Published 5 hours ago

Above image credit: The GameStop located on Westport Road. The company’s stock reached a high of $350 dollars in January thanks to mass buying started by the r/WallStreetBets community. (Jacob Douglas | Flatland)

Strolling into a local GameStop on a frigid Saturday afternoon, you’d be hard pressed to find more than a few customers in the store at once. A couple of masked faces sift through used XBox 360 games, walls of Funko Pops and various video game memorabilia.

The store looks nothing like the public face of a company whose stock price peaked at nearly $350 a share just last month. Rather, it looks like so many retail chains suffering the same problems most modern brick-and-mortar stores do – it’s much easier to get their product digitally.

But a group of like-minded folks on the Reddit social media platform called r/WallStreetBets has pushed GameStop into the zeitgeist again, and showed that you don’t need to take to the streets to make social change. Indeed, the band of rebellious redditors – working from the comfort of their own couches – may have altered the way Americans view financial markets.

Here’s how they did it. Hordes of individual redditors bought downtrodden GameStop shares, pushing up the price and putting the squeeze on professional investors at big hedge funds that were betting the shares would sink. The squeeze got so onerous that at least one hedge fund lost more than $1 billion on its bet that GameStop shares would keep falling.


Reddit Revolt Rollercoaster


The redditor rebellion drew the attention of such giants in the business world as Tesla founder Elon Musk, who has been at war with so-called short sellers for years. It also led to Robinhood, a popular stock trading app, to restrict buying of GameStop stock, further validating an “us vs. them” mentality of regular folks who contend the markets are rigged for the wealthy.

Soon other long-suffering “meme stocks” such as Leawood-based movie exhibitor AMC were being boosted by the redditors, even though AMC didn’t see quite the crazy bump as GameStop did.

Some Kansas City redditors who got in on the action reported returns as high as 300% on their original investment, while others say they are holding “to the moon.” But no matter individual gains and losses, the redditor rebellion is widely seen as a signature moment in the relationship between social media and the business world.

“It used to be so difficult to really engage. If you didn’t have a seat at the table, then all of this stuff was beyond you,” said Chris Kuehl, managing director of Armada Corporate Intelligence. “But now that you can organize on the internet, and you can put this stuff together, anybody can play these games. It kind of disturbs the old boys club, which I think is almost the whole point.”

Brent Anderson got into Robinhood trading after some friends in a soccer group chat put him onto it. He started just a couple of weeks before the hype started. While Anderson did purchase some AMC, he did not buy any GameStop. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t restricted by Robinhood.

“I was going to buy a cryptocurrency, and I was prevented from doing that by Robinhood,” Anderson said. “I think like most people I was pretty upset. It’s like, wait a minute, you’re supposed to be this democratic tool to fight the big boys, and all of a sudden you’re restricting things.”

That wasn’t the only local company that felt the impact of wrathful redditors. A former employee of Boulevard Brewing Co. recently wrote a post on the r/TheBrewery subreddit telling the story of harassment she experienced at the company.

Boulevard Brewing Co. located on Southwest Boulevard. The company’s CEO stepped down amid allegations of harassment at the company posted on Reddit. (Jacob Douglas | Flatland)

Within days, the Reddit post led to Boulevard’s CEO Jeff Krum and others stepping down, the return of founder John McDonald to run the company, and the hiring of “ an independent third party human resources firm to undertake an independent investigation of all issues that have been raised.”

In a statement released to their website on Jan. 26 titled “Reflecting,” the company said:

“In the last few days, we have heard from our employees, our former employees, and our community. We have learned a lot about ourselves. We have heard accounts of personal experiences that have shaken us to our core. It has become undeniably clear that harassment did in fact occur, clear that we have issues – serious issues that we have failed to address.”

Social Media for Social Movements

Megan Brooker is a visiting assistant professor at the University of Kansas sociology department. Her research specializes in political and social movements. She believes social media, like Reddit, has made it easier for people to get involved in a movement.

“It creates a new possibility we didn’t have in earlier areas of protests, to get the word out to a lot of people who may support you and be on board with what you’re asking for,” Brooker said.

In the case of Boulevard, community hubs like Reddit have given people a place to go to tell their stories, while reaching a large population of people who may not have heard, or cared, otherwise.

“You’re sharing it outside of your local area, outside of people who would normally go into this business,” Brooker said. “That creates a bigger problem, because then you have a broader reputational problem than you would have even if it were covered on the local news.”

Now it’s easier to seek out involvement in a movement as well. All around the internet, there are niche communities for someone to get involved with if they are passionate enough. Forums like Reddit or 4chan have become a breeding ground for these communities, for better or for worse.

Brooker pointed out that there are networks in place, like Twitter, to get your message out to tertiary groups who may have similar interests. This could be said for the r/WallStreetBets crowd, which has been one of the more rapidly growing subreddits, gaining 1.5 million followers overnight, with over 8.5 million total users.

A concern with a following that big is how do you organize, and who is held accountable, especially with so much money on the line.

“It’s really an alarming part of this social media organizing is that it’s proved somewhat successful, at least in the short term, of getting people to take action and buy in,” Brooker said. “But any buy in without accountability is a problem in any movement.”

Some other larger political movements that have been spawned out of online organization include QAnon and the storming of the U.S. Capitol in January. We have already seen the fallout of those issues, with the latter leading to arrests and a second impeachment of former President Donald Trump.

According to Kuehl, the fallout of the GameStop saga could negatively affect people who didn’t know exactly what they were getting into.

“The people who were participating in the buying, and are now sitting on shares, which they probably spent more money on than they should have, and it’s like: ‘Well, now what are you going to do with them?’ ” Kuehl said. “No one really wants them, it’s still a failed company, so you’re going to have to dump it sooner or later anyway.”

Kuehl understands that for those who approached the buying with a mindset similar to the Occupy Wall Street movement, losses might not be their main concern. However, people who just tried to make a quick buck and are still holding may get hurt in the long run.

“You’re going to get creamed along with everyone else,” he said. “I mean, GameStop? Are you kidding me? Who goes to the mall to buy a game? It’s like, it’s on the internet, children.”

Kuehl does buy AMC as a long-term investment, however. He believes that once people are comfortable with going to the movies again in a post-COVID world, they will want the full theater experience.

The AMC 20 located in Leawood, Kansas.
The AMC 20 located in Leawood, Kansas. AMC has gotten wrapped up in the r/WallStreetBets saga, but some investors view it as a better long-term investment. (Jacob Douglas | Flatland)

Calling Out vs. Calling In

According to Kuehl, the movement won’t stop short selling, but it could affect the way people approach influencing Wall Street.

“I don’t know if it opens up a lot of opportunities, because at the end of the day I think people are going to look back at it and say: ‘What damage did we really do?’ It was fairly minimal,” he said. “It’s certainly not going to stop hedge funds from existing. But it may open up the possibility that if you want to change Wall Street’s mentality, if you want to have an impact, you can possibly do it through the investment markets.”

Brooker says there are financial limitations to the current movement, and if it is to continue, the r/WallStreetBets group will have to organize, and answer the question of how to make this last long term.

“There is some cultural economic importance here,” she said. “But like any other movement, it’s going to face some sort of repression, which it already has, with people being locked out of trading. And you’ve got to figure out how to build something that’s more structural, and isn’t a single action. I’m not exactly sure what that looks like for this movement beyond, you know, picking new targets and continuing the same thing.”

The subreddit has had some issues in the aftermath of their rise to fame. According to a New York Times report, moderators from r/WallStreetBets have feuded over book rights, movie deals and other business opportunities in the wake of the GameStop buy.

Brooker says setting up institutional structures to ensure a path forward are vital to keeping a movement alive. That will be extremely important for Boulevard. She refers to this as “calling out vs. calling in.” Calling out is exactly what it sounds like, exposing injustice within an organization. But true change comes from calling in.

“If we want true accountability, if we want true institutional change, we need to find a way of the calling in,” Brooker said. “Taking people who are part of that business, that industry, that movement, whatever it is, and creating a structure where people’s voices can be heard, particularly people who are coming from marginalized communities, and ensuring that there is some structured way to keep that going, and a safe way that people can actually feel like they can speak up and have some sort of outcome. And, you know, if we saw more of that starting to happen within institutions, then maybe there would be less in need for putting people on blast.”

Jacob Douglas covers rural affairs for Kansas City PBS in cooperation with Report for America.

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Desperate To Stop Gun Violence, Westport Pushes For Private Sidewalks – KCUR

Westport has seen a major uptick in gun violence this year.

According to stats collected by the Westport Regional Business League, there were 16 gun-related weapons offenses in the district in 2016. In 2017, there were 65 — and that’s only through Oct. 31.

A Missouri law that took effect in January allows people to carry guns without a permit in nearly every public space, so there’s not much business owners or police can do to keep guns out.

A coalition of Westport business owners are behind a proposal to privatize the sidewalks in entertainment district. That would allow them to ban guns in the district and screen for them on busy weekend nights.

The proposal has drawn criticism from members of the city council and from several community organizations, who fear screening for guns could put other civil liberties at risk.

But Kim Kimbrough, director of the Westport Regional Business League, says they’re out of other ideas.

“We really don’t have a Plan B, there isn’t one. If there were one, that would be the direction we’d be going,” Kimbrough says.

Kimbrough says they’ve increased the number of police officers in the area and improved coordination between KCPD and private security, all to no avail.

Missouri law says there’s nothing an officer can do about a gun in a public space until it’s pulled or it goes off — but making the sidewalks private property would circumvent the state law.

If it were to pass, this measure would be unique 

Under the proposal, Westport would barricade sidewalks between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. on weekend nights and for special festivals. To get in, people would have to pass through a metal detector to make sure they weren’t carrying a gun.

Such a sidewalk vacation (as it’s technically called) isn’t common. Lawyers for the WRBL haven’t been able to give examples around the country where it’s been implemented successfully.

That worries Councilman Quinton Lucas.

“I have some serious skepticism when we’re creating a lot of new processes that deprive people of their rights. Their rights to traverse through a neighborhood, their rights to just go out on the town like anyone else,” Lucas says.

Lucas would like to see fewer firearms in dense areas like Westport, but he is cautious about turning over public infrastructure.

“When we start to transfer public space to private actor there is a question, and I hate slippery slopes, but there is this question as to where to we stop. Do we infringe speech, protest rights, do we infringe commercial rights for folks?”

Does screening for guns pave the way for racial discrimination? 

Kimbrough and other business owners in Westport say they don’t want to limit anyone’s right to gather and express themselves. He says Westport’s diversity is part of what makes it unique.

That was true for 30-year-old Phyllis Williams, who moved to Kansas City almost nine years ago. She says as a black woman in her early 20s, she was worried about finding a place that felt inclusive.

“Westport was a breath of fresh air, I remember walking into Firefly night club and hearing A Tribe Called Quest record and being like, ‘OK, maybe Kansas City has a chance.'”

She says she still frequents Westport, but she’s worried about how that could change if she had to walk through a metal detector to get in.

“I think to go to a bar to have a beer and for that to be part of the experience, definitely would change my attitude of Westport.” — Phyllis Williams, Westport patron

“I think to go to a bar to have a beer and for that to be part of the experience, definitely would change my attitude of Westport… It would definitely discourage my wanting to go to that district more regularly,” Williams says.

Williams says she understands that business owner just want to keep her and everyone else in the district safe. But she wants to be sure that screening for guns doesn’t alienate anyone.

Another Kansas City entertainment district, Power and Light, is still in court over allegations they were using a dress code to keep some black people out.

Beau Williams (no relation to Phyllis) owns a whiskey bar in Westport. Testifying to a city council committee last month, he said none of this is worth it if it makes people feel unwelcome.

“Please, please, please let’s change course if it starts restricting that diversity in our neighborhood and it starts restricting certain rights, infringing upon rights of our patrons.”

The ordinance includes a provision that would allow the city to take back ownership of the sidewalks should they choose, although Lucas anticipates that once the sidewalks are turned over, it will be difficult to get enough votes from the city council to get them back.

Supporters say the same civil rights protections the city abides by are written into the ordinance. The measure also includes additional safeguards, like promising to never implement a dress code.

But with half a dozen people shot in the last year near the heart of Westport, including a homicide over the summer, bartenders and restaurant owners in the area are first and foremost worried about keeping their patrons alive.

Chris Paone, longtime bartender at Kelly’s, says knowing that there aren’t guns outside his bar could give him some peace of mind.

“I don’t have to worry about a friend leaving the bar, or our staff leaving the bar,” he says.

Right now, Paone says his staff leaves the bar in a group after closing the bar.

Before advancing the measure along to the city council, the city plan commission received dozens of letter of opposition to the idea. BikeWalk KC also opposes the measure.

So far, the measure has the support of the Ad Hoc group against crime and the KCPD Central Patrol division.

As of last week, the Urban League was still considering their position on the issue.

Still, Lucas thinks there has better solution out there.

“Does that require us to have more investment of Kansas City, Missouri police officers in the area, does it requite us to go through better lighting types of issues? There needs to be this more holistic approach, I think, in connection to how we address the problem,” Lucas says.

“Because I will tell you this, I am not in favor of us just vacating streets and sidewalks around literally every district with some density in Kansas City, Missouri.”

The city’s planning, zoning and economic development committee will take up the issue on Wednesday.

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3 Connect with her on Twitter @larodrig. 

New jobs of 10 former stars – CNN International

New jobs of 10 former stars – CNN International

After leaving “Life Goes On”, Kellie Martin earned an art degree from Yale and continues to act on other TV shows.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • How some childhood icons are now making a living
  • Brittany Daniel of “Sweet Valley High” TV show is producing “Ruby” — about woman’s weight loss
  • New Kids on the Block’s Jonathan Knight still sings, but also sells real-estate
  • Joe Millionaire’s Evan Marriott has left TV and returned to job in construction

(CareerBuilder.com) — We all have our childhood icons. Some never seem to leave the spotlight and continue their careers in the public eye for decades, but others seem to disappear.

Here are 10 examples of the latter, and how they’ve been making a living, post-stardom.

1. Dominique Moceanu

Famous for: Her Olympic gold medal as part of the 1996 “Magnificent Seven” U.S. gymnastics team.

What’s she doing now? Moceanu, 28, has maintained her involvement with the sport that made her famous. According to her website, Moceanu teaches various gymnastics camps and is writing a series of children’s books on the sport. Moceanu graduated from John Carroll University in Ohio in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

2. Brittany Daniel

Famous for: Starring as one-half of the Wakefield twins on the television series “Sweet Valley High.”

What’s she doing now? Daniel, 34, has maintained a relatively low-profile acting career since her days as Jessica Wakefield, making appearances in the film “Joe Dirt” and the TV series “That 70s Show.”

Currently, she is an executive producer on the Style Network’s popular reality series “Ruby,” which chronicles the weight-loss struggles of a Georgia woman. Daniel is a close friend of the show’s star, Ruby Gettinger, and was a driving force behind the show’s creation.

3. Sean Duffy

Famous for: His role on MTV’s “Real World: Boston” in 1997.

What’s he doing now? Duffy, 38, is running for U.S. Congress as a representative from Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District. The lawyer and district attorney for Ashland County, Wisconsin, also has six children with fellow Real World alum, San Francisco cast member Rachel Campos.

4. Justin Guarini

Famous for: His second-place finish on the first season of “American Idol.”

What’s he doing now? Guarini, 31, was signed to RCA Records, but was dropped in 2003 after disappointing sales of his debut album, “Justin Guarini.” Since then, he has released two follow-up albums through his production company, Justice Entertainment. Guarini has been involved with various specials for “American Idol” and had a long-term stint hosting TV Guide Channel’s “Idol Tonight.”

5. Willie Aames

Famous for: His roles in ’70s and ’80s sitcoms such as “Eight is Enough” and “Charles in Charge.”

What’s he doing now? In the mid-90s, Aames, 49, found religion in a 12-step program and became a Christian minister. He spent the next eight years producing “Bibleman,” a faith-based video series.

After filing for bankruptcy in 2008, Aames became a certified financial adviser in 2009 and began working at a Kansas City money-management fund in January 2010. His career as a CFA didn’t last long. Aames reportedly took a job as part of Oceania Cruiseline’s entertainment staff in March 2010.

6. Evan Marriott

Famous for: Pretending to be a millionaire on the Fox network’s 2003 dating series “Joe Millionaire.”

What’s he doing now? Marriott, 35, unsuccessfully attempted to stretch his 15 minutes of fame with a variety of low-budget film roles and appearances on TV shows such as “Hollywood Squares” and “Battle of The Network Reality Stars.”

After withdrawing from the spotlight, Marriott returned to his real-life role as a construction worker.

7. Rider Strong

Famous for: Playing Shawn Hunter in the ’90s sitcom “Boy Meets World.”

What’s he doing now? After his role ended in 2000, Strong, 30, entered academia. In 2004, he graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University with a degree in English, and in 2009 he received a master of fine arts degree from Bennington College in Vermont.

He is currently pursuing a directing career with older brother Shiloh. In 2008, their short film “Irish Twins” appeared at film festivals including TriBeCa, Radiance, Los Angeles International and St. Louis and won various awards.

8. Vincent Angelo LaRusso

Famous for: His role as hockey player Adam Banks in “The Mighty Ducks” trilogy.

What’s he doing now? LaRusso, 31, graduated with a business degree from Boston University’s school of management in 2000. Since then, he’s had minor roles in independent films and is reported to have been seen working as a waiter and bartender in both Boston and Los Angeles.

9. Kellie Martin

Famous for: Starring as Becca on the television series “Life Goes On.”

What’s she doing now? Martin, 34, had a stint on “ER” from 1998-2000, but left to finish her studies at Yale University. In 2001, Martin graduated from Yale with a degree in art history.

Since then, she has appeared in various Lifetime network and made-for-TV movies. In 2009, she made a guest appearance on “Grey’s Anatomy” and recently had a cameo appearance on ABC’s “Private Practice.”

10. Jonathan Knight

Famous for: His part in the singing group New Kids on The Block

What’s he doing now? Knight, 36, was never one for the spotlight, and after New Kids on The Block broke up, he left the entertainment industry to pursue a real-estate career in Massachusetts.

Although he initially resisted, in 2008 Knight joined the rest of his former band-mates to announce a reunion. They have since released a comeback album and have national tour dates scheduled throughout the summer, though Knight continues to work in real-estate.

&copy CareerBuilder.com 2011. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority.

Blossoming Kearney seamstress-designer Liz Scarpino shares her favorite fashion trends and KC memories

Blossoming Kearney seamstress-designer Liz Scarpino shares her favorite fashion trends and KC memories
Photography by Samantha Levi.

Liz Scarpino is one for puns.

The seamstress was born with a brachial plexus injury, where the nerves that connect her arm to her spine were pulled from their roots, leading to paralysis in her right arm. Everything she does in her shop is one-handed, which is how she came up with her business name, Single Handedly Liz, where she does custom alterations and designs.

“I like puns and I’m easygoing,” she says. “I’m an open book when it comes to my arm.”

Scarpino’s shop opened last May in Kearney, and has hit the ground running since. She recently launched her online store at singlehandedlyliz.com. She also is an advocate for those who have to live with one functioning arm—over on her Instagram, she shares one-handed hacks for tasks like painting her nails and opening jars.

Learn more about the local talent and a little bit about her Kansas City favorites.

Have you always known you’d go into the fashion industry?

I started thinking about it when I was in high school, but I just needed to figure out what I was doing. Art has always been kind of my life. I’ve always been creative, and it has always been a really good outlet for me. I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to design full time or stick to the alterations part of it. So I kind of meshed it all together under my little brand and in my shop.

What kind of design work do you like doing?

I really like fabric dyeing and textiles. I did Omaha Fashion Week twice, and I hand-dyed all my own fabrics for those. My first show was by using man-made dyes, and I also did one with all-natural dyes, which was an adventure. I have also made up a couple flower girl dresses for my sister’s wedding. Other than that, I kind of just go with the flow. I make a lot of people T-shirts.

What trends are you liking now?

I really like the tie-dye thing right now, but I don’t anticipate it to last. It’s hit and it’s already kind of on its way out, I think. But I love that boho, very feminine look and flowy silhouettes.

Kansas City Favorites

Nickel & Suede

The Nickels family is just so nice and kind. They’re very down-to-earth people. And I think that really speaks to Kansas City and the Midwest in general.

Arrowhead and Kauffman

Some of my fondest memories growing up were going to games with my dad. He always had season tickets [to the Chiefs and Royals].

Liberty Square

I grew up here, and I’ve seen businesses come and go and thrive and grow. Ginger Sue’s is a great breakfast place.

Imagineer Shares Information on Easter Eggs on Disney California Adventure’s “Storytellers” Statue

Imagineer Jim Clark shared several details and easter eggs from the Storytellers statue at Disney California Adventure in honor of the park’s 20th anniversary.

Working with Disney Legend Blaine Gibson, brilliant animator Andreas Deja, and master sculptor Rick Terry, it was the experience of a lifetime helping to create the “Storytellers” statue at Disney California Adventure. Even Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, was impressed. pic.twitter.com/niN2Mp85q3

— Jim Clark (@ImagineerJim) February 8, 2021

Clark recounts working with Disney Legend Blaine Gibson, animator Andreas Deja, and master sculptor Rick Terry to create the statue of Walt and Mickey. He recalls bringing to life a younger Walt and bringing the two-dimensional Mickey Mouse into three-dimensions.

The big news at the time that Walt arrived in California was that Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as the 30th President of the U.S…so that’s the headline on Walt’s newspaper. Mickey wasn’t with Walt in 1923; Mickey would be born on another train to Los Angeles years later. pic.twitter.com/BReLFy7I5X

— Jim Clark (@ImagineerJim) February 8, 2021

One of the easter eggs on the statue is the newspaper in Walt’s pocket. It alludes to Calvin Coolidge being sworn in as president in 1923, when Walt arrived in California.

The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe has a long history with the Disneyland steam trains. The luggage tag numbers for Walt and Mickey are their birthdays. pic.twitter.com/fLvfYDknV4

— Jim Clark (@ImagineerJim) February 8, 2021

Blaine Gibson focused on getting Mickey’s “glint” right, which Clark noted refers to the triangle shape in Mickey’s eyes. On the side of Walt’s trunk is a luggage tag from The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, which has a history with Disneyland’s steam trains. The tag numbers on Walt and Mickey’s cases are their birthdays.

Mickey’s suitcase has his initials monogramed on the side, a reference to the 1940 short film “Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip.” Walt’s trunk also features the logo from his Kansas City business card.

A sticker on the trunk refers to Laugh-O-Gram Studio, Walt’s studio in Kansas City. That’s where he made the Alice Comedies, also featured on a sticker. Chicago and Kansas City are both commemorated as well.

It didn’t seem right to mention Chicago and Kansas City on the statue and not Marceline; Walt’s hometown can be found on the statue, but it’s a bit hidden. You could say Marceline is part of his Walt’s soul. pic.twitter.com/MyxTBQMN2i

— Jim Clark (@ImagineerJim) February 8, 2021

And Marceline couldn’t go unrecognized, so Walt’s hometown is immortalized in his “soul.”

The Storytellers statue was recently restored ahead of the opening of Buena Vista Street and Disney California Adventure’s 20th anniversary.




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#SelfieToSelfLove challenge aims to help womxn love their photos and themselves

#SelfieToSelfLove challenge aims to help womxn love their photos and themselves

A promotional photo for the selfie challenge. // Courtesy of Kinzie Ferguson

Kinzie Ferguson is on a mission to make womxn love their bodies. The local boudoir photographer is running her fifth #SelfieToSelfLove 5-day empowerment challenge for womxn and non-binary people comfortable in femme-centered spaces. The challenge, run through Ferguson’s group The Empowerment Studio, aims to help people become more comfortable and accepting of themselves. Ferguson says that over the course of these challenges, she sees womxn grow from embarrassment over selfies, or even self-hatred, to recognizing their beauty and understanding that they have support. For Ferguson, the selfie challenge was a natural extension of her boudoir photography that helps womxn see their natural beauty—but that some people may not be comfortable doing yet.

“I’ve realized for some people, it’s entirely daunting to consider doing a boudoir session because they can’t even stand the idea of seeing themselves in any picture at all,” Ferguson says. “So I knew we had to take a step back and start the practice of just taking a picture, seeing yourself, in a really low-pressure context. Enter: selfies! Selfie threads and compliment parties have become a huge part of the culture of my Empowerment Studio facebook community.”

The selfie threads, where people will post their own selfies and others will leave supportive comments and compliments, have become a staple of Ferguson’s empowerment group. It’s for a good reason, Ferguson says, because it allows people who aren’t comfortable to post in a safe space while practicing taking up space.

“People start to be kinder to themselves, seeing themselves through other people’s eyes,” says Ferguson. “It’s such a safe space to practice existing in a photograph that people who are nervous will often give it a try, discover that it’s a really lovely way to start the process of seeing themselves in photos—and then take more and more selfies for the selfie threads.”

Feguson’s favorite part of the challenge, and more broadly her mission as a photographer, is to help people realize their worth and become more comfortable with the body they inhabit.

“I’ve seen endless transformations—big and small,” Ferguson says. “Some people who hadn’t ever taken a selfie before, and who thought they didn’t like how they looked—have become huge fans of selfies and have learned to find appreciation (or even neutrality! that’s a huge win!) for their bodies. One person who participated in the challenge went from not wanting to wear a swimsuit at all, to buying a two piece and rocking it at the beach with her family—all because she started to consider her body in a different light, and realized that she is beautiful and worthy of taking up space, exactly as she is. Another person was terrified of seeing herself in a picture, and in the process of our Selfie Challenge week, realized she had been hiding from herself for years and took enormous steps out of her comfort zone to radically transform her life.”

Part of the success of Feguson’s challenge comes from the structure of it, but also maintaining people’s freedom to participate at the level they feel most comfortable.

“For some people the selfie taking and posting is the most important part, but for others, the act of giving compliments over and over again is what ends up being the most transformational,” says Ferguson. “There’s something about the experience of bonding in a community, witnessing other people’s journeys and experiences, feeling connection, and seeing other people who might look a ton like you (and others who look very different from you) that can shift how your brain perceives the world. It’s so powerful, this way that we all show up together.”

In addition to the challenge, Ferguson is introducing a selfie course aptly titled #SelfietoSelfLove: the Ultimate Selfie Course. The course includes over 50 small videos to instruct people on posing, lighting, camera tips and tricks, as well as how to be gentle and kind to yourself during the process. To get more information on the course, visit their website or Instagram. The #SelfieToSelfLove 5-day Empowerment Challenge will run from Feb. 15-19. You can sign up for the selfie challenge here.

Tax-break seeking health club kingpin delinquent on at least $549,000 in property tax payments

Tax-break seeking health club kingpin delinquent on at least 9,000 in property tax payments

TOPEKA — Kansas fitness club magnate Rodney Steven initiated a campaign to persuade the Kansas Legislature to rid his for-profit industry of property taxes while delinquent on at least $549,000 in pre-coronavirus property taxes owed to Shawnee, Johnson and Douglas counties.

County tax records revealed Steven’s fitness business had yet to pay $160,600 in 2019 property taxes to Shawnee County. His companies owed Johnson County $251,000 in property taxes as of Monday, while the tally in Douglas County topped $137,600.

Shawnee County tax records also indicated Steven’s operation was fined $1,400 for failure to pay $69,600 in property tax due in the first half of 2020. He likewise hasn’t paid the $69,600 second-half property tax obligation for 2020.

“If you owe taxes, why should you get a tax break?” said Topeka Rep. John Alcala, who served more than a decade on the Topeka City Council and is a member of the House Tax Committee.

The Kansas House is being encouraged by Steven’s lobbying contingent and his GOP Statehouse allies to insert a health club exemption into the Kansas Senate’s high-profile property tax transparency bill. If adopted by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Laura Kelly, the amendment would enable Genesis Health Clubs owned by Steven to avoid an estimated $2.5 million annually in property taxes. Genesis Health Clubs’ gain would drop Johnson County property tax revenue $1.1 million per year and clip Shawnee, Sedgwick and Riley counties for amounts ranging from $273,000 to $366,000 annually.

It’s unclear what the statewide financial toll would be on city and county budgets if owners of all health clubs in Kansas were granted permission to quit paying property taxes after Dec. 31. The proposed amendment would apply to health club partnerships, corporations or other business organizations charging a fee for access to weight and strength training related to cardiovascular fitness. The amendment would exclude dance studios, martial arts facilities, swimming pools, golf courses and health spas.

In a peculiar twist, the Kansas Policy Institute, which lobbies regularly at the Capitol on tax issues in search of “efficient, effective government,” flip-flopped on the amendment. Once opposed to the tax break for fitness clubs, KPI now supports it.

‘Maximum profitability’

Steven, president and owner of Genesis Health Clubs, failed to land this property tax break in 2014 despite donating to political campaigns of more than half of the Legislature’s members. One of Steven’s lobbyists, Greg Ferris, said at that time anyone who presumed Steven was buying votes was “narrow-minded and ignorant.”

Steven returned in 2021 with the star power of former U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, who agreed to represent the Kansas Health and Fitness Association on the tax-break issue. Steven serves as treasurer of the association. Its directors include some of Steven’s business associates.

Incorporation documents filed with the state describe the association’s goal as advocacy for laws and regulations to “maximize profitability” of the private health and fitness industry.

The owner of Genesis Health Clubs, including this facility in Lawrence, supports a proposal before the 2021 Legislature for an exemption from property taxes for owners of health clubs. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
The owner of Genesis Health Clubs, including this facility in Lawrence, supports a proposal pending before the House Tax Committee for a statewide exemption from property taxes for owners of health clubs. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Jenkins didn’t mention any association member’s delinquent property tax obligations during comments last month to the House Tax Committee when she publicly raised the idea of handing a tax break to health clubs. Instead, she outlined why it was unfair for private fitness companies to operate in communities where nonprofits, such as YMCAs and city recreational facilities, weren’t required to pay property taxes.

“So, not only do their competitors pay no taxes, they are funded by taxes paid by KHFA eligible clubs,” said Jenkins, who served in the Kansas House and Senate before elected to Congress.

Topeka Rep. Jim Gartner, ranking Democrat on the House Tax Committee, said the process relied upon by Jenkins to seek passage of the amendment didn’t follow standard procedure. The idea should have been introduced as a standalone bill and subjected to committee hearings with advocates and opponents, he said. Instead, the Senate approved Senate Bill 13 as part of a quest to increase public disclosure of revenue increases tied to property taxes. When that bill was transferred to the House, Jenkins jumped into the mix with Steven’s amendment.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” Gartner said. “If he wanted to come in front of the tax committee, pay your 2019 property taxes. Be straight up and file a bill and let it come through the process.”

The House Taxation Committee is expected this week to begin debate on possible alterations to Senate Bill 13. There appears to be bipartisan opposition to the amendment, with the sharpest objections coming from Democrats. Support from House GOP leadership could set up an interesting fight.

KPI wavers on Genesis

The League of Kansas Municipalities, with membership consisting of cities with populations from 20 to over 390,000, oppose the add-on property tax exemption pitched by Jenkins.

“Please contact your legislators and tell them to vote against the amendment from Genesis Health Clubs,” said Trey Cocking, deputy director of the League of Kansas Municipalities.

Initially, Kansas Policy Institute also directed House members to reject the exemption aimed at helping for-profit health clubs. Dave Trabert, chief executive officer at KPI, said in an email to legislators his organization would “strongly oppose including the Genesis proposal in SB 13.”

Dave Trabert, executive director of Kansas Policy Institute, said the conservative organization would oppose a property tax exemption for private, for-profit fitness clubs. KPI subsequently reversed course and endorsed the special-interest tax break. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

“Some people assume we support the exemption for a variety of reasons, but that’s not correct,” Trabert said. “Kansas Policy Institute opposes the health club exemption, and we would give it a negative score on our Freedom Index.”

One week later, however, KPI executed a political backflip.

In an email to House members that was copied to House GOP leaders and Jenkins, KPI president James Franko announced the organization would lend its influence to passage of the property tax exemption for health clubs. Franko said the amendment was needed to combat government-built and -operated health facilities placing private health club businesses at a “tremendous disadvantage.”

“Tax changes of this nature are exactly what Kansas needs to be enacting tax as families and businesses pull themselves out of the devastation caused by COVID and government shutdowns,” Franko said.

The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association reported in December the number of people in the United States who used a health club in 2019 was 27% greater than the number of users in 2010. IHRSA also reported U.S. residents used a fitness facility more frequently in 2019 than in 2010. During the decade, the number of times Americans turned to a health club climbed 45% from 4.6 billion to 6.7 billion. Health club consumption was growing at a steady rate heading into 2020, the report said, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

“Health club membership and usage trends indicate sustainable growth over the long term,” IHRSA’s report said. “While not recession-proof, the health and fitness industry has historically been resilient during downturns. As the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, it will test the industry’s resiliency.”

Another tax dispute

In all, Genesis Health Clubs operates more than 20 locations in Kansas and about 30 venues in five other states. Over the years, Steven has publicly celebrated aggressive expansion of his empire.

The company ran into problems in St. Joseph, Missouri, while remodeling a small, aging facility and connecting it to a new multimillion-dollar structure. It was finished more than two years after the one-year building permit was issued in 2015. The City of St. Joseph withheld a certificate of occupancy until several promised elements of the fitness club were completed, including an elevator, in 2017.

“Greatest fitness facility ever seen in St. Joseph,” Steven said in a news release. “The St. Joseph community has been begging for something like this for years and we could not be happier to be the ones to bring it here. This was difficult. End of story.”

Genesis Health Clubs, according to reporting by the St. Joseph News-Press, declined to pay $26,500 in fines that accumulated because the company was slow to finish the project. When Steven began preparing for construction of a $1.2 million outdoor aquatic facility in St. Joseph, the city declined to issue a construction permit because of unresolved fines.

Steven asked the city to wipe away the penalties, but the city council voted Dec. 14 against a waiver. In the News-Press, Steven said city officials were hard to work with during the fitness center project. He complained about existence of the city’s recreation center and the YMCA. He said the stalemate over fines meant the swimming project wouldn’t go forward.

St. Joseph Councilman Marty Novak told the News-Press the waiver of fines for Genesis Health Clubs would set the wrong precedent.

“In all fairness, would it be right to write off the $26,000 for this business and not do it for somebody else? I don’t think so,” Novak said. “Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re not gonna make people happy.”

The post Tax-break seeking health club kingpin delinquent on at least $549,000 in property tax payments appeared first on Kansas Reflector.

Kansas City to Make Riding the Bus Free for Everyone – GovTech

Transit officials in Kansas City, Mo., plan to eliminate bus fares system-wide this year. Leadership views the move, which will erase about 8 percent of the agency’s revenue, as a boost to the local economy.

Transit officials in Kansas City, Mo. plan to eliminate bus fares system-wide this year.

Shutterstock/Laszlo66

Buses in the largest city in Missouri are on track to offer free rides.

Officials with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) plan to phase out the system’s $1.50 fare in the coming year, in a move to remove at least one barrier standing in the way of riders choosing the transit system to get to jobs, run errands and more.

Public transit “needs to be woven into the fabric of the community as a whole,” said Robbie Makinen, president and CEO of KCATA. And discussions about improving health care, housing, education and other quality-of-life factors are all intricately linked to transportation and transit.

“You can’t have discussions about solving those issues without public transit,” he remarked.

If the idea of a fare-free transit system seems radical, Makinen is quick to point out that KCATA has been gradually phasing out fares for certain users. Today, veterans ride free, as do high school students. Also, the agency teamed up with “safety net” providers such as domestic violence shelters to waive fares for users of these services as well.

Fares have also been removed from a newly launched bus-rapid transit line, a 10-mile corridor known as Prospect Max.

“So when people say, ‘Oh, they made transit free in Kansas City,’ no — we’ve been systematically and strategically looking at this,” Makinen said.

It should also be noted that the new Kansas City Streetcar, stretching two miles through downtown, has always been free to ride.

Fares make up about 8 percent of KCATA’s $100 million budget, said Makinen, and once the costs associated with collecting and counting the money are taken into consideration, “it’s not really $8 million. It’s less.”

A fare-free system would also speed up boarding times, since buses often dwell for several moments while riders feed money into fareboxes. Removing fares would also have the positive effect of removing opportunities for disputes between riders and bus drivers.

“Before, when there was an incident, 85-90 percent of the time something happened on a vehicle, it was because of … $1.50. It was a farebox dispute,” said Makinen. “With this, now our operators are safer because the operator isn’t the focus of an incident, if there is one.”

Transit systems as large as those like Los Angeles Metro have toyed with the idea of waiving fares. At the recent CoMotion LA conference in Los Angeles in November, Phil Washington, CEO of LA Metro, proposed using revenue generated from congestion pricing to replace fare revenue in the areas where congestion pricing is put in place.

“We haven’t even scratched the surface, in terms of the benefits that free transit can bring,” said Washington in comments at the conference. “Free transit in the area, and taking that burden away from families, in terms of the expense of transportation, could mean the difference between affordable housing. It could impact homelessness.”

LA Metro has not yet released any congestion pricing proposals, and is still studying the issue. About 4 percent of LA Metro’s revenue is generated from fares, according to financial reports.

In St. Louis, a closer peer city to Kansas City, fares make up about 15 percent of revenues, said Jerry Vallely, external communications manager for Bi-State Development, which oversees Metro Transit in St. Louis.

“The only group of riders we waive fares for are children 4 and under,” said Vallely. “We do offer half-price fares for seniors, children 5-13 and disabled passengers. We currently do not waive fares for any specific routes or services.”

The average passenger fare across U.S. transit systems was $1.56 in 2017, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Fares made up 36 percent of operating funding, for transit systems nationwide, followed by local sources (32 percent), state sources (23 percent) and other sources (9 percent). Transit agencies also receive federal and other funding, often earmarked for capital projects.

When viewed through the larger economic lens, said Makinen in Kansas City, money that riders would have dropped into fare boxes will be reinvested back into the local economy.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City conducted a financial impact study looking at the effects of eliminating fares. The study concluded the $8 million collected in fares goes back into the local economy, generating $17 million in economic activity and $700,000 in sales tax and 100 new jobs.

“If Ms. Johnson is living on Prospect [Avenue] and she’s saving $1,500, $2,000 a year on public transit because she’s not putting it in my farebox, where’s that money going to go? It’s not going to leave the state. It’s going right back into the local economy,” said Makinen.

To finance an $8 million budget hole formed when rider fares disappear in Kansas City, Makinen said he aims to keep the growth of the administrative arm of KCATA to a minimum, which he believes frees the agency to be more nimble and make it more open to exploring technology and other innovations.

“And then we’re also going to work — like we’re doing now — on public-private partnerships to say, ‘OK, you want to try something? Come to Kansas City, and let’s do a pilot,’” Makinen added. 

Ultimately, making the bus free stands to increase ridership within the KCATA system. The free bus rapid transit line serves some 85,000 riders a month. But that’s hardly the only goal.

“Ridership is a byproduct,” said Makinen. “It’s a byproduct of [having] a system that offers something to the customers: easy access, options, control and definitely affordable now.”

Imagineer Shares Information on Easter Eggs on Disney California Adventure’s “Storytellers” Statue – wdwnt.com

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Imagineer Jim Clark shared several details and easter eggs from the Storytellers statue at Disney California Adventure in honor of the park’s 20th anniversary.

Working with Disney Legend Blaine Gibson, brilliant animator Andreas Deja, and master sculptor Rick Terry, it was the experience of a lifetime helping to create the “Storytellers” statue at Disney California Adventure. Even Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, was impressed. pic.twitter.com/niN2Mp85q3

— Jim Clark (@ImagineerJim) February 8, 2021

Clark recounts working with Disney Legend Blaine Gibson, animator Andreas Deja, and master sculptor Rick Terry to create the statue of Walt and Mickey. He recalls bringing to life a younger Walt and bringing the two-dimensional Mickey Mouse into three-dimensions.

The big news at the time that Walt arrived in California was that Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as the 30th President of the U.S…so that’s the headline on Walt’s newspaper. Mickey wasn’t with Walt in 1923; Mickey would be born on another train to Los Angeles years later. pic.twitter.com/BReLFy7I5X

— Jim Clark (@ImagineerJim) February 8, 2021

One of the easter eggs on the statue is the newspaper in Walt’s pocket. It alludes to Calvin Coolidge being sworn in as president in 1923, when Walt arrived in California.

The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe has a long history with the Disneyland steam trains. The luggage tag numbers for Walt and Mickey are their birthdays. pic.twitter.com/fLvfYDknV4

— Jim Clark (@ImagineerJim) February 8, 2021

Blaine Gibson focused on getting Mickey’s “glint” right, which Clark noted refers to the triangle shape in Mickey’s eyes. On the side of Walt’s trunk is a luggage tag from The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, which has a history with Disneyland’s steam trains. The tag numbers on Walt and Mickey’s cases are their birthdays.

Mickey’s suitcase has his initials monogramed on the side, a reference to the 1940 short film “Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip.” Walt’s trunk also features the logo from his Kansas City business card.

A sticker on the trunk refers to Laugh-O-Gram Studio, Walt’s studio in Kansas City. That’s where he made the Alice Comedies, also featured on a sticker. Chicago and Kansas City are both commemorated as well.

It didn’t seem right to mention Chicago and Kansas City on the statue and not Marceline; Walt’s hometown can be found on the statue, but it’s a bit hidden. You could say Marceline is part of his Walt’s soul. pic.twitter.com/MyxTBQMN2i

— Jim Clark (@ImagineerJim) February 8, 2021

And Marceline couldn’t go unrecognized, so Walt’s hometown is immortalized in his “soul.”

The Storytellers statue was recently restored ahead of the opening of Buena Vista Street and Disney California Adventure’s 20th anniversary.