Monthly Archives: February 2014

Buying a gun on Facebook takes 15 minutes

EXCLUSIVE: Buying a gun on Facebook takes 15 minutes

February 26, 2014 5:10 PM
by Richard Byrne Reilly

Fifteen minutes.

That’s all it takes for children, felons, and people without IDs to buy illegal weapons on Facebook pages dedicated to the sale and celebration of guns.

A VentureBeat investigation has uncovered dozens of pages on Facebook where guns are for sale, including semi-automatic weapons, handguns, and silencers. While the transactions don’t actually happen on Facebook, the social network is a remarkably easy way to find shady people willing to sell you a weapon — no questions asked. The illegal transactions then take place in diners, dark parking lots, and isolated country roads — away from the prying eyes of the feds and local police.

In Kentucky, Greenup County Sheriff Keith Cooper remembers when a call came into dispatch last October saying a 15-year-old student had been arrested on the Greenup County High School campus for carrying an unlicensed and loaded 9mm handgun to school. The boy was arrested and brought to Cooper’s office for an interview.

When Cooper, a former Kentucky State Trooper with a heavy Southern drawl, asked the kid where he got the gun, his reply was shocking: Facebook.

As it turns out, the 15 year old’s purchase wasn’t an anomaly. Facebook pages have been a thriving market for facilitating gun purchases.

Even in their names, the Facebook fan pages make no attempt to hide what their real purposes are: Firearms Only Alamogordo, Guns for Sale, I Love Guns, and even Guns, Ammo & Blades.

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The pages have hundreds of thousands of “likes” and members. While many of the sales are no doubt legitimate — federal law governing gun transactions between individuals are fairly lax — hooking up with illicit buyers and sellers via these pages is easy. For instance, you can buy automatic weapons without a permit, guns with their serial numbers filed off, and weapons that may be prohibited by your state’s laws. If you’re under 18, you can buy a handgun, which federal law prohibits.

On Tuesday, a VentureBeat reporter and his colleague spent less than 15 minutes arranging to buy a semiautomatic 7mm rifle and 90 rounds of ammunition from a guy named “Dave,” a member of Facebook “Firearms Only Alamogordo” fan page (left).

VentureBeat made contact through the fan page, and in the ensuing SMS chat, Dave expressed an eagerness to do the deal. The gun was in good condition, he explained.

When a VentureBeat reporter asked Dave if they needed to bring identification to complete the sale, his response was an immediate “no.”

Emerging threats

Numerous interviews with federal law enforcement authorities, city police agencies, and anti-gun advocacy groups show how they view Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms with growing alarm as highly effective and unregulated online arms bazaars where people who shouldn’t be owning — or selling — guns can find a seemingly endless pool of eager customers with no questions asked.

“We look at Facebook and others as emerging threats for unlawful gun transactions in the United States,” a federal law enforcement officer told VentureBeat.

And as the VentureBeat investigation revealed, some of these guns being purchased through Facebook fan pages are ending up on the playgrounds of American schools.

Special Agent Helen Dunkel, with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, called the illegal purchases a fact. Dunkel said, “We are certainly aware social media is being used to sell firearms, and in instances we receive information, whether through confidential informants or other means, we definitely take that seriously and investigate.”

Dunkel said the ATF, which investigates the unlawful use and possession of guns and explosives in the U.S., has multiple ongoing investigations into illegal gun transactions on social media platforms. Citing the ongoing nature of the cases, she declined to specify them. The investigations are being coordinated through the ATF’s office of strategic intelligence in Washington D.C.

ATF spokewoman Ginger Colbrun put it this way:

“We definitely see it occurring, and when we do, we open investigations. [Social media] is a new avenue we’re looking into. We’re definitely taking it seriously.”

A spokesman at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., declined to comment for this story, referring all questions to the ATF.

Facebook responds

For its part, Facebook prohibits the sale or trade of guns, weapons, and explosives through the site and company spokespeople routinely remind reporters that they work with law enforcement on a case by case basis. A spokesperson said that any time user policy violations occur, they are dealt with. Facebook also likes to remind people that it’s not an e-commerce platform.

Nor is Facebook alone in being used for illegal activity. Sites like Craigslist have also been used in the past to sell weapons, drugs, and sex-for-hire schemes. (Craigslist has responded by banning such content, and by actively enforcing those bans.)

“You can’t buy things on Instagram and Facebook, nor can you promote the sale or use of weapons in advertising,” a Facebook spokesperson told us. “We encourage people who come across any illegal activity to report it to us.”

Oddly, buying and selling firearms on Facebook’s platform has been going on right under Facebook’s nose for far too long to go unnoticed.

In the October 2013 Kentucky case, the boy met the gun seller through a Facebook fan page called Portsmouth Pickers, a page where locals share information on the best fishing holes on the nearby Ohio River, recipes and even trading guns.

Cooper then arrested the seller, a man who drove across the river to sell the gun to the young teen. Because the seller drove across state lines, sold the weapon to a minor and violated federal gun laws,  the case was eventually turned over to the feds who indicted him.

As the case unfolded, investigators subpoenaed the kid’s and seller’s IP logs. They were able to clearly read the Facebook chat logs which led to the illegal sale. During the investigation, Cooper learned something else: The seller had been moving illegal handguns through Facebook channels before.

“Our investigation showed more than just the one 9mm,” the friendly Cooper said during a series of phone interviews.

“In fact, the suspect admitted to me that he was using Facebook to sell weapons. He met this kid, who we determined didn’t bring the gun to school to hurt anybody, through Facebook, and they made the arrangements through the site.”

The sheriff said buying unlicensed guns on Facebook is a good way to do it: no paper trail, no registration. Nothing more than cash and a handshake.

“That’s how I would do it,” the sheriff said of the illegal Facebook gun buy. “If this thing were to show up at a murder scene, it would be near impossible to trace.”

Quite a few offers

The Facebook page “Firearms Only Alamogordo” is a happening place. Members continually post videos of combat shotguns of the kinds Marines used to clear trench lines in World War I, Chinese-made semiautomatic AK-47 assault rifles with 30 round banana clips, and Ruger 9mms. The page is moderated by someone who identifies himself an active member of the U.S. Air Force.

The page has a prominent policy prohibiting the sale of guns to minors.

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On a recent thread (right), a flame war erupted between a man who met up with someone he thought was an adult, for the purchase of a rifle. When he showed up, he was met by a minor who opened the door to the trunk of his car to reveal a small arsenal of weapons. When the prospective buyer asked the seller where his father was, the kid said he was sick.

Another recent thread, started by a junior high school student, asked members there if anybody would trade him a gun for his 30 gallon freshwater fish tank.

There were quite a few offers.

The Menlo Park, Calif.-based social media giant has been under fire by an activist group of concerned mothers called Moms Demand Action and the powerful Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a powerful advocacy group co-founded by billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The two groups are demanding that Facebook and Instagram “get out of the gun business.”

A petition on to prohibit gun sales on Facebook and Instagram has over 75,000 signatures, and was recommended by Sarah Silverman earlier today.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg’s group, with 1,100 U.S. mayors aboard and over a million supporters, threw down the gauntlet.

“Anybody can go to Facebook and Instagram and buy a gun online. We’re asking them to review their policies. They facilitate the sale of guns in the U.S., said Erika Soto Lamb, a spokeswoman for Mayors Against Illegal Guns. They also launched a petition to get Facebook to the negotiating table.

The petition, in part, reads:

Facebook and Instagram are currently being used to facilitate sales and trades of firearms between private sellers. Most of these sales and trades can take place without background checks, meaning that there’s no way to stop a Facebook or Instagram user from potentially selling a gun to a felon, a domestic abuser or another dangerous person who would otherwise be prohibited from obtaining a gun. I think of Facebook and Instagram as places to share photos of my kids & family — not as an online market for guns.

It seems to have worked. Facebook and the advocacy groups are currently in discussions about what they can do to curb illegal gun sales through the Facebook platform.

We’ve not yet heard whether the social network is changing its fundamental policies or how they’re enforced.

But if it does, and it succeeds in shutting down social media gun sales, it will make a lot of people in law enforcement very relieved.


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The Next Shoe To Drop: Obamacare Will Increase The Cost Of Employer-Sponsored Insurance

by Avik Roy, –

Yesterday, the Obama Administration’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a six-page report predicting that Obamacare could cause premiums to increase for nearly two-thirds of small- to medium-sized businesses. “This results in roughly 11 million individuals whose premiums are estimated to be higher as a result of the ACA and about 6 million individuals who are estimated to have lower premiums,” CMS writes. But CMS’ projections almost certainly understate the problem, one that will begin to affect millions of workers in the second half of 2014.

CMS: 11 million will see increased premiums

The CMS premium report was a requirement imposed by Congress on the administration under the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011. That law mandated that CMS “provide an estimate of the number individuals and families who will experience a premium increase and the number who will see a decrease” as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

But CMS only looked at one cost-increasing Obamacare provision:community rating. And they only looked at it for individuals employed by businesses with fewer than 100 employees: what’s called the “small group market.”

Here’s the background. Under Obamacare, all regulated insurance plans are required to charge people the same premium, regardless of health status. Insurers can charge different rates based on age (but only within a narrow range); tobacco use (smokers can be charged 50 percent more than non-smokers); geographic area (insurers can charge people different rates based on regional demographic variation); and whether the plan is for a single individual or a family.

Before these provisions went on-line on January 1, 2014, “firms with employees who had better than average health risks would typically pay lower premiums, and therefore, they were more likely to be the firms that offer health insurance. As a result, most of people with coverage in the small group market have premium rates that are below average.” CMS polled “several actuarial experts” who believe that 60 to 67 percent of small-group firms enjoyed below-average premiums in the pre-Obamacare market.

Because the remaining firms have above-average premiums, CMS simplistically assumed that 65 percent of these small-group firms will experience increased premiums, and 35 percent will experience decreased premiums. That amounts to 11 million and 6 million people, respectively.

Why CMS’ estimate is a lowball

But there are other costly requirements that CMS didn’t directly address. For example, Obamacare includes a silly excise tax on health insurance premiums that will get passed onto consumers in the form of higher prices. Same for its taxes on pharmaceuticals and medical devices. The law also requires that all plans cover a broad range of “essential” benefits, some of which they may not already. The law requires that employers cover “adult children” under the age of 26, which is a good deal for those with adult children, but an added cost for everyone else.

These were among the factors that led Delta Air Lines to estimate that it will spend $100 million more on health coverage in 2014 than it did in 2013. And Delta is a large employer, not a small employer; large employers should face relatively lower rate hikes than small ones.

Then, there’s the likelihood that some of the small employers facing steep premium hikes under the law will drop coverage altogether, and rely on Obamacare-subsidized exchanges instead. That form of adverse selection will increase the average cost of small-group health insurance. The companies most likely to do this? Those with a disproportionate number of younger and healthier employees.

One bit of “good” news. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996—known as “HIPAA” by health wonks and the “Patients’ Bill of Rights” by some—required that insurers make offers to anyone in the small-group market regardless of pre-existing conditions. So that part of Obamacare, at least, is redundant in this case, and won’t affect small-group premiums.

Rate hikes will come out in the second half of 2014

Most employers were smart, and renewed their pre-Obamacare policies before the end of 2013. That means that, at the time of renewal, they had twelve more months of premiums under the old system. (Some states banned this practice in order to accelerate the uptake of Obamacare-approved plans.) So we’re going to start seeing more of these stories—of premium spikes in the employer-sponsored market—starting in the second half of 2014, as those old plans roll over.

Total coincidence, but there’s a politically significant event happening in November of 2014.


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7 Keys to Executing a Successful Business Rebrand


No matter your reason for embarking upon a business rebranding effort of a company or product name, logo, phrase, design scheme or other such asset, which can be mixed and many, one thing is certain: execute poorly and suffer extreme consequences. There is simply no rebranding effort where the stakes are not extraordinarily high and the margin for error is slim at best. This history has been proven repeatedly amid a litany of rebrand debacles that didn’t heed just a few fundamental principles.

With this in mind, globally regarded business growth consultant and keynote speaker Steve Blue, CEO of Miller Ingenuity—a 60-year old company that successfully implemented a corporate rebranding effort, offers these 7 best practice keys for effectively executing a rebranding initiative:

Key #1: Get clear on what a brand is. 

A brand is not just your logo. A brand is the sum total of the messages, interactions, and experiences a customer has with your product, services, and people. To a customer, a brand is the promise of an EXPERIENCE and the customer’s EXPERIENCE of that promise delivered. It’s a valuable asset to nurture over time.

Key #2: Maintain control of the rebranding process.

Use a third party guide because it is easy for a re-naming effort to deteriorate into likes/dislikes or what your spouse thinks. Ground your brand in a strategy that recognizes not only the brand’s origins but also its ultimate destination in the current and future marketplace. Keep an open mind. Small ideas can get bigger and seemingly big ideas can diminish over time. Also identify those equities that cannot change.

Key #3: Understand that a brand has two owners: the marketer owns 50%; the customer owns 100%.

Yes, that’s 150% in total. The marketer produces messages, products and services. Your customer experiences the brand, and in the digital age, they are in ultimate control of their messages they receive. Therefore, check in with customers and, at the very least, include those internal players who have the most customer contact. The worst thing you can do is to decide all branding issues at the top level and dictate it to customers and your troops who must deliver the brand experience.  You risk a loss of relevancy and buy-in.

Key #4: Your logo, tagline, typography and design should tell a single-minded story. 

Every brand is heroic in some way. Its look, feel, and message should tell one story. Think about what your brand fights for and against what odds. Consider what is at stake for customers in terms of their problems and how you solve those for them. By becoming a hero to your customers, you, in turn, make heroes out of them. That’s truly adding value.

Key #5: Never forget that a brand should always remain fluid.

Some will warn you that changing your brand is a major risk.  If it fails, it can be expensive and disruptive.  Note Coca Cola’s experience with “New Coke.”  However, if you do not violate a brand’s established equities and values, you can still add flexibility into a brand that allows it not to lose relevance.  For example, Tide Detergent is built on consumer’s trust that it gets clothes clean—yet the brand has found multiple fresh expressions of that proposition over the years, even adding benefits to fend off competitors. Therefore, create a brand positioning that is broad enough to be as relevant today as yesterday and flexible enough to be relevant in the future.

Key #6: Never stop supporting and promoting your brand

Successful brands are a living presence in the marketplace with a tangible relationship with its customers. It’s easy to support a brand in boom times, but much tougher in down times.  However, study after study has shown that brands that are consistently supported during a down cycle, gain greater sales and share when the economy turns up—over those who cut support activities.

Key #7:  Be a Brand Champion

Having gone through the discipline of crafting or refreshing your brand, appoint a key leader, typically in Marketing, to be a Brand Champion.  Set up brand guidelines and procedures to make sure the identity you have carefully created presents a consistent image and message in marketing communications from business cards to digital media, in sales presentations, in signage, at events and trade shows—wherever the customer will engage with your brand.

In summary, executing a rebrand must be extraordinarily strategic, not violate the company’s cultural roots, be relevant and consistently supported, and place the customer benefit front and center at all times.  It’s all about them.


With more than three decades of management, executive, consulting and speaking experience in markets all over the world, Miller Ingenuity CEO Steve Blue ( is a globally regarded business growth authority who has transformed companies into industry giants and enthralled audiences with his dynamic keynotes. In his upcoming book, “Outdo, Outsmart… Outlast: A Practical Guide to Managed, Measured and Meaningful Growth,” he reveals why seeking growth and surviving growth are equally perilous, and require different sets of plans to weather the storms. Follow Steve @MillerIngenuity.


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At just 8 years old, Emma Cramer is already changing the world. When she ventured to Fort Wayne and Pennsylvania with her mom to attend BeadforLife events last year, they knew they’d help change lives. What they didn’t know was how much their own lives would change.

Now hundreds of miles traveled and one year later, the dynamic duo has not only raised nearly $5,000 for the organization, they’ve developed a special connection to two Ugandan women who have worked their way out of poverty.

BeadforLife brought Joan Ahimbisibwe and Teddy Namuyiga, two beadmaking graduates and successful entrepreneurs, to the U.S. last spring. Kathy and Emma could not resist experiencing the good of their work firsthand, so they packed up their car and headed to Pittsburgh to meet the women.

“We are honored to support BeadforLife and wear our beads every day,” says Kathy. “Meeting Joan and Teddy and holding their hands made it so real for us. From the moment Teddy grabbed Emma’s hands and said “we will meet again,” Emma’s heart was all in,” she says.

Emma keeps in touch with Teddy and asked for a trip to Africa for her Christmas. While she didn’t receive that gift, she did receive the gift of an email from Teddy in Uganda, her mother said.“Emma just sent another letter for Teddy with a BeadforLife staff member who was traveling to Uganda.” She adds that a trip to Africa is on Emma’s Birthday wishlist.

During the holiday season, she sang a special song via BeadforLife’s Facebook Page to Teddy:

Here is Teddy watching Emma’s special song in Uganda.

About BeadforLife:

BeadforLife creates sustainable opportunities for impoverished women to lift themselves out of poverty by creating a circle of connection between women in Uganda and women around the world. Women in Uganda work hard to roll beautiful bead jewelry out of recycled paper and harvest shea nuts to make shea butter. Women worldwide sell these items and educate themselves and others about extreme poverty. The profits return to Uganda and fund health care, housing and business training initiatives.


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Uganda politicians celebrate passing of anti-gay laws


President Museveni’s supporters revel in new anti-gay laws passed despite pressure from US, EU, western donors and rights group. (I WONDER HOW HE FEELS ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE)?
by  –
Yoweri Museveni

Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has signed off a bill introducing anti-gay laws. Photograph: Carl Court/AP

Uganda‘s president hassigned a controversial law allowing those convicted of homosexuality to be imprisoned for life, defying international disapproval from western donor nations.

At a public ceremony in a packed room at the State House in Entebbe,Yoweri Museveni formally initialled the anti-homosexuality act, which also outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and requires citizens to denounce to the police anyone suspected of being gay. “No study has shown you can be homosexual by nature. That’s why I have agreed to sign the bill,” Museveni said in a speech at the presidential palace near the capital, Kampala.

“Outsiders cannot dictate to us. This is our country. I advise friends from the west not to make this an issue, because if they make it an issue the more they will lose. If the west does not want to work with us because of homosexuals, then we have enough space to ourselves here.”

Supporters clapped during the press conference. One MP sitting at a white table in the front row, said: “I hope the Obamas are receiving it live, Desmond Tutu, Cameron … [Museveni] has resisted them.” The ethics and integrity minister, Simon Lokodo, said: “I feel very fulfilled, very elated, because at last my head of state has pronounced it on behalf of the entire nation, Uganda, that this is a bill that was worth putting in place.”

David Bahati, the MP who introduced the bill, added: “This is a victory for the family of Uganda, a victory for the future of our children…”

The US announced on Monday night that it would begin an internal review of its relationship with Uganda’s government, including assistance programmes. Barack Obama had warned Museveni that ties between Kampala and Washington would be damaged if the bill was passed.

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, said: “I am deeply saddened and disappointed that the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda has been signed into law. The UK strongly opposes all discrimination on any grounds. “We question the [law’s] compatibility with Uganda’s constitution and international treaty obligations. There can be no doubt that [it] will increase persecution and discrimination of Ugandans, as well as damage Uganda’s reputation internationally.We ask the government of Uganda to protect all its citizens and encourage tolerance, equality and respect.”

Museveni, a key African ally of the US and the EU, had already come under fire from western donors for alleged corruption and had been under increasing pressure to block the legislation.

The anti-homosexuality bill passed through parliament in December after its architects agreed to drop a death penalty clause. The legislation requires those found guilty of repeat homosexuality to be jailed for life.

The South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu said at the weekend that the law recalled attempts by the Nazi and apartheid regimes to “legislate against love”. Amnesty International called the bill a “horrific expansion of state-sanctioned homophobia”.

Homophobia, supported by many US-funded evangelical Christians, has become more virulent in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. In 2011, a prominent Ugandan gay rights campaigner, David Kato, was bludgeoned to death at his home after a newspaper splashed photos, names and addresses of gay people in Uganda on its front page along with a yellow banner reading “Hang Them”.

This month Museveni, a devout evangelical Christian, also signed into law dress code legislation that outlaws “provocative” clothing, bans scantily-clad performers from appearing on Ugandan television and closely monitors what individuals view on the internet.

A coalition of UK gay rights groups and charities has written to the Foreign Office calling on Britain to withdraw its high commissioner in Kampala.

Jonathan Cooper, chief executive of the Human Dignity Trust and one of those who signed the letter, said: “[This] law promises to tyrannise the lives of the Ugandan lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. This is a huge blow for anyone who values basic human rights. This bleak situation will have an immediate effect on countries like the UK, the rest of the EU, Canada and US, as people flee and seek sanctuary.”


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Which Social Media Platforms are Right for You?

By: Marsha Friedman –Social-Media-in-Business-Social-Media-Applications-Guide

If you want to be visible in today’s marketplace, you absolutely must have a presence on social media.

But there are so many from which to choose nowadays! In addition to the biggies like Facebook and Twitter, we have lots of newcomers, including Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr. Additionally, some of the older platforms have undergone major changes in recent months, which affect how effective they are for different functions.

How to know which platforms will best meet your needs?

I asked Alex Hinojosa, our vice president for media operations at EMSI Public Relations, to share some tips for helping you decide.

First, he says, if you plan to handle your social media marketing yourself, try different platforms and use ones with features you enjoy. That will help ensure you stick with it, and may lead you to create inspired content that’s more likely to be shared.

Be on at least two platforms, he says. (If one’s mostly personal stuff for family and friends, it doesn’t count!)

Here’s Alex’s rundown on the advantages and disadvantages of the four most popular platforms:

• Facebook: This works best if you’re an individual interacting on a personal level, as opposed to a business. Artists, authors, public speakers and certain other professionals may benefit from having potential customers get to know them on a more personal basis.

A downside to Facebook is that, in an effort to make money for shareholders, it has begun requiring users to pay for the potentially unlimited visibility that used to be free.

• Twitter: Posts are limited to 140 characters – about the length of a headline – and can include a photo or link to a website. This is a great network for getting to know people without sharing a lot of personal information. Plus, you can follow whomever you want, and anyone can follow you.

“It allows you to easily connect with prospects and potential associates, so it’s great for businesses,” Alex says. “People use it primarily as a source of news, which makes it easy to interact with people you don’t know – you have something to talk about.”

Twitter is now aggressively cleaning house of “robot” followers – dummy accounts sold for cheap that make it look like the buyer has a huge following. Even if you don’t buy robots, you may end up with some as followers.

“Don’t buy followers and delete any of your followers that don’t appear real. Twitter limits how many followers you can have, so you don’t want to waste them on ‘bots,” Alex says.

• LinkedIn: The social network for professionals is a good place to find and meet people within and outside your industry. People can easily see your credentials and endorse your skills. The background information on your profile page – where you went to school, other companies you’ve been associated with – provides great fodder for finding common ground with strangers and building relationships.

• Google+: The Google search engine favors anything posted on Google+, which is great for SEO. It also combines the best features of Facebook and Twitter, including photo sharing and categorizing content using hashtags (#).

“Right now, Google+ can be anything you want it to be,” Alex says. “It’s still new, just more than 2 years old, so it’s still defining itself. I think it will be the next social networking giant.”

As Alex suggests, if you plan to handle your social media marketing yourself, take into consideration the modes of networking that you enjoy along with the best platforms to meet your needs.

If you have limited experience in social media, jump into the platforms that seem to best align with your goals. You’ll have a learning curve, but a little practice goes a long way. And you’ll soon wonder why you didn’t get more involved a long time ago!

About Marsha Friedman

Marsha Friedman is a 24-year veteran of the public relations industry. She is the CEO of EMSI Public Relations (, a national firm that provides PR strategy and publicity services to businesses, professional firms, entertainers and authors. Marsha is the author of Celebritize Yourself and can also be heard weekly on her Blog Talk Radio Show, The PR Insider. Follow her on Twitter: @marshafriedman.


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4 Retirement Survival Tips For a Volatile Stock Market

download (4)More and more Americans – 28 percent in 2013 — say they’re not at all confident they’ll have a comfortable retirement.

Even the wealthiest among us have concerns; 38 percent of U.S. multi-millionaires are not “very confident” about their retirement income, a 2013 U.S. Trust survey found.

“A ‘comfortable’ retirement means different things to different people,” notes Haitham “Hutch” Ashoo, co-founder of Pillar Wealth Management, (

“The first thing you need to determine is what ‘comfortable’ means to you to ensure you have what you most desire in retirement.”

Most retirees and pre-retirees will depend on income from their investments to maintain their desired lifestyle, says Chris Snyder, Pillar’s co-founder. Any dramatic negative market volatility that’s not fully understood can be devastating to their mindset and planning.

“As wealth management advisers, we anticipate – based on historical patterns – an average 5 percent drop in the market about three times a year,” Snyder says. “Advisers should be planning for that. We tell our clients, ‘Don’t focus so much on the drop – we’ve planned and accounted for these predictable, recurring negative events. Instead, we should evaluate whether it will prevent you from reaching your life goals.’ ”

Ashoo and Snyder offer these tips for those worried about the volatility in today’s market:

1. Have a deep understanding of your retirement life goals.
If you don’t have clear life goals, neither you nor a financial adviser can create a map to get you there, says Ashoo.

“Think about what kind of cars you wish to drive; whether you’d like one or more
vacation homes; where in the world you’d like to play golf; whether you want to budget $10,000 a year for travel or $250,000,” he says. “You also need to think about your beneficiaries and/or charitable causes that are near and dear to your heart. What sort of financial legacy do you desire for them?”

2. Do you or your financial adviser have a reliable process for evaluating your progress toward your life goals?
You need to know whether a drop or correction in the market is going to affect your ability to meet your life goals, so you can adjust for that,  says Snyder. Simply measuring investment performance is not a reliable means of determining whether a person is on track to meet their life goals.

              “We create a wealth management analysis that stress tests their retirement life goals
through a simulation of stock, bond and cash activity from 1925 through 2013,” he
says. “That includes recessions, depressions, catastrophes, bull and bear markets,
and high and low inflation. We do this on a quarterly basis, since the market is
constantly changing.”

The analysis produces a score that reflects the level of confidence their clients can have that they will meet their goals. If the score is not between 75 and 90 percent, the advisers consider “what if” scenarios with their clients.

3. Avoid destructive investor behavior.
Human nature is counter-intuitive when it comes to investing, and that can lead to bad
decision-making, Snyder says.

“Even the smartest, biggest institutional investors make the mistake of allowing their emotions to guide their judgment,” he says. “When the stock market goes up, people’s enthusiasm goes up and they rush to buy, which increases their risk. Then a correction occurs and they find themselves overweight in equities and they wonder what happened.”

               This destructive behavior can have a devastating impact on their plans in retirement.
Snyder says it is not worth assuming more risk if you have an analysis that shows you
are able to achieve your retirement goals with less risk.

4. Once you’ve accomplished 1, 2 and 3, let your financial professionals do the work.
It may be hard to turn a deaf ear when friends or family insist you should act or react because of something they’ve read or heard in the news, or because of an experience they’ve had. Let your professionals guide you, Ashoo says.

              “We’re paid to provide our clients with peace of mind, and to allow them to enjoy
everything that is near and dear to their hearts,” he says.

“Life’s too short to waste time and sleep worrying every time something happens in the
world that could affect your investments,” he says. “Since we have a process for ensuring our clients are making progress toward their goals with a high degree of confidence, we want them to take it easy and have fun. They deserve to enjoy their lives today.”

About Haitham “Hutch” Ashoo and Chris Snyder

Haitham “Hutch” Ashoo and Chris Snyder are co-founders of Pillar Wealth Management,  (, of Walnut Creek, Calif. The two specialize in customized wealth management advice to affluent families. The service is provided to a limited number of clients. New clients are accepted only when Pillar has determined it can add substantial value to their financial lives. Ashoo and Snyder’s unique five-step consultative process for new clients ensures they have a deep understanding of clients’ goals. The two have a combined 51 years of experience. They are the authors of numerous published works, have addressed thousands of investors nationwide, and have been interviewed on radio shows across the country.


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San Jose plan dangles visions of downtown’s future

The Downtown San Jose Street Life Plan (DSJSLP) proposes a menu of 29 “a la carte” district-wide projects; it identifies 11 focus areas for these projects: Streets and routes of significant importance to the improvement of Downtown’s public realm.

The Downtown San Jose Street Life Plan (DSJSLP) proposes a menu of 29 “a la carte” district-wide projects; it identifies 11 focus areas for these projects: Streets and routes of significant importance to the improvement of Downtown’s public realm.

by  –

How can downtown San Jose make its downtown public realms more attractive? How can the neighborhood build on the business momentum it has demonstrated in the last year?

The area’s merchants are exploring ways to energize the city’s core, lure new projects and link up elements of the neighborhood that are already doing well. Part of that effort included hiring CMG Landscape Architecture to create visions of downtown’s future, which you can see in the accompanying slides.

CMG presented its report, the culmination of eight months of work, to the San Jose Downtown Association and the Property-Based Improvement District (a self-funded non-profit managed by the SJDA), last week. The ideas that CMG presented were just that — ideas — not concrete proposals.

Take a look at the menu of streetscape elements CMG suggested in the slides and discuss in the comments below.


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Dangerous NekNominate Trend Gets a Socially Responsible Relaunch – Meet RAKNominate



A new version of the notoriously irresponsible NekNominate online drinking game replaces vodka and rum with ‘Random Acts of Kindness’.

Random Acts of Kindness are set to replace 12 shots of tequila in a charitable re-imagining of the recent viral drinking game NekNominate. Instead of downing dangerous quantities of alcohol, players are nominated via social media to perform a random act of kindness (RAK).

This positive twist on the original trend was inspired by Brent Lindeque, a South African with a social conscience. Thousands of others have now taken part in RAKNominate. Nominees have given out food and money in HongKong. One participant donated her hair to make wigs for unwell children. Schoolchildren have been sharing their sandwiches with those in need. Everyday Joes have been buying dinner for hardworking guys trying to earn just a few pennies a day. All of these kindnesses have been triggered by an irresponsible social media trend. Proof that social media can be a powerful tool for good.


Adding to the good vibes spreading like wildfire across the internet are Two Little Fleas. Their community have compiled an instant “Kindness Generator”, ready to provide RAKNominees with all the inspiration they need to do something good. At the click of a button nominees can uncover their own perfect way to ‘pay it forward’.

Over the last few days the official RAKNominate facebook page has attracted over 23,000 Facebook likes. Satellite RAKNominate pages are also going viral, chalking up over 20,000 likes combined. In the past 3 days over 2000 people in the UK have tweeted about RAKNomination including celebrities Russell Kane and The Last Leg C4 team.

According to official RAKNominate page owner, Robbie Matthews: “The response was really above any expectations we ever had, to think we had over 20,000 people like the page in over a week was overwhelming. The general public really embraced the idea of doing good deeds and encouraging others to do likewise.”

Over 700,000 people have seen the videos shared on the page in the last 7 days, the insights are really encouraging, with people from all over the world taking part and now Canada and the United States seem to be doing more and more of these everyday.”

Partially inspired by the 2000 movie Pay It Forward in which a student is inspired to change the world for the better by setting up a network of good deeds, RAKNominate has picked up support and influences from across the world. The South African hashtag #ChangeOneThing is trending across the internet while RAK’s sister movement NEKdonate encourages nominees to donate to their favourite causes instead of downing alcoholic beverages.


It is RAKNominate, however, which is going viral. The charitable deeds vary widely, from small gestures to big changes. Facebook page owner Robbie Matthews observes that: “the simpler ones seem to be most liked, from buying a family their meal or helping out homeless people by giving them warm food and drink. One of our favourites was a woman who left a shopping voucher under the lid of a baby milk formula box, so when the person that buys the formula gets home they find the voucher, a brilliant surprise.”

NAME: Pete Campbell


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Google’s instructions on how not to be a Glasshole

What are you looking at, bub?


Google Glass users: Don’t be Glassholes.

That’s advice from Google Inc.which laid out in a post today the do’s and don’ts of using Google Glass, the company’s wearable device that has some people in a tizzy over its ability to discreetly record video and take photos.

The list doesn’t explicitly say what to do if a conflict arises, but it issues a few talking points. The post tells users to explain that Glass serves a lot of the same functions a mobile phone does when they ask, and it instructs them to always ask to record photos or videos of others.

Most of the bullet points are pretty self-explanatory. It suggests users not to be creepy or rude with the tech, and avoid getting defensive when people ask questions about Glass (read: when they get cranky about the possibility of it being used to record them). It also said Glass wearers should use a screen lock to prevent identity theft, avoid cage fighting while wearing Glass (seriously), and turn off the device in areas and situations that require cell phone users to do so.

Finally, don’t Glass out, the post says. Google designed the device for short bursts of information, and staring off into space for long periods of time might make users look like weirdos.

In short, use Glass to get directions to that hole-in-the-wall ramen shop or to find out how many ounces are in a cup when your hands are covered in cookie dough, but don’t use it to read Dostoyevsky.


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