Why I Should Be the Next American Ambassador to Denmark, Even Though I Didn’t Give Obama $500K

Ever heard of Laurie S. Fulton? Didn’t think so. She’s America’s ambassador to Denmark and a political appointee. And thus far, in my humble opinion, a very mediocre one, because despite living in a globalized world, so many brilliant Danish ideas still remain on the other side of the Atlantic because this diplomat has failed to spread them to America (including, but not limited to, the brilliance of the television series Forbrydelsen).

As Fulton’s Wikipedia page states, “Her great-grandfather served in the Danish parliament from 1918 until 1940. Through the years, she has visited her relatives who reside in Denmark to directly absorb their culture. Her knowledge of Danish history and society, coupled with her years of professional experience and success, provide her an exceptional background for the position of United States Ambassador to Denmark.”

Is America a land of peerage? Nope! Why should an American serve as ambassador simply because his/her family has ancestral ties to a nation? And why are we sending members of the 1% to represent us abroad?

In our “democracy,” ambassadors should be selected based on merit. Perhaps younger, more forward-thinking people, who are adept at using the media, and skilled at building an image abroad of America as a land of progress, opportunity, and innovation would be better picks.

What Fulton’s biography doesn’t state: That she “bundled” $100,000 in donations for President Obama to secure her job. Ambassador Fulton has lived her whole adult life inside the Washington, D.C., beltway (her trips to visit relatives in Denmark not withstanding), and thus she knows very little about how the rest of the world lives and works.

I, on the other hand, lived in Denmark as an adult and earned a master’s degree there, and understand Danish culture from the perspectives of people who don’t take chauffeured cars everywhere they travel.

I’m not trying to pick on Ambassador Fulton, because there are certainly worse bundlers-turned ambassadors, like Cynthia Stroum, but Fulton’s life as a Washington insider makes her a horrible ambassador. America should be choosing its non-career civil servant ambassadors from the worlds of technology, academia, media, and non-profits. Candidates for ambassadorships should be people with a vast exposure to foreign cultures, ideally the ones where they will be serving — not just those who worked at D.C. law firms and then threw large wads of cash at political candidates.

While Obama has successfully limited some lobbying efforts and increased transparency within the Executive branch, both he and George W. Bush have both made their former roommates ambassadors to Belize. This cheapens our relations with that country, and quite frankly, should be insulting to Belizeans. This kind of kickback process is not American.

Let’s get back to Denmark, a country of just 5.5 million inhabitants that has revolutionized wind energy, green building and bicycle transportation, while building up a disproportionately overpowering artistic, cinematic, and creative industries. Ambassador Fulton has done nothing to convey the achievements of the Danish way of thinking and way of life to America, or to attempt to implement positive Danish achievements in America.

Consider this the start of my grassroots campaign to become America’s next ambassador to Denmark, because regardless of whether Obama or Mitt Romney are resident in the White House in 2013, I will serve as an excellent liaison to spread American  ideas, interests, and beliefs to Denmark while also encouraging strong American collaborations with Danish scholars, thinkers, politicians, scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs, artists and more.

I just hope that my efforts go farther than those of Carl Malamud, whose valiant and legitimate campaign to become Public Printer of the United States has thus far been rebuffed by the Washington insiders who will never understand that the future is already here.


The US Senate passed the JOBS Act: How this legislation can improve the quality of American journalism

I recently blogged about the many benefits that I hope will come to America with the passage of the JOBS Act. Now that the US Senate has passed the JOBS Act, the bill has gone back to the House of Representatives for final approval before President Obama signs it into law. Despite my skepticism about the ability of Congress to pass any legislation in this toxic and partisan political climate, I am pleasantly surprised that it looks like the JOBS Act should go through with bipartisan support.

My general thesis is that if the “people” can now invest in new ventures, then they will be more apt to use products and services that cater to small groups/communities, and more likely to shun products, services, and information that comes from large corporations that are geared for the masses. Of course, it may take a couple of years to see these effects, but I am hopeful that fragmentation can create diversity in spheres of life where Americans now have too few choices.

While other commentators have focused on the overall benefits and drawbacks for investors, businesses, regulators, and consumers, I will list potential ways that the new crowdfunding legislation can influence and disrupt journalism. My theories on winners and losers from the JOBS Act:

1. Communities can rally around creating publications that they control, rather than leaving sub-par newspapers in the hands of publishers motivated by the bottom line rather than creating high quality community content. Watch out Patch and legacy publishers! The potential to revive local journalism in places that are currently without local news sources is the most promising development that I see. But legacy media organizations should be on guard, because disruption born out of frustration may be just around the corner.

2. Niche publications will be able to get off the ground more easily. If a fragmented community of  1,000 people — I’m thinking an online community for this example — who were spread throughout America, wanted to hire one person to work to create content, they could hypothetically each donate $30 to a venture that could create a niche publication with a professional or semi-professional journalist/curator at the helm.

3. Television networks and cable channels should be scared because YouTube is already slicing up the market. Enthusiasts of various types of content that don’t achieve the critical masses needed for channels that cater to advertisers may now have their opportunity to band together to create more desirable programming…and make it profitable.

4. Television news should be a prime target for entrepreneurs at the local and national levels, as it has remained virtually unchanged for such a long time. I foresee new formats developing, and I believe the crowd will control how they develop.

5. Crowdfunded radio stations may destroy the traditional for-profit ones. Watch out ClearChannel. Look out for an indy radio explosion…most likely based on the Internet.

6. Lone bloggers and journalists with strong personal brands — or with the ability to build strong personal brands — will now be able to have investors rally behind them. This may create a major revolution for sole proprietors, ending the struggles that freelancers face in terms of tax burdens. Another advantage is that talented people may now be more willing to go off on their own rather than remain with corporations that underutilize talented journalists’ skills and abilities.

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 solve journalism’s long-term problems. Why? Because crowdfunding, in its current form, does not permit ordinary 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.

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

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. 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. After all, 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.

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 protest 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…