Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Only Thing Worse Than the Super Bowl Is the Puppy Bowl: Against the tyranny of cuteness



Before your eyes widen with rage and your temple veins burst, before you leave a profane comment at the bottom of this article, before you tweet about how I should be euthanized, and before you photoshop my face onto Hitler’s body and upload it to the Facebook page “Ryan Kearney Is Worse Than Michael Vick,” know this: I think puppies are cute. Cuter than kittens, cuter than bunnies, cuter than ducklings and piglets, penguin chicks and panda cubs. Infinitely cuter, also, than human babies, whose cheeks cannot compete with puppy fur, whose eyes are as unmoored as puppies’ are expressive, and whose limbic flailing make a pouncing puppy look like an NFL-caliber wide receiver.

But puppies are not wide receivers, not of any caliber. They are dogs, and as such, they don’t have two feet and two hands but rather four paws that seem expressly designed to prevent carrying round objects, let alone catching airborne footballs. And yet, every year since 2005, the cable network Animal Planet has let loose a motley crew of these toddler-dogs in a stadium—actually an enclosed pen measuring roughly five yards by two yards, painted to resemble a football field—and broadcast the action as “Puppy Bowl,” complete with an NFL Films narrator (originally the legendary Harry Kalas, RIP, and now Scott Graham). The only “bowl” here is the one from which the thirsty dogs lap water with their coarse little tongues, and the “action” has nothing to do with methodically moving a ball down the field and scoring. Instead, puppies chase and sniff and mount each other, lose interest, nod off, wake up, gnaw plush footballs, and sometimes lift one in their mouth and trot into the end zone, adorably unaware of the significance of this act.


It’s unfair, of course, to compare the Puppy Bowl to its ostensible inspiration, the Super Bowl. One features puppies; the other features some of the world’s most impressive athletes. But what’s wrong with one is what’s wrong the other—and you, the viewer, ought to consider the moral consequences of watching either.

The Super Bowl is America at its most steroidal, figuratively—if not also, in some cases, literally. The pre-game shows are longer the game itself, and the game is hardly short. Last year’s lasted 4 hours and 14 minutes. That was partly due to a half-hour power outage, but over the past two decades the game has averaged 3 hours and 35 minutes. That’s about 20 minutes more than the average NFL game, which itself is too long considering that it requires viewers to sit through more than 100 ads, spread over 20 commercial breaks, all to watch a grand total of 11 minutes of action. But the game isn’t just overlong. The in-game TV graphics, already too bright andembarrassingly elaborate during regular-season games, are cranked up to epileptic proportions for the Super Bowl. International conglomerates drop $4 million on 30-second commercials that are never as funny or interesting as Twitter would have you believe. And then there’s the always forgettable (well, almost always forgettable) halftime show, which reliably features either a senescent rock band (The Who, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones) or an insipid pop act (Bruno Mars, Nicki Minaj, The Black Eyed Peas) performing what amounts to a Girl Talk medley of their “greatest” “hits.”

But the worst thing about the Super Bowl is that it is a game of football, a brutal sport suspected of causing chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is science for “rotting brain” and associated with “memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia.” The NFL has long denied any such link between football and degenerative brain disease, which makes watching games doubly troubling: It’s hard enough to watch men get concussed, break bones, and suffer “stingers,” all in hi-def slo-mo; in doing so, you’re also supporting a business that, out of greed and survival instinct, has covered up the horrific damage being done to its employees. In a recent New York Times magazine piece titled “Is It Immoral to Watch the Super Bowl?,” Steve Almond writes that…

…medical research has confirmed that football can cause catastrophic brain injury — not as a rare and unintended consequence, but as a routine byproduct of how the game is played. That puts us fans in a morally queasy position. We not only tolerate this brutality. We sponsor it, just by watching at home. We’re the reason the N.F.L. will earn $5 billion in television revenue alone next year, three times as much as its runner-up, Major League Baseball.

Put that way, it’s not much of a quandary at all, is it? Not for Almond, who vows not to observe that “secular holiday,” the Super Bowl. He loves the “grace” and “tension” and “chaos” of football, “but can no longer indulge these pleasures without feeling complicit.”

This is what makes the Puppy Bowl, on its face, a genius act of counter-programming. The relative simplicity of its production and conception are a welcome respite from the pomp and circumstance and bone-crushing, brain-damaging violence of elite football. Also, it stars puppies. Everyone loves puppies. Compared to the Super Bowl—where you’ll get only a brief puppy fix—the Puppy Bowl looks like the most harmless, lovable program on TV.

But it’s not. The Puppy Bowl has become a cultural behemoth in its own right, abiding by the American business ethos that if you don’t keep getting bigger, you die. This year’s Puppy Bowl, played in the “Geico Stadium,” features no less than 66 pups between the ages of 12 and 21 weeks. The halftime show features Keyboard Cat and Lil Bub, and there’s also cheerleading penguins, fan voting for the Bissell MVP,overpriced merchandise, a fantasy draft, and news broke Tuesday that Michelle Obama is going to perform a touchdown dance during the show. The two-hour show begins at 3 p.m., but will loop on repeat, with new content every hour, until 3 a.m. That’s 12 straight hours devoted solely to puppies being puppies. (Maybe they should just become the Puppy Channel? Maybe not.) And if that’s not enough, you can watch a live Puppy Bowl “practice” on your computer right now.

I’ll wait.

Cute, I know! But can we be sure that this puppy football is entirely safe? Not that the Puppy Bowl needs a concussion protocol, or to test for PEDs—though I did pose those issues to spokeswoman Melissa Berry, who replied, “All the puppies are safe and well taken care of.” All players receive a pre-game veterinary checkup, she said. A vet is also on site during filming, as is a monitor from the American Humane Association—an organiztion the Hollywood Reporter recently exposed in an investigation into “troubling cases of animal injury and death that directly call into question the 136-year-old Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit’s assertion that ‘No Animals Were Harmed’ on productions it monitors.” What’s more, Mother Jones this month raised questionsabout the Animal Planet show “Call of the Wildman,” alleging “evidence of a culture that tolerated legally and ethically dubious activities, including: using an animal that had been drugged with sedatives in violation of federal rules; directing trappers to procure wild animals, which were then ‘caught’ again as part of a script.” So while I doubt that Puppy Bowl players are harmed, it’s not inconceivable.

The Puppy Bowl’s heart is in the right place. The puppies come from animal shelters and rescue groups across the U.S., including The SATO Project, which rescues dogs from Puerto Rico’s infamous Dead Dog Beach. (Google it, if you dare. As Berry says, “It’s a pretty nasty situation.”) Having already performed in the bowl, which was taped in late October, those puppies that weren’t already in the process of being adopted or weren’t adopted by Puppy Bowl crew members have been returned to their keepers, ready to be adopted by one of the Puppy Bowl’s 12 million heart-melted viewers.

That’s a lot of people, especially for basic cable, and they’re all tuning in to watch something they could watch live, in person, for free, at their nearest pet shop. Does our obsession with puppies specifically, and cuteness generally, know no bounds? The internet replies: Nopeno bounds! We will look at puppies ad infinitum and sine nauseum, because evolution: The New Republic‘s Alice Robb noted earlier this week that “a team of psychologists led by Jessika Golle at the University of Bern argue based on students’ reactions to babies’ and puppies’ faces that there is a universal mechanism underlying our appreciation of both animals and babies.” Hard-wired this way or not, we are a race of slack-jawed zombies, stalking cuteness. It’s a human weakness that’s worth fighting—especially if you love puppies.

There’s a reason we have thousands of animal shelters and rescue groups in America: Some humans cannot resist “saving” a sad puppy they’ve spotted through a pet store window, impulse-buying it for themselves, a loved one, a child. That purchase may have temporarily freed one pup—at least until little Jimmy grows bored of it—but it also implicitly supported large-scale commercial dog breeders, otherwise known as puppymills. All you really need to know about them can be found on Google Images. “There are about 10,000 puppy mill facilities in the United States pumping out three to four million dogs per year,” says Melanie Kahn, senior director of the Humane Society’s puppy mill campaign. That’s around the same number of homeless, adoptable dogs that are euthanized in shelters every year, she said.

Christmas is an especially popular time for puppy purchases, and around now—late January, early February—says Kahn, “We tend to see a flood of puppies being given up to shelters by owners. A lot of them end up in shelters because having a puppy is like having a child…. They’re a lot of work. You have to train them. They’re up every few hours at night when they’re young.” (Sixty percent of dogs in shelters were surrendered by owners. The rest are strays—abandoned by individual owners or puppy mills, or the offspring of the abandoned.) If everyone listened to the Humane Society and Animal Planet’s pleas to adopt dogs rather than buying them—or, if you insist on paying for a dog, using responsible breeders—then it would not only put puppy mills out of business, but possibly solve the crisis of dog overpopulation in America.

There’s a reason, though, that it’s not called the “Dog Bowl”: We are not nearly as obsessed with dogs in general as we are with puppies, and it stands to reason that Puppy Bowl viewers would crave ownership of a puppy, specifically. But most dogs, in shelters or elsewhere, are not puppies for a simple biological reason. “Lest we forget, puppies grow up,” Kahn, who has never seen the Puppy Bowl, says. “At some point they won’t be little tiny and cute.” That’s easy to forget when you’re strolling around your local mall, looking for a gift for your teenage daughter or newlywed husband, or not looking for anything at all, and you pass a puppy bowl of a different sort—a glass tank with cedar shavings scattered thinly across the floor. Your human eyes meet a puppy’s eyes. In that moment, for reasons evolutionary or cultural or some combination thereof, it’s all over. You are sold. As Berry says, “I don’t know anyone who could not smile looking at a pile of puppies.”

I know one person, anyway.



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8 Tips for Entrepreneurs Finally Launching Their Business

 by Justin Beegel –Justin-Beegel-Headshot-300x384

There will be a rising number of start-ups in 2014 due to a steadily improving economy and the fact that there are now an unprecedented number of start-ups valued at $1 billion.

This is encouraging for all would-be entrepreneurs, founders and first-time CEOs. However, the thought of quitting a full-time job with a steady paycheck to finally launch a business is undeniably terrifying. How does an entrepreneur know if the time is right?

8 tips for those finally launching their company:

1.      Make sure you have an amazing support system in place: If you don’t, go find one. I don’t mean just your parents. While a big part of it, they are only a portion of this system. Make sure that you have a few people in your life that you can go to, who know what you’re going through, that you can bounce ideas off of, have them point out things you’re doing wrong, and just talk to in general. Without the support of my father and a best friend of mine who started a company a few years before me, I probably wouldn’t have made it out of my first year in business alive.

2.      Expect Utter Hell, and You’ll be Just Fine: Any glamour you see in movies about entrepreneurial success, just do yourself a favor and pretend you never saw it. Taking the leap to start a company sets you up for the most indescribable rollercoaster you can possibly imagine. When it’s your company, you live it and breathe it, every day, all day. The day has no beginning, and it has no end. It’s just always there, as it will likely consume your thoughts all the time. When things go wrong, you will feel like you are a failure and that the world is crashing down. I know this because I’ve experienced that feeling about a dozen times in the five years running Infographic World, half of those times coming in the first 18 months, as it’s the most turbulent period. So while nothing can prepare you for this journey, just expect a rocky ride, and you’ll be ahead of the game.

3.      Have Passion and Perseverance: Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, was famous for saying, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day of your life.” This has tremendous significance in the start-up world. In order to succeed, an entrepreneur must find a business they are passionate about because it will consume their entire life. Confucius knew what he was talking about, as while there have been trying times since starting the company, I wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world. Nothing in the work environment is more fulfilling than owning a company.

4.      Bring the Best People Together: This may be the most important part of growing a business. Bring in the most talented and hard-working people possible and keep them happy. At some point, you will not be able to do everything yourself (nor should you) and your business will be only as good as its people.

5.      Take Advantage of Unprecedented Digital Reach in 2014: The digital and social media landscape in 2014 offers businesses the ability to reach an exponential number of customers at no cost on a global scale. Major social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as digital marketing such as infographics, can take a garage business global in a matter of minutes with one click of a mouse. This has greatly reduced the amount of start-up capital needed to launch a business, as has the cloud revolution and the ability to work remotely.

6.      Set Realistic Goals and Timelines: Most New Year’s resolutions are forgotten by March or sooner. Typically, they were great ideas at conception, so it is critical to regroup quarterly and make sure your business goals are on track. Set goals that are realistic and measureable. This may be the difference between success and failure.

7.      Make Time to Read a Little Each Day: This is something I’ve made a point of doing the last six months or so. I get the New York Times delivered every day, and on my way out I’ll grab just the business section, and read it over the course of a day. Reading through it does a great job of sparking ideas that you can apply to your business and helps you keep in mind things that caused failure in others.

8.      Just Jump: The time will never feel quite right. There will always be reasons – real and imagined – as to why you should wait. The problem is that waiting gives the devil time. If you have a good idea, believe in yourself and are prepared, you should take the leap. Make this the year you change your life.

# # #

About Infographic World:
Infographic World is a leading information graphics company based in New York City. The company, which launched in 2009, made 1.5 million in revenue in 2013 and is experiencing triple-digit annual revenue growth. Infographic World’s long list of world-class clients includes 30 Fortune 500 companies who represent $1.8 trillion in revenue, such as Google, Intel, ESPN, P&G, Discovery, McGraw Hill, Pepsi, Intuit, and McCann. The company has a proven track record of creating graphics that go viral – reaching hundreds of thousands of websites as well as creating highly engaging visual communications for brands across the world. For more information, please visit

About Justin Beegel:
Justin is the 28-year-old founder of Infographic World, a leading information graphics company based in New York City. The company, which launched in 2009, made $1.5 million in revenue in 2013 and is experiencing triple-digit annual revenue growth.

Justin is the author of Infographics for Dummies, a Wiley publication, set to be launched in March 2014.Justin attended Binghamton University, where he earned his undergraduate degree and his MBA in entrepreneurship and marketing. Before starting Infographic World, he was the social media marketing manager for Hachette Filipacchi Media, which was the publisher for Elle, Car and Driver, and Woman’s Day, among others. He was charged with driving traffic to their websites and displayed a unique ability for creating content that went viral and increased traffic.


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New US farm bill proposal expected to contain $9bn cut to food stamps

• Cut to programme could affect nearly a million households
• Bill could go to House vote as soon as Wednesday

Food banks food stamps
The contents of a specially prepared box at a food bank in California. Photograph: Eric Risberg/AP

Both Democrats and Republicans claim their parties will this year put a new focus on alleviating poverty in America. But not even a month into 2014, Congress is preparing to cut around $9bn from the food stamp programme – a measure that will take food out of the shopping baskets of nearly a million households.

The reduction is contained in the Farm Bill, a giant piece of legislation that sets spending levels for federal agricultural and food policy and was expected to be unveiled as early as Monday.

In November the food stamp programme, which enables almost 50 million Americans to exchange government-provided credits for food in supermarkets, underwent what was effectively a $5bn cut.

Now, changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are one of a raft of cost-saving initiatives in the $1tn farm bill, which sets federal policy on everything from dairy prices and farm subsidies to crop insurance and the labelling of beef livestock.

After almost two years debating the farm bill, lawmakers on the Senate and House agricultural committees have reportedly reached a deal which will save around $23bn over 10 years, compared to existing funding. Lawmakers from 41 mostly rural constituencies were being given given a run-through of the huge bill, prior to its release. It could be subject to a vote in the House of Representatives as soon as Wednesday, after which it would move to the Senate.

President Barack Obama will then be required to either sign into law a bill that dramatically cuts food assistance to the poor, in what he has promised will be “a year of action” against economic inequality, or to veto it, and by doing so risk the wrath of rural voters in states and districts where Democratic lawmakers risk losing their seats in midterm elections later this year.

If passed, the food stamp cuts will be the first legislation affecting America’s poor since Democrats and Republicans both began pledging to address the country’s growing inequality gap. A proposal to restorelong-term unemployment benefits, which were cut last month, has stalled in the Senate.

The food stamps programme is among the most contentious provisions in the farm bill.

Previous attempts to pass the bill were foiled by opposition from right-wing Republicans who advocated deeper cuts to food stamps. In June 2013 a House vote on the bill unexpectedly failed, after the speaker, John Boehner, a Republican, was unable to muster sufficient support from the conservative wing of his party.

House Republicans were pushing for a radical overhaul of the programme that would have cut $40bn from its budget over the next decade. Democrats advocated a much smaller reduction, of around $4bn.

Although the details of the draft bill remained confidential before its formal unveiling, the Washington Post and other media outlets reported that lawmakers had reached a compromise that will see $8bn or $9bn cut from the programme. The reduction will be achieved by tweaking rules relating to a heating assistance programme that is used by some states to determine a person’s eligibility for food aid.

Supporters of the move say it closes a loophole that allowed some states to provide nominal heating assistance to households in order to automatically increase their federal entitlements under the food stamp programme.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the measure would save $8.7bn but result in 850,000 households losing, on average, $90 a month.

The number of people receiving such benefits has grown sharply since the 2008 financial crisis, from about 26 million in 2007 to nearly 47 million in 2012.

November’s $5bn cut occurred with the expiration of a special provision, contained in the 2009 stimulus bill, which was designed to offset the economic hardship caused by the recession.

Feeding America, the leading network of food banks in the country, says food banks do not have the capacity to accommodate the extra demand that would be expected in the event of these cuts.

The charity’s outlets provide for people who are either ineligible for food stamps or who find that their allocation does not stretch far enough to feed their families. Feeding America, which has doubled its capacity since 2007, says that demand is constantly growing.



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How to Tell A Client How Much Something Costs

It seems like telling your clients how much your services cost would be a fairly straight forward process, but a lot of freelancers get jammed up when the question is put to them, and for good reason.

If you answer without asking a few questions of your own, you run the risk of either underpricing your services for the client’s needs or scaring the client away with too big a price tag.

Here’s how to handle the question of “How much do you cost?” with finesse and a ninja’s negotiation skill.

First things, first: you need to understand what anchoring is.

By andy castro via

By andy castro via

Anchoring is what happens when one person names a number in a negotiation. Regardless of whether that number is well informed and thought out, or thrown out off the cuff, it will now inform how both parties view all other offers.

An example:
Let’s say you have a computer you’d like to sell and I just happen to be in the market for a used computer. I call to learn more about the machine, and you say, “I’d like to sell it for about $500.” You’ve anchored.

$500 is now the most you’ll be able to get for the computer (it makes no sense for me to counter with a higher number, unless I have a deep desire to rid myself of cash). But what if I had more than $500 to spend? You’ll never know because you anchored at $500.

Let’s say I then respond by saying, “Oh, my budget was more like $350.” I’ve now anchored as well; that is the lowest price the computer will sell for if we do the deal. You know I’m willing to spend at least $350 so there is no point in you accepting less than that.

So: sellers generally anchor the highest price and buyers generally anchor the lowest price. You or I might try to move the price in our favor beyond the anchors we’ve dropped but it will be verydifficult to do.

Another way of thinking about anchors is as setting expectations. Once those expectations are set, they are very hard to rearrange.

When a potential client writes and asks, “How much would it cost for you to build me a quick website?” anchoring and expectation setting happen almost immediately.

You probably key in on “quick website” and have an idea of what that means to you. You use that idea to come up with a number and shoot it back to the client. You’ve anchored on the price and they’ve anchored on the complexity of the job.

By Steve Snodgrass via

By Steve Snodgrass via

This isn’t good for either of you.

Neither of you have enough information about the job and what it really involves to anchor effectively. If you anchor this early in the process it increases the likelihood that you’ll both be disappointed and frustrated with the result.

So what do you do?

Don’t anchor.

When a client asks you how much your services cost, respond by asking questions about what they need.

You don’t have to get into the nitty gritty, but ask enough questions to understand how big a project they’re talking about, how complex it might be, and how quickly it needs to be done.

If there are things that will increase or decrease the price of the job, mention that. “This estimate is assuming we don’t have any problems with the database; if that were to happen it could increase costs by $500-$600.”

Don’t be afraid to ask about their budget.

It’s OK to ask about money; they’re approaching you about the possibility of paying you in the future. You’re going to talk about money eventually; might as well get started early.

If you understand their budget you’ll be in a better position to present relevant options. You don’t want to show them your Rolls Royce options when their budget is more of a VW Bug. (Or vice versa!)

If they shy away from sharing their budget, explain why you’re asking. Let them know you want to make sure you’re presenting them with options that are realistic given their needs and expectations.

When you do talk numbers, use ranges not specific figures.

You can’t dance around price forever, so when it comes time to talk about numbers, use ranges instead of particular figures. Ranges give you flexibility; if the project is more involved than originally thought, you have room within what they expect to increase the price.

When you offer a range — $3,000 to $5,000 — it’s in your best interest for your current estimation of the project to fit somewhere in the middle to lower portion of that range. If you think the job will cost $3,500, $3,000 to $5,000 is a good range to use. If you think it will cost $4,500, it’s best to give them a range of $4,000 to $6,000 to consider.

By digitalurbanlandscape via

By digitalurbanlandscape via

By taking the time to ask questions, gather information and strategically respond to potential clients’ questions about how much your services cost, you increase the likelihood of happy customers and better negotiations.

How do you talk to your clients about how much your products or services cost?


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California Drought Photos Show What Happens When It Rains Just 4 Inches In 13 Months

California has seen its share of droughts, but — at least in recent years — it hasn’t seen something like this.

Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency last week, shorty after it was revealed that 2013 was the state’s driest year in recorded history. San Francisco saw a low record-shattering 5.59 inches of rain (compared to the previous low record of 9 inches), while dry Los Angeles saw just 3.6 inches of precipitation in all of 2013.

To make matters worse, there isn’t a drop of rain in sight. At the time of publication on January 24 — when snow and freezing temperatures battered the rest of the country — the forecast was a sunny 77 degrees in Los Angeles.

While those bundled and shivering on the East Coast might have little sympathy for the Golden State’s January beach weather, take a look at what the drought has done to the water supply across the state:

A bathtub ring around the San Gabriel Reservoir in the Angeles National Forest reveals the low water level.
california drought

Girls walk on rocks that normally make up the water’s edge at Folsom Lake.

Forestry experts feared the drought would prime the Sierra Nevada mountain range for a major fire — a prediction that sadly came to fruition during the devastating Rim Fire that burned through hundreds of acres of Yosemite National Park. 

This month’s Colby Fire, which destroyed several Southern California homes, was also worsened by the drought.
colby fire

Signs opposing California lawmakers — seen by some as responsible for worsening drought conditions with legislation — are common in the inland Central Valley and display the increasing tension over water rights in the state.
california drought

A fish washed ashore on the banks of Folsom Lake.
folsom lake

California Governor Jerry Brown compares satellite photos of the Sierra Nevada snow pack from 2013 and 2014 at a press conference to declare the state in a drought emergency. 
california drought

Researchers at the Department of Water Resources look over a meadow that is usually covered in snow during the final survey of the 2012/2013 season in May. 
california snow pack

Researchers at the Department of Water Resources measure snow levels near Echo Summit in January, 2014. The readings showed the water content in the snowpack was at 20 percent of average for this time of year. 
dry california

The drought isn’t limited to California: the low water level can be seen at Hoover Dam in Nevada, as well. 
california drought


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How to Engineer Your Financial Future in 2014

Year 2014 written in sand on tropical beachFinancial resolutions can be the most difficult to keep. They can include minute detail, number crunching, plenty of files and discipline that can affect a person’s entire lifestyle, says veteran investment advisor Paul Taylor, a member of the National Ethics Bureau.

“Many folks simply are not predisposed to combing through the details of their financial situation; for them, the financial world is abstract and filled with arbitrary rules, constantly changing interest rates and other complexities, but being more involved in your own money is well worth the investment,” says Taylor, an architect-turned-founder and owner of Capital Advisory Group & Tax Planners of Lake Norman and Capital Investment Advisors, Inc, (

“While professional help is recommended for many aspects of a person’s financial affairs, it’s ultimately up to the individual to understand his or her own money.”

There are many things the average person can do to take control of their financial life. Taylor offers the following suggestions:

• For your cash flow, keep in mind the four A’s: Accounting, Analysis, Allocation and Adjustment. The four A’s describe a systematic and disciplined approach to your daily, weekly, monthly and yearly spending habits. Accounting involves gathering all your relevant financial information – income, recurring bills, and other expenditures – creating a central list of each item, and pulling it together in a place where it’s easily accessible. Analysis is reviewing the information to determine whether you have a shortfall or surplus, and finding places to reduce expenses. Saving $100 a month on dining out, for instance, would allow you to apply $100 to your mortgage loan principle, saving you a substantial amount in interest payments. Allocation involves determining your financial commitments and priorities, needs versus wants, and distributing your income accordingly. Adjustment involves periodic reviews of your financial information and shifting assets to meet changing needs.

• Utilize estate planning tools such as wills and trusts; make sure the details are accurate. Wills and trusts allow you to spell out how you would like your property to be distributed, and much more. A will gives you the opportunity to nominate your executor and guardians for your minor children. If you fail to make such designations through your will, the decisions will probably be left to the courts. Bear in mind that property distributed through your will is subject to probate, which can be a time-consuming and costly process. Trusts, which are more complex, let you customize the distribution of your estate with the added advantages of property management and probate avoidance.

• Start planning your retirement sooner rather than later. There are a variety of retirement planning options that can meet your needs. Your employer funds some; you fund some. Bear in mind that, in most cases, early withdrawals before age 59½ may be subject to a 10 percent federal income tax penalty. The latest date to begin required minimum distributions is usually April 1 of the year after you turn age 70½. Withdrawals from tax-deferred plans are taxed as ordinary income. The top planning options include defined benefit pension; money purchase pension; profit-sharing plan; savings plan; employee stock ownership plan; tax-sheltered annuities; individual retirement accounts; self-employed plans; simplified employee pensions; and savings incentive match plans for employees.

• Remember the first commandment in safe investment: diversification. Virtually every investment has some type of risk associated with it. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Diversification is one of the main reasons why mutual funds may be so attractive for both experienced and novice investors. Many non-institutional investors have a limited investment budget and may find it challenging to construct a portfolio that is sufficiently diversified. For a modest initial investment, you can purchase shares in a diversified portfolio of securities. Depending on the objectives of the fund, it may contain a variety of stocks, bonds and cash vehicles, or a combination of them.

About Paul Taylor

Paul Taylor is the founder and owner of Capital Advisory Group & Tax Planners of Lake Norman and Capital Investment Advisors, Inc. Taylor, a fully licensed investment advisor, has more than 20 years of experience in the industry and is committed to providing personalized service to those he serves. Since 2007, he has been a member of the National Ethics Bureau, which acknowledges individuals who prove they are committed to upholding the highest ethical standards in their practices.


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Independent commission to investigate future of internet after NSA revelations

Two-year inquiry headed by Swedish foreign minister, set up by Chatham House and CIGI thinktanks, is announced at Davos
Network cable
The investigation will focus on state censorship of the internet and issues of privacy and surveillance raised by Edward Snowden. Photograph: Oliver Berg/DPA/Corbis

A major independent commission headed by the Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, was launched on Wednesday to investigate the future of the internet in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations.

The two-year inquiry, announced at the World Economic Forum at Davos, will be wide-ranging but focus primarily on state censorship of the internet as well as the issues of privacy and surveillance raised by the Snowden leaks about America’s NSA and Britain’s GCHQ spy agencies.

The investigation, which will be conducted by a 25-member panel of politicians, academics, former intelligence officials and others from around the world, is an acknowledgement of the concerns about freedom raised by the debate.

Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister, said: “The rapid evolution of the net has been made possible by the open and flexible model by which it has evolved and been governed. But increasingly this is coming under attack.

“And this is happening as issues of net freedom, net security and net surveillance are increasingly debated. Net freedom is as fundamental as freedom of information and freedom of speech in our societies.”

The Obama administration on Friday announced the initial findings of a White House-organised review of the NSA. There are also inquiries by the US Congress and by the European parliament, but this is the first major independent one.

The inquiry has been set up by Britain’s foreign affairs thinktank Chatham House and by the Center for International Governance and Innovation (CIGI), which is partly funded by the Canadian government.

In a joint statement, Chatham House and the CIGI said the current internet regime was under threat. “This threat to a free, open and universal internet comes from two principal sources. First, a number of authoritarian states are waging a campaign to exert greater state control over critical internet resources.”

The statement does not name the countries but it is aimed mainly at China and Iran, both of whom are censoring the internet.

The other big issue, according to Chatham House and the CIGI, is the revelations from Snowden.

“Second, revelations about the nature and extent of online surveillance have led to a loss of trust.”

Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, said: “The issue of internet governance is set to become one of the most pressing global policy issues of our time.”

The intention of the inquiry is to hold public consultations around the world. About half a dozen meetings are planned, at a cost of about £150,000 each.

Among those on the panel are: Joseph Nye, former dean of the Kennedy school of governance at Harvard; Sir David Omand, former head ofGCHQ; Michael Chertoff, former secretary of the US homeland security department and co-author of the Patriot Act that expanded NSAsurveillance powers; the MEP Marietje Schaake, who has been a leading advocate of internet freedom; Latha Reddy, former deputy national security adviser of India; and Patricia Lewis, research director in the international security department at Chatham House, who said: “Internet governance is too important to be left just to governments.”

Asked about the lack of debate in the UK so far compared with the US and elsewhere in Europe and around the world, Lewis said: “People in Britain are more concerned than we realise. They have clearly agreed at some level to exchange data for goods and services but they did not agree for that data to be given to the government and security services.

“This is a debate we sorely need.”

Gordon Smith, who is to be deputy chair of the commission, said: “For many people, internet governance sounds technical and esoteric but the reality is that the issues are ‘high politics’ and of consequence to all users of the internet, present and future.”


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Forget political polls — look at Facebook engagement














The Facebook model shows Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., is ahead in her campaign for re-election even though a recent political poll shows she’s narrowly behind her potential challengers.

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Is Facebook engagement just as good of a predictor of election outcomes as traditional political polls?

Maybe, according to an article in Politico Magazine by two Ph.D. candidates and a research assistant at the University of Massachusetts. In 2012, eight of the Senate’s nine toss-up races were won by the candidates who had more engaged Facebook followers, the researchers note.

Facebook engagement not only includes the number of people who like a candidate’s page, it also includes the growth or contraction in the number of people who comment, like or share posts about the candidate with their friends.

The researchers then combine Facebook engagement with traditional ways of measuring a candidate’s strength — organization and money — to come up with their vote projections.

If their model is a reliable guide, Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., may be in better shape that political polls indicate. Their Facebook forecast shows Hagan leading Thom Tillis, North Carolina’s speaker of the House, by a 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent margin in Hagan’s 2014 re-election bid. By contrast, a poll published Jan. 14 by Public Policy Polling shows Tillis with a 1-point lead over Hagan. Four other potential Republican challengers also are slightly ahead of Hagan in PPP’s polls.

The Facebook forecast also shows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with a nearly 8-point lead over his Democratic challenger in Kentucky, and Democratic Rep. Gary Peterswith an 11-point lead for the open Senate seat in Michigan. The Alaska seat held by Sen.Mark Begich is a dead heat.

Besides being Ph.D. candidates, two of the article’s authors — Matthew McWilliams andEdward Erikson are partners in MSE, a political communications firm with offices in South Hadley, Mass., and College Park, Md. They’ve got real-world experience helping Democratic candidates, labor unions, liberal interest groups and “socially responsible businesses.”

So dismiss their Facebook model on ideological grounds if you want. That could be a mistake, however. The researchers contend their Facebook model works because of scale.

“Social media, and especially Facebook, is now ubiquitous,” they write. “It’s ‘virtual’ in the sense that it’s online, but the interactions between candidates and voters are no less real.”

America’s 128 million daily active Facebook users are on the site 114 billion minutes every month. In 2012, 12 percent of campaign spending went to social media — a 616 percent increase compared to 2008. Plus Facebook metrics are public, meaning they’re “a real-time measuring stick that allows campaigns, pundits and analysts to gauge how well campaigns organize and connect with supporters,” the authors write.

“Online engagement translates to real succession the field and at the polls,” they conclude.

Maybe. After all, the Facebook model did correctly predict eight of nine toss-up races in the Senate in the 2012 election. But it correctly predicted only 20 of the 33 most competitive House races.

That’s nothing to brag about — that record wouldn’t win many office sports pools.

But the key takeaway from their research is that it’s foolish for candidates — or businesses, for that matter — to ignore social media. That should be obvious by now.


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San Jose minimum wage hike raised prices and trimmed jobs, industry-backed survey finds

A new San Jose advertisement paid for by the business-linked, Washington, D.C.-based Employment Policies Institute. A survey by the group shows that some San Jose businesses cut staff or raised prices after the city's minimum wage increased from $8 an hour to $10 an hour during 2013. 

Employment Policies Institute

A new San Jose advertisement paid for by the business-linked, Washington, D.C.-based Employment Policies Institute. A survey by the group shows that some San Jose businesses cut staff or raised prices after the city’s minimum wage increased from $8 an hour to $10 an hour during 2013.

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A new survey of 163 San Jose restaurants completed by a nonprofit with links to business groups found that the city’s 2013 minimum wage increase caused some local employers to cut staff or close locations.

The report by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit the Employment Policies Institutefound that 40 percent of businesses surveyed saw costs rise $10,000-$69,000 this year after a voter-approved minimum wage increase from $8 an hour to $10 an hour.

Two-thirds of survey respondents raised prices to cover higher labor costs, while 42 percent cut jobs and 45 percent reduced staff hours, according to the study.

The new survey is the latest piece of minimum wage research distributed bygroups with a vested interest in the topic. Just as this report was created with help from business advocacy groups (restaurateurs), pro-minimum wage academic research has been promoted by local labor advocates.

Minimum wage has polarized business and labor in San Jose since a sociology class at San Jose State University constructed the Measure D minimum wage ballot initiative that 58 percent of voters approved in November 2012.

Charity Navigator, an independent organization that vets nonprofits, notes that the Employment Policies Institute is financially connected to communications executive and registered business lobbyistRichard Berman.

A website for Berman’s D.C. public affairs firm Berman and Company highlights his work completed in opposition to healthcare reform and labor unions.

The restaurants that were included in the new survey were suggested by theCalifornia Restaurant Association — an opponent of the San Jose wage increase— though the group did not assist in data collection or fund the survey, according to a Restaurant Association statement promoting the report.


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The Yin & Yang of doing a startup in 2014

The Yin & Yang of Starting a Business by authors Misty Gibbs, top right, and Tanya White.

The Yin & Yang of Starting a Business by authors Misty Gibbs, top right, and Tanya White. Empower Lounge

by Teresa Novellino –
The UpTake: If you’re starting a new business this year, there are large and small things to consider, from how to stay organized to what to wear to how to build a team whose members complement your own strengths. Authors Misty Gibbs and Tanya White have answers.

Besides having a brilliant business idea, money and people who believe in them, entrepreneurs who are just starting a business must possess a whole host of intangibles: guts, vision and an unbeatable work ethic among them.

To figure out what it really takes though, a good place to start is with Misty Gibbs andTanya White, authors of a quick and easy-to-read book The Yin & Yang of Starting a Business (which is, courtesy of the writers, being offered at a discounted price today and tomorrow on

We asked them via email some questions pertinent to concerns that new entrepreneurs will have, especially in the New Year.

Why does the simple to-do list work so well, and why is it so hard to stick to doing one daily? Is there an app, calendar or other tactic that you would recommend?

To-do lists work because they force you to step back and not only consider your priorities, but commit to them. Setting weekly target goals for the activities you want to get done will set your tone for the entire week. From there, each morning, peg off the specific items you are going to get done that day. The biggest barrier we’ve seen for people with this activity is not making the time for the activity itself. Everyone is busy, entrepreneurs especially. We’re often looking at email before we even get out of bed, already taking actions on items. But before you know it, the day has passed, and you’ve done all kinds of things that have nothing to do with your Big Goals. Carving out even 10 minutes to ask yourself, “What are the most important things I can do today that will move me closer to my goals?” will force you to focus on what’s important. As for tools, Tanya likes the good old Post-Its and Misty likes the more technical approach with tools like Toodledo.

This is a big season for hiring new staffers. One of your suggestions is to hire staffers who make up for one of your weaknesses, but is acknowledging a weakness a bad idea when you’re running the company?

Twenty years ago or so, showing any sign of weakness as a leader was considered a game-losing move. Today, expressing your weaknesses, even as a chief executive officer or founder of a company, can work in your favor when done correctly. Being weak in certain areas doesn’t mean you’re a loser. It means you’re smart and that you understand that you may be a good hitter, but not a great catcher, and that empowers you to go out and find a great catcher. When hiring new team members in a small company environment, you need to be clear about which of their skills are valued, along with what they will and won’t learn from you. [Tanya] I always offer to connect new employees with someone else in my network who excels in their desired career path, as a mentor, to complement what they’ll learn on the job working with me. We all learn something different from everyone and today’s job-hunter is aware of that. Things go terribly wrong, if you, say, hire someone who thinks they’re going to gain deep guru-knowledge from you, in finance for example, if you’re a marketing person. That needs to be ironed out up front.

Everyone’s making weight-loss goals right now, but exercise and healthy eating can be tough for entrepreneurs. What are some of your secrets to taking care of your health without taking up a lot of time?

Protein bars! Having a full stock of various protein bars ensures that when you’ve gotten intensely focused on work, forgetting to even eat, that you reach out for something healthy. That and making every little choice in your routine count, for example, when meeting at the coffee shop down the street, walk, don’t drive, or taking the stairs vs. the elevator. Or even better, instead of inviting people to coffee, ask if they’d like to walk and talk. Many people are in the same boat and would appreciate the opportunity to get some exercise and it can make your time more memorable.

Entrepreneurs have to look the part. Describe your philosophy on how to allocate your clothing budget.

[Tanya] I like to take the European approach on this one: fewer items, higher quality. The North American philosophy, fueled by advertising, makes it seem that we need the latest fashion. The classics are always in style and no one is going to notice if you are wearing the same pair of shoes day after day. They will notice shabby, poor-quality, or cheap-looking shoes, however. In many cases, entrepreneurs, especially the bootstrappers out there, do not have any budget for clothing at all. I recommend a first step of combing through your closet, and try on everything, asking yourself, “Do I feel like a ‘10’ in this?” and if the answer is no, toss it. You will come off with way more confidence if you feel like a 10, than if you don’t. Once you’ve netted out what you have, list only three items that you need to round things out, maybe a killer pair of jeans, or black boots, and start scouring the higher end thrift shops or discount stores. Unless you are pitching a fashion-related business, your clothes play no part in your business conversations…unless what you’re wearing is distracting.

[Misty] Wear what makes you feel amazing! A blazer with slacks and an interesting piece of jewelry is simple, classic, and memorable. As an entrepreneur, your focus in on growing your business, not wearing expensive fashion pieces..well…unless your business is in fashion!

You offer a lot of advice to female entrepreneurs. Any particular tips for them to remember as they head into 2014?

No matter what you think you’re ready for, you’re probably not ready for it, and you will get blindsided. If you’ve been working with men your entire career, and think you know how to handle every situation, something will happen that’s never happened before. If you launched a business before, and you think you’re just repeating the same steps to success, you’ll see that it’s not the same. Your past performance is not an indicator of future performance. You may want to read that last sentence again, because that’s not what is commonly thought. Your past behavior, is, however, an indicator of future behavior. Head into 2014 knowing that you can handle any situation that arises, and that you can achieve anything you desire, well, because you’ve done that before


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