Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Another one gets by the News & Record

GREENSBORO, NC - On March 9, 2014, the News & Record published a letter to the editor in support of Congressional candidate Zack Matheny. Although the author was identified merely as Nick Wilkinson from Greensboro, the fact is Wilkinson is a paid consultant to the Matheny campaign. Wilkinson received over $2,300 from Matheny in the weeks prior to the publication of his letter in the News & Record.

From time to time, the News & Record will append information to a letter if it further explains the author's relationship to the issues or parties being discussed. This was certainly a circumstance where such an explanation was warranted. Wilkinson's position as a Matheny campaign consultant should have been revealed.

Campaign reports shed light on Matheny's nonsensical Obamacare objection

GREENSBORO, NC -- Last week I wondered why my Greensboro City Council district representative and congressional candidate Zack Matheny, in explaining his opposition to Obamacare, touted medical testing company LabCorp as a good example of keeping government out of health care delivery, even though, as it turns out, LabCorp is the single largest recipient of Medicare funds in the state, getting some $157 million in government payments in 2012.

Why would Zack have explained his position on government involvement in health care by offering an example that so contradicts his position?

I think I know the answer now. From Matheny's campaign finance report's list of contributors:

$5,000 from LabCorp's political action committee, the maximum legally allowed.

Monday, April 14, 2014

News & Record's irresponsible dissemination of outright falsehoods

GREENSBORO, NC -- What responsibility does the News & Record have to its readers to see to it that outright falsehoods are not disseminated on its pages? Apparently, none.

While people are entitled to their own opinions, they are not entitled to their own facts, but not so on the opinion pages of the News & Record where the editors don't concern themselves with factual accuracy; case in point, a letter to the editor today from one Ned van Buren, in which he writes:
"Buried in the Affordable Care Act are what the Economist magazine (Oct. 5, 2013) describes as death panels designed to “unplug Grandma.” Section 1553 of Public Law 111-148, page 259, tells how the risk of death increases by withholding treatment, but not for the purpose of causing death." 
The claims of fact presented by Mr. Van Buren here are false. The News & Record printed them anyway.

Did the Economist magazine describe death panels "buried in the Affordable Care Act?" No, it did not and it would have been an easy thing, as it was for me, for the News & Record to check, find Van Buren's statement false, and invite him to resubmit his letter without the falsehood. 

What the Economist described, in an article about "Ted Cruz, bomb throwing reactionary," were the fears of some people that the Affordable Care Act would result in "death panels," the scare quotes are theirs. The Economist did not describe such a thing as being in the Affordable Care Act, as Van Buren wrote, it described a fear of such a thing existing in the minds of people: Not in the law, but in some people's minds. Furthermore the term itself—"death panels"—was put in quotes by the magazine to identify it as a catachresis—a strained metaphor—not the Economist's description. Here, read it for yourself:
"Obamacare seeks to insure millions more Americans and rein in sky-high medical costs. Lots of insiders suspect that change will hurt them, whether via higher premiums, skimpier coverage or government 'death panels' with the power to unplug Grandma." 
What about the second part of Van Buren's claim, the confused but seemingly ominous observation that a provision in the Affordable Care Act provides for withholding treatment? Again, the News & Record could have, should have—as I did in two minutes—checked Van Buren's citation to see if it says what he says it does. It does not.

The provision Van Buren "describes," right down to the page number, deals with assisted suicide, specifically PROHIBITING the denial of health care funds to health care providers that DO NOT offer suicide assistance. In other words, it demands the exact opposite of what Mr. Van Buren seems to think it says. It mandates that insurance MAY NOT require services "for the purpose of assisting in causing, the death of any individual, such as by assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing."

From his woefully wrong "facts," it is a short hop for Van Buren to come to his Nazi comparison—fully accommodated by the News & Record.

This should not happen. If the News & Record is going to allow just any claim, no mater how wrong, to appear on its pages, it could save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by dismissing its editorial staff and just allowing people to post to its Op-Ed pages directly from the internet. Presumably, the News & Record employs editors to add value superior to the cacophony of bull crap that abounds on social media. That value should begin with filtering for blatant falsehoods.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

More fact avoidance at the News & Record

GREENSBORO, NC -- The News & Record features, from time to time, "Ask a reporter," in which people submit questions and a reporter answers them... or not. As I was just writing yesterday, the News & Record and, by extension, Greensboro, suffers from a preference to rely on the pronouncements of authorities instead of its own research. Today's "Ask a reporter" is another such example.

A reader asks for the number of traffic accidents within a half a mile of the intersection of Pleasant Garden Road and Liberty Road. Reporter Joe Gamm begins his reply with " We don’t have specific data on accidents at that intersection" and proceeds, in typical fashion, to turn to a spokesperson for a less than precise characterization.

Whatever Gamm meant by "we don't have specific data," the fact is the specific data is readily available online at the City of Greensboro police department's website, with the ability to provide exactly the kind of information the reader asked for, right down to the half mile radius. One would think the News & Record's crime reporter would be aware of this.

It turns out, with five minutes of effort, I was able to determine a precise data-specific answer to the reader's question.

Accidents within a half mile of the intersection of Pleasant Garden Road and Liberty Road

Past 12 months: 21

April, 2013: 0
May, 2013: 2
June, 2013: 1
July, 2013: 4
August, 2013: 1
September, 2013: 1
October, 2013: 4
November, 2013: 3
December, 2013: 2
January, 2014: 0
February, 2104: 0
March, 2014: 3

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Greensboro hypnotized

GREENSBORO, NC -- This city would be a lot different if we had a decent newspaper, a place where reason and intellectual rigor prevailed. Instead we have a marionette dancing at the ends of strings pulled by entrenched interests, sometimes for good, sometimes not, but rarely independently challenging what it is told with skepticisms and a will to find the empirical truth.

A case in point comes today in an article by police reporter Joe Gamm "reporting" on the results of a period of increased traffic patrols on Battleground Avenue by Greensboro police. Gamm reports:
"The data from Battleground Avenue also showed a drop in crime, with the seven types of crimes tracked — murder, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft — decreasing by 8 percent during the campaign, (Greensboro Police Captain John) Wolfe said."
This paragraph is problematic in a number of ways. First of all, it purports to characterize empirical data and yet it is attributed only to a police spokesperson. That's nothing new, unfortunately; the News & Record is loath to check the facts against the pronouncements of authorities. Parroting assertions is one of the least valuable services journalists can perform. Making sure those pronouncements align with the facts is the value the News & Record fails to provide.

Second, it is woefully unclear whether the police are making the claim that each of the types of offenses declined by 8 percent individually or whether that is overall, with some crimes increasing and some declining. A curious reporter would have wondered himself and clarified.

Finally, and most importantly, is that attributing an alleged change in crimes to increased traffic patrols is such sloppy reasoning, the News & Record should decline to report it to begin with. That two things increased patrols on a particular street and a vague description of a decline of certain types of crime in a unspecified surrounding "area" imply a cause and effect is not reasonably justified. It is a failure in critical thinking.

Any serious examination of the factors influencing crime cannot examine one possible factor in a vacuum. Weather, economic conditions, population changes, even other public safety efforts such as neighborhood watch efforts, all may have an effect on crime. Correlation is not causation. To attribute a decline in crime to a single particular factor without considering others is a crock.

Here's why it matters. When the police officer in charge of these intensified traffic patrols offers the opinion, as he does, that, "people go back to their old habits after police are gone," he is not only implying that people, by nature, are prone to criminal activity (an insulting and disturbing view of the citizenry), he is also, not so subtly, arguing that we are better off with the intensified patrol efforts he oversees and, thanks to the sloppy and unskeptical reporting of the News & Record, that appears to be so.

Should we, as citizens, support the allotment of police resources for these kinds of traffic enforcement crack downs? Absolutely, I read in the News & Record that they make crime go down!

Without end, we, as a community, are offered these unthinking and doubtful reflections of our community by the News & Record. Although they look like reporting, they are crafted messages intended to manipulate public opinion by self-interested parties using the obliging News & Record as an authoritative conduit to give them a stamp of approval they don't deserve. The result is Greensboro is a community deluded by fictions. The repository of what should be truth and accuracy instead offers us figments and confusion that we mistake for an accurate representation of our reality.

How can a community possibly thrive under the spell of such an illusionist? How can it even survive?

Matheny's rationale for Obamacre objection subverted

GREENSBORO, NC -- I recently noted that my district city council representative Zack Matheny, who is also running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, is no longer saying on his campaign website that Obamacare should be repealed, as he had in January.

He continues to call it "bad policy" and claims that it "hurts far more people than it helps," but gone is the call for its repeal. Here is how he explains his view now, emphasis added:
"'Obamacare' is a bad policy that hurts far more people than it helps and represents the much bigger problem of overregulation and government intrusion into the lives of US citizens. Companies right here in the 6th district like LabCorp have shown that we can deliver health care services in a cost-efficient manner without getting in-between (sic) you and your doctor."
Aside from the fact that Obamacare is primarily just a means to enroll more people in private health insurance—hardly the "gov'ment" getting between you and your doctor— the News & Record revealed today that LabCorp is the largest single recipient of Medicare payments in the state of North Carolina.

That's right, Zack's example of an alternative to Obamacre thrives because it receives more Medicare payments from the government than any other doctor, practice, hospital or health care provider in the state.

I guess Zack didn't look into that.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

News & Record censors police suspect description

GREENSBORO, NC -- The News & Record reported this today about suspects in a robbery. The article was attributed to "staff reports" which is a euphemism for "regurgitated from a press release":
"One of the women was white, had long blonde hair, a piercing over her left eye, was in her 20s and was wearing a light-colored shirt and blue jeans. There were incomplete descriptions for the three men and the second female who asked for the water." 
That is misleading, relying on a very deceptive meaning of "incomplete description." In fact, there were no "complete" descriptions of any suspects — all descriptions were incomplete — but there were other descriptions provided by the police that the News & Record declined to report because they were "incomplete."

Here is the description of the suspects from the GPD press release:
"The black female was described as having a ponytail, wearing a black shirt, black coat and black pants with gold specks. She appeared to be in her 20’s. The white-female was described as having long blonde hair, a piercing over her left eye, and wearing a light colored shirt and blue jeans. She also appeared to be in her 20’s. The white-males were described as wearing tan masks, light colored shirts and blue jeans."
For the News & Record to describe one suspect then decline to describe the others with the explanation that the other descriptions were "incomplete" is disingenuous, at best. None of the descriptions were "complete." The descriptions of the two females had the same level of detail but for the additional description of a piece of jewelry on one of the suspects.  How does it serve the News & Recrod's readers for it to withhold information from them? What purpose does it serve?

News & Record's online security gets an F

GREENSBORO, NC -- Online testing sites report that the News & Records online ad placement, AdExpress, has vulnerabilities in its encryption configuration that earn it an F. Specifically, the testing sites warn of the site using obsolete and insecure protocols.



City's online payment security gets an F

[Update: GlobalSign uses Qualys SSL Labs for its testing, so while both are referenced, they are actually conducting the same test. A subsequent third test, independent of the other two, finds the same vulnerability.]

[Update II: The City Manager responds: He has asked the IT director to review.]

GREENSBORO, NC -- Computer security engineers announced the discover of the "Heartbleed Bug" this week, a computer code vulnerability that can expose information encrypted with the SSL/TLS protocol. This protocol is used to protect passwords and account numbers in web browsers, apps, email and instant messaging.

While wildly deployed, the vulnerability is not universal. It occurs with certain server configurations. There are online tools that will allow you to check an internet domain to see if it is susceptible to the Heartbleed Bug. Here are two:

Qualys SSL Labs

I tested a few local sites that use encryption for online payments. None were vulnerable to the Heartbleed bug. However, the City of Greensboro's encryption certificate installation for, where the city accepts online payments for fees ranging from parking tickets to street performer licenses, got an F from both testers.

I am not knowledgeable enough to fully explain the reasons for these scores, but it appears as if there are a few areas of weakness, the most egregious being because the city allows its encryption certificates to use the older SSL2 protocol (in addition to newer ones) that the testing sites label as "insecure." Indeed, there to appear to be a number of vulnerabilities for that protocol, including vulnerability to "man in the middle" attacks where it would seem to the user as if everything is operating normally, but where information is being secretly intercepted by an uninvolved third party.

I've alerted the city of this problem and will post any replies I receive.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Triad City Beat editor chokes on his own vomit

GREENSBORO, NC -- Triad City Beat editor Brian Clarey writes the most disingenuous piece of editorial deception I've read in a long time. Taking on Greensboro city council representative Tony Wilkins' recent attempt to get the city to make public the top salaries of non-profits to which the city contributes, Clarey takes a central fact and turns it on its head so that he can proceed to cast undeserved aspersions on Wilkins and his constituents.

You may recall that the City of Greensboro, as part of lending $1.5 million to the International Civil Rights Center and Museum (ICRCM), asked the museum to provide some information about its finances, including salaries. The city then proceeded, in the interest of public transparency, to make the information it gathered available on the web.

Wilkins used that interest of the city in gathering and making public the salaries of the employees of the ICRCM to try to convince his colleagues to do the same for OTHER non-profits the city funds. Far from targeting the ICRCM for special scrutiny, Wilkins was saying he wanted the same kind of scrutiny for all other city-funded non-profits. In fact, by using the ICRCM as a starting point, he drew into focus the differing treatment the ICRCM received from other non-profits, hardly the kind of hostility towards the ICRCM Clarey would try to pin on Wilkins.

The facts didn't get in Clarey's way though. Ignoring that Wilkins was using the city's treatment of the ICRCM as a starting place to argue for similar treatment of all city-funded nonprofits, Clarey pretended that Wilkins was motivated, not by fairness and equal treatment, but by—fantastically—animosity for the ICRCM and, having puked up that falsehood, Clarey proceeds to use it to discredit Wilkins, his constituents and conservatives in general. Clarey writes:
"The conservatives who make up Wilkins’ cohort have an almost pathological dislike for the ICRCM, which hits the trifecta of extreme right-wing hot buttons: It concerns civil rights, it gets taxpayer support and there are a whole lot of black people involved. If they were handing out birth control in there, one of these wingnuts might just burn it to the ground." 
Of course, Wilkins' attempts to get all non-profits to be treated by the city the same as the ICRCM was treated has nothing to do with dislike for the ICRCM, in fact, it would make no sense for dislike for the ICRCM to motivate Wilkins' to call for them to be treated equitably.

No, what Clarey did is vomit up his own prejudices then choked on them in righteous indignation. It was about as repugnant as watching a drunk throw up too, and just as enlightening.

Bonus: Clarey, at his former post as editor of Yes!Weekly, endorsed Wilkins in his run for council last fall:
"Wilkins represents all the things we like about conservative policy: fiscal responsibility, fair play, free markets. He’s big on transparency, and has shown an open mind and a zeal for finding out how things work since taking his seat. We endorse him with no reservations, save for the suggestion that he continue in this vein..."

Where does Zack Matheny stand on Obamacare?

GREENSBORO, NC -- Greensboro city council representative and sixth district congressional candidate Zack Matheny appears to have shifted his position on Obamacare. In January of this year, he wanted to repeal it. He said on his website then, in no uncertain terms:
"Congress must repeal Obamacare."
Matheny's campaign website, January 9, 2014
Yesterday, the Rand Corporation announced these results of their study of the effects of Obamacare:
"At least 9.3 million more Americans have health insurance now than in September 2013, virtually all of them as a result of the law."
That prompted me, an unaffiliated voter in Matheny's council district and the sixth congressional district, to email Matheny a link to the Rand study and ask why he opposes the law and if his opposition isn't just pandering. (His campaign rhetoric is a departure from from the moderate he appeared to be while serving on city council, so it's hard to know if we are seeing the real Matheny now or if he's just trying to push the right buttons to improve his chances in the Republican primary.)

I also revisited his website and found he has changed his language on Obamacre. He now says this:
"'Obamacare' is a bad policy that hurts far more people than it helps and represents the much bigger problem of overregulation and government intrusion into the lives of US citizens. Companies right here in the 6th district like LabCorp have shown that we can deliver health care services in a cost-efficient manner without getting in-between (sic) you and your doctor. Let’s go back to the adage that government works best when it governs least." 
Aside from the question of just how LabCorp, a medical testing lab, is an example of whatever it is Matheny has in mind for health care, gone is the previous specific language about repealing Obamacare. There is no longer any mention of repeal on his website.

I haven't heard back from Matheny yet, and will post his reply if I do.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Wyndham Championship's 75th year; what a crock

GREENSBORO, NC -- Imagine a wealthy man marries a divorced woman. Her first marriage lasted for 67 years. She and the wealthy man have been married for 7.

Now imagine that the man announces to the world that, on their 8th anniversary, he and his wife will be celebrating 75 years of marriage.

That's just the kind of crock the Wyndham golf tournament is trying to dish up. Coming up on their eighth year of sponsorship of the Wyndham Championship, Wyndham apparently thinks they have purchased the history of what was, for 67 years, Greensboro's golf tournament: originally the Greater Greensboro Open, then the K-mart Greater Greensboro Open, then the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic. Greensboro was the rightful and common thread uniting the tournament's storied history. Wyndham deserves no more credit for it than a second husband gets for his wife's first marriage.

Sam Snead did not earn a record setting 8 wins at the Wyndham Championship nor did he become the oldest golfer to win on the PGA Tour at the Wyndham Championship.

Wahoo McDaniel, Evel Knievel,
Bob Bruggers & Lee Travino.
Evel Knievel and Wahoo McDaniel did not play in the ProAm at the  Wyndham Championship.

Fuzzy Zeller did not withdraw from the Wyndham Championship after 21 straight appearances because of controversy over remarks made about newcomer Tiger Woods.

The Greensboro Jaycees did not, for decades, put on the largest Jaycee civic project in the nation at the Wyndham Championship.

No. All of those things happened at the Greensboro Open in one or another of its variational-named iterations. Unlike Wyndham, previous sponsors kept Greensboro in the tournament name. They earned the right to carry the torch of the tournament's history.

The Wyndham Tournament is coming up on its eighth year. Eight. Wyndham began its golf presence here by erasing Greensboro from the name of an historic golf tournament and now they want to pretend they are entitled to retroactively claim its history? To supplant what they've erased with what they seem to think they've purchased? To brand the achievements of others as just another property fully bought and paid for even though they had nothing to do with 67 of its years?

What a crock.

(Hat tip: Knievle, McDaniel ProAm appearance recalled by Ben Holder.)

Thursday, April 03, 2014

News & Record changed copyrighted piece without permission

Clarification, from Michael Crowell, the author of the original piece: "I knew they were going to publish it, am glad for papers to do that, did not know they were going to alter it."

GREENSBORO, NC -- There is a letter to the editor in today's News & Record from Michael Crowell, a professor at the UNC School of Government, complaining about the News & Record having published a copyrighted work of his on its editorial pages and editing it without his knowledge or permission. The News & Record attaches a weasley anonymous note to the letter to the editor explaining that the piece was "shortened" to make room for an advertisement. There is no explanation or apology for using the article without permission.

In truth, the News & Record did more than shorten it, substantially, without permission, they also added portions the author did not write and deleted portions that affected the meaning. Here are some selected comparisons of significantly edited portions.

For the last 30 years North Carolina, like most states, has been making it easier to register and vote. In the early 1980s the only way you could register was to go before an official of the local board of elections in person.
In the News & Record's copy:
For the last 30 years, North Carolina has been making it easier to register and vote. In the early 1980s, you had to register in person at your county board of elections office.
Did any of the expanded opportunities to register and vote added since 1980 appreciably affect voter turnout or not?

The answer is not clear cut. In tracking voter turnout with election law changes since 1980 it is hard to discern that any particular election law change has made an appreciable difference in how many people vote. Yes, voting in North Carolina in the last two presidential elections was notably higher than before, but other presidential elections have not brought as many people to the polls, and turnout in non-presidential elections is still as low as ever. It may be that the 2008 and 2012 presidential year jumps are simply anomalies, with unusually high interest, and not indicative of any trend.

In the News & Record's copy:

Did any of the expanded opportunities to register and vote appreciably affect voter turnout?

The answer is not clear. Yes, voting in North Carolina in the last two presidential elections was notably higher than before, but turnout in nonpresidential elections is still as low as ever. It may be that the 2008 and 2012 jumps were anomalies, with unusually high interest.
While this review of North Carolina data is not very sophisticated, it is consistent with recent political science research, discussed below, which suggests that early voting may actually decrease voter turnout. The same research shows, on the other hand, that same-day registration and voting can increase turnout somewhat. When done together, early voting and same-day registration neutralize each other. And, as one might expect, factors other than election laws have more to do with how many people vote. 
In the News & Record's copy:
[Removed entirely.]

Data about voter turnout and election law changes in North Carolina from 1980 through 2012 is found on this chart... [snip] A list of all elections may be found here.
In the News & Record's copy:
[Removed entirely.]

What do the data show about turnout over the 32 years? The chart is a busy document and offers an opportunity for lots of interpretation. Here are a few observations about the data:
In the News & Record's copy:
What do the data show about turnout over these 31 years?

Turnout in presidential election years varied little between 1980 and 2000, regardless of the closeness of the contests or any election law change. The turnout percentages for those six elections, and the results of the presidential voting in North Carolina:
  • 1980 — 43.9 percent (Reagan edges Carter 49.3 to 47.2 percent)
  • 1984 — 48.8 percent (Reagan routs Mondale 61.9 to 37.9 percent)
  • 1988 — 43.7 percent (Bush routs Dukakis 58 to 41.7 percent)
  • 1992 — 50.1 percent (Bush edges Clinton 43.4 to 42.7 percent)
  • 1996 — 44.4 percent (Dole beats Clinton 48.7 to 44 percent)
  • 2000 — 49.6 percent (Bush beats Gore 56 to 43.2 percent).
In the News & Record's copy:
Turnout in presidential election years varied little between 1980 and 2000, regardless of the closeness of the contests or any election law change. The low, as noted, occurred in 1988; the high was 50.1 percent in 1992.

Possible conclusions?
In the News & Record's copy:
No obvious effects

The changes in election law since 1980 do not appear to have appreciably affected voter turnout as a whole.
In the News & Record's copy:
The changes in election law since 1980 have not appreciably affected voter turnout as a whole.

In sum, based on this limited analysis, the changes in North Carolina’s registration and voting laws over the last 32 years appear not to have made a significant difference in how many people vote. While it has become  noticeably easier to register to vote, and to stay on the rolls, about the same proportion of citizens go to the polls now as before. It seems more likely that voting depends on factors such as the nature of the election, how much seems to be at stake, the level of media coverage, and how much effort candidates and parties put into identifying and mobilizing their voters. The one state election law change that might be argued to have boosted turnout is the 2007 legislation, repealed in 2013, to extend the  deadline for registering by allowing same-day registration and voting  during the early voting period. With even the most generous assumptions,  however, that change in the law could not be said to account for more than  1.5 percent of turnout.
In the News & Record's copy:
In sum, based on this limited analysis, the changes in North Carolina’s registration and voting laws over the last 31 years appear not to have made a significant difference in how many people vote. While it has become noticeably easier to register to vote, and to stay on the rolls, about the same proportion of citizens go to the polls now as before. It seems more likely that voting depends on factors such as the nature of the election, how much seems to be at stake, media coverage, and how much effort candidates and parties put into identifying and mobilizing voters.

Update (4/4/2014): Title changed for accuracy's sake.

Monday, March 31, 2014

City acts in interest of drug-dealing market

GREENSBORO, NC -- Two weeks ago, Ben "The Troublemaker" Holder went before Greensboro's city council to bring to their attention the criminal activities at a market in his neighborhood. As Holder noted, the market, within a stone's throw of a public library, city recreation center, elementary school and the Greensboro Aquatics Center, was recently raided for trafficking in methamphetamine. As Holder has documented on his blog, this is the same market that has been previously busted for illegal gambling, cocaine and weapons, including the raid where an innocent bystander was handcuffed and claimed injury by police resulting in a $15,000 payout settlement by the City of Greensboro. (Continued after video)

After Holder spoke, the city manager started to explain that the city is working with the business but was interrupted by councilors Yvonne Johnson and Sharon Hightower who objected to the notion that the city would work with the business instead of shutting it down. After some discussion, the city manager said he got the message.

Apparently word did not spread. Police Attorney Jim Clark crafted the city's official response. It is a letter to the market owner requesting that he contact Clark to discuss "corrective action." Clark describes this invitation to have a talk as "entirely in your own interest" leaving one to wonder why the neighborhood's interests have been ignored in favor of action entirely in the interest of the market owner.

Clark's letter also says that if the market's "problems cannot be addressed by you" the only remaining option is for the city to seek "assistance" from a court of law. That is not the City's only option. As Ben Holder prodded the city to do recently with an illegally operating massage parlor, the city can revoke the business license of a business conducting illegal activities (city ordinance 13-48). It is unclear why the city has ignored this immediately available option (and councilors Johnson's and Hightower's preference) in favor of action that is "entirely" in the interest of accused drug dealers, but Holder says he is going to tomorrow's city council meeting to find out why those take precedence over the health and safety of his community.

Friday, March 28, 2014

It's a matter of transparency

GREENSBORO, NC -- An interesting interchange between Greensboro City Council representative Tony Wilkins and his colleagues at a recent city council work session was captured on video (below).

The City of Greensboro recently asked the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, to which the city is providing funding, to provide a list of all employee salaries. Similarly, Wilkins had asked for the top two salaries for all of the non-profits the city funds, not just the Civil Rights Museum.

Wilkins' request was denied by the city manager who told him Wilkins would have to get five votes first even though, as Wilkins points out in the video, the council did not vote to request the salary information from the Civil Rights Museum.

The video begins with Wilkins asking his colleagues for the votes to get the top two salaries of all city-funded non-profits. What follows is a disappointing display of resistance to Wilkins' request and sorry excuses for why the Civil Rights Museum is "different;" most adamantly, unfortunately, from Mayor Nancy Vaughan.

Wilkins responds:
"It blows my mind that a simple information request that every person in Greensboro should know is now being blocked by part of this council."
Representative (and congressional candidate) Zack Matheny counters:
"Tony, not everybody in this whole world wants to know or cares."
As the meeting is wrapping up and Wilkins is continuing, in measured tones, to press his point, Matheny says:
“I support you. Don’t shoot the guy that supports you. If you keep shooting me, I’ll change my vote.”
Council will vote on the matter at its next meeting.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hartzman's mean potshots

GREENSBORO, NC -- Local blogger, Yes!Weekly contributor and former mayoral candidate George Hartzman is a prolific writer. Line after line, paragraph after paragraph, post after post of what appear to be meaningful data and information, often seeming to explain some dire accusation of wrong-doing or malfeasance.

It's all really just so much camouflage, though — textual cover for the unfair and mean-spirited potshots Hartzman launches from behind his deliberately constructed blind of inexactness and misdirection. As local blogger Jeff Martin has rightly said, it's McCarthyism; only the targets are not Communists, but rather anybody simply unlucky enough to find themselves in Hartzman's cross-eyed cross hairs.

Here's how it works. Hartzman beings with some unflattering innuendo or incriminating accusation. Then he sets about creating an illusion that his attacks are founded in reason and supported by facts when, in reality, they are built on rhetorical slights of hand and intentional confusion. Here are some of his common techniques:

Interpretive Grammar : The basics matter. Subject, verb, object. Punctuation. Who did what to whom? The basics are requisite for a reasonable evaluation of the soundness of an assertion. Hartzman will often avoid grammatical precision precisely where it is needed the most, where his attacks meet the facts, in order to slither away from accountability. It is enough for Hartzman that it sounds like he could be saying what you think he might be saying. Clarity, however, means accountability, and that is to be avoided.  
Hartzman Example: "I believe Yvonne voted to enrich Skip Alston and Earl Jones, who she has a financial interest via the Simkins Pac, and Skip and Earl stand to profit from the museum after the debt is paid off via the City of Greensboro's bailout, which Yvonne voted for;"
The Mirage: Instead of a statement of fact, he paints an accusation as an appearance. He often deploys this technique with the words "looks like," — an illusion; an unsubstantiated impression as solid as any fact.
Hartzman Example: "Zack Matheny doing what Roy Carroll told him to on economic incentives after what looks like selling taxpayer money to fund his Congressional campaign?" 
The Ghost: To professionals, this is known as the passive voice, a sentence with no subject, where something happens on its own, unattributed to any earthly actor. "The economic benefits were estimated at $12 million," or "Pollution was released into the river," are examples. Who made the estimate? Who released the pollution? A ghost. This is a journalistic no-no for a reason: It's sneaky. It's a linguistic magic trick;  a misdirection. Without knowing to whom we can  attribute the action we cannot evaluate motives or expertise or know where to look for verification or responsibility. Nobody is accountable. With the passive voice, actions are made by invisible ghosts. Hartzman is fond of ghosts.
Hartzman Example: "City staff and council were informed before the vote that some money the museum was to receive did not look like it was merely meant to pay off loans tied to saving the facility..." [This is actually a two-for-one: the passive voice (who informed?) and another "looks like."]
Befuddle: Like Elmer Fudd hunting Bugs Bunny, Hartzman's readers will find themselves just as befuddled wondering "Which way did he go?" when confronted with Hartzman's intentionally confusing formatting. His inconsistent use of quotations marks, sprinkled with ellipses and a mix of right and left justified paragraphs leave one wondering if one is reading Hartzman's words or something written by someone else. The jumbled mess may make sense to Hartzman, but it's cryptic to the rest of us, which is is part and parcel of Hartzmans intentional obfuscation. The harder for us to follow, the better. No need for full comprehension, he'd rather we just get the gist of his innuendo.
Hartzman Example: Here's a good one.
The Sesame Street Game: Do you remember "One of these things doesn't belong here," the Sesame Street song challenging children to identify a thing that did not belong with the others? It is a good song to keep in your head when reading Hartzman, as you will find him slipping in unrelated items to his lists of particulars to bulk up an assertion light on facts. Here he is explaining how former Mayor Robbie Perkins worked to "enrich" Skip Alston:
Harztman Example: "Robbie Perkins, reported to have personally identified and advocated for Mujeeb Shah-Khan to be hired as Greensboro’s City Attorney, was an honorary Chair of the ICRCM/Simkins 2013 golf tournament. Perkins advocated for the museum bailout, employed Alston’s former campaign manager, voted for what appears to have been an unnecessary police settlement, a television show and Skip Alston’s $150,000 commission via the Bessemer Shopping Center deal." 
Can you guess which does not belong? Here's a hint, they all relate to Skip Alston, however tangentially, except for one — unless Hartzman was just associating it with Alston because it also involved black people. (Answer below.)
The Link Dump: Make a post seem well researched and substantiated with a bunch of links to seemingly supporting sources. Hartzman offers no explanation of why the links matter. Click through and one becomes bewildered as to their relevance but, to the uninitiated, the pile of links looks like solid substantiation.
Hartzman Example: This one will do.
Channel Rube Goldberg: Like the convoluted Rube Golderg contraptions where mechanical events cascade crazily from one to another ultimately to perform some incredibly simple task, Hartzman will send his readers down a chute of incomprehensible logorrhoea  instead of just  being concise and clear. Why? Because to be direct and concise would rob Hartzman of the opportunity to deploy his deplorable rhetorical techniques. There is no room for grammatical obfuscation, mirages, ghosts and irrelevancies in directness.
Example at the end of this post.
All of this would not matter if Hartzman were just amusing himself, but Hartzman deploys these techniques in unscrupulous attacks on people. It's malice in a thin disguise.

Sure, many of Hartzman's targets are public officials (but not always) and they are vulnerable to the slings and arrows of any opinion, but that doesn't make what Hartzman does any less malicious. In fact, under the guise of, as he says about himself, wanting to "leave others better off for his having existed," his practices are especially insidious. To the extent they enter the public discourse (and thanks to Yes!Weekly, that is more frequent now) they impede, convolute and distract. They foment fear, mistrust and inspire suspicion. Yes, once in a while, he digs up some nugget of importance, but far too often he is the wolf who cried boy. He's not leaving others better off. He's tearing us down with his malevolent snarling.


Answer to the Sesame Street Game: The police settlement. It had nothing to do with Skip Alston. (The television show may also be an acceptable answer. I thought I remembered an association between it and one of Alston's children, but I cannot find anything on the web to substantiate that memory.) Bonus points if you also noticed that the example included a mirage: " voted for what appears to have been..."

Channel Rube Goldberg example: Hartzman writes this as an "explanation" for his claim that Greensboro City Council representative Yvonne Johnson has a financial conflict of interest in the International Civil Rights Center and Museum:
My understanding is if the property pays off the tax credits and debt with the bailout money, the for profit entities go away and the owners of the Sit in Movement non profit own the property, and the exhibits, and won't have property tax obligations.
If the project goes cash flow positive, Skip and Earl can start taking salaries.
The non-profit could sell the property.
The non-profit could become a for profit.
It will be theirs to do what they want with it, after mismanaging the museum.
City Council will have bailed out members of the Simkins PAC, and the Simkins PAC helped put some of the Council in their seats.
Yvonne is in the Simkins PAC. Skip is the Treasurer of the PAC.
Both look like have paid family members from the PAC's assets.
If money changed hands to their kin while the PAC was under their control, Yvonne and Skip have a financial interest in each other.
Yvonne untied herself to the museum to advocate and vote for the museum bailout, which could enrich Skip.
Yvonne was endorsed by the Simkins PAC, whose Treasurer is Skip.
Skip stands to benefit from the museum via Yvonne's actions.
Yvonne stands to benefit from Skip's actions via the Simpkins PAC.
It's a conflict of interest.
According to the city charter, the vote/contract should be nullified by a Council vote.

Monday, March 24, 2014

News & Record erases story about former mayor

GREENSBORO, NC -- On March 19th, the News & Record published a story titled: "Former mayor's ex-wife claims he failed to pay alimony for March."

It began with: "Today the ex-wife of former mayor Robbie Perkins filed a motion for contempt alleging he failed to pay alimony this month" and reported of a claim filed in "Guilford County District Court" alleging that the former mayor missed a $5,292 alimony payment.

The News & Record has removed the story. Without explanation or correction the story has simply vanished. There is only a "not found" error when one visits the previous link to the story. Searches for the story anywhere else on the News & Record's site come up empty.

Why did the News & Record remove this story? If it was in error, we and the parties involved deserve a correction. If it was removed for some other reason, the News & Record, for the sake of its reputation, should explain why.

(Hat tip, Billy Jones)

News & Record's copy and paste "journalism"

GREENSBORO, NC -- The News & Record posted this story to its website today under the byline "staff reports;" the highlighted portions (nearly all of it) were pasted word-for-word from a press release.

GREENSBORO – Wells Fargo has pledged $250,000 in support of the planned Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts, the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro announced today.
“Wells Fargo is proud to support the Tanger Center,” Pete Callahan, regional head of Commercial Banking for Wells Fargo, said in a Community Foundation news release. “This connects directly with the vision and values of our company. We take pride in supporting Greensboro, as well as the arts and culture in our local communities. Our goal is to help build strong and vibrant communities, improve the quality of life, and make a positive difference.”

The $65 million performing center, to be built downtown on land bordered by North Elm and East Lindsay Streets and Summit Avenue, will be financed with $35 million in private donations and $30 million from the city.

Wells Fargo joins other corporate leaders that have pledged support to the Tanger Center, including Lorillard Inc., VF Corporation, Ecolab, Lincoln Financial Group, Morrisette Paper Co., NewBridge Bank, Bank of North Carolina and CityView Apartments, as well as area foundations including the Bell Foundation, the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation of Greater Greensboro, Phillips Foundation, The Cemala Foundation, Tannenbaum-Sternberger Foundation, Zeist Foundation, Toleo Foundation and the Cone Mills Charitable Fund.

“We are so appreciative of this latest show of generosity from our corporate community. Wells Fargo continues to demonstrate the overwhelming, continuing support for this project,” Kathy Manning, who leads the private fundraising efforts, said in the news release.

To date, the Tanger Center has received more than $35 million in commitments, making the project the largest public-private partnership in Greensboro’s history. The Community Foundation, which is assisting volunteer fundraisers who are seeking gifts from the private sector, intends to wrap up the Tanger Center’s major gifts campaign by May 1.

Earlier this month, the Greensboro City Council approved an agreement between the city and The Community Foundation on matters including the design, construction and long-term oversight of the center.

Groundbreaking for the Tanger Center is anticipated to occur this fall, with an opening slated for 2016.

For more information about the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts, visit and Facebook.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Mama always said, unequal is as unequal does

From the comments at The Detonator on the International Civil Rights Center & Museum board chair Deena Hayes-Greene's assertion of unequal public scrutiny for city-funded entities:

She missed an opportunity for some goodwill and positive PR, still, her point remains. Why is the Civil Rights Center and Museum being treated differently? Sure, it’s transparent and proper for the [museum] records to be made publicly accessible, but:

- Why did it take the City nearly four months to respond to a public records request for the publicly-incentivized Wyndham hotel feasibility study?

- Why has the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, to this day, refused to provide to city council representative Marikay Abujuaiter a list of matching donors to the city’s $250,000 contribution to the performing arts center exploratory efforts? A record she has publicly asked for three times, starting in October of last year and which CFGG president Walker Sanders tells her, each time, is forthcoming, most recently two weeks ago when, at a city council meeting, he said publicly and on the record he would provide to Abuzuaiter “tomorrow” and which he did not do?

- Why is the mayor insisting that the non-profit governing the operations of the performing arts center will have its records made public because it will co-own the facility with the city yet is declining to obligate the non-profit to public transparency in the operating agreement or its by-laws?

- Why does city-supported Downtown Greensboro Incorporated get a pass when it declares some of its records to be off limits to public inspection?

Yes, there is a double standard. The solution is not to give the Civil Rights Museum the same cloak of secrecy that other publicly-funded third parties receive but to extend the same expectations for transparency and public access to all others.

Civil Rights Museum response a warning on performing arts center

GREENSBORO, NC -- Although she gets some of her facts and nomenclature grossly wrong, the director of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, Deena Hayes-Greene, is right about the inequality of the current city council's expectations of the non-profits it funds and her reactions foreshadow problems with the city's expectations of the performing arts center.

In an answer to the city's request for more information about the museum's operations, Hayes-Greene writes this about the city making the museum's responses public:
"[A]ny time Sit-In Movement, Inc., a non-profit, but a private corporation*, answers in this format its personal confidential and financial information will be published on a City website. [snip] [W]e decline to have our private information published on the City web page unless other recipients of City Money [sic] do also."
The City of Greensboro is currently formulating a contract that will set the stage for governance of the performing arts center. It anticipates the formation of a non-profit corporation to operate the facility. For weeks I have been pleading with city council to include language that would obligate the non-profit to make its records public. Instead of enshrining that in the agreement, what was added was language that limits public access only to "audited financial statements" and "board meeting minutes" and even then those limited records, according to the current text, can be inspected only "to the extent the functioning of the non-profit is not compromised."

Council has been resistant to changing this language and actually obligating the performing arts center governing non-profit to public transparency, insisting that the city's co-ownership of the building will somehow magically compel the independent non-profit corporation to make its records public and that obligating the non-profit to public transparency in the contract is unnecessary. Seeing Hayes-Greene's objection to public transparency prompted me to write the following to city council.

 Dear City Council,
I have previously expressed my concerns with you that the portion of the performing arts center agreement regarding public access to the governing non-profit's records is inadequate and an invitation to secrecy, obfuscation and mistrust. Lest you may have doubted the potential for an uncooperative future board to take an adversarial posture towards transparency under the current terms of the agreement, I invite you to see Deena Hayes-Greene's latest response to the City's inquiry regarding the finances and operations of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.
I encourage you, again, to consider the implications of the performing arts center contract on situations just such as this and to enshrine in the agreement, in no uncertain terms, public access to the performing arts center's board's records. Not only will you be shirking your duties to protect the interests of Greensboro's public if you do not more strongly mandate public access to the performing arts center governing board's records in the agreement, but you will put truth to Ms. Hayes-Greene's assertions that the International Civil Rights Center and Museum is being treated differently than the performing arts center.
Roch Smith, Jr.

The City of Greensboro is committed to providing $30 million in public financing to the performing arts center (compared to $1.5 million for the museum) and, by design, will be the financial backstop for operational shortfalls. It is simply irresponsible for the city not to obligate to public transparency the entity that will be governing an operation vested with so much public support. Simply saying that the governing non-profit probably will be transparent or that one could make the argument that their records should be public is not enough. It gives the board room to raise the kinds of objections raised by Ms. Hayes-Greene.

If this council actually expects the records of the performing arts center governing non-profit to be public, they should put that obligation in the contract. Anything less is a wink and a nod that this council is prepared to allow the governing board to operate with a degree of secrecy.

* This is exactly the same type of organization proposed to govern the performing arts center -- a non-profit LLC.

Update: Edited for clarity.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Harris Teeter's false bargains may be illegal

GREENSBORO, NC -- I've noticed a pricing practice at Harris Teeter that is deceptive at best and may even be illegal. Here's how it works, using some actual examples. After months of a steady price on a particular item, such as Harris Teeter brand tuna fish in a can at $0.79, the price suddenly shoots up astronomically to, in the case of the tuna, $1.19. Luck you though, at the same time, the item immediately goes "on sale." The tuna's sale price, the same day as the price increase, was $1.00.

The unsuspecting shopper sees the yellow sale tag and the "savings" of 19 cents without realizing that, far from any discount, they are actually being conned into paying 21 cents more than yesterday's price.

The same thing just happened with Harris Teeter's gallon of organic milk. For a while, it had been $5.99, often it was on sale for $5.77. Yesterday, the price jumped to $7.79 but was "on sale" for $6.99.

I don't know why Harris Teeter feels they have to try to trick their customers. It's not only mean and manipulative, but it may well constitute the illegal practice of deceptive pricing.

Extra: In the case of the tuna, it has now gone back to $0.79. It never sold for $1.19. It was only advertised as on sale from that price at $1.00. In other words, Harris Teeter promoted a months long temporary 21 cent increase in the price of its tuna as a "sale."

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Malaysian airplane hacked?

Can an airplane be hacked? Reprogrammed through malware or a backdoor to shut down communications and fly out to sea until it runs out of fuel? I wondered. Yes, it turns out, that might be possible.

The fire theory seems plausible.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Grits Gauger is oblivious

GREENSBORO, NC -- While he is no longer obsessed with grits, wringing his hands about his inability to find a hot bowl of soup in the South or doing his insulting best to mock his new neighbors, Ohio transplant and News & Record editor and publisher Jeff "Grits" Gauger is still demonstrating himself to be incapable of accurately perceiving the community in which he now lives.

In a rambling defense of his paper's misfires on coverage of the Friendly Avenue/Hobbs Road rezoning, Gauger sticks his head in the sand and blows smoke from his exposed end. Incredibly, Gauger writes this:
"These people, the Trader Joe’s fans, were less visible because they had no leaders and did not organize, speak out or attend meetings. They were the silent many, with a less direct stake in, and thus less passion about, the outcome." 
Gauger is apparently oblivious to what's going on around him — oblivious even to what gets reported in his paper.
FACT: Trader Joe's fans were visible. As early as January, 2012, Trader Joe's fans had started a website called "Bring Trader Joe's to Greensboro"
FACT:  Trader Joe's fans were visible II. The News & Record, in a front page lopsided piece, reported on enthusiasm for Trader Joe's in the area.
FACT: Trader Joe's fans did speak out. The News & Record published a number of letters to the editor from Trader Joe's fans on this issue over the past few months.
FACT: Trader Joe's fans did speak out II. The Bring Trader Joe's to Greensboro website encouraged people to email Greensboro city council in support of the rezoning to accommodate Trader Joe's. Council member Mike Barber is reported to have said that, of the emails he received, a lopsided number were in support of Trader Joe's, as reported by the News & Record.
FACT: Trader Joe's fans were organized. As reported by the News & Record, they formed a committee to coordinate their pro-Trader Joe's message, they put online the aforementioned website and put a sign on the proposed location.
FACT: Trader Joe's fans did have leaders. Identified as far back as January 2012 on their website, they included prominent citizens such as Tony Collins and Chris Lawyer.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. Clearly Gauger is wrong that Trader Joe's fans were not organized, not vocal and not visible. They were. Their number may have been small, but it is lame for Gauger to ignore their visibility, organization and involvement only so that he can speculate, ignoring facts to the contrary, that their number constituted a "silent many."

If Gauger thinks there was some large second wave of fans beyond those he has ignored, then let him demonstrate as much. Otherwise, Guager is simply offering us more unthinking blather.

Related: Ed Cone: "Show your work, Gauger"

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Greensboro March madness: one night, three shootings, six victims

GREENSBORO, NC -- From Greensboro Police reports:

UPDATE: Suspect information corrected for Castlewood Drive shooting.

Time: 10:55 P.M., 03/15
Location: Ogden and Doak streets.
Victim: Kendrick Gilbert, back male, 18
Injuries: Non-life threatening injury, transported to local hospital
Suspects: First, black male, blue shirt and/or blue hooded shirt; second, black male. Both last seen in the area of Lee and South Eugene streets fleeing in a white Dodge Neon.

Time: 2:23 A.M., 03/16
Location: 800 block of Castlewood Drive
Victim: Joseph Majak, back male, 18
Injuries: Non-life threatening injury , transported to local hospital
Suspects: No suspect information.

Time: 3:35 A.M., 03/16
Location: 2216 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive
Victims: Four victims, no descriptions
Injuries:  All transported to local hospitals, one in critical condition
Suspects: Black male, approximately 5'8" to 5'10" tall, last seen wearing a white shirt and black jeans.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Hayworth, Collins opinion takes flight in myth

GREENSBORO, NC -- There is an opinion piece on the Friendly Avenue/Hobbs Road rezoning by Cyndy Hayworth and Tony Collins published in the News & Record. It wags a callous finger at neighbors concerned about commercial encroachment into their neighborhood and is crafted primarily on name-calling, questionable assumptions and irrelevancies.

One of the few "facts" Hayworth and Collins put forth in their attempt to justify their opinion that neighbors shouldn't complain about development threating the peace and sanctity of their homes is this:
"We didn’t want FedEx but it is one of the reasons our economic losses weren't greater during the recession."
The recession lasted from December of 2007 until June of 2009, ending the very month in which the hub opened — and worse for Hayworth's and Collins' assertion, it opened by transferring some 160 existing airport facility jobs to the new hub.

Name-calling, supposition and fantasy do not make a persuasive argument.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

An open letter to Greensboro's mayor

Dear Mayor Vaughan,

I hope you are enjoying your time as mayor. Just a few months in and you and your colleagues have tackled some big issues. From the cheap seats, it looks like you are doing a pretty good job (I really appreciated your willingness to engage a speaker from the floor at the last meeting who had questions about the performing arts center deal — you were respectful and knowledgeable, as was he, and that exchange addressed some important matters. It was a refreshing change from the curt and arrogant dismissals of your predecessor.)

Remember when you had just been elected and I made you aware of the giant Chinese electronics manufacturer Foxconn's announcement of its intentions to open two new manufacturing plants in the United States—one east and one west—and suggested that you should take the initiative to personally, as mayor, begin a dialogue with Foxconn to recruit them here? You replied that you intended to do as much as you could to recruit new industry to our city.

There is news today of another economic opportunity that could benefit greatly our fair city, news that should, once again, motivate you to take on the role of Greensboro's ambassador and personally act on our behalf. RST fiber, a North Carolina company, has announced it has activated a new super fast internet backbone in the state. It intends to provide internet and other broadband services to rural and urban customers.

I know nothing about this company, nothing about their capabilities and reputation, but we can get to that later. Today, you should call the CEO of RST, his name is Dan Limerick, tell him what a great market Greensboro would be for his company's services and invite him to begin an exploration of how to bring his broadband to Greensboro with you as a personal liaison between him and Greensboro's government.

You could tell him of Greensboro's long dissatisfaction with Time Warner Cable's price gouging, how, with TWC about to be taken over by Comcast (two companies that consistently both rank near the bottom of customer service surveys) it is sure to create even greater demand for an alternative in this market where TWC is the only broadband provider, how Greensboro demonstrated great exuberance for Google fiber, how our 110,000 households and broad range of industries will all make an excellent market for RST and that we should be at the top of his list.

Now, I'm sure there will be people waving you off of this idea with the caution that this is just not how it's done, that there are certain protocols and experts in economic recruitment at your disposal who can work up a proper pitch involving the eleven county greater piedmont triad conglomeration of sticksvilles, hicksvilles and backwater boonies but, in the words of the late great George Harrison, "F*** all that."

For now, today, let's have Greensboro — yes Greensboro, our city, not the nebulous "region" — get its foot in the door, first, prominently and personally, for a change.

Will you do that for us?


Thursday, March 06, 2014

I'd short the heck out of Adobe

GREENSBORO, NC -- As a web developer, I use a variety of software. One of my favorites is Adobe's Dreamweaver. I'm looking for an alternative now. The reason I'm willing to start looking for an alternative to a product I love is that Adobe will no longer sell updated versions. Instead of allowing people to purchase their software and update it with new versions (Dreamweaver and other applications), Adobe has moved to a "software as service" model, where one "rents" the software as part of Adobe's "Creative Cloud", paying a monthly or yearly fee.

Adobe is trying to market this new model as an improvement, touting constant updates and project storage in the "cloud." Here's the thing, though: even under the purchase model, regular updates can be made periodically, so there really is minimal advantage there and the whole cloud storage "advantage" is ignorant of a couple of factors.

First, who uses Dreamweaver? Web designers and developers. We have servers, our own or our clients'. Our work already has a home in the "cloud." Inviting us to store our work product on servers over which we have no control is not appealing, and that leads to the second point: Adobe was just hacked a few months ago and 3 million user accounts were compromised. I had such an account, my user name and password were among those compromised. Fortunately, I only used that information to access Adobe message forums and the password was unique to Adobe.

Imagine if I was storing my clients' data and code with Adobe at the time of the hack. Sure, hacks happen, but to store my work product with a big juicy target like Adobe when there is no real benefit (remember, I'm already storing it online elsewhere) is just not a selling point.

For these "advantages" that aren't really advantages, Adobe wants me to start paying a monthly fee. Like I said, I'll look at alternatives first (and there seem to be some good ones).

Yes, this is anecdotal, but I'm likely not alone. And yes, Adobe is undertaking some new endeavors beyond software that could pay off big, but they are in a crowded field. And I'm no investing expert by any means, but when a fan of a core product starts to feel compelled to consider alternatives, I have to doubt the legitimacy of a $70 stock price that reflects a 121 price to earnings ratio in a company with declining top line revenue.

The short interest in Adobe is small right now (1.2%), so I must be wrong, but I won't be surprised to see those shorts rewarded, not that I'm happy about it.

(DISCLOSURE: I don't have any investment, short or long, in Adobe or any of its competitors.)

Update: PE ratio corrected.


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