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The Return Of The Morning Grumpy – 5/30/12

30 May

It’s been a hellish few weeks of business travel, but I’m back in the saddle, ready to give you your daily dose of all the news, views, and filtered excellence for you to consume during your morning grumpy.

1. Once upon a time, there was a group of media outlets that made decisions about the types of information you, the consumer, would be able to hear, view or read.  They were gatekeepers and they decided what would be news and what would forever descend down the memory hole.

The internet changed all of that.  We, formerly known as the audience, suddenly became producers, curators and distributors of news and information using the semantic web and social networking. We could even influence the production of traditional media using the web; changing the face of the news to look a little something like this.

Using this technology, we would set information free and open new channels of communication independent of gatekeepers. Right?

Eli Pariser is the author of a book called “The Filter Bubble” which challenges that basic assumption.  I’ll let him explain the basics.

Pariser asserts that the tools we use to produce, aggregate, curate, and disseminate news have become the new gatekeepers. The complicated algorithms which make the web possible are actively working to create a personal internet, attuned to our biases and perspective. So much so that we’re beginning to lose touch with other points of view and information needed to make informed decisions as media consumers.

Essentially, Facebook, Google and others are turning into automated confirmation bias machines.

Interestingly, there are geeks all over the world who are working to solve this problem. The first product I’ve seen is a Google Chrome extension called rbutr. And it could change the way we consume information. Their solution is an amalgam of the two systems, technology tools and personal gatekeepers, working to keep each other honest.

Our current primary focus at this point is leveraging the platform we have to develop a strong, dedicate community of bloggers and skeptics who will continue to help building a network of rebuttal connections between relevant websites all over the web.

A healthy mix of people, skeptics, and algorithms. Sounds good to me. Their mission?

To link every page on the internet to its most appropriate responses, so that no one is ever forced to simply accept what they are ‘told’ by any one source ever again.

It comes along with a code of ethics and philosophy. A very unique tool for a confusing time in media.

2. This summer, we’ll have a redux of the fight over the debt ceiling and the effects of that showdown will derail the economy…which is exactly what the Republicans are hoping to accomplish.

Europe is crumbling. China is slowing. The Federal Reserve is dithering. Yet the biggest threat to the emerging U.S. economic recovery may be Congress.

John Boehner, the leader of the House Republicans, has promised yet another fight with the White House over the debt ceiling

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we suffered through an identical performance last summer. Our analysis of that episode leads to a troubling conclusion: It almost derailed the recovery, and this time could be a lot worse.

The brinksmanship displayed by the Republicans last summer resulted in a huge drop in consumer confidence, not just a drop in our credit rating.

High-frequency data on consumer confidence from the research company Gallup, based on surveys of 500 Americans daily, provide a good picture of the debt-ceiling debate’s impact (see chart). Confidence began falling right around May 11, when Boehner first announced he would not support increasing the debt limit. It went into freefall as the political stalemate worsened through July. Over the entire episode, confidence declined more than it did following the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc

The only way, realistically, that Mitt Romney takes the White House is if the economy goes into the proverbial squatter. The Republicans were willing to derail the recovery and toy with the nation’s credit rating last summer to accomplish a political goal, why wouldn’t they do it again when the stakes are even higher? They reneged on the deals that were struck after that near economic nightmare last summer and they’re ready to bring it all crashing down.

As an added kicker, if you read this breakdown of the negotiations from last summer (some of the finest enterprise journalism of the last five years), you’ll learn that the Republican caucus is so fractured, that there isn’t one entity with whom the White House can negotiate.

In other words, buckle up, it’s gonna be One Crazy Summer and President Obama will be negotiating with the political equivalent of the Stork Brothers.

3. Speaking of that Presidential election, Medicare Fraud Enthusiast and Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, is doing his best to turn the Florida election into a trainwreck of confusion and insanity. As in the run-up to the Presidential election in 2000, the Republican Party is doing their best to disenfranchise as many voters as possible.

Bill Internicola is a 91-year-old, Brooklyn-born, World War II veteran. He fought in the Battle of the Buldge and received the Bronze Star for bravery. He’s voted in Florida for 14 years and never had a problem.

Three weeks ago, Bill received a letter from Broward County Florida stating “[Y]ou are not a U.S. Citizen” and therefore, ineligible to vote. He was given the option of requesting “a hearing with the Supervisor of Elections, for the purpose of providing proof that you are a United States citizens” or forfeit his right to vote.

This decorated World War II veteran is just one of hundreds of fully eligible U.S. citizens being targeted by Governor Scott’s massive voter purge just prior to this year’s election, according to data obtained from Florida election officials by ThinkProgress. The purge list, according to an analysis by the Miami Herald, targets mostly Democrats and Hispanics.

If you can’t win on ideas, you change the meaning of winning.

4. Every day, the National Security Administration intercepts and stores over 1,700,000,000 emails, phone calls, texts, and online communications. Ya know, to keep us safe.

The Department of Homeland Security is also monitoring your communications, even on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other associated social media outlets. You’re not doing anything wrong, so you’ve got nothing to worry about, right? Well, if you’ve used any of these keywords in your communications, you should wonder.

Three months ago, a list of keywords was released by the Dept. for Homeland Security after the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sued the government for withholding the document.

Sure, they don’t monitor everything you say or type, but if you’ve typed the words “virus”, “social media”, “denial of service”, malware”, or “worm”…they certainly have checked you out.

This is probably a good time to remind you Proles that, “We’ve always been at war with Eurasia.”

5. As it turns out, customers prefer to be lied to about pricing.

You might have seen recently that iconic retailer JC Penney is slumping badly. You almost certainly have seen the reason why: A massive, creative and aggressive new advertising and pricing campaign that promises simplified prices.

Shoppers hated it.

The campaign, which launched on Feb. 1, appears to be a disaster. Revenue dropped 20 percent for the first quarter compared to last year. Customer traffic fell 10 percent. Last year, the company made $64 million in the first quarter; this year, it lost $163 million.

The CEO who came up with this concept was picked from the ranks of Apple, which made hundreds of billions of dollars by limiting choice and product options and simply relabeling it as “simplicity”. Now that the numbers are in, it would appear that people will dig this “simplicity” only if it’s paired up with the right kind of marketing in a very narrow product vertical. In department stores?

If a firm tries to educate consumers on tricks and traps, and tries to offer an honest product, a funny thing happens: Consumers say, “Thank you for the tips,” and go back to the tricky companies, where they exploit the new knowledge to get cheaper prices, leaving the “honest” firm in the dust.

JC Penney is, as they say, fucked. Switching back to shrouded prices and coupons so quickly will be disastrous for the company. Staying with the current strategy also leaves them exceedingly vulnerable in a very competitive marketplace. It’s fun to see a company make a big bet and take a lot of risk, but it’s terrible to see an iconic American brand lose so big on that bet.

Fact Of The Day: The Commodore 64 is the best selling computer ever made. To this day, I can strike anyone out with Pepe Perez’s screwball in Hardball.

Quote Of The Day: “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” – Oscar Wilde

Laugh Of The Day: (Strong Language) “Funny As Hell” – Hannibal Buress

Double Laugh Of The Day: “Birth” – Patton Oswalt

Song Of The Day: “Cissy Strut” – The Meters

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

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chris@artvoice.com