Change.org rakes in $25 mln from Huffington, Gates, Kutcher and others

Social change platform Change.org has closed $25 million in Series C funding. The investors in this round included Omidyar Network, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Huffington Post founder Ariana Huffington, Bill Gates, Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary. PRESS RELEASE SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Change.org, the world’s leading platform for social change with over 80 million users, today announced that it has raised $25 million from leaders in the technology, business, and media sectors. They join mission-aligned investment firm Omidyar Network, founded by eBay’s Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam, which led the company’s previous investment round and significantly increased its investment in this Series C round. The purpose of the investment round is to scale the company and its impact with the support of mission-aligned investors who have deep experience building and leading global enterprises, including founders of LinkedIn, Twitter, and Yahoo!. “We are building the largest network of people taking social action ever assembled, giving us the opportunity to transform civic participation globally,” said Change.org founder and CEO Ben Rattray. “To achieve this potential, we’ve brought together a remarkable group of investors with experience at the intersection of business, technology and social change to help advise us in this next stage of our growth.” Change.org has seen rapid growth since its last investment round in mid-2013, growing from 35 million to more than 80 million users in 196 countries, with campaigns now winning nearly once an hour. Winning campaigns on Change.org give voice to thousands of issues — from getting people access to life-saving diabetes drugs in Argentina, to helping stop acid attacks on women in India, to persuading police to wear body cameras in the U.S. The company has also expanded its staff to support citizen movements in 20 of the world’s largest democracies and hired top executives from leading technology companies, including Google, Yahoo!, Twitter and Netflix. With this Series C investment, Change.org plans to significantly expand its engineering team to build the best technology in the world to scale its support for social change globally. Specifically, the company will focus on: ● Mobile: Mobile development to enable people to take immediate action based on their location or real-time news;
● Political: Building tools to enable elected officials at all levels of government to directly engage with the rapidly increasing number of citizens that are petitioning them for change;
● Global: Supporting the ability of anyone, anywhere to create change through improved localization and translation globally. “Change.org has proven that ordinary people have extraordinary power, with over 30 million people around the globe participating in at least one winning campaign,” said Jennifer Dulski, president & COO of Change.org. “With this new investment, we’ll be entering the next phase of scaling the product, making it easy for people to take immediate action based on their location and the causes they care about, and directly engage with the businesses and governments that serve them. Our goal is to massively amplify the power people have to affect change in their communities and around the world.” The size of this investment is a sign of the continued growth and success of the new startup economy focused on social good. Change.org is a Certified B Corporation, a new class of companies dedicated to positive impact, which has grown from 51 companies in 2007 to 1,163 companies in 2014, and includes an increasing number of tech companies. “We believe that companies can be an enormous force for good and address some of the world’s biggest problems,” said Rattray. “We’re excited to be part of a new movement showing it is possible for companies to succeed in business and have widespread social impact.” Investors participating in this Series C round include: ● Ali and Hadi Partovi (co-founders, Code.org)
● Arianna Huffington (founder, Huffington Post)
● Ariel Poler (chairman, Textmarks)
● Ashton Kutcher & Guy Oseary (A-GRade Investments)
● Bill Gates
● Bryan Johnson (founder, Braintree & OS Fund)
● Dan Rosensweig (CEO, Chegg)
● Diane Tang (fellow, Google)
● Evan Williams (co-founder, Twitter & Obvious Ventures)
● Gideon Yu (former CFO, Facebook & YouTube)
● James Currier (co-founder, Tickle & Ooga Labs)
● Jeff Weiner (CEO, Linkedin)
● Jeffrey Walker (ret. co-founder & managing partner, JPMorgan Partners)
● Jerry Yang (co-founder, Yahoo! & AME Cloud Ventures)
● Joe Lonsdale (co-founder, Palantir)
● Jonathan Sackler (Chairman, Kokino LLC)
● The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
● Katie Stanton (vice president of global media, Twitter)
● Lorna Borenstein (founder & CEO, Grokker)
● Louis Eisenberg (Facebook)
● Michael Birch (co-founder, Bebo)
● Dr. Mortimer D. Sackler Family
● Nicolas Berggruen (Berggruen Institute)
● Omidyar Network
● Rick Segal (Managing Partner, Rethink)
● Reid Hoffman (co-founder, Linkedin)
● Richard Branson (founder, Virgin Group)
● Sam Altman (president, Y Combinator)
● Shawn Byers (MITS Fund, LLC)
● Trawalla Foundation
● Uprising
● Warner Philips (founder and managing partner, KW Forever Ventures) About Change.org
Change.org is the world’s largest social change platform with over 80 million users in 196 countries. Every day, people around the world use our tools to transform their communities. We make it possible for anyone to start a campaign and immediately mobilize hundreds of others locally or hundreds of thousands around the world, making governments and companies more responsive and accountable. Change.org is a Certified ‘B’ Corporation. This means we are held to high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency set by B Lab, an independent international non-profit certifying group. We are proud to have exceeded those standards, and have been named among the top 10 percent of social good companies with a positive impact on the community.

Apple Doesn’t Completely Shut Door On ‘iPhone Mini’

In a revised version of an interview published Thursday in a Chinese newspaper, Apple Inc marketing chief Phil Schiller said the company would focus on making "the best products" for customers and "never blindly pursue market share."

On Thursday, the Shanghai Evening News cited Schiller as saying that Apple would not develop a cheaper smartphone for the sake of expanding its market share.

That appeared to undermine other recent media reports indicating that Apple was working on a low-end smartphone, which would represent a significant shift in strategy for a company that has always focused on premium products.

But in a new version of the story published after the original, the Shanghai Evening News removed all references to cheaper smartphones, except for a mention of a "cheaper, low-end product." It also amended its original headline from "Apple will not push a cheaper smartphone for the sake of market share," to "Apple wants to provide the best products, will not blindly pursue market share."

Apple confirmed the interview had taken place and that it had contacted the Chinese newspaper about amending its original article, but had no further comment and declined to provide a transcript of the interview.

It was not clear if Schiller had made his original comments or if the newspaper had quoted him out of context.

The Shanghai Evening News could not be immediately reached for comment around 2:00 a.m. Shanghai time Saturday.

"We will not discuss plans for any future products," Schiller was cited as saying in a newly published quote.

The executive had originally been quoted as saying that developing a cheaper smartphone to try and replace feature phones was not a direction in which the company wanted to head. That comment was removed from the new version of the story, which now cites Schiller as saying, "Apple has always focused on providing the best products for its consumers, we've never blindly chased market share."

Apple rarely addresses rumors about upcoming products, which often spur intense speculation. Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal cited anonymous sources as saying Apple could release a cheaper iPhone as early as this year.

(Reporting by Edwin Chan; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

CEO Who Threatened To ‘Start Killing People’ Has Gun Permit Suspended

James Yeager, the CEO who recently threatened to "start killing people" if President Barack Obama pursued an expansion on gun control, has had his gun permit suspended.

Authorities with the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security told Newschannel 5 the suspension was based on "material likelihood of risk of harm to the public."

In a statement to the station, Commissioner Bill Gibbons said:

The number one priority for our department is to ensure the public's safety. Mr. Yeager's comments were irresponsible, dangerous, and deserved our immediate attention. Due to our concern, as well as that of law enforcement, his handgun permit was suspended immediately. We have notified Mr. Yeager about the suspension today via e-mail. He will receive an official notification of his suspension through the mail.

Yeager raised some eyebrows after posting a video to YouTube Wednesday. In the clip he said increased gun control measures would "spark a civil war" and he would "be glad to fire the first shot."

The video originally ended with Yeager stating, "If it goes one inch further, I'm going to start killing people." He has since deleted that portion of the video, but an original version, captured by Raw Story, is still viewable below.

Yeager is the CEO of Tactical Response, a Tennessee company that teaches people weapons handling and other tactical skills.

In a video statement released on YouTube Thursday, Yeager acknowledges, "I was mad when I said it and probably allowed my mouth to overrun my logic, but I don't retract any of my statements."

WATCH the original video [via Raw Story]:
WARNING ADULT LANGUAGE

Karen Hinton: Banks Are Holding Us Hostage

A Republican president allowed banks to screw us royally, and a Democratic one is letting them get away with it.

I just put down The New York Times and am thoroughly depressed, after reading about how banks not only ripped off homeowners by making abusive loans, ripped off the global economy, putting millions out of work, and then ripped off homeowners again with illegal foreclosures, but they also sabotaged the foreclosure review process, designed to make things right for homeowners.

The nation's 10 largest banks are holding us hostage, and no one in government has been willing to stand up to them, except for a handful of women and only one of them remains in office: Elizabeth Warren, the U.S. Senator from Massachusetts.

Sheila Bair, formerly FDIC Chair, and Brooksley Born, former Commodities Futures Trading Commission Chair, took them on in the run-up to the economic crisis, but they left their positions after being scolded by Mr. Know-It-All and Wall Street apologist Tim Geithner, who basically told them to shut up and behave like good little girls during their service in government.

According to The New York Times, the foreclosure review process has been a gigantic mess, funneling more money to the consultants running it than to homeowners who have lost or are trying to save their homes.

Here are my questions:

If we can't trust banks to run a foreclosure review process with some amount of precision, how in the heck do we expect them to run the world's financial systems and not take us for a deep dive again?

If the federal regulators can't oversee a foreclosure review process and force the banks to run it properly, then how in the heck do we expect the regulators to regulate the Dodd-Frank reforms that are supposed to protect us from the banks, running the world already, in the future?

And, if Geithner as Treasury Secretary refused to hold both banks and their regulators accountable, why do we think Jack Lew will, being cut from the exact same cloth?

Lew, a former Citigroup executive, strikes me as just another soulless apologist for Wall Street. I don't know much about Lew, but what I do know tells me he is a bean counter who cares more about his numbers adding up on the page than helping people when they are in a time of need -- like families wrongly thrown out of their homes.

I hope I am wrong. I hope Lew will do what Geithner and President Obama refused to do or, at best, was not successful at doing: making sure banks play by the same rules as everyone else.

Already, though, banking regulations are being twisted in the big banks' favor. Even the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has signed onto the "safe harbor" provision that saves -- not consumers -- but the big banks from being sued by home borrowers if it's later determined banks sold them an abusive loan. No other industry has such a "safe harbor" but we give it up to them because, simply put, they are holding us hostage.

If they don't prosper, our economy doesn't prosper.

But both the Bush and Obama Administrations have gotten it completely backward.

If our economy doesn't prosper, then the banks shouldn't either but, somehow, they always manage it. See today's latest headline.

Dem Governor Targets Money In Politics

WASHINGTON -- In each of his three State of the State addresses, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has given increasing levels of detail to his support for campaign finance reform in the Empire State. He has gone from calling for public financing in 2011 to laying out a comprehensive plan to fix the state's system of funding campaigns, viewed as one of the worst in the nation, in this year's address.

"We must enact campaign finance reform because people believe that campaigns are financed by someone else at exorbitant rates," Cuomo said Wednesday in his annual speech.

The governor's recent words have cheered groups working to pass campaign finance reform, including public matching funds for candidates, in New York state.

"We definitely have the best chance of winning than we ever have before," said Charlie Albanetti, communications director of Citizen Action NY, a grassroots organization at the center of organizing reform support over the better part of the last decade.

Campaign finance reform hinges on the backing of Democrats in the New York state Senate, where it faces near universal opposition from Republicans. The state Senate is currently run by a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Independent Democrats; many of the latter have previously voiced support for public financing. As for the Democratic-controlled Assembly, it has passed public financing more than once in the past.

Support for comprehensive reform that includes public financing is very strong among ordinary New Yorkers, according to a Dec. 13-17 poll commissioned by the Public Campaign Action Fund, a pro-reform national campaign finance watchdog. The poll found more than 70 percent support for reform, including public financing, among Democrats, Republicans and independents in the state. Even when presented with a negative description of the reform proposal, as a waste of taxpayer dollars and welfare for politicians, those surveyed still strongly supported reform.

"Based on this widespread support for reform, we now have a situation where the elected officials in Albany are starting to realize that this is a priority for the people of New York," said Adam Skaggs, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Much of this confidence is based on the burst of activity that followed the governor's 2012 State of the State speech, the first in which Cuomo delved into the specifics of comprehensive campaign finance change. Traditional reformers from labor, environmental and progressive groups ramped up their organizing, and new groups brought their time and money into the fight.

Cuomo began to detail last year and expanded further in Wednesday's speech on a package of reforms, including the implementation of public financing for state elections based on the New York City model, lower limits on contributions, real-time disclosure of campaign-related activity and anti-pay-to-play laws to prevent corruption in state contracting.

The newest piece of the governor's reform package is a call for disclosure of all contributions within a 48-hour period after they are made. "We would apply this to all political and lobbying organizations -- PACs, 501(c)(3)s, 501(c)(4)s that do lobbying, political committees, political parties. Any contribution within 48 hours is disclosed over $500. There is nothing like it in the country," Cuomo said.

These reforms are directed at a system that currently sets the highest contribution limits of any state with limits, offers irregular disclosure rules that allow candidates in some cases to file only once or twice a year, has no disclosure requirements for independent expenditure groups and no laws on pay-to-play, and engages in very spotty enforcement. In recent years, high-profile corruption investigations have targeted New York state officials, including former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and former Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

In February 2012, the group NYLEAD was organized by New York business leaders and the Brennan Center for Justice to provide a voice in favor of reform from the business community. Members of NYLEAD have engaged on the reform issue by writing op-eds, appearing in local news media and calling lawmakers to express their opinions.

David Calone, CEO of the venture capital firm Jove Equity Partners and a NYLEAD member, said that many of the group's participants are campaign donors themselves, but are fed up with the constant solicitations and the amount of time lawmakers put into fundraising.

Calone also argued that legislators' reliance on major campaign cash from business interests ultimately distorts the free market.

"The market should be a competition of ideas and products with a level playing field, but if folks are able to make contributions and have their voice heard in terms of tilting the rules, then we're not really in a capitalist free market society, are we?" Calone said. "It's who's able to use their megaphone of campaign donations to get heard by different elected officials, and you have their issues take priority."

Investor Sean Eldridge and his husband Chris Hughes, the Facebook co-founder and owner of The New Republic, also created the nonprofit group Protect Our Democracy after Cuomo's 2012 State of the State speech. Protect Our Democracy is looking to duplicate the kind of campaign that brought money and public pressure to help move votes in favor of gay marriage in the state Senate in 2011.

Campaign finance reform differs from gay marriage in one key respect: It's not a divisive issue among New York voters.

"The major difference between this and gay marriage is there isn't going to be that kind of consequence," said Jonathan Soros, the founder of Friends of Democracy, a campaign finance reform super PAC and a member of NYLEAD. "You're dealing with an issue that has north of 70 percent statewide support among both Democrats and Republicans."

Soros' Friends of Democracy, which spent nearly $2 million on the federal elections in 2012, will not shy away from helping out members of either party that vote in favor of reform.

"Although I'm reasonably identifiable as a Democrat in my political activities, I am totally agnostic in terms of who to support and whom not to support as it relates to this issue," Soros said. "I have no qualms with supporting a Republican who does the right thing on getting this done."

And supporting a Republican may be necessary. Currently, power in the Senate hinges on one undecided election between Republican George Amedore Jr. and Democrat Cecelia Tkaczyk. The race, which ended with Amedore up by just 40 votes, is being challenged in court over uncounted ballots.

"A lot hinges on that election because the math is so close quite frankly. If the Democrat wins in that seat, we have a majority of seats in the Senate who support a public financing system given past statements," said Albanetti of Citizen Action NY.

However the final Senate election shakes out, reformers hope that the governor will use his own popularity, along with the same legislative skill he deployed to push gay marriage, to move campaign finance reform through the Senate. To the extent Cuomo is focused on his political future beyond New York, he could benefit from another major success on an issue of importance to Democrats nationwide.

If reform happens in New York, campaign finance supporters on Capitol Hill should get a boost, said the Brennan Center's Skaggs.

"We think that New York is a big enough state -- it's an important state -- and we believe that if Governor Cuomo's leadership can get reform done here, it'll provide a model for the rest of the country, and it will show Washington that this is really a realistic measure that we can get them to do," Skaggs said.

Why Microsoft May Have Missed A Major Opportunity This Month

LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft may have relinquished its starring role in America's gaudiest gadget show a year too early.

After 13 straight years in the spotlight, Microsoft's decision to scale back its presence at this week's International CES deprived the software maker of a prime opportunity to explain and promote a new generation of redesigned computers running its radically remade Windows operating system.

The missed chance comes at a time when Microsoft Corp. could use a bully pulpit to counter perceptions that Windows 8 isn't compelling enough to turn the technological tide away from smartphones and tablets running software made by Apple Inc. and Google Inc.

"They needed to be at this show in a very big way to show the progress they have made and what is it about 2013 that is going to make consumers really gravitate toward a Windows 8 machine," said technology industry analyst Patrick Moorhead.

Since Windows 8 went on sale in late October, there has been little evidence to suggest the operating system will lift the personal computer industry out of a deepening downturn. Worldwide PC shipments during the final three months of last year dropped 6 percent from the same period in 2011, according to the research firm International Data Corp. The dip occurred despite the bevy of Windows 8 laptops and desktop machines that were on sale during the holiday shopping season.

Microsoft, though, insists things worked out at just fine during CES, even though it didn't have a booth and only had a smattering of executives at the sprawling trade show, which drew some 156,000 people to Las Vegas.

The company, which is based in Redmond, Wash., decided it no longer makes sense to invest as much time and money in CES as it once did. The company says the show's early January slot doesn't mesh with the timing of its major product releases. Windows 8, for instance, was still more than nine months away from hitting the market when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer kicked off last year's CES with a keynote address that was billed as the company's swan song at the show.

"We are very comfortable with our decision," Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw said. "It has been a productive show for us this year."

Microsoft's retreat from CES puzzled some attendees curious about Windows 8. For instance, when Michael Sullivan showed up at computer maker Asus' booth, which was stocked with Windows 8 computers, there was no one around to discuss the machines or the software.

"This is unusual," said Sullivan, CEO of computer sales firm Spec 4 International Inc. "I don't understand why a successful company isn't bringing executives here."

Asus invited some CES attendees to learn more about Windows 8 at a nearby hotel, away from the show's main trade show. Asus has left its booth unmanned in previous years at CES, but the void wasn't as noticeable when Microsoft's own representatives were canvassing the floor.

NPD DisplaySearch analyst Richard Shim thought Microsoft should have had more people helping to staff its partners' booths because, he said, no one understands how Windows 8 works better than the company that made it.

"Whenever you have a new product rolling out, it's always helpful to communicate your message directly as opposed to counting on your partners," Shim said.

Microsoft elected to curtail its CES presence largely because the show's marketing value has diminished. In recent years, companies such as Apple and Google have shown that they can command more attention by holding their own exclusive events to unveil products just before they go on sale. Neither Apple nor Google had a major presence at CES.

In a sign that it is embracing its rivals' strategy, Microsoft staged separate events last year in Los Angeles and New York to unveil Surface, a Windows-powered tablet computer, and Windows 8.

Nevertheless, both Shim and Moorhead believe would have been better off waiting until after this year's CES to surrender its top billing on the marquee. That way, Ballmer could have used this year's opening CES keynote to talk about Windows 8's advantages as a finished product.

"Ballmer could have talked about the operating system more completely and built more hype around it, especially since Microsoft has been getting beaten up so far over Windows 8's performance," Shim said.

When Ballmer ended Microsoft's 13-year streak of kicking off CES, he was only able to provide a peek at a makeover of the operating system that was still months away from being completed.

Microsoft touts Windows 8 as a breakthrough that will enable people to straddle the divide between personal computers and tablets. The revamped operating system is built to respond to the touch of a finger so it can work on tablet computers while still retaining the ability to respond to commands from keyboards and mice on laptop and desktop machines. To take advantage of Windows 8's versatility, many PC makers are building convertible devices that can work as a tablet or a laptop.

But reviews of the new operating system have been lukewarm. Critics have been panning it as too confusing and cumbersome.

Microsoft used part of a CES technology forum presented by J.P. Morgan to try to build more enthusiasm. The company revealed that 60 million copies of Windows 8 have been sold so far, putting it on the same pace as the previous version – Windows 7 – at the same juncture of its release. But it's unclear how many of those Windows 8 licenses are installed on computers that are still sitting in stores or warehouses.

Investors have been so unimpressed with the reception to the new Windows products that Microsoft's stock price has slipped 4 percent since the operating system's Oct. 26 release. Meanwhile, the bellwether Standard & Poor's 500 index has gained 4 percent. Microsoft's stock closed Friday at $26.83, up 37 cents.

A clearer picture of the early reception to Windows 8 may emerge Jan. 24 when Microsoft is scheduled to report its earnings for the three months spanning the holiday shopping season.

Although he wasn't the main attraction, Ballmer made a cameo appearance during Qualcomm Inc. CEO Paul Jacobs' opening address at this year's show.

Ballmer's acceptance of Qualcomm's invitation to join Jacobs on stage surprised some people because Qualcomm has emerged as a threat to Intel Corp., a longtime Microsoft ally that makes most of the processors in Windows computers. Instead of touting Windows 8, Ballmer spent his time hailing a streamlined version of the operating system, dubbed Windows RT, which runs on tablets using processors that rely on technology designed by ARM, another Intel rival.

Microsoft's top executive in charge of technical strategy appeared on stage at Samsung Electronics' invitation to reveal a Windows phone featuring a flexible color display. The electronics of the phone are in a little box, and the thin, bendable screen is attached to it, looking much like a piece of paper.

That left Intel and other Microsoft partners, including PC makers Samsung, Sony, Asus, Acer and Hewlett-Packard Co., to do most of the boasting about Windows 8 at their own CES booths.

"Our partners are doing that very effectively," Shaw said. "You couldn't walk through the (CES) floor without seeing people doing really interesting things with Windows 8."

But there were other times when it appeared Microsoft's partners could have used some help.

Sony exhibitor John Guzman, for instance, seemed stumped when an Associated Press reporter visited the company's CES booth and asked whether a machine running Windows 8 or the more advanced Windows 8 Pro would be a better fit for journalistic work.

"That is more of a Microsoft question," Guzman said, adding that no Microsoft representatives were around.

___

Liedtke reported from San Francisco. AP Technology Writer Peter Svensson contributed to this story.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Is the US Budget ‘Wanton’ and ‘Wild?’ The IMF Says Yes, These Charts Say No

Well, there they go again. Less than a week after its chief economist apologized for wrongly imposing austerity on European nations -- hey, sorry about that, unemployed millions! -- the International Monetary Fund is misleading another country into the miasma of austerity economics: ours.

The IMF released a report which rates nations on their "profligacy" and placed the United States at or near the top. Among other things, this demonstrates that their grasp of language rivals their grasp of economics. To be "profligate" means that you're "wildly extravagant"and "completely given up to dissipation and licentiousness."  Synonyms for "profligate"include "debauched," "degenerate," "depraved," "dissipated," "dissolute," "iniquitous," "lax," "lewd," "libertine," "licentious," "loose," "promiscuous," "reprobate," "shameless," "unprincipled," "vicious," "vitiated," "wanton," "wicked" "and "wild."

I don't think they're suggesting that the halls of Washington rival Caligula's court. Nobody's marrying their sister, opening a brothel, or installing a horse in the Senate. (Although, to be fair, it couldn't do much worse than the current minority.)

The Real Debauch

The far right (which is to say, all of the American right) will love this idea, of course. It plays into all their worst prejudices. But is the United States government really on a wild spending spree? Poverty's at record levels and so is unemployment.  

The truth is, we don't have a spending problem at all. Then what is our problem? This is: We're coddling corporations and indulging the wealthy.

Repeating the IMF's poorly-chosen label is like calling Mom and Dad "profligate" for trying to feed Grandma after their billionaire nephew stole the car, the home and the bank accounts.

We've got the charts to prove it.

Words Matter

The IMF report calls us "profligate" because we're imbalanced between the amount of money our government collects and the amount it spends. But, as Howard Schneider notes in the Washington Post, Denmark offers much better social benefits than the U.S. and isn't called "profligate" because it collects the revenues to pay for it.

Still, the term's a loaded one and shouldn't have been used. It won't lead to a serious debate about tax revenues in this country, and we're certainly not having one now.We're fixated on spending, and the revenue side of the discussion has been narrowed so radically that the only debate going on in Washington is over which six-figure income will be taxed at a historically low rate of 39.5 percent.

Let's go to the charts. First up:

1. We spend very little on government in this country.

USG govt expenditure lower

And remember, we spent a trillion dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during this period, along with a lot of other unnecessary military spending. (The Pentagon takes roughly one-fifth of the government's budget.)

2. Government spending went up after Wall Street crashed the economy -- because it had to.(Revenues went down, too.)

GOVT SPENDING SPIKE

(via Business Insider)

3. But taxes in this country are actually low ...

US LOWER TAXES

Source: Center for American Progress

4. -- especially for the well to do, who are paying historically low rates ...

LOW TOP TAX RATES

5. ... and especially for the really rich, who are paying much less than in the past  (even at the new tax rates) ...

Taxes superrich

 

6. ... while also reaping most of the benefits of our so-called 'recovery' ...

Most income gains wealthy

7. ... as everybody else loses out.

Declining median incomes
Meanwhile ...

8. We don't have our jobs back.

Job loss post recession

Courtesy Bill McBride, Calculated Risk 

9. To make matters worse, governments (Federal, state and local) are cutting  jobs rather than adding them -- and our deficit debate's about how many more to cut.

Where the jobs are

(via the New York Times)

And as you can see, the jobs we are getting are going to the financial and professional classes, or to low-paying types of employment.

10. There's a relationship between unemployment and deficits ...

Jobs and defici

 

(courtesy Business Insider)

... and yet the so-called 'deficit hawks' are ignoring unemployment and cynically hawking even lower corporate tax rates. Nobody's calling them on it, even though ....

11. ... the corporate taxes we collect now (as opposed to the pre-loophole 'statutory tax rates) are extremely low.

Corp tax

12. They're also targeting Social Security benefits, which don't contribute to the deficit and are already lower than most developed countries' ...

SS compared

 

13. ... while ignoring the trade deficit, which spiked in today's report.

Trade deficit
(U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Census Bureau)

And yet they're treated like serious commentators, rather than cynical corporate hacks, by most (if not all) of the mainstream media.

14. They're successfully distracting us from our real problems.

GOOGLE NEWS STORIES
We created this chart today after running Google News searches on five topics (they were also labeled "United States" to exclude other nations' results).

The Federal deficit is getting much greater coverage than any other topic -- it received nearly twice as much coverage as the trade deficit, even though the trade figures were released today and showed a surprising setback for the United States -- one which means more unemployment and less growth. The "deficit" topic got more than twice the coverage unemployment received, and nearly three times as much coverage as "long-term unemployment."

"Wealth inequity" and "wage stagnation," which are destroying the American middle class, didn't even make the grade.

All Apologies

At this rate, only concerted action can stop the trend toward more of the same austerity madness that has wounded Europe -- and us -- thanks to the misguided guidance we keep receiving from institutions like the IMF -- which will no doubt 'apologize' for this absurd report someday too -- long after the damage has been done.

 

Gov. Remains ‘Really Excited’ About Culture-Change Push

WASHINGTON - Halfway through his term as chairman of the National Governors Association, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) remains "really excited" about his initiative to promote jobs for the disabled.

Markell said the initiative, which he launched in July when he took over the NGA chairmanship, continues to study ways to create job opportunities for people with disabilities, including those with developmental disabilities. With his tenure reaching the six-month mark, Markell said the process is moving into reaching out to companies to look at best practices, after a period of talking to advocates for the disabled. All chairmen of the NGA push a year-long initiative while in office, typically culminating in the organization issuing a report of ways states can implement best practices in the area. Markell said test projects are being planned in the second phase of the initiative.

"I am really excited about it," Markell told The Huffington Post. "That community has not gotten a lot of attention with NGA."

Markell said that he and NGA staffers have been talking with those in the disability community about ways to develop new training programs and what is needed to help those with disabilities find jobs. Markell launched the initiative as a way to focus attention on a more micro issue where he believes he could have the biggest impact, he said. Previous NGA chairs have focused on macro-level issues, including state economic development and smart growth. In July, Markell told HuffPost that the idea for the initiative came from conversations he had with people with disabilities who had life-changing experiences after obtaining employment.

Markell has been reaching out to companies to develop best practices at the corporate level and discern how the hiring of those with disabilities has offered an economic benefit. He has routinely touted a Walgreens initiative to hire people with disabilities for a variety of jobs with the company. The Walgreens program includes providing job coaching for those hired to help develop job potential.

Markell said that as part of the program, the NGA will soon be picking two states in which to run pilot programs on workforce development for those with disabilities. He said the programs would help develop a series of NGA best practices that the organization will release during its annual meeting in August. Earlier this week, Markell discussed the disabilities initiative as part of the NGA's state of the states address.

The program is studying the process used in vocational programs at state and local levels. Markell said many programs go to companies to try and place people with disabilities there by asking about openings and matching up skill sets. Advocates for the disabled are also pushing for programs that find out what skills companies need and then train people in those areas.

"So many of the people who have commented to us say, 'Change the culture'" of training and job placement for those with disabilities, Markell said.

Want To Contact Zuckerberg? It’ll Cost You $100

Want to get a message to Mark Zuckerberg? Facebook will ensure it gets to the company's young CEO -- but it might cost you.

Facebook is charging some users $100 to get a message to the top of the social network founder's inbox. Mashable first noticed the hefty pricetag, which it reports only appears to users who aren't one of Zuckerberg's 16 million followers.

The feature seems to be an extension of the pay-for-messages experiment started in December 2012.

As of Friday afternoon, the payment option seemed sporadic, as several Huffington Post editors successfully messaged the Facebook founder without being asked to fork out the three-figure sum. That said, the messages likely went straight to Zuckerberg's "Other" folder, a little-known dark corner that collects users' Facebook messages from non-friends.

Under Facebook's experiment, users can pay a fee to have a Facebook message reach the main inbox of a non-friend rather than the obscure "Other" folder. In a blog posted in December, Facebook stressed the new message-based charges are currently only a test and have only been rolled out to "a small number of people."

Many, including us at HuffPost, only noticed charges of $1 on the social network when the test was first announced. When contacted for comment, the company told The Huffington Post it was still toying with details.

"We are testing some extreme price points to see what works to filter spam," the company said in a statement.

A Facebook spokesperson added that those high fees are being tested with people other than Zuckerberg as well.

One such person is Kate Gardiner, a digital media consultant followed by 111,000 people on Facebook. She told The Huffington Post she was surprised when an acquaintance told her recently it would cost $100 to send her a message because they were not connected as friends on Facebook.

"On the one hand there's appeal in the illusion of exclusivity," Gardiner explained in an email. "On the other hand, I'm not getting a cut and I'm not really internet famous -- it felt as if I were being sold out without my permission."

She continued, "Were I being paid I think I would probably post more, better content to my page/profile, but at the same time I don't think I would have any intimacy with my 'friends.'"

This latest feature comes as Facebook's tries new strategies to increase its revenue stream.

How much is a message worth to you? Would you pay $100 to make sure it doesn't end up in a spam folder?

Dinesh Moorjani: From Casino Gaming to Mobile Commerce: Four Emerging Mobile Trends to Watch in 2013

Looking back at 2012, the unpredictable events that transpired continue to redefine the mobile software landscape. Facebook confronted a tumultuous aftermath from wide-eyed retail investors speculating after the greatly anticipated IPO; yet Facebook acquired Instagram shortly thereafter, further disorienting tech valuations. Zynga's rapid growth stalled as monetization didn't keep pace with user adoption expectations. Google brought the world a new line of tablets and reinserted its presence in iOS. Apple faced mounting criticism of a dry innovation pipeline, yet released the iPad Mini to further delight users' insatiable appetite for new devices with overlapping features -- a paradox countered with strong retail sales. Yet, firmly in the backdrop of a U.S. economy struggling to pull itself out of mounting debt and changing consumer spending patterns, the pace of innovation is accelerating.

With this in mind, here are four predictions that will shape the mobile economy in 2013 onward.

Mobile Gaming Grows and Goes Back to its Roots with Casino Games

Mobile gaming is alive and well. When you do it right, it's predictable and ROI positive -- mirroring Hollywood franchise films. Releasing four versions of Angry Birds is no fluke, and neither is the $873 million that the seven Saw films grossed. While we've witnessed big players like Zynga struggle to capture and monetize users at the pace Wall Street expected, developers continue to innovate in mobile gaming.

There is no better place to observe the fruits of innovation than in mobile casino gaming. According to Juniper Research, mobile gambling will grow to be a $100 billion business worldwide by 2017, driven by a surge in social-website gambling and legalization in key U.S. states. New rulings to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, and WIRE Act, have shifted the ground to unlock new models for chance-based games, as states look to capitalize on tax revenue and local investment.

Promising numbers like these have inspired Zynga to double-down efforts into online gambling. Small studios, like BitRhymes, whose casino game titles stay in the top 10 grossing list on iOS and Android, have also managed to carve out a successful niche for themselves in this area.

Other examples include Betable, an online-gambling startup whose platform is already being used by several social game developers, and Hatch's own venture, CashPlay, which has seen promising early traction among gamers and development platform customers. I will wager that mobile, chance-based games will follow users from the slot machine to their slick mobile apps in users' hands, as states seek to fill their treasury coffers and developers embrace proven games that users love to play.

App Development Enters Main Street

Welcome to the democratization of software development, where building mobile apps will become mainstream. SaaS app development services are no longer reserved for tech companies and publishers with extensive capital to spend on design, development and maintenance. Look for local corner cafés to offer their own branded apps, and freelance artists, bloggers and designers using the iPad to promote their portfolios. And that's just the beginning. The long tail of immersive apps empowering individual content creators, small businesses and multimedia enterprises to market or monetize their services is growing rapidly.

The emergence of accessible, low-cost development alternatives has opened doors for the masses to build mobile apps. Kleverbeast addresses this emerging demand by empowering people to quickly and easily create beautiful iOS and Android apps without typing a single line of code. The cost of app development has been historically prohibitive for many small businesses and content creators, and has even been a distraction for large organizations whose core competency is not technology but the creation of unique and marketable content.

As app development services proliferate, consumers and businesses alike can expand beyond the reliance on SEO and conventional mobile user acquisition tactics to tap into mobile app stores and the next generation users that increasingly rely on that channel for discovery.

Funding Startups Will Become Rationale (Again)

Funding quality companies has always experienced periods of wavering discipline, as angel investors with relaxed investment criteria enter in droves to participate in a tech hype cycle. Mobile is no different. Many startups will unravel, unable to secure additional financing, because some of these deals should never have been seeded at inception. The dearth of capital leads to funneling investment dollars into quality startups, and consequently, carnage among companies that lack sustainable competitive advantages, talented teams or noteworthy market traction.

Many fresh angels have assumed greater risk than is commensurate with their early ownership and anticipated upside. Some of these investors won't have the capital to diversify their portfolios or participate in follow-up rounds of financing. The result is not a Series A crunch, but rather, a magnifying glass on rational investing, often led by institutional investors. The capital bottleneck at the Series A is simply an artificial result of the glut of capital available at the seed stage. According to a recent study by CB Insights, somewhere between 1,000 and 4,000 startups that recently received more than $1 billion combined in seed stage funding are projected to fall off investors' radar in subsequent rounds. CB attributes this to the "natural selection process."

Fresh angels, hungry to keep up with the Joneses and raise their social capital, may be investing for the wrong reasons. As these lessons are learned, angel investing will swing back to rational levels. In the process, aqui-hires will become increasingly commonplace, as startups unable to secure Series A financing, will seek earlier exits and distribution from larger companies to achieve scale vs. go it alone.

Mobile Commerce Craze Reaches Online Purchase Levels

Retail spending habits are transforming. Pre-saved payment information already allows consumers to take advantage of impromptu mobile transactions from city ridesharing services such as Lyft, Uber and Sidecar, to insider designer sales via Amazon, Gilt Groupe Mobile and Rue La La.

As mobile transaction services proliferate, we are observing early indications that people prefer to shop on their personal mobile devices through apps and mobile web sites vs. conventional, stationary computers with a lean experience designed for of a prior decade. This new lean-forward experience will eclipse traditional online e-Commerce behavior. Retailers certainly understand this movement and have begun experimenting with location-based price discrimination more aggressively. They're also investing in apps to exploit the urgent need for retail therapy, which is often not at home sitting in front of a stationary screen.

Nine out of ten U.S. consumers now own a tablet, smartphone or cell phone, which translates into roughly 216 million mobile device owners. Consequently, more than one-third (37 percent) of mobile device owners are engaging in some form of mobile commerce--either shopping and/or purchasing online or in-store or using and/or redeeming coupons or gift cards, according to a study from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

IBM reported that during Thanksgiving and Black Friday 2012, 24 percent of shoppers used a mobile device to visit retailer websites, up from 14.3 percent in 2011. With growth like this, it's only a matter of time before mobile commerce eclipses traditional e-commerce.

There will be many more unpredictable changes in mobile in 2013, but if these emerging trends are any indication, we're in store for a new world -- built, consumed and reinvented by the wireless generation.

Have some of your own predictions to share? Feel free to provide comments in the section below.


Dinesh Moorjani is the founder of Hatch Labs, a mobile technology sandbox that builds startups that transform mobility for the wireless generation.

David Peck: Three Steps to Break Up With Your Nightmare Boss

It's a fact of work life that mean or even abusive people often end up in positions of authority over others. Because they get results, it's not uncommon for their own boss or board to look the other way.

Because such managers rule through fear, whether intentionally or not, their people are stressed, compliant and weary, and thus do an adequate job (or else!) while falling way short of delivering their best work. Any great achievements done during such a manager's reign are despite them, and not because of them. That they crush the creativity and true potential of their team is a "nuance" lost on them.

Nightmare bosses cause a reactive mess of coping behavior among their team. People will avoid (like the plague!) giving them bad/controversial but important news, suck up to them, hide below their radar, or worse, adopt similar behavior with their own teams.

Culturally, the organization becomes unwell around the nightmare boss: people don't understand why it's tolerated, and colleague interactions become hesitant and competitive. Creativity and collaboration are limited to swapping stories about the latest blow up or dress-down.

As an executive coach, I've worked with a few such fear-inducing "leaders," and have found a significant and striking lack of self-awareness. In several cases, I've found that they had absolutely no idea about the pain they were inflicting, and actually thought their team admired them. As a result, lasting change proved elusive.

Clearly, leadership is not about making the workplace a battlefield, nor is a great career ever measured by one's coping skills. Life's too short.

How to Break Up: Three Steps

1. If you work for someone like this, it's helpful to notice whether you've adapted so fully that you've become complacent or jaded. Are you rationalizing (e.g., "maybe they will change," or, "it's bad, but something new might be worse," or "at least I know what to expect.")? If you recognize you are complacent, jaded, or rationalizing, it's time to plan a change.

2. Take a hard look at the toll it's taking on you, your colleagues, and your family. What's the trade off for sticking with the devil you know?

3. Finally, consider what needs to happen for you to have the courage to say goodbye to that nightmare boss -- and given that, what do you want to do about it, by when, and what help do you need to take those actions?

To people in your shoes I always ask one final question: What would it be like for you to expend the majority of your energy doing your best work, rather than coping with a difficult boss?

If you think the future could be brighter given better conditions for you to thrive, then now is the time to map out a better future for you and those who care about you.

Watch Out McDonald’s, Taco Bell Is Coming For Ya

NEW YORK -- Taco Bell is testing a new value menu that could put it in more direct competition with the Dollar Menu at McDonald's.

The Mexican-fast-food chain is testing a "$1 Cravings Menu" in two markets that lists nine items, including three new offerings. If successful, it would replace the chain's current value menu, called "Why Pay More," with items priced at 89 cents and 99 cents. The $2 "meal deals" on "Why Pay More" are not offered on the new menu.

Chris Brandt, vice president of marketing for Taco Bell, said the tests began in October in Fresno, Calif., and Knoxville, Tenn., and will continue for at least another couple of months before a decision is made on whether to roll out the menu more widely. He said the idea for "$1 Cravings" came about after consumer research showed diners felt like they were "forced to eat off the value menu," rather than wanting the items it offered. So Taco Bell decided to split the "$1 Cravings" menu into what it considers to be five universal cravings: beefy, cheesy, spicy, crunchy and sweet.

Although $1 seems like pocket change, it reflects a slight price hike for Taco Bell compared with the "Why Pay More" menu, which was introduced in 2008.

Wendy's, based in Dublin, Ohio, also revamped its value menu recently, replacing its 99-cent menu with a "Right Size Right Price" menu that charges up to $1.99. Under the new model, Wendy's has more flexibility in charging prices at a time when costs for ingredients like beef are climbing and squeezing profit margins. Last year McDonald's introduced an "Extra Value Menu" with items closer to $2.

Taco Bell's tinkering with the value menu comes amid a broader reinvention for the chain, which delivered strong results in the past year with the help of menu introductions such as Doritos Locos Tacos and higher quality Cantina Bell burritos and bowls. In coming weeks Taco Bell plans to begin marketing its "Happier Hour" featuring a menu of snacks like the recently introduced "Loaded Grillers."

The chain is turning out to be a bright spot for parent company Yum Brands Inc., which also owns KFC and Pizza Hut. Yum earlier this week warned that a key sales figure in China, its biggest market, is expected to fall 6 percent in the fourth quarter as a result of issues surrounding two of its small chicken suppliers. The U.S. only accounts for about a quarter of Yum's business and has historically underperformed. But analysts say that could change in coming years.

After nine years of declines, Yum achieved net new store openings in the U.S. last year. To spur new restaurant growth, Taco Bell is also offering franchisees better contract terms.

For now Brandt said Taco Bell wants to ensure the "$1 Cravings Menu" performs strongly before it's rolled out more widely. The menu could also be tweaked along the way, but currently includes three new items: a spicy chicken mini quesadilla, a spicy cheese roll up and a beefy cheesy burrito, which is smaller than Taco Bell's typical burritos.

The test by Taco Bell was reported earlier by the site BrandEating.com, which covers fast food news.

Taco bell typically tests new menu items on the West Coast and either on the East Coast or in the South. That's because perceptions about Taco Bell vary depending on location. While the Mexican food market is much more competitive on the West Coast, Brandt said "Taco Bell defines what Mexican food is" in some parts of the East Coast.

Janney Capital Markets analyst Mark Kalinowski noted the new value menu could be a smart move, given McDonald's recent return to emphasizing its Dollar Menu, after an attempt to tout the new "Extra Value Menu" flopped. Kalinowski noted that the promotion of the Dollar Menu helped boost sales in November for McDonald's.

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Joseph J. Thorndike: Peggy Noonan and the Beleaguered 1 Percent

Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter and current Wall Street Journal columnist, thinks Republicans need to step up their game. Actually, her preferred metaphor has something to do with "pirate time," which presumably implies political derring-do and all that.

Ultimately, however, what Noonan's really urging is a fundamental rethinking of the Republican brand. Or so she says. In fact, she clings to a good chunk of the old GOP brand -- the part that worries touchingly about the hurt feelings and lightened wallets of poor working stiffs making a measly $400,000 a year.

The tax hikes approved earlier this month, Noonan writes, were "a blow to the gut" for this sad, beleaguered cohort. These are just regular folks, apparently, not self-indulgent fat cats: she calls them the "not-actually-rich-but-formally-declared-rich."

Seriously? Under what skewed interpretation of income distribution data are we going to avoid calling these people rich? By most reckonings, $400,000 in annual income lands someone in the top 1 percent or so. That doesn't qualify as rich?

Let's set aside the wisdom or fairness of raising taxes on this group of people. I'm just talking about reality here. By any measure -- and I mean any measure -- people making over $400k are very, very rich. Saying they aren't just perpetuates the worst elements of the current GOP brand -- the part that makes Republicans seem like "lackeys of the rich" (Noonan's terminology, not mine).

Noonan tells Republicans to "reorient yourselves." Stealing a line from Democratic rhetoric, she urges the GOP to "declare for Main Street over Wall Street." Call me crazy, but since when does someone making $400,000 a year qualify as "Main Street"?

To be fair, Noonan does break with GOP tax orthodoxy in some important ways. She somehow, sorta, kinda seems to endorse the late, soon-to-be-lamented payroll tax cut. Or at least she chortles over the blowback that Democrats will encounter when working Americans wake up to their smaller paychecks in this post-cliff world.

More important, Noonan urges Republicans to go after the carried interest tax preference. Apparently, some hedge fund manager somewhere did something mean to Noonan, because she gives these guys no quarter.

Which is all well and good -- I agree that Republicans should oppose the preference for carried interest. But Noonan conspicuously refuses to carry the logic of her anti-Wall Street argument to the capital gains preference more generally. Fair enough. But in Noonan's "pirate" world there would still be plenty of billionaires getting taxed at far lower rates than those poor working stiffs pulling in a measly half million a year.

Snarkiness aside, I don't begrudge Noonan her fondness for the capital gains preference: there are plausible arguments to be made for it. Nor do I think her opposition to rate hikes on the rich is totally crazy. I disagree with her on both counts, but reasonable people can disagree about such things.

But what irritates me is the extent to which Noonan is still out of touch with reality when it comes to the Republican brand. As long as Republicans can't see that people making $400,000 a year are actually rich, they will have a hard time building a new constituency for their party. Which is a shame, because America needs a reasonable, realistic conservative party. Good things come from the interplay of two parties with distinct but not deranged agendas.

Unfortunately, the first step to getting that sort of conservative party is simply acknowledging some hard realities about the world we live in. Starting with who's rich, who isn't, and what we should do (if anything) about that situation.

City Weighs Dramatic Foreclosure Crisis Solution

In a move that’s pitting grassroots housing activists against Wall Street interests, the City Council of Brockton, Mass., decided this week to commission a study into the feasibility of using eminent domain powers to seize the mortgages of local residents struggling to pay off their loans.

The plan being studied would essentially use municipal government’s prerogative of eminent domain to take possession of foreclosed residential mortgage notes, selling them back to residents, as the City Council resolution put it, “for the purpose of removing blight and restoring family home-ownership within the city.”

The city would also focus on seizing the mortgages of “underwater” homeowners, those who owe more on their homes than their current appraised worth and would greatly benefit from a new loan that resets the value of their property.

Such a framework would amount to “using government power to do social good,” Steve Meacham, an organizer with non-profit advocacy group City Life/Vida Urbana said, adding that such “social good is something the banks should have been doing in the first place anyway.”

Brockton's move is the latest revival of an idea that has been unevenly embraced by some of the communities worst hit by the collapse of the housing bubble in 2007. Fittingly enough, using eminent domain did not have its genesis with the community organizers now pushing it forward in places like Brockton, San Bernandino, Calif., or Detroit, but in high finance, where a firm called Mortgage Resolution Partners -- which hopes to make a tidy profit providing financing for the schema -- first suggested the plan.

The idea, that company says, is “to stabilize local housing markets and economies” by engaging in de-facto re-financings that offer more generous terms to financially strapped homeowners.

Not everyone, of course, believes that’s such a great plan. Among the various finance industry groups that sent letters to the Brockton City Council opposing the consideration of eminent domain, the American Securitization Forum said the idea is half-baked, unhelpful and likely unconstitutional.

“The proposal, as a policy matter, would be short-sighted and ultimately counterproductive for the residents of municipalities where it may be considered, including Brockton,” the association said in a letter to the City Council last month.

The group also noted the adoption of an eminent domain framework and the prolonged legal issues such a development would involve could cause a complete shutdown in the availability of mortgage credit within the city of Brockton, or even the state of Massachussets.

“MRP’s plan threatens to restrict the availability of mortgage loans to all potential homeowners in jurisdictions that have implemented an eminent domain program,” the letter from the industry group states.

Facing such criticism, even the council member presenting the resolution to study the plan, Jass Stewart, told the body, “This is a solution that should be studied vigorously, but I myself am not sure this is the right direction to go.”

That hesitation is not discouraging the housing activists on the ground, who say they are having productive meetings with local financiers about the possibility of implementing the idea.

“There’s a tradition in New England of some robust municipal activism,” Meacham, the community organizer, said. He added that the threat by major banks to nuke the local mortgage market if the city moves forward with the plan should be no cause for concern. “If the major banks did pull out and all the refinancing went to the small banks, that would not be a bad thing," he said.

In a sense, the latest move by the Brockton City Council is not a new or major offensive in the long struggle between financiers and activists, but rather another strike in the low-intensity guerrilla effort being waged throughout the country.

Meacham explained proposing eminent domain as an alternative in Brockton is necessary after “solutions at the state and national level have proven woefully inadequate."

“We’re not doing that just because we just don’t like the banks," he said. "We’re doing it so that they’ll do what they should have done a long time ago."

Jeffrey Young: Senate Losing Progressive Voice For Health Care Reform

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller's decision not to seek a sixth term doesn't just mean the end of a political dynasty or an opportunity for Republicans to pick up a Senate seat next year.

Rockefeller's departure from the Senate also means Congress is losing one of its staunchest advocates for progressive health care policies.

Rockefeller's support for the legislation that became President Barack Obama's health care reform law in 2010 gave it some liberal credibility. He's also been a fierce defender of Medicaid and Medicare and was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Children's Health Insurance Program in 1997.

Mary Agnes Carey at Kaiser Health News has more here.

LOOK: An Actual $100,000 Bill

It's not always about the Benjamins, baby.

When it comes to cash, many of us believe the $100 bill, graced with Ben Franklin's face, is king. Not so. Long before everyone starting talking about a trillion-dollar coin to fix the deficit, the U.S. government was printing and minting some seriously valuable lucre.

Behold the $100,000 bill. The 100-grand bill was printed at the height of the Great Depression on Dec. 18, 1934, according to Bloomberg. Technically called gold certificates, these bills were designed to spur inflation and were only swapped between Federal Reserve banks. They were never circulated publicly (just owning one is illegal).

Primarily designed to facilitate money transfers between banks, the big bills largely fell out of circulation after wire transfers were invented -- making life a little harder for gangsters, and nobody else.

Hey, couldn’t hurt to check your Grandpa’s attic though. These bills do still count as legal tender.

Here are the biggest currency denominations in U.S. history:

Biden’s Meeting With Video Game Industry Reignites Controversy Over Violent Games

The perennial controversy over violent video games was again a topic of discussion at the White House on Friday, where Vice President Joe Biden met with representatives of the video game industry as part of his effort to find legislative remedies to the problems associated with gun violence.

Entertainment Software Association CEO Mike Gallagher and other video game industry representatives were scheduled to meet with President Obama's gun violence task force on Friday, the Hill reports. The committee, led by Biden, is getting ready to release its recommendations next week.

The Entertainment Software Association is a lobbying group for a number of major companies, including Electronic Arts and Microsoft. These companies' products -- "Call of Duty," "Halo" and other "first-person shooter" games -- have come under criticism in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. massacre last month. It has been widely reported that the killer, Adam Lanza, was "obsessed" with video games, and police found thousands of dollars worth of violent video games while searching his house.

One of the most prominent critics of the video game industry is the gun industry. In a press conference last month, Wayne LaPierre, president of the NRA, criticized the media for ignoring "a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people ... through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse."

Despite the source of this criticism, violent video games appear to benefit the firearms business. Robert Farago, a gun-rights supporter and the founder and publisher of The Truth About Guns, a web site aimed at examining "the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns," spoke to The Huffington Post last month about the relationship. "Video games are the most effective advertisements there are for firearms," Farago said.

Several gaming sites have equated the practice of portraying authentic guns in video games as "product placement."

Gun enthusiasts certainly haven't been alone in raising objections to the prevalence of violence in video games. In recent weeks, lawmakers and media watchdogs have called for studies into the effects of violent games on children and for tighter regulation of the industry. James P. Steyer, the founder of Common Sense Media, wrote a letter to Biden suggesting that the Federal Trade Commision require the gun industry to "explicitly reveal all product placements and other marketing practices and tie-in with the video game industry," as well as taking steps to cut down on children's exposure to violent videogame commercials.

But in his own letter to Biden, Mark Fisher, the interim president of the Electronic Merchants Association, a Silicon Valley trade group, dismissed the idea that video games contribute to violent behavior and questioned whether anything could be done to regulate violent video games anyway.

Fisher noted that video games already carry voluntary age advisories in the form of ratings including "Mature" (M), which suggests that the games are "suitable for person age 17 and over," and "Adult Only," which signifies that the games have content that "should only be played by person 18 or over." And he cited a recent Federal Trade Commission report asserting that video game retailers enforce the ratings "most vigorously."

He also mentioned several studies that mainly attribute youth violence to other factors, although at least one of them -- a 2001 report by the U.S. Surgeon General –- acknowledges that video game violence may have a "small average effect" on physical aggression.

Finally, Fisher brought up a bill introduced by State Sen. Leland Yee (D- Calif.) in 2005, which sought to regulate the voluntary age-advisory system. That law went to the Supreme Court, where it was overturned on First Amendment grounds. "Any attempt to legally restrict the sale or rental to minors of entertainment containing depictions of violence will likely be found to be unconstitutional," he wrote.

Yee, who has also introduced several recent bills aimed at restricting ownership of semi-automatic weapons, told The Huffington Post that he agreed with this prognosis. "There's not a whole lot that we can do on a legislative level," he said. "The responsibility really falls on the violent video game industry."

He recommended that the industry step up its own efforts to ensure that retailers abide by age advisories, and suggested that an "Adult Only" rating be given to many games that are currently labeled "Mature."

But he conceded that the industry isn't exactly clamoring for that chance to do that. "If you do that," Yee said, "the market for buying those games becomes very, very small."

The objections to gun control and to the regulation of violent video games have at least one thing in common, he argued: "It's about money."

Biden’s Meeting With Video Game Industry Reignites Controversy Over Violent Games

The perennial controversy over violent video games was again a topic of discussion at the White House on Friday, where Vice President Joe Biden met with representatives of the video game industry as part of his effort to find legislative remedies to the problems associated with gun violence.

Entertainment Software Association CEO Mike Gallagher and other video game industry representatives were scheduled to meet with President Obama's gun violence task force on Friday, the Hill reports. The committee, led by Biden, is getting ready to release its recommendations next week.

The Entertainment Software Association is a lobbying group for a number of major companies, including Electronic Arts and Microsoft. These companies' products -- "Call of Duty," "Halo" and other "first-person shooter" games -- have come under criticism in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. massacre last month. It has been widely reported that the killer, Adam Lanza, was "obsessed" with video games, and police found thousands of dollars worth of violent video games while searching his house.

One of the most prominent critics of the video game industry is the gun industry. In a press conference last month, Wayne LaPierre, president of the NRA, criticized the media for ignoring "a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people ... through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse."

Despite the source of this criticism, violent video games appear to benefit the firearms business. Robert Farago, a gun-rights supporter and the founder and publisher of The Truth About Guns, a web site aimed at examining "the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns," spoke to The Huffington Post last month about the relationship. "Video games are the most effective advertisements there are for firearms," Farago said.

Several gaming sites have equated the practice of portraying authentic guns in video games as "product placement."

Gun enthusiasts certainly haven't been alone in raising objections to the prevalence of violence in video games. In recent weeks, lawmakers and media watchdogs have called for studies into the effects of violent games on children and for tighter regulation of the industry. James P. Steyer, the founder of Common Sense Media, wrote a letter to Biden suggesting that the Federal Trade Commision require the gun industry to "explicitly reveal all product placements and other marketing practices and tie-in with the video game industry," as well as taking steps to cut down on children's exposure to violent videogame commercials.

But in his own letter to Biden, Mark Fisher, the interim president of the Electronic Merchants Association, a Silicon Valley trade group, dismissed the idea that video games contribute to violent behavior and questioned whether anything could be done to regulate violent video games anyway.

Fisher noted that video games already carry voluntary age advisories in the form of ratings including "Mature" (M), which suggests that the games are "suitable for person age 17 and over," and "Adult Only," which signifies that the games have content that "should only be played by person 18 or over." And he cited a recent Federal Trade Commission report asserting that video game retailers enforce the ratings "most vigorously."

He also mentioned several studies that mainly attribute youth violence to other factors, although at least one of them -- a 2001 report by the U.S. Surgeon General –- acknowledges that video game violence may have a "small average effect" on physical aggression.

Finally, Fisher brought up a bill introduced by State Sen. Leland Yee (D- Calif.) in 2005, which sought to regulate the voluntary age-advisory system. That law went to the Supreme Court, where it was overturned on First Amendment grounds. "Any attempt to legally restrict the sale or rental to minors of entertainment containing depictions of violence will likely be found to be unconstitutional," he wrote.

Yee, who has also introduced several recent bills aimed at restricting ownership of semi-automatic weapons, told The Huffington Post that he agreed with this prognosis. "There's not a whole lot that we can do on a legislative level," he said. "The responsibility really falls on the violent video game industry."

He recommended that the industry step up its own efforts to ensure that retailers abide by age advisories, and suggested that an "Adult Only" rating be given to many games that are currently labeled "Mature."

But he conceded that the industry isn't exactly clamoring for that chance to do that. "If you do that," Yee said, "the market for buying those games becomes very, very small."

The objections to gun control and to the regulation of violent video games have at least one thing in common, he argued: "It's about money."

WATCH: Japan’s Cuddle Club Offers Odd New Service

Customers seeking some tender loving care in Tokyo now have another option to choose from at Japanese cuddle club Soineya: human butt pillows.

For $11 per minute, patrons of the "co-sleeping specialty shop" can ask for the oshiri makura (butt pillow) service and rest their heads on the behinds of its female staff, Rocket News notes.

The club opened in Tokyo's Akihabara district in September and business has been doing well enough that Soineya recently opened up another branch in Shinjuku. Customers must first pay an admission fee -- starting at 3,000 yen (around $34) -- and then have the option to purchase premium services, such as foot massages or a change of clothes.

In a video released this week on Japan's video sharing website, freelance reporter Midori Yokoyama, wearing a mask, visits Soineya's Shinjuku location -- where the new cuddle option is offered -- and tries out the human butt pillow service along with some of cuddle club's other options.

For customers who are hoping to spend a bit less at the cuddle club, Soineya also offers the option of laying in a female employee's lap, which costs $11 for three minutes.

Japan isn't the only place for where people can pay to cuddle. In Penfield, N.Y., clients of Jackie Samuel's Snuggery can pay $60 an hour for an innocent snuggle in bed.

WATCH: Japan’s Cuddle Club Offers Odd New Service

Customers seeking some tender loving care in Tokyo now have another option to choose from at Japanese cuddle club Soineya: human butt pillows.

For $11 per minute, patrons of the "co-sleeping specialty shop" can ask for the oshiri makura (butt pillow) service and rest their heads on the behinds of its female staff, Rocket News notes.

The club opened in Tokyo's Akihabara district in September and business has been doing well enough that Soineya recently opened up another branch in Shinjuku. Customers must first pay an admission fee -- starting at 3,000 yen (around $34) -- and then have the option to purchase premium services, such as foot massages or a change of clothes.

In a video released this week on Japan's video sharing website, freelance reporter Midori Yokoyama, wearing a mask, visits Soineya's Shinjuku location -- where the new cuddle option is offered -- and tries out the human butt pillow service along with some of cuddle club's other options.

For customers who are hoping to spend a bit less at the cuddle club, Soineya also offers the option of laying in a female employee's lap, which costs $11 for three minutes.

Japan isn't the only place for where people can pay to cuddle. In Penfield, N.Y., clients of Jackie Samuel's Snuggery can pay $60 an hour for an innocent snuggle in bed.