Kansas Independent Could Be Wild Card in Senate (Or Not, We’ll See)

AAccording to Huffington Post polling, there’s a 79% chance the GOP takes control of the U.S. Senate today (and The Washington Post contends there’s a whopping 98% chance). No surprise it’s likely to happen if you’ve been following along.

But, perhaps most interesting, is that HuffPo also calculates a 9% chance that Greg Orman, an independent in an extremely tight race against Republican three-term Senator Pat Roberts, could determine which party rules based on where he decides to caucus (should he win his race).

Read this Politico piece to find out why Republicans think he’ll actually caucus with Democrats, and what that could mean going forward. (And this may shock you, but Vice President Biden reportedly let the ol’ cat out of the bag on this matter earlier today.)

At any rate, Orman’s campaign is making for interesting theater during this mid-term election season.

Throwback Thursday: Land of the Free, Home of a Few “Scoundrels”

Historically, America has been a remarkable nation, filled with bright, innovative and incredibly noble people.

But we’ve had our share of bad apples. No place is perfect, after all. The Huffington Post recently posted “10 of the Biggest Scoundrels in American History.” Here are a few folks from the past you wouldn’t want anywhere near you or your business.

Daniel Drew – Wall Street Pirate
From the 1840s to the 1870s, Daniel Drew was one of America’s most ruthless financiers—a man who believed that speculating on Wall Street without insider knowledge was like “buying cows by candlelight.” During the Civil War, he scalped the public in collusion with New York’s infamous Boss Tweed. Drew made a chunk of his fortune by manipulating New York & Erie Railroad stock, but his association with swindlers Jay Gould and Jim Fisk cost him dearly. Once worth $13 million ($194 million today), old “Uncle Daniel” died with an estate of $148.22.

Hetty Green – Tax-dodging Miser
In the late nineteenth century, investor Hetty Green lived like a wretched pauper, despite having become the first woman to earn a fortune on Wall Street. The multimillionaire was so miserly that she once dressed her son in rags in an attempt to obtain free medical treatment. To avoid establishing a permanent residence and having to pay state taxes, she moved from one flophouse to another in New York and New Jersey. Her brazen tax dodging helped spur the passage of a federal income tax in 1894 and a federal estate tax passed two months after her death in 1916.

Samuel Dickstein – Congressman/Spy
In the years prior to and during World War II, New York congressman Samuel Dickstein kept watch on the subversive efforts of Nazi supporters in the U.S. He also bolstered his income from 1937 to 1940 as a bumbling Soviet spy. Code-named “Crook” because of his persistent demands for money, Dickstein fed his handlers newspaper articles and public government reports—“rubbish,” the Russians called it. Dickstein’s congressional endeavors led to the creation of the House Un-American Activities Committee, an investigative body that would trample individual rights.

Don Lapre – Infomercial Huckster
Starting in the early 1990s, shrieking pitchman Don Lapre made and lost fortunes peddling questionable self-help products on late-night TV. His biggest profits came from selling add-on services to those who set up 1-900 numbers or websites through his company. His empire came tumbling down in 2011 when he was indicted for fraud over his Greatest Vitamin in the World business, charges that led to his suicide. Selling online distributorships for $35, along with endless marketing products, Lapre had raked in $52 million in three years but paid out a pittance in commissions.

Crowdsourcing a Healthy Body Image

It’s no secret that one of America’s most beloved toys – Mattel’s Barbie® – doesn’t have measurements that are all that (insert your word here) normal, healthy, possible for living.

This Huffington Post article compares Barbie to the average American woman – and against measurements of female models, as well as anorexic women – and finds that Barbie wouldn’t even be able to walk up-right, due to the nature of her tiny feet and ankles.

One of the biggest complaints against the unrealistic proportions of Barbie is that it negatively influences young girls’ body images. Another problem is more than just Barbie’s looks – she hasn’t always been the best role model of what little girls can aspire to, unless it involves fashion or her long-time boyfriend, Ken. That has been rectified over the years, by giving Barbie different jobs, such as a politician, doctor and computer engineer.

I played with many Barbie dolls when I was a child. I don’t recall Barbie giving me bad self-esteem or telling me I couldn’t be whatever I wanted to be. As I remember, peer pressure, entertainment and the media were where I drew my negative body connotations. Little Barbie didn’t have much to do with it for me, anyway.

But, it would be nice to see young girls have a depiction of what reality looks like. And despite the negative criticism of Barbie’s looks and lack of depth, the doll continues to be one of the best-selling toys on the market. It doesn’t look like she’s going anywhere soon.

Unless Nickolay Lamm has anything to say about it. The artist and researcher has gotten a lot of buzz over the last few days about his proposed average teenage doll, Lammily. With “Average Is Beautiful” as his tagline, it’s no surprise that crowd-sourcing has already funded over $113,000 to begin production of the doll.

Using average human body proportions, the Lammily doll is fit and ready for an active lifestyle, with bendable knees, elbows, wrists and ankles. Her clothing and make-up are simplistic.

So far, only Caucasian dolls are pictured in the artist’s renderings. If the “Average Is Beautiful” tagline will be truly accurate, that will need to be expanded to include a variety of races and ethnicities. Lamm’s site does say that he plans to extend the line and embrace diversity, including race and body type.

As Lamm’s Crowdtilt-powered site has already garnered over $100,000 (and counting), it seems that people are ready to see an alternative to Barbie.

The one criticism I have about this doll is the name. But, I guess that’s a small thing, compared to the many positive things that could come from this.

Holiday World Makes Big Splash with New Water Coaster

I just spoke with my supervisor Tom Schuman about Holiday World, the Santa Claus-based amusement/water park. He summed it up aptly: "They seem to be doing a lot of things right."

This installment of why Holiday World (a Chamber member, btw) is so cool is that their newest water coaster in production — The Mammoth — was on the front page of HuffingtonPost.com today. The site features an article and a simulation video of the new $9 million ride, which will be the longest water coaster in the world. (Additionally, the park currently boasts the world’s longest ride in the .3 mile-long Wildebeest.)

See the article and video here, and be sure to get down to Holiday World sometime soon!

Booker on Budgets, Being Mayoral

Up-and-coming political star and Mayor of Newark, N.J. Cory Booker, whose first campaign was documented in the entertaining documentary "Street Fight," recently sat down for a Q&A with Huffington Post. He offered some interesting thoughts on what it’s like to run a city in today’s America, and the challenges facing leaders in terms of both budget cuts and communication:

HuffPost: A trailer for the new season of Brick City starts with a quote from you, on the screen, where you say, "Squeeze everything else but police and fire." But late last year, the city laid off 164 officers, about 13 percent of the force. How did it come to that?

Booker: Look, budgets across the country — 60 percent of American cities have had reductions in their forces of public safety. And, so, this is not something that’s unique to Newark. In fact, right now it’s plaguing major cities in New Jersey. Camden has had major layoffs. Paterson is facing layoffs. Atlantic City. Jersey City. We’re facing, literally, the worst economy of our lifetimes.

So, we have dramatic losses in revenue. And public safety, frankly — police and fire — make up the significant majority of our budget. We were squeezing and starving every other area of our city. Furloughing employees, cutting staff. But it came to a point where we couldn’t cut enough to make up for the tremendous budgetary shortfall.

Challenges demand creativity. I’m grateful that the police director and my team really came forward with a substantive plan to make sure that the loss of those police officers didn’t affect the progress we were making in the street.

And, look, it’s been a difficult adjustment. We had really some challenges in the month of December. But now, as we’re going through January, things are really getting back on track. And I’m really encouraged. Remember, the first three years in office, we led the nation in percentage reduction of shootings and murders. And I’m really confident that now we’re beginning to get back to that nation-leading pace.

HP: I’ve heard that there are the same number of officers patrolling the street. But I also have heard from some of the union officials that in order to accomplish that, older officers have had to be re-deployed: People who were looking at retirement are now on street patrol. Are you concerned about officer safety?

CB: I’m always concerned about officer safety. I think when you are the leader of men and women who put their lives on the line — whether it’s firefighters and police, or national guard members in the military — that’s the most horrific thing, I think, for an executive, when guys who put their lives on the line get hurt or injured.

That’s a concern that hasn’t changed as a result of the layoffs. But in many ways, we have more experienced officers on the streets. Guys with more years under their belts, not people that are six months out of the academy. It’s a give-and-take in many ways.

Look, I’m very happy: We have our chief, who used to be doing other jobs, now in precincts, running our precincts. In many ways, we have the best talent of the agency closer to the street and closer to the ground on a daily basis.

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Innovations that Never Quite Got Off the Ground

One thing we can all agree on: entrepreneurship and innovation are the backbones of a thriving society. But in order for success to be achieved, trial and error must always take place. The Huffington Post provides a look at some inventions that never quite took off. See them here.

My favorite is probably the Sun Pod:

Thankfully this 80’s prototype never caught on. In theory it was for those seeking peace and quiet on the beach, but in practice it would basically be a human oven.

Panera’s Model Less Focused on Bread Winning

At one of its new St. Louis-area locations, Panera Bread is asking customers to pay… what they want. No set prices. No tax. Just come in. Take your Bacon Turkey Bravo. And leave payment you think is fair. While this approach is pretty remarkable, keep in mind that this is being operated (a) as a non-profit and (b) in an upscale suburb. However, this article mentions the One World Salt Lake City restaurant has been doing this since 2003.

The national bakery and restaurant chain launched a new nonprofit store here this week that has the same menu as its other 1,400 locations. But the prices are a little different – there aren’t any. Customers are told to donate what they want for a meal, whether it’s the full suggested price, a penny or $100.

The new store in the upscale St. Louis suburb of Clayton is the first of what will Panera hopes will be many around the country. Ronald Shaich, Panera’s CEO until last week, was on hand at the new bakery Monday to explain the system to customers.

The pilot restaurant is run by a nonprofit foundation. If it can sustain itself financially, Panera will expand the model around the country within months. It all depends on whether customers will abide by the motto that hangs above the deli counter: "Take what you need, leave your fair share."

Panera hopes to open a similar location in every community where it operates. Other nonprofits have opened community kitchens, where customers set the price, and the idea has spread among food enthusiasts and philanthropists. But Panera brings new scale to the idea – its community restaurants will use the company’s distribution system and have access to its national food suppliers.

The first location bears the name St. Louis Bread Co. Cares – the chain’s former name and one it still uses in its hometown. Customers seemed alternately puzzled and pleased by the concept.

Dawn Frierdich, 52, came in to buy three loaves of bread an iced tea. She asked how much the drink would cost.

"About $1.85," said the 21-year-old cashier, Michael Miller.

And the whole order?

"It would be, like, $12," Miller told her, reminding her she didn’t have to pay if she didn’t want to. Frierdich tried to hand him $12 in cash, but he directed her to put it in the donation jar.

"This is a little hard. I just can’t wrap my head around this," Frierdich said.

So what do you think? A great new paradigm allowing the most generous among us to cover those who can afford less, or dadgum hippie stuff infecting American capitalism? And could this ever be done in for-profit fashion?

Bulgarian Politician Moooooved on Out for Farmville Addiction

Stan Jackson needs a fence. Joe Bob Farnsworth found a stray cat on his farm.

If you’ve seen these updates from your friends in your Facebook stream, you might be puzzled. But notifications such as these are part of the wonderful world of Farmville, a game played on Facebook that boasts over 82 million players across the globe that allows players to construct their own virtual farms. The seemingly innocent game was the professional demise of one Bulgarian politician, however. The Huffington Post writes: 

Council members of the Plovidv City Council in Bulgaria are among FarmVille’s fervent fans: the Bulgarian councilors were recently caught "milking virtual cows" on FarmVille during budget meeting debates (using government-issued laptops, no less).

The Chair of the Council, Ilko Iliev, delivered a strong scolding to the officials–to no avail.

Novinite, a Bulgarian news outlet, reports that not long after Iliev’s warning, one politician, Dimitar Kerin, was yet again nabbed tending to his online crop.

Kerin was promptly voted off the council committee for playing FarmVille on the job…

Kerin said, in his defense, that he was not the only FarmVille fanatic in the bunch: he explained that he ‘had reached only Level 40, whereas Daniela Zhelyazkova, a councilor from the rightist Democrats for Strong Bulgaria party, was already at Level 46.

Austrian Man Gives Up Wealth, Starts Charity for Entrepreneurs

A very unique — and inspiring — story from the Austrian Alps via The Telegraph. One can’t help but think that if more people thought in these terms, the world would be much better off.

Mr Rabeder, 47, a businessman from Telfs is in the process of selling his luxury 3,455 sq ft villa with lake, sauna and spectacular mountain views over the Alps, valued at £1.4 million.

Also for sale is his beautiful old stone farmhouse in Provence with its 17 hectares overlooking the arrière-pays, on the market for £613,000. Already gone is his collection of six gliders valued at £350,000, and a luxury Audi A8, worth around £44,000…

Mr Rabeder has also sold the interior furnishings and accessories business – from vases to artificial flowers – that made his fortune.

"My idea is to have nothing left. Absolutely nothing," he told The Daily Telegraph. "Money is counterproductive – it prevents happiness to come."

Instead, he will move out of his luxury Alpine retreat into a small wooden hut in the mountains or a simple bedsit in Innsbruck.

His entire proceeds are going to charities he set up in Central and Latin America, but he will not even take a salary from these.

"For a long time I believed that more wealth and luxury automatically meant more happiness," he said. "I come from a very poor family where the rules were to work more to achieve more material things, and I applied this for many years," said Mr Rabeder.

All the money will go into his microcredit charity, which offers small loans to Latin America and builds development aid strategies to self-employed people in El Salvador, Honduras, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Chile…

Since selling his belongings, Mr Rabeder said he felt "free, the opposite of heavy".

But he said he did not judge those who chose to keep their wealth. "I do not have the right to give any other person advice. I was just listening to the voice of my heart and soul."

Hat tip to The Huffington Post.

Conan the Destroyer: A Lesson in Making Sure Your Best Performers are Happy

In the business world, there are some companies that work under the mantra, "People should feel lucky to work here, so … whatever." And then there are some companies (see our Best Places to Work in Indiana award winners) who ask, "What can we do to make people want to stay here?" One can guess which model is most likely to breed success.

All businesses should take heed of NBC’s Conan O’Brien/Jay Leno saga that’s currently unfolding. Much like customers, it’s far easier to retain a top employee than find someone new. And you never know when one of your top performers may be feeling disrespected and create real problems by going public with unflattering comments, like this statement O’Brien has released:

People of Earth:

In the last few days, I’ve been getting a lot of sympathy calls, and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me.  For 17 years, I’ve been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I’ve been absurdly lucky.  That said, I’ve been suddenly put in a very public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate decision.

Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over The Tonight Show in June of 2009.  Like a lot of us, I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me.  I worked long and hard to get that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since 2004 I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future.  It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule.  Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.

But sadly, we were never given that chance. After only seven months, with my Tonight Show in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.

Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35.  For 60 years the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the late local news.  I sincerely believe that delaying the Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting.  The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t the Tonight Show.  Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking the Late Night show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot.  That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy.

So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it.  My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of The Tonight Show. But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction.  Some people will make the argument that with DVRs and the Internet a time slot doesn’t matter.  But with the Tonight Show, I believe nothing could matter more.

There has been speculation about my going to another network but, to set the record straight, I currently have no other offer and honestly have no idea what happens next.  My hope is that NBC and I can resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work.

Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it’s always been that way.

Bonus: And here’s O’Brien ripping his employer in his monologue.