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Mighty Taco's Putin ban goes viral

PutinParagon Advertising knew Vladimir Putin was never destined to dine at Mighty Taco when the restaurant banned him from its outlets in an ad last week. But it declared its Mexican fare off limits to the Russian president anyway.

Doing so has put the Buffalo fast food chain on the map. The ad went viral after being picked up by an Associated Press reporter in Albany, making international headlines and appearing everywhere from tiny news outlets in the south and Midwest to The Australian and Britain’s Daily Mail.

“By Friday, it was being translated into Polish, Russian, Ukrainian,” said James Gillan, president of Paragon Advertising, the agency behind the ad. “The Mighty Taco office was getting calls from Germany.”

The ad was published in just one publication--a 30-page guide to Dyngus Day Buffalo called, “From Polonia With Love,” and appeared on its Facebook page when it got picked up internationally. It was later posted in other publications, and an audio version aired on local radio stations.

The print ad bears a picture of Putin with “Mighty Taco Bans Putin!” in large, bold letters.

“You may be ordering around the Crimea, but you won’t be ordering a Super Mighty Taco around here anytime soon,” it reads. “No one likes a bully, so stop picking on people and maybe you will be welcomed back to Mighty Taco."

The ad warns that Putin is banned from all Mighty Taco locations, “All of them – even the one on Delaware and Hertel!”

The taco chain is known for its quirky ads, but none have generated this much play.

“It has been astounding how fast it moved. It just struck a nerve worldwide,” Gillan said. “I think because it was not threatening, it was just reminding the world that no one likes a bully and let’s all behave kindly.”

 

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Hurricane impact could be felt here

Isaac1Hurricane Isaac has already blown through Haiti, Cuba and Southern Florida. Now experts say it's headed to the Gulf Coast.

Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana have all declared states of emergency. About 10.5 percent of the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico have been evacuated, which is expected to reduce oil production by about 24 percent per day and natural gas production by 8 percent daily.

An article on Forbes is predicting Isaac could give Hurricane Katrina, the most expensive hurricane in history, a run for its money in terms of destruction and economic impact, especially when it comes to the energy industry:

When it comes to offshore oil and gas rig infrastructure in 2012 versus 2005, the biggest difference is that the rigs placed into the Gulf of Mexico in the last several years have been hardened to resist Category 4 or 5 hurricanes. However, up until now, other than Hurricane’s Gustav and Ike in 2008, there has been no real test of the endurance of newer ‘hurricane resistant’ infrastructure that has replaced much of the aging platforms in 2005.  Isaac may very well be the storm to test the fortitude of the newer offshore hardware.

Natural gas and oil prices are expected to increase accordingly:

The hurricane damage inflicted by Katrina caused oil prices to increase from the mid-$60s per barrel to over $70/bbl and gasoline prices at the pump rocketed to near $5 a gallon in some areas of the US. The US government released oil from its stockpile in the Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR) to offset price rises. In the natural gas market, prices were trading in the $9 to $10/MMBtu range at the time, but spiked to over $15/MMBtu as the full extent of the damage became apparent . . . . In terms of energy prices, it’s very likely that the oil and gas markets will react bullishly to Isaac when traders come back to work on Monday


Comics as an international mirror

Ever wonder what the rest of the world thinks about current events in the United States?

A fun way to keep tabs is to have a look at political cartoons from around the world.

For example, want to know what folks elsewhere thought when the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act?

Here is what Chinese artist Luojie offered in China Daily:

China
Rainer Hachfeld published this in Germany's Neues Deutschland:

Germany

In Sweden, Olle Johansson created this:

Sweden

How about our economy?

Paresh Nath, illustrating for The Khaleej Times in the United Arab Emirates, sees it this way:

Paresh

How about the upcoming presidential election?

Arend van Dam published this from the Netherlands:

 

 Netherlands

And finally, Yaakov Kirschen of Israel:

Romney

 

Covering up climate change causes?

TillersonFor years, there have been two camps of people: those who believe that the burning of fossil fuels is changing our climate, and those who believe that climate change is a bunch of hooey.

On Wednesday, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson came down on the side that believes global warming is happening and that it's a man-made problem. But, he said, it's not that big of a deal.

Ross Gelbspan, author of the book Boiling Point, would beg to differ. He was a Boston Globe reporter when he came across a concerted effort to cover up research showing the dooming effects of climate change. It scared him enough to leave his job and take on the issue full time.

CoalGelbspan writes on his web page:

Thinking about the issue, it quickly became clear that the coal and oil industries constitute one of the biggest commercial enterprises in history – and that their very survival is threatened by the imperatives of climate change. The science is unambiguous on one point: climate stabilization requires that humanity cut its consumption of carbon fuels by about 80 percent. The motivation behind the disinformation campaign was very clear – as was the reporting imperative. In this case, it was also the path into an amazing drama – a once-in-a-lifetime story -- that, unfortunately, has largely unfolded outside the spotlit arena of public awareness.

Oil

 His Web site, heatisonline.org, collects a dizzying amount of information, research and news about climate change and its effects. It also collects a fair amount of disinformation it has found in the media and elsewhere; news distorting the science around climate change and bogus studies funded by those with an economic or political interest in fostering skepticism about global warming.

Which side do you believe?

The lighter side of the health care issue...

With the Supreme Court's decision on President Obama's health care plan looming, let's take a look at the issue through the eyes of some editorial cartoonists.

Here's one from the Washington Post's Lisa Benson:

Lisa

Jeff Parker's take:

Cartoon

Here's one from Walt Handelsman:

Obama2

David Fitzsimmons from the Arizona Daily Star has a go:

Fitz

Here's one from Dana Summers at the Orlando Sentinel:

Obama3

 

Birmingham News' Scott Stantis weighs in:

ScottStantis

One from Rome News Tribune's Mike Lester:

Lester

And how about two from Tom Toles?

One:

Toles1
And two:

Toles2

A really big bank blunder

J.P. Morgan's $2 billion trading loss is the big story today, and has tongues wagging.

Dimon

It is the lead story in both the Wall Street Journal , Forbes and the New York Times, but for bank reformers, the story is like manna from heaven.

While he failed to foresee his company's huge losses from risky trading, J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon did accurately predict the feeding frenzy among critics that would ensue.

"It plays into the hands of a bunch of pundits but you have to deal with that and that’s life,” Dimon said in a conference call.

BetterMarkets.com, a non-profit reform group, said the incident at J.P. Morgan is all the proof necessary to show that reform is needed.

"Jamie Dimon and JP Morgan Chase just proved what anyone not getting a paycheck from a Wall Street bank already knows: gigantic too-big-to-fail banks are too-big-to-manage," writes Dennis Kelleher, the group's president.

Here is more of Kelleher's statement:

"Ignoring the trillions in dollars of damage done by Wall Street in causing the economic collapse, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has been a relentless critic of financial reform.  He has denied that the biggest banks continue to threaten our financial system and our economy and claims they are well run and know how to manage risk.  JPM's announcement today of a surprise $2 billion in losses from illiquid derivatives proves him wrong and shows the need for financial reform, especially a strong Volcker Rule, to limit such risky betting."

Levin

The Volcker Rule would, among other things, restrict banks' ability to make risky trades.

"Today’s announcement is a stark reminder of the need for regulators to establish tough, effective standards to implement the Merkley-Levin language to protect taxpayers from having to cover such high-risk bets," said U.S. Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and co-author of the Merkley-Levin language establishing the Volcker Rule.

But more than making the case for a Volcker rule, some say the incident exposes a major flaw in the proposed legislation.

Matthew Yglesias at Slate.com writes:

"Dimon repeatedly insisted that the whole operation is Volcker-compliant, and JP Morgan is describing the operation as an effort at hedging gone wrong. Nobody knows exactly what happened, but in general if you just lost $2 billion that's a good sign that you're not hedging. The idea of hedging is to accept a small cost in order to insure yourself against the risk of a big loss. Two billion dollars is a big loss even for JP Morgan. So why call it hedging? Presumably because the Volcker Rule allows proprietary trading for the purposes of hedging. This turns out to be a big loophole."

Americans for Financial Reform believes that's why the Volcker Rule not only needs to be enacted, but strengthened.

JPMorgan

"The regulators current rule has a loose, permissive standard for portfolio hedging that might have permitted these trades under a hedge exemption, even though they clearly violated the proprietary trading ban. We hope that regulators will heed the warning here, and move speedily to finalize a Volcker Rule that is stronger than their initial proposed rule," its statement reads. 

But according to the Journal's Steve Goldstein, blogging in MarketWatch, "The simple fact is that no rule is going to be strong enough to prevent a bank from acting with hubris and stupidity."

"The best way to combat 'too big to fail' is to make banks small enough that failures wouldn’t matter," Goldstein writes. "Short of that obvious step, best to be prepared for the worst."

State pension reform approaching

From Business Today:

Cuomo

The local business community is getting behind a proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo's Tier VI pension reform aims to control state employee pension costs and save $123 billion over 30 years by limiting benefits for new hires. Andrew J. Rudnick, president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, and Heather C. Briccetti, president of the Business Council of New York State, came out in support of the plan Thursday, saying the reform is a good step toward getting the state into better financial shape and making the region more friendly to businesses. But not everyone is happy about it.

LakeShore

Profits slipped at Lake Shore Bancorp during the fourth quarter. The Dunkirk-based parent company of Lake Shore Savings Bank saw profits dip 34 percent. The decline is attributed to a $500,000 write-down for an investment the bank made in an unnamed payment processing startup. Profits were $587,000, or 10 cents per share, down from $895,000, or 16 cents per share,  during the same period last year.

Witkowski

Five Star Bank will eliminate its top executive position in retail banking, a position that paid $426,757 last year. The Warsaw-based Financial Institutions subsidiary attributed the move to improving the company's efficiencies. The duties filled by the former executive vice president of the bank and regional president for the bank's Western Region,John J. Witkowski, will now be doled out to other executives. Witkowski is a former NFL quarterback.

 

Cobb

Wegmans has issued a recall of hard-cooked eggs and prepared foods made with them. Eggs sourced at Minnesota-based Michael Foods were found to contain the bacteria that causes listeriosis, which can result in illness and death.

The eggs were sold hard-cooked, pickled and Kosher and also used to make prepared foods. Fresh eggs are not affected.

No illnesses have been reported associated with the recall.

 

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

 Happy Friday!

 

Health insurance costs 'A runaway train'

  Big biz news out front today, and deserves to be:

- 'A runaway train' of soaring costs - Jonathan D. Epstein/The Buffalo News
  If you felt sticker shock when you opened up your health insurance packet from your employer, you were not alone.
  Western New York workers will see their insurance premiums rise by as much as 20 percent next year. And there's no sign of it getting better soon.
   "It's getting worse," said Gregory D. Leifer, director of life insurance and employee benefits at Scott Danahy Naylon Insurance Brokers. "It's a runaway train, and people don't see it ending." ...
  Nationwide, employers expected their health insurance costs to rise by 10.1 percent in 2011, if they made no changes to their plans, but by just 5.9 percent after adjustments, according to a survey by Mercer Health & Benefits. A similar survey by Towers Watson said plan changes would lower the expected increase to 8.2 percent.
   Locally, rates will rise by up to 20 percent for Independent Health and HealthNow and by up to 12.5 percent for Univera. Employers are growing less willing to absorb those increases, as the cost of benefits comprises more than 10 percent of payroll, according to Compdata Surveys. ...

   Related:
- ‘Obamacare’ not the cause of Colorado rate hikes - Colorado Independent
- Five strategies to tame health care spending - St. Louis Post-Dispatch
- Why Employers Aren't Rooting for Health Care Reform to Die - The Atlantic
- Why I will stay far away from cliffs from now on - The Huffington Post 
- Nearly 59 million lack health insurance: CDC - Reuters
- Employers plan for hikes in health insurance rates - Rochester Business Journal
- Connecticut Doctors To Oppose Anthem's Proposed Rate Increases - Hartford Courant
- Online information on health insurance rates readily available to Californians - Los Angeles Times

   Not everything's going up:
Mortgage rates again decline to record lows - AP/Buffalo News
   The mortgage rate bar is even lower, but few homebuyers are making the jump.
   Rates on fixed mortgages again fell to their lowest levels in decades this week, Freddie Mac said Thursday, after the Federal Reserve unveiled a massive bond-buying program to help spur economic growth.
   That marked more than a half-year of record lows. But housing activity has still faltered.

- Battle for shoppers' dollars pushes convenience, discounts - AP/Buffalo News
   From Sears stores open on Thanksgiving for the first time to free shipping from Wal-Mart, the battle for holiday shoppers' dollars has begun in earnest. ...
   Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that typically kicks off holiday shopping, is not only being marketed as "Black Friday week," but for a growing number of stores, "Black Friday month."

- Retailers offering early discounts, so late shoppers could lose out - AP/Buffalo News

   Speaking of "sticker shock":

 

- George Pyle/The Buffalo News 

Statler teeters. Larkin rooted.

   In Business Today: Plans for reviving one old Buffalo building look iffy. Plans for another have taken root.

Statler buyers eye deadline extension - Matt Glynn/The Buffalo News
  The prospective buyers of the Statler Towers are trying to rally public support for their efforts, amid the possibility they will seek an extension of a key deadline.
   Mark D. Croce and James J. Eagan on Wednesday welcomed a crowd that included developers and Statlernewser elected officials to the chilly, shuttered Niagara Square landmark to share their plans for revitalizing the Statler in phases. [Buffalo News Video.]
   Holding the gathering at the Statler was intended to "create public awareness, remind people what is here and what it is we're asking the public to buy into," Croce said.
   The two principals were joined by leaders of Preservation Buffalo Niagara, who advocate saving and restoring the Statler, rather than leaving it at risk of demolition. ...
  Croce and Knoer said all of those funds would not necessarily come from public sources. But they suggested that any government money devoted to those repairs would cost taxpayers far less than if the Statler ended up abandoned and had to be torn down. Demolition expenses could run $15 million or higher, they said. ...
   Mayor Byron W. Brown did not attend Wednesday's event at the Statler. At an appearance earlier in the day, he said the city is "ready to step in in a major way" but needs to see a more extensive plan for reviving the Statler before committing financial help. ...
   Knoer addressed the idea of submitting a comprehensive plan to the city and Empire State Development Corp., the state's economic development arm....
   [You guys need to build a really cool website about your plans, so bloggers like me can link to it.] 

- Larkin District street work completed - Jonathan D. Epstein/The Buffalo News
   Buffalo city leaders joined with First Niagara Financial Group and developer Howard Zemsky on Wednesday to mark the completion of a streetscape beautification project in the Larkin District, while announcing a new $500,000 state grant to restore more commercial and residential buildings. [Buffalo News Video]
   Public and private-sector officials unveiled more than a half-mile of street improvements along Seneca Street  between Larkin Street and Fillmore Avenue, including new streets, sidewalks, bike lanes, curbs, landscaping, lighting, benches, bus shelters and crosswalks.
   The Spotlight Larkin Streetscape Project covers sections of Seneca, Van Rensselaer, Swan and Emslie streets. The project was announced in December.
   The work was paid for through a $2 million investment by the city, National Grid USA and First Niagara, which moved its corporate headquarters to the Larkin at Exchange Building a year ago. First Niagara committed $1.5 million, plus another $50,000 to the Larkin Community Improvement Fund, while the city invested $200,000. National Grid gave $250,000 from its urban corridor revitalization program, one of several economic development initiatives. ...
   The Old First Ward Community Association said it received a new $500,000 Main Street grant from the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal to help with additional commercial and residential restorations in the neighborhood. ...

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Tax breaks ... and more

   In Business Today, Verizon gets its tax breaks, and is still hungry. While a company that makes cardboard wants its cut.

Verizon granted tax break for center - Thomas J. Prohaska/The Buffalo News
   Verizon Communications was granted a 20-year tax break for its $4.5 billion data center in Somerset on Wednesday, but the company is trying to use the project as leverage to obtain changes in state regulations and defeat of a piece of state legislation it opposes.
   “We still have what we consider some unfinished business,” Verizon spokeswoman Maureen Rasp-Glose said after the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency unanimously approved the tax package.
   The deal involves sales and property tax abatements totaling $518 million over 20 years and would result in the company paying about 15 percent of its tax liability. Verizon also has secured a commitment from the New York Power Authority for 25 megawatts of discounted hydropower that would save the company an estimated $96 million over 15 years.
   The company’s plan is to create 200 jobs, paying an average of $85,000 a year, on 158 acres of land on Lake Road next to the AES Corp. power plant. AES would sell the land to Verizon. The total value of the package — $614 million — is the largest subsidy deal offered a company in Western New York and works out to nearly $3.1 million per job. ...
  State and local officials have lobbied hard for the project, but the company also has some concerns about putting a project in New York. Rasp-Glose said Verizon wants the State Legislature to defeat a bill that would require the company to rebate 40 percent of the proceeds from any sale or merger of its New York operations, either in cash to ratepayers or by means of infrastructure investments in New York.
   Rasp-Glose said the Legislature also needs to loosen Public Service Commission regulations on its business, which she said the company considers “antiquated.” ...
  The rebate bill Verizon opposes was passed by the Assembly on July 1 under the sponsorship of Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, a Westchester County Democrat. Assembly cosponsors included Erie County Democrats Sam Hoyt, Dennis H. Gabryszak and Mark J. F. Schroeder, while Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes signed on later.
   However, the bill is stalled in the Senate, where lame-duck Sen. William T. Stachowski, D-Lake View, was among the cosponsors.
   Brodsky told The Buffalo News on Wednesday that the bill involves property Verizon owned before the deregulation of the telephone industry. He called the company’s attempt to tie it to the data center project “an elegant form of blackmail.”

Cardboard plant seeks tax break - Thomas J. Prohaska/The Buffalo News
  A Canadian company that operates a Niagara Falls cardboard plant applied Wednesday for a 20-year tax break on a new paper mill in the Falls.
   The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency expects to vote Dec. 15 on the deal with Norampac’s [in English] newly formed subsidiary, Greenpac Mill.
   The company plans to invest $407.5 million to demolish an abandoned mill next to its active plant on Packard Road and erect a new one on the same site, creating 110 new jobs in the process.
   The 120 jobs in the existing Norampac plant will stay put, and its operations will continue, General Manager Luc Nadeau said.
   A public hearing on the payment- in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, arrangement is to be held at 4 p.m. Dec. 14 in Niagara Falls City Hall. ...

   This Verizon deal may be getting more complicated:

 

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

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