Saturday, May 5, 2018

Gas prices will likely wipe out Trump tax cut gains for millions

Gas prices have risen this month. And if they rise $1.05 per gallon off their current marks, it would eat the disposable income gains of last year's tax cut legislation, according to Deutsche Bank analysis.
The national average is now $2.76 a gallon, according to GasBuddy, which is close to the most recent high in mid-2015. A $1 gain per gallon would represent a full return to the soaring prices of 2014, when the average price for a gallon approached $3.70. From 2011 to mid-2014, prices were at this level.
While a $1 increase would be required to cancel out benefits for families of all income levels, lower-income families' gains would be wiped out much more quickly.
Gas is a bigger percentage of the budget for lower-income Americans. And the tax cut benefits higher-income Americans substantially more. (Deutsche Bank)
In fact, Deutsche Bank analysts expect this to happen sometime this year for these lower-income groups, as the rise in disposable income gets eclipsed by rising oil and gas prices.
Lower-income families usually spend a higher percentage of their budget on gas, making price changes more pointed. The lowest-earning 20% of American families spend 8% of their household budget on gas and oil. For the top 20%, it's less than 2%.
But that's not the only factor. The tax cuts heavily favor wealthier households, giving them more of a push even if they're paying more in gas. For the bottom 20% of families by income, the tax cut gains are only around $50, according to the U.S. government's Joint Committee on Taxation. At the same time, a household that earns $200,000 would save $12,000. At 2014 prices — the worst-case of gas prices in recent memory — that would pay for 81,075 miles in a 25 mpg vehicle.
According to Deutsche Bank, the relationship of disposable income and energy has long been a tight one. For every one-cent rise in gas prices, consumer spending on non-energy goods and services has fallen $1.16 billion. So thus far, from last year, analysts are expecting a reduction of income allocated to non-energy stuff to fall by $35 billion.
Gas is cheaper than it was in 2014, but we're approaching the most expensive point in three years. (Gas Buddy)
Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann. Confidential tip line: FinanceTips[at]oath[.com].
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Parkland student rips Trump over NRA speech: 'He's a professional liar'

Avery Anapol
5 hrs ago
© Larry French/Getty Images for SiriusXM Cameron Kasky is shown at SiriusXM Studio in Washington on March 23. On Saturday, a survivor of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting slammed President Trump for speaking at the National Rifle Association the prior day by calling him a "professional liar."
Cameron Kasky, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, made the comments in an appearance on CNN's "New Day."
"He's a professional liar who will say anything to appease whatever crowd he's at," Kasky said. "If he's in front of families he might say something in support of common-sense gun reform, but then when he's at the NRA he'll say something to get a big cheer."
Trump spoke at the NRA meeting for the third year in a row on Friday, delivering an impassioned defense of the Second Amendment and praising the NRA as a "great organization."
In the weeks following the Parkland shooting, Trump suggested that he would be open to action on gun control and taking on the NRA, and even criticized a GOP lawmaker for being "afraid" of the gun-rights lobby.
Kasky on Saturday also elaborated on a tweet he posted earlier this week mocking the NRA over the Secret Service's decision to ban firearms during Trump and Vice President Mike Pence's speeches at the meeting.
"You'd think that if someone supported the NRA, they'd want as many 'good guys with guns' in the room as possible, right?" Kasky said. "The hypocrisy is so blatant here and they're just embracing it at this point."
Pence used the phrase "good guys with guns" in his speech to the organization preceding Trump's, calling it the best deterrent to gun violence.
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This Could Be the Most Beautiful Poem Ever Written

October 28, 2017
Nobody can deny the power of words! Sometimes you come across a read so good, you just can't help but share it with the people you love.
As a reader, I'm always looking for a good read. With the internet, there is an unlimited amount of reading materials, but only a few are worth an investment – and this has to be one of them. This beautiful poem written by Max Ehrman is one the best you'll ever read. It's an impacting assimilation of words that are sure to move you. It is titled Desiderata, meaning something needed or wanted! What are your thoughts? Read the poem below.

Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

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Friday, May 4, 2018

Trump: Because Of Me, People Are Mentioning God More - The Intellectualist

... god? and that's a good thing? As a matter of of fact, I do, "oh god! what did he say and to who?

Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 2.0/Flickr

According to the president, Americans weren't really saying "one nation under God" a few years ago - but they are now.
During his speech at Thursday's National Day of Prayer festivities, President Trump took an opportunity to remind Americans that people are saying "Merry Christmas" again, thanks to him.
But this time, he added to his accomplishments that people are saying "one nation under God" more often as well.

Prayer "unites us all as one nation under God. So important," he said. ("So important" being a common Trump tic to indicate he is encountering his own words for the first time and finds them important.) Then came the riff about "one nation under God":
And we say it here, ya know? Lot of people, they don't say it. But, you know what, they're starting to say it more, just like we're starting to say 'Merry Christmas' when that day comes around. You notice the big difference between now and two or three years ago, it was, all, it was going in the other direction rapidly, right? Now it's [thrusting his hand vertically in the air] straight up.
There is no statistical data available to prove one way or the other that Americans were less inclined to utter these phrases two or three years ago, but that surely doesn't stop the president from taking credit for the fact that people say both phrases today.
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The Making of the Steinway White House Piano in Miniature

This short, but powerful documentary tells the story of Paul Gentile and his 16 year quest to build an exact, functional 1/7 scale replica of the famed original White House Steinway piano. The original White House Steinway, serial number 100,000, was donated to the American people in 1903 to show the Steinway family's gratitude, as an immigrant family that lived out the "American Dream" in creating a successful business in New York City, beginning in 1853. That famous piano is now part of the collection at the Smithsonian Institution, and was replaced by another famous piano in the White House (Steinway serial number 300,000, donated in 1938). In replicating the piano, Paul Gentile had to painstakingly re-create over 12,000 individual parts - often creating custom 1/7 scale machinery and tools in order to create parts of the piano in the same way the master artisans at Steinway & Sons create the full-sized versions. As Paul mentions, there were many immense hurdles, and many times he thought he was at a dead-end, but he persevered and eventually achieved his goal, which some describe as "incredible" while others describe as "insane" - though it's probably a little bit of both. To find out more about this incredible work of art, visit

Thursday, May 3, 2018

CGI ‘Influencers’ Like Lil Miquela Are About to Flood Your Feeds

The full truth behind Lil Miquela's account may never become clear—but when it comes to confusing encounters with hyper-realistic digital humans, she's only the beginning.
Lil Miquela
It doesn't get more 2018 than this: In mid-April, a Trump-supporting Instagram influencer named Bermuda hacked the account of fellow influencer Lil Miquela, who has over a million followers. Wait, no, there's more: Bermuda refused to return the account unless Miquela promised to "tell the world the truth"—the truth being that Miquela is not a human being. And in case you haven't caught on yet, neither is Bermuda. Both are CGI creations.
Lil Miquela has been a source of fascination for many on Instagram since not long after her account launched in April 2016, but for her first two years of existence, no one could definitively say who or what was behind the operation. The Bermuda hack-slash-PR-stunt solved at least part of the mystery, linking Miquela to Brud, a Los Angeles-based startup that specializes in "robotics, artificial intelligence and their applications to media businesses"—but the entire saga remains a master class in postmodern performance art, with Miquela announcing that she was "no longer working with [her] managers at Brud." (For those who are curious about the nitty-gritty, The Cut has a good tick-tock of exactly how the hack and subsequent "reveals" played out.)
The entire charade will likely continue on for some time, if not indefinitely, and the exact operational logistics behind Lil Miquela's account may never become clear. What is clear, however, is Miquela's influence—and the fact that when it comes to confusing encounters with hyper-realistic CGI humans, she's just the tip of the iceberg.

The Rise of the Brandfluencatars

Miquela isn't just a flashy stunt: She has serious money-making potential. Already, the virtual influencer has partnered with Giphy and Prada and posed wearing Diesel and Moncler. In February, Miquela said she had never been paid to model a piece of fashion on her feed, but that could change at any moment. (Lil Miquela's PR representatives did not respond to queries about whether she has posted any sponsored content since that statement.)
The demand from brands is certainly there. Just look at what happened to Shudu, a CGI "supermodel" created by fashion photographer Cameron-James Wilson. Her account went viral when Fenty Beauty reposted a "photo" of Shudu "wearing" the brand's Mattemoiselle lipstick; since then, Wilson says, he's gotten offers from a bounty of brands in the fashion and tech worlds, all hoping to work with the CGI model.
But virtual models and influencers like Lil Miquela and Shudu raise thorny questions. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission updated its endorsement guides to require influencers to disclose their marketing relationships and identify paid posts with a hashtag like #ad or #sponsored—but it's not clear how those rules would apply to influencers who aren't human, and whose backers, like Lil Miquela's, are shrouding themselves in mystery. "If this influencer doesn't disclose that a post is paid for, who is the FTC going to go after?" asks Adam Rivietz, cofounder and CSO of the influencer marketing company #paid.
Beyond that, Rivietz says, virtual influencers like Lil Miquela raise other concerns. After all, why should followers trust the opinion of someone who doesn't exist? "Virtual influencers aren't trying on a clothing brand," Rivietz points out. "They can't tell you, 'This shirt is softer than another and that's one of the reasons you should buy it.' They're not real people, so they can't give a totally authentic endorsement." (Then again, according to Ryan Detert, CEO of the influencer marketplace Influential, those are the very traits that make virtual influencers so attractive to companies: "They're much easier to control.")
In the near future, Rivietz thinks, many companies may begin building their own digital influencers, simply because it's a more efficient way of controlling the message that reaches their target audiences. Human influencers, too, might begin embracing CGI alter egos to protect their relationships with their existing sponsors. "They could make a duplicate version where it's like, 'This is my real-life feed where I post certain things, but then here's my avatar of myself where maybe I work with different brands or do more risqué things,'" Rivietz says.
Wilson, the creator of Shudu, suspects that digital doppelgangers will extend beyond even the world of influencers, and sees Shudu in part as a way of acclimating a mainstream audience to the idea of digital humans. "I think it's only natural that we will have avatars of ourselves eventually, or characters," he says. "The reason I want to get people into it now is because that is going to explode."

More Human Than Human

There are already a number of startups working on commercial applications for what they call "digital" or "virtual" humans. Some, like the New Zealand-based Soul Machines, are focusing on using these virtual humans for customer service applications; already, the company has partnered with the software company Autodesk, Daimler Financial Services, and National Westminster Bank to create hyper-lifelike digital assistants. Others, like 8i and Quantum Capture, are working on creating digital humans for virtual, augmented, and mixed reality applications.
And those startups' technologies, though still in their early stages, make Lil Miquela and her cohort look positively low-res. "[Lil Miquela] is just scratching the surface of what these virtual humans can do and can be," says Quantum Capture CEO and president Morgan Young. "It's pre-rendered, computer-generated snapshots—images that look great, but that's about as far as it's going to go, as far as I can tell, with their tech. We're concentrating on a high level of visual quality and also on making these characters come to life."
Quantum Capture is focused on VR and AR, but the Toronto-based company is also aware that those might see relatively slow adoption—and so it's currently leveraging its 3D-scanning and motion-capture technologies for real-world applications today. The startup is currently piloting one use case for a luxury hotel, where a "virtual human" concierge greets guests in the lobby via a touch screen or kiosk and helps them check in; guests can then access that same virtual human concierge from their rooms and ask for anything from restaurant recommendations to help adjusting the lighting or opening the curtains.
An example of Quantum Capture's interactive, photo-real humans, which are powered by chatbots and AI.
Quantum Capture
Down the line, Quantum Capture's Young thinks that, just as it might become commonplace for Instagram influencers to have CGI alter egos, celebrities may start creating digital doubles. "There's a really interesting revenue model built around that, wherein you might not get access to the talent themselves, but you might get access to their digital avatar, and the actual human being will make money off of the use of their avatar," says Young.
If that latter sort of use case sounds familiar, it's because it's exactly the plot of the 2013 movie The Congress, in which Robin Wright, playing herself, agrees to sell off the film rights to her digital image. In that movie, things go predictably and dystopically wrong—and indeed, Young says he doesn't see 3D-scanned celebrity doppelgangers taking off until questions around rights management can be firmly locked down.
But it's not hard to see a dystopian tinge even in today's rising ranks of virtual humans. Lil Miquela commands a following of 1.1 million followers—more than double the number she boasted in December—and though the influencer has used her power for good, encouraging her followers (known as "Miquelites") to donate to Black Girls Code and be better allies to transgender people, it's not hard to imagine another CGI account using its influence to spread hate or political discord. It's easy to eye-roll at a headline about two feuding CGI celebs. But they won't be the last—and their successors might not be so immediately easy to spot as fakes.

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