debt unilaterally and that family members die instead of existing infinitely. Comparing your family budget to the sovereign debt of the United States is a little like comparing two kindergartners tossing a paper airplane to the Apollo 11 mission. It’s an automatically bogus argument, which raises the question of why it’s made so often, and not only by Republicans of the Coburn type, whom we expect to be clueless dopes. In fact, the overuse of this loony household analogy just proves that when it comes to debt, people may have ideas, but nobody knows exactly what he or she is talking about.

I can’t believe this is the Congress we’ve elected.

3. Think a complicated password keeps your data and personal information safe from hackers? Wrong. Ars Technica provided a a list of encrypted passwords to some credible hackers and asked them to see if they could crack those passwords. The results weren’t pretty.

The list contained 16,449 passwords converted into hashes using the MD5 cryptographic hash function. Security-conscious websites never store passwords in plaintext. Instead, they work only with these so-called one-way hashes, which are incapable of being mathematically converted back into the letters, numbers, and symbols originally chosen by the user. In the event of a security breach that exposes the password data, an attacker still must painstakingly guess the plaintext for each hash—for instance, they must guess that “5f4dcc3b5aa765d61d8327deb882cf99″ and “7c6a180b36896a0a8c02787eeafb0e4c” are the MD5 hashes for “password” and “password1″ respectively. (For more details on password hashing, see the earlier Ars feature “Why passwords have never been weaker—and crackers have never been stronger.”)

The Ars password team included a developer of cracking software, a security consultant, and an anonymous cracker. The most thorough of the three cracks was carried out by Jeremi Gosney, a password expert with Stricture Consulting Group. Using a commodity computer with a single AMD Radeon 7970 graphics card, it took him 20 hours to crack 14,734 of the hashes, a 90-percent success rate. Jens Steube, the lead developer behind oclHashcat-plus, achieved impressive results as well. (oclHashcat-plus is the freely available password-cracking software both Anderson and all crackers in this article used.) Steube unscrambled 13,486 hashes (82 percent) in a little more than one hour, using a slightly more powerful machine that contained two AMD Radeon 6990 graphics cards. A third cracker who goes by the moniker radix deciphered 62 percent of the hashes using a computer with a single 7970 card—also in about one hour. And he probably would have cracked more had he not been peppered with questions throughout the exercise.

Passwords are ultimately an elaborate theater of security. At a minimum, you should be changing your passwords every thirty days, refrain from recycling your passwords, and not never daisychain (i.e. use the same password for multiple accounts). You should also use two-factor authentication when possible, but be mindful that if someone really wants to crack your account, they can probably do it if they put their mind to it.

4. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive fighter jet ever built. Let’s break down the the numbers.

45:  The states over which Lockheed and its subcontractors and suppliers have spread the F-35 work.
133,000: The number of jobs the F-35 currently supports, according to Lockheed Martin.
2012: Year in which full-rate production was set to begin.
2019: Year in which full-rate production is now scheduled.
$233 billion: Estimated total cost in 2001.
$397 billion: Current estimated total cost, according to the Washington Post.
 
That’s one pricey plane.

5. The rise and fall of the charming American man.

Only the self-aware can have charm: It’s bound up with a sensibility that at best approaches wisdom, or at least worldliness, and at worst goes well beyond cynicism. It can’t exist in the undeveloped personality. It’s an attribute foreign to many men because most are, for better and for worse, childlike. These days, it’s far more common among men over 70—probably owing to the era in which they reached maturity rather than to the mere fact of their advanced years. What used to be called good breeding is necessary (but not sufficient) for charm: no one can be charming who doesn’t draw out the overlooked, who doesn’t shift the spotlight onto others—who doesn’t, that is, possess those long-forgotten qualities of politesse and civilité.

Still, charm is hardly selfless. All of these acts can be performed only by one at ease with himself yet also intensely conscious of himself and of his effect on others. And although it’s bound up with considerateness, it really has nothing to do with, and is in fact in some essential ways opposed to, goodness. Another word for the lightness of touch that charm requires in humor, conversation, and all other aspects of social relations is subtlety, which carries both admirable and dangerous connotations. Charm’s requisite sense of irony is also the requisite for social cruelty

Am I charming? No. I should work on that.

Fact Of The Day: Tomato ketchup was popular before fresh tomatoes, which were believed to be poisonous

Quote Of The Day: “Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.” -Warren Buffett

Song Of The Day: “Hooray For Me” – Bad Religion

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The Morning Grumpy – 5/24/13

Filed under: Morning Grumpy

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

 bourdain_middle_finger

1. As you may know, I am a regular contributor to another local website, Trending Buffalo, where I record podcasts (like this one) twice each week with Brad Riter and Alan Bedenko. The operators of TrendingBuffalo have taken it upon themselves to hand out some awards, but unlike the Artvoice or Buffalo Spree awards, the #Trendees will reward local people and business who use social media to make Buffalo a more interesting place to live. I think it’s a cool idea and if you have the time or interest, I’d like to encourage you to vote. Everyone likes lists and awards, right?

2. Last night, Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner and the Buffalo zone chairs voted to endorse Mayor Byron Brown as the Democratic candidate in the 2013 Mayoral election.

Democrats Endorse Brown for Mayor by 1east161st

Since being elected as the County Democratic Chairman, Zellner has made continual efforts to repair burned bridges between the ECDC and Mayor Brown, resulting in this endorsement. While party unity is nice (tenuous as it may be), it’s still disappointing that Brown is the presumed winner of the primary. As such, it was a no-brainer for Zellner to endorse the Mayor as a means to improve his bona fides as a unifying presence in the party. I mean, what was he going to do, endorse the alleged sexual harasser for the job? Come on.

Anyhow, Brown has done a solid job of making it appear that there is a lot of progress without actually accomplishing a lot.  He’s a nice and pleasant enough man, but those who pay attention know that Brown is running a secretive administration that fights real transparency at every turn and has been more focused on the centralization of political power than progress.  His Citistat program is a joke, based on garbage data going in with garbage analysis coming out.  Personnel scandals, missteps, podium abuse, economic development corruption, alleged FBI investigations into misuse of HUD monies, and a tendency to assemble task forces (in lieu of taking direct action on issues of import) have been the hallmarks of this administration.  I could go on and on, but let’s just say there’s no there, there.

Brown’s record is one of efforts taking precedence over results, which after three terms of Tony Masiello’s one-two punch of failure and incompetence seems like progress to most residents of Buffalo. Buffalo is at a crossroads where a dynamic leader with big ideas could implement generational change, but instead we get crumb-hoarding and petty political battles.

Let’s cut to the chase, while Byron Brown is the human equivalent of a long nap, unless he gets caught with a dead girl or a live boy in the next three months, he’s going to coast to victory. The announcement of his aforementioned primary opponent was met with an audible yawn in most corners of the city and Brown’s Republican opposition has secured neither the endorsement of his own party nor made any tangible progress in fundraising. So, hooray, Brown has been endorsed for another term.

3. Are we nearing the end of broad-based employment in retail stores?

Throughout the 20th century, American stores were the locus of low-skilled employment. The total retail workforce tripled between 1940 and 2000, and for much of the century, the sector employed more people than construction and health care combined. Even today, the two most common occupations in America, by a wide margin, are retail salesperson and cashier. Last year, 7.6 million people held those jobs—more than the total number of workers in Florida.

Retail still employs one in nine working Americans, and retail jobs have grown since the bottom of the Great Recession. But we might be witnessing the moment when it passes over the mountaintop. Between 1950 and 1990, retail employment grew more than 50 percent faster than the general workforce did. Since 1990, it’s grown 50 percent slower. Retail now employs fewer people than it did in 1999. And those people work significantly fewer hours, too.

If so, what does that mean for the economy?

Standard economic theory suggests that, in a smoothly functioning economy, low-skill jobs really do grow on trees, and are largely fungible—it’s the steady loss of middle-class jobs we should worry about. Retail jobs aren’t going suddenly, cataclysmically extinct; they’re likely to decline slowly.

Yet there is a worse scenario, in which the squeeze in retail work intensifies competition for other low-skill jobs, pushing down wages at the bottom and pushing some people out of the labor force entirely. This possibility should not be dismissed too readily.

Think about what happens to the low-skill labor market in 20 years, where will they go and what will they do?

4. Six facts lost in the IRS scandal nontroversy about the agency “targeting” conservative ideological groups that were among those which poured over $256 million into last year’s elections.

1. Social welfare nonprofits are supposed to have social welfare, and not politics, as their “primary” purpose.

A century ago, Congress created a tax exemption for social welfare nonprofits. The statute defining the groups says they are supposed to be “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.” But in 1959, the regulators interpreted the “exclusively” part of the statute to mean groups had to be “primarily” engaged in enhancing social welfare. This later opened the door to political spending.

So what does “primarily” mean?  It’s not clear. The IRS has said it uses a “facts and circumstances” test to say whether a group mostly works to benefit the community or not. In short: If a group walks and talks like a social welfare nonprofit, then it’s a social welfare nonprofit.

This deliberate vagueness has led some groups to say that “primarily” simply means they must spend 51 percent of their money on a social welfare idea — say, on something as vague as “education,” which could also include issue ads criticizing certain politicians. And then, the reasoning goes, a group can spend as much as 49 percent of its expenditures on ads directly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate for office.

Read the whole article before commenting, please.

5. If corporate profits are at an all-time high, why are corporate taxes at a 60-year low?

Business profits are escaping U.S. corporate income taxes in three big ways. First, business is literally moving away from the U.S., as multinational companies have expanded abroad.  Second, large companies are wise to the tricks they can use to move income through foreign subsidiaries that avoid America’s high statutory rate. Third, smaller companies are finding ways to avoid corporate taxes, altogether.

Also, if profits are up and taxes are down, why won’t the “job creators” quit it with their god damned whining already?

Fact Of The Day: “Smound” is a recently discovered perception, created from the convergence of scents and sounds in the brain. It explains why popcorn smells better in movie theater or a song can bring a rush of scent memory.

Quote Of The Day: “Faith: not wanting to know what is true.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Video Of The Day: “Bank” – Kid Snippets

Song Of The Day: “Freddie’s Dead” – Curtis Mayfield

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The Morning Grumpy – 5/22/13

Filed under: Morning Grumpy

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

water_fountains_out_of_order

1. Proving that massive failure as a public servant is not a deterrent to future employment or success in Buffalo, former Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello was appointed by Governor Cuomo to serve as a board member of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority (colloquially known as the “Peace Bridge Authority”). In the war to dissolve the PBA and turn over control of the bridge to the NFTA (represented in Albany by Masiello’s lobbying firm), the nomination of Masiello to the board is a power move by Cuomo to advance construction progress on the American side of the bridge and exercise more control over the project.

I can only hope the PBA will entrust Masiello with the job of public spokesman for the authority and ask him to record a video discussing the one-two punch of economic progress and vitality that will come from construction of a new bridge plaza.

2. Last week, it was announced that Holy Angels Academy of North Buffalo is closing its doors. Declining enrollment in mid-tier private schools is not a problem unique to Buffalo, it’s happening all across the country. Why?

Private K-12 enrollments are shrinking — by almost 13 percent from 2000 to 2010. Catholic schools are closing right and left.

Meanwhile, charter school enrollments are booming across the land. The charter share of the primary-secondary population is five percent nationally and north of twenty percent in 25 major cities.

What’s really happening here are big structural changes across the industry as the traditional model of private education — at both levels — becomes unaffordable, unnecessary, or both, and as more viable options for students and families present themselves. While unemployment remains high, the marginal advantage of investing thirty or fifty thousand dollars a year in private schooling is diminishing, particularly when those dollars are invested in low-selectivity, lower-status private institutions.

Local institutions like Nichols, Buffalo Seminary, Park, and other schools for the wealthy and/or elite will continue to do well, while less selective private schools will suffer, especially those in urban areas. Charters are eating at the fringes of enrollment numbers and when coupled with continued white flight to the suburbs and fewer people interested in religious education, you have a bad environment for schools like Holy Angels Academy.

3. Apple is a terrible company.

Even as Apple became the nation’s most profitable technology company, it avoided billions in taxes in the United States and around the world through a web of subsidiaries so complex it spanned continents and went beyond anything most experts had ever seen, Congressional investigators disclosed on Monday.

Congressional investigators found that some of Apple’s subsidiaries had no employees and were largely run by top officials from the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. But by officially locating them in places like Ireland, Apple was able to, in effect, make them stateless — exempt from taxes, record-keeping laws and the need for the subsidiaries to even file tax returns anywhere in the world.

According to an analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice, Apple has paid almost no income taxes to any country on its $102 billion in offshore holdings. Between 2009 and 2012, Apple avoided paying US taxes on some $74 billion in income, an amount equal to the entire budget of Florida.

Don’t forget how well they treat their workers in China. Enjoy your iPhone.

4. Ta-Nehisi Coates takes President Obama to task for how he speaks to African-Americans. It’s something I’ve never really picked up on, but Coates lays it all bare. It’s made me take another look not just at how the President speaks, but also what informs his policies.

Taking the full measure of the Obama presidency thus far, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this White House has one way of addressing the social ills that afflict black people—and particularly black youth—and another way of addressing everyone else. I would have a hard time imagining the president telling the women of Barnard that “there’s no longer room for any excuses”—as though they were in the business of making them. Barack Obama is, indeed, the president of “all America,” but he also is singularly the scold of “black America.”…No president has ever been better read on the intersection of racism and American history than our current one. I strongly suspect that he would point to policy. As the president of “all America,” Barack Obama inherited that policy. I would not suggest that it is in his power to singlehandedly repair history. But I would say that, in his role as American president, it is wrong for him to handwave at history, to speak as though the government he represents is somehow only partly to blame. Moreover, I would say that to tout your ties to your community when it is convenient, and downplay them when it isn’t, runs counter to any notion of individual responsibility.

These are the cracks in the Obama foundation that might subvert his second term agenda, not ginned-up right-wing nontroversies.

5. Why does the IRS regulate political groups? The Sunlight Foundation explains the hows and whys of political campaign regulation with a simple and clean infographic and story.

The controversy over the Internal Revenue Service’s handling of applications for non-profit status from Tea Party groups has put a spotlight on a subject with which we at the Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group are all too painfully familiar: The migraine-producing complexity of the nation’s campaign finance system. To shed some light on the ongoing debate, we’ve decided to share what we know.

It’s a tangled web, but to understand the IRS nontroversy (which is simply a way for Republicans to further weaken the IRS), you need to understand this first.

6. Why French children don’t have ADHD. Is the disease a construct of American medicine?

In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5%.

French child psychiatrists view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems with drugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context. They then choose to treat the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling. This is a very different way of seeing things from the American tendency to attribute all symptoms to a biological dysfunction such as a chemical imbalance in the child’s brain.

I’m not dismissing how American psychiatrists have chosen to treat ADHD, I don’t yet know enough about the subject (nor do I think I will anytime soon). However, I’m interested in learning more about the issue and would appreciate any of you sending along links on the matter.

Fact Of The Day: An estimated 211 new pornographic films are made every week in the United States

Quote Of The Day: “Your past is just a story. And once you realize this, it has no power over you.” – Chuck Palahniuk

Video Of The Day: If movies were written and voiced by kids, but acted by parents, you’d have “Kid Snippets”

Song Of The Day: “Loving Cup” – The Rolling Stones

Follow me on Twitter for the “incremental grumpy” @ChrisSmithAV

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