Millennials, It Was Your Moment, And You Failed

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Millennials, I love you, but you’ve failed. The government shutdown should have been your moment to shine, but instead, what did you (we!) do? We took to Twitter and kvetched, we took to Facebook and moaned, and we didn’t do a single thing to actually take political action. But there’s still time to change this.

It seems like it was just yesterday that the Occupy Wall Street movement gained tons of traction, but I, like many others, was not wholly on board with the movement. Perhaps it was because its “leaders” were a bunch of (dare I say…) dirty hippies, and people who it seemed like never had jobs to go to, and didn’t really want to do much other than complain. At least that’s what it appeared to be for me when I witnessed these events in New York and London. They weren’t the intellectuals, the elite members of our generation. But now, as all of us are getting screwed by the U.S. government, it’s time to do something.

Here, before us, we have 100 Senators and 435 Representatives (plus a few non-voting reps from Puerto Rico, Guam, etc.) who don’t want to work. But what will we do when the 2014 election cycle comes around? We will, in all likelihood, re-elect most of the people we are currently referring to as douchebags, scumbuckets, and lazy-ass mofos.

If history teaches us anything, and I can thank Mr. Kohut at Oceanside High School for teaching me this during my senior year, being re-elected to the U.S. Congress as an incumbent is one of the most sure things out there. Even with the “Tea Party Revolution” of 2010, some 87% of Congress was re-elected. And that’s just pathetic, since Congress had an approval rate of 13% that same year, just months before the elections! We are all fools though, because we decided to give these creeps a second (or 25th) shot!

But why do we keep doing this? Has the internet finally tipped the scales in favor of electing individuals who are not crazy, criminals, or otherwise incompetent people?

John Catsimatidis spent $419 per vote in his failed bid for New York City Mayor, and Anthony Weiner spent $190 per vote, and of course they didn’t get elected because neither man would have been competent enough to fill the role! These politico-wannabes are pathetic. And we knew it, in part because of the power of the internet. Anthony Weiner’s “Carlos Danger” scum-mongering alias flew around the web faster than he could pull off his pants! These failed candidates couldn’t hide their nonsense from anyone, because the age of transparency is here. (Yes, we can thank social media for this phenomenon!)

So what don’t we the people have? We don’t have money from special interest groups, that’s for sure. We don’t have cozy relationships with the lobbyists who throw suitcases full of money at us every single day. Nope. But we can fight that.

We do have crowdfunding, as President Obama’s campaign team showed us. We have the power of the internet. And we have tons of ideas. We have undiluted brains that are fed up. And we have lots of complaints, because there’s so much that should be changed.

If this shutdown mess taught us one thing, it should be that we need to elect new candidates in 2014. I’m talking to you! Yes, you may be 25 or 30 years old. Yes, you may not have political experience. But when we’re talking about a room full of criminals, you’re probably just as smart as they are, more willing to compromise, and have better ideas about how to run the United States of America.

Let 2014 be the year that the people rise. Let 2014 be the year where Congressional re-election rates plummet like never before. Let 2014 be the year that millennials make their way to the United States Congress and every other deliberative body in this country. (I’m talking state senates, assemblies, city councils, and even school boards.)

Yes, it is very easy to sit back and let the Baby Boomers (and their parents) run America into the ground. It’s very easy to say, “This blows!” and continue to kvetch. But why should we do this? Why should we not fight the idiots who made things bad, the people who won’t even show up to work to govern this country? We shouldn’t have the attitude that I know so many Europeans have, that they accept their governments are corrupt and inept institutions.

No, that’s not the American way. And it will be up to millennials to put our brains where our mouths are. Let’s all make a pact to run for some office in 2014, if only to ensure that the bozos in power now make sure they know we’re watching them. And you never know, you could very well win.

My Hometown’s Recovery From Sandy Has Been Lackluster, And Could Have Been Better

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I witnessed two Long Island communities, Long Beach and Oceanside, located just 1.5 miles from one another, experience very different fates. Both communities have populations hovering around 33,000 residents, and both faced unprecedented damage during the storm.

However, the main difference between the two is that Long Beach is a city, with its own government and resources, whereas Oceanside is what New York State defines as a hamlet, an unincorporated area with no mayor, no police department, and no other essential services that would be useful in times of  crisis. It is simply a part of the greater Town of Hempstead, which is itself a collection of 37 hamlets and 22 villages. The Town of Hempstead’s total population is 760,000 according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau reports.

When disaster struck, Oceanside, where I grew up, had few resources to rely on: We have an all-volunteer fire department made up of amazing men and women who went without sleep for weeks after Sandy, constantly putting their lives on the line as calls came in non-stop (despite half of the firehouses and trucks flooding, rendering them useless). We have our own U.S. Post Office (unhelpful post-Sandy), a school board with a long-standing and well-respected superintendent of schools (though half of our schools were also seriously damaged), and a public library (that emerged unscathed).

Not only is there no police department in Oceanside, as we rely on Nassau County police officers, there is not even a police station. For sanitation, we rely on the Oceanside branch of the Town of Hempstead’s refuse collection operations, a group of heavily unionized folks who have proved to be inept and unwilling to pick up the mess in this rare time of crisis. There is no mayor, no city council, and of course no professional city management staff.

Long Beach, on the other hand, has 300 city employees. Of these, it has approximately 75 police officers and 30 firefighters, as well as its own Department of Public Works that handles sanitation and sewage issues.

Prior to Sandy, the City of Long Beach distributed over 19,000 sandbags to residents, while also updating its website to keep people up-to-date with the latest information. This was in addition to distributing hurricane preparedness pamphlets to all residents during the summer and organizing a de-facto emergency management office headed by its mayor and Kennedy School of Government-educated city manager.

Yes, like Oceanside, Long Beach relies on LIPA, the beleaguered and bumbling soon-to-be former power holding company, but the failures of LIPA seem to be one of the few commonalities between the two cities (and Oceanside, as it turns out, suffered far longer in total darkness).

In the days after Sandy, Long Beach established its indoor ice rink as a collection point for relief supplies, also making it a distribution center for its residents. Emergency generators were brought in for power. The ice rink was as well-organized as a Target store, with specified loading docks and hundreds of volunteers flocking in from around the country to assist. There were New York State Troopers on site, National Guardsmen, and other federal employees in addition to Long Beach’s own. Things were civilized, and it became clear to residents where they had to go for supplies and information, even when most of the city appeared to be in shambles. FEMA and insurance companies set up shop around the ice rink (also located a short walk from City Hall), where any necessary information or services could be found.

Oceanside, meanwhile, had a host of tired firefighters and community leaders, many of whom lost their own homes, trying to wrap their head around the crisis without being physically able to take much action, because, without power, they still had other responsibilities to their families, employers, and in many cases, the schools or fire department.

Oceanside’s collection efforts were meager in comparison to Long Beach, because there were no individuals able to organize large-scale collection sites and manage the distribution of relief supplies.

There was little outside help. FEMA decided to set up shop in Oceanside Park, located at an edge of town that the thousands of people with flooded cars would never be able to get to, and thousands more, stuck without power, never even knew that this help existed.

The Town of Hempstead was useless. Nassau County was useless. New York State was useless. FEMA was useless. It then fell on the Oceanside diaspora, family, and friends, to convey information. I and others not terribly impacted by the storm set up websites and Facebook pages to provide information to fellow citizens (if and when they could even check these resources), as Oceanside has no web resources of its own. It was old high school friends and acquaintances whom I counted on to get relief directly to Oceanside, because it seemed like our community was not one featured on the news like others (until Oceansiders turned a school press conference into a rally dedicated to venting frustrations with our unreachable power company, as well as our do-nothing Town of Hempstead, Nassau County, and Congressional elected officials…).

As for aid management, Oceanside is now relying on Oceanside Community Service, a small non-profit set up in 1949 to help poor members of the community. This organization is led by the same civic-minded folks who are also members of the school board, fire department, Rotary Club, Kiwanis, etc. And it’s usually this time of year that the organization feeds, clothes, and delivers toys to the needy. Whereas the Long Beach ice rink is now, to their credit, filled to the brim with supplies and a never-ending flow of vehicles dropping off more needed items, Oceanside Community Service was overjoyed that a single tractor trailer recently arrived from Vestal, New York, bringing much-needed supplies.

My call to action is that Oceanside immediately incorporate as a village. In times of crisis, all areas need police departments, management professionals, and full-time leaders. Unincorporated areas cannot and should not rely on incompetent bureaucrats at the county or township levels. Incidents like Sandy may not happen often, but when they do, citizens should know that they will be looked after, and that disaster management on the local level will never again be such a debacle because a hyperlocal government is not in place.

This article originally appeared on PolicyMic.

How 21% of Americans Will Hold Election 2012 Hostage to Partisan Tools and Fools

Election Day is three weeks away, but that doesn’t mean much to me, because I’m not voting. I’ll go into work, read PolicyMic on my computer, check some exit polls in the early afternoon, and hopefully not encounter any radical offshoots of the New Black Panther Movement. It will be business as usual. That’s because I’m a member of the 79%, and until the Electoral College is abolished, my vote, as a resident of New York state, will be absolutely meaningless. The Electoral College has already awarded three elections to losers of the popular vote (not to mention that the “electors” are a bunch of partisan tools and fools).

The top 38.5 million Americans who live in “swing states” are the 12.1%. Their votes matter most, and therefore they get the best promises and treatment from presidential candidates. The people who reside in Florida (19.05 million), Ohio (11.54 million), and Virginia (8.10 million) are this lucky 12.1%. (Of course, the above figures recognize that not all eligible voters vote, and that ineligible residents, like children, are included in these statistics.) Like it or not, this year, these folks are the cream of the crop.

Then, just below them are 27.6 million people, our second, or “business” class of citizenry, the fine people who live in New Hampshire (1.32 million), Nevada (2.72 million), Colorado (5.17 million), Iowa (3.06 million), Wisconsin (5.71 million), and North Carolina (9.66 million). These people represent 8.8% of the population, and their votes, collectively, could effect the outcome of the election.

This above population represents 21% of America. The rest of us, we are the 79%. Let’s put that number out there. Let’s make it as ubiquitous as the 1% and the 99% and the 47%!

We are the 79%. We are useless. We are slaves to the 21%. The only way that we can vote, paradoxically, is with our money, by donating it to our limited choice presidential candidates and political parties and PACs and other quasi-shady organizations who can then bombard these 21% with enough media propaganda to make them see the light. (Yes, our situation could be regarded as worse worse than the 3/5 compromise. I’d take 3/5 of a vote over none!)

Sure, as a member of the 79% you can still help elect Senators, Governors, Congressmen (and women), and local officials, but that’s not the crux of why you’re proud to be an American. You want to be electing the person who comes out on top, the person who will be, for the next four years, the leader of the free world. You don’t want to be relegated to the minor leagues, yet you are. Perhaps, forever. Abolish the horribly antiquated Electoral College, and then the 79% will be free.

Part 1: The law that could save sustainable journalism will be destroyed unless the US Senate acts now!

I recently argued that upstarts like Matter that have made successful pitches on Kickstarter are not the solution to solving journalism’s long-term problems. Why? Because crowdfunding, in its current form, does not permit people to make investments. Rather, crowdfunders make donations, or in some cases loans. The outcomes are variable and generally unsustainable

When David Cohn started the crowdsourced journalism non-profit Spot.us four years ago, it worked on a similar premise to Kiva, whereby donors received part or all of their money back if and when a crowd-funded story sold to a legacy media outlet. Cohn prevented  any one person from influencing which stories were funded by limiting each donor to funding 20% of the total amount raised for each pitch. (Of course this system is potentially flawed in that one donor can spread his/her money out to friends etc, but at least Cohn tried to implement a system of checks and balances.) But Spot.us was designed to assist existing organizations, not create entirely new media outlets.

We’re on the brink of a revolution that could lead to saving sustainable journalism and create many jobs

But we may be on the brink of a journalism revolution. Currently, only accredited investors are able to invest in newly formed companies, which prevents Kickstarter, Spot.us, and any other crowdfunding site from raising capital for startup companies and entrepreneurial journalism ventures.

Forbes reports:

Under current federal and state securities laws, startups are prohibited from selling stock or other securities via crowdfunding sites or social networking sites.  Such laws include:

  • A prohibition against “general solicitation” – which means that a company may not offer or sell securities unless there is a substantive, pre-existing relationship between the company (or a person acting on its behalf) and the prospective investor (see “Can I Raise Money For My Startup Via Twitter?” );
  • Disclosure and state law compliance requirements if the investors are not “accredited investors” — which usually makes the offering of securities too costly and onerous for a startup (see “Ask the Attorney – Securities Laws”);
  • A requirement that any intermediaries (including websites) must be registered with the SEC and applicable state securities commissions as a “broker-dealer” in order to legally accept any transaction-based compensation in connection with the sale of securities (see “Ask the Attorney – Beware of Finders”); and
  • A requirement that any company that has 500 or more shareholders and total assets exceeding $10 million must register with the SEC and file periodic reports.

These laws were designed with good intentions: Nobody wants to see Mom and Pop lose their hard-earned money to a snake oil salesman! But in today’s crowdfunded world, they no longer make sense. And when tech-savvy Americans realized this, they sought action.

In the United States Congress, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) (who made some excellent contributions to 2010 Census oversight, which I know from my time spent running MyTwoCensus.com), introduced crowdfunding legislation that was one of the most popular bipartisan initiatives in recent history, garnering support from Democrats all the way up to President Obama himself. McHenry’s bill, the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act,  H.R. 2930 (full version here), passed 407 to 17.

This makes total sense. Republicans generally don’t believe that the government should be able to tell people how to spend their money (anyone can gamble or booze away all of their savings, can’t they?), and Democrats don’t see why accredited investors who are members of the “top 1%” should be the only folks permitted to invest in startups, thus preventing the upward mobility of the masses.

Specifically, the highlights of H.R. 2930 are as follows:

- Create a crowdfunding exemption from SEC regulations for firms raising up to $2 million, with individual investments limited to $10,000 or 10 percent of an investor’s annual income.

- Excludes crowdfunding investors from counting as shareholders for purposes of calculating the 499-shareholder cap under 12(g) of the Securities Exchange Act

- Preempt state law and exempts the ban on general solicitation for the new crowdfunding exemption.

But now, as always seems to be the case as of late with the American government,  just when we’re on the brink of something great, the millionaire’s club also known as the United States Senate has failed to move forward with this legislation, thus preventing it from making its way to President Obama’s desk to become a law.

Despite Senate Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts championing similar legislation to the resolution that the House of Representatives passed, lobbying groups like the NASAA (North American Securities Administrators Association, “the oldest international organization devoted to investor protection”) have wielded their influence over the 100 people who control the fates of the other 300+ million.

What needs to happen now is simple: An online campaign of the magnitude of the SOPA/PIPA variety must be enacted to create swift and effective action to boost America’s economy by causing the US Senate to pass comprehensive crowdfunding legislation.  Sites like crowdfundinglaw.com and startupexemption.com have already been set up to explain this law and advocate its passage. And using a Wefunder.com petition, more than $6 million has already been pledged to support investment in new ventures if this legislation is passed.

But will Google, Craigslist, Wikipedia, and all of the other organizations that led the charge against SOPA and PIPA step in to assist with this one?

As someone who is not interested in the “rewards” that Kickstarter campaigns promise their donors, but rather direct return on investment in monetary form, I and other like-minded people would be happy to invest in startups despite our lack of accredited investor status. I don’t gamble in casinos, but I’d be happy to gamble on good ideas and innovation.

Coming soon: Direct effects of crowdfunding legislation on new journalism business models…

Future of crowdsourced fundraising? Dispersed!

Like everyone else, I have been amazed by how Kickstarter has been able to fund business, arts, and journalism projects. But I don’t give. Yes, new projects are cool. But what I’m looking for is return on investment.

In general, the rule of thumb on Kickstarter is that unless you are funding a cool new tech product that will later retail for a higher price (so the creators’ claim), you will only be rewarded with a measly little cupcake. Do I really want a $5 cupcake mailed to me at some random point next year? No, I don’t. And many other people who are mindful of their money don’t want such gimmicks either.

But I am interested in using crowdfunding for other media purposes. However, I want funders to have equity stakes in the projects they fund (which is possibly in Germany as evidence by my friend Lars’ project…check out the 2000 Euro+ levels here).

(As crowdfunding sites proliferate, the costs of building and developing them will go down rapidly, which is demonstrated by the fact that you can now find cloned Kickstarter source code free on the Internet or pay some guys — probably in India — less than $1,000 to build, modify, and maintain a clone site for you.)

But what stands in the way of equity investments in crowdsourced products? The US government’s accredited investor law. More on that soon…