Wednesday, March 07, 2018
For a bit over a year, federal law has permitted just about any John or Jane Doe to invest in Business Start-ups or expansions, an activity usually reserved for the wealthy or "accredited investors." Today, often in increments as low as $100 to $500, individuals can get in on the ground floor of a new venture. These investments may take the form of actual stock equity (which can not be easily traded or sold, and are not listed on a stock market); convertible notes (loans which convert to equity, or stock, if certain conditions are met); and revenue sharing, which acts as a loan paid back not over a specific time period, but as a function of the revenue received by the company. The goal on these revenue sharing agreements is to pay back the investor anywhere from 1.2 times to 2.0 times their investment (although I have seen one shooting for 3x investment).
And of course, like any company, all investment is at risk and you could lose everything. No one, of course, is hoping for that, but it is a possibility.
All of the platforms below are simply web-based platforms designed to 'match' potential investors with companies seeking to raise funds. Once the investment is completed, the investor deals directly with the company they have invested in and the platform has no further intermediatory role between you.
Each Platform, with small exceptions, is structured, visually, in a fairly uniform format, so getting familiar with one makes the next one easier. In no particular order, the five that I have found easiest to use are these:
1. START ENGINE - This is the largest of the five I am including. s of this date, 68 active companies are listed, representing a broad variety of industries. They provide an excellent, clear tracking of the status of your investments during the process, and are active in sending emails announcing news and updates. If you need to cancel an investment, they are efficient and no-hassle. Each company has a very visible "Terms" button which explains clearly what kind of investment is being offered, with some minor exceptions. Unlike many platforms, they actually permit the use of credit cards (Use with Caution!) to make investments.
2. NEXTSEED - Next Seed is small (7 active companies), with a heavy emphasis on "mega-bars" and drinking/entertainment venues. Of all the platforms, it provides the *clearest* indication as to the 'terms of the deal' and the hoped-for returns. The Chat function with the platform is efficient and helpful.
3. WEFUNDER - Another large platform, there are 45 companies currently raising funds. There are an excellent set of FAQs for new investors that should be read thoroughly. The site features many tabs to search for precisely the type of company you wish to invest in (tech, main street, software). On the down side, the terms of each deal are not big and bold: they are printed in fine type at the bottom of each company's icons in just a word or two. By clicking on a company icon, you can see the terms in more detail.
4. MICROVENTURES This is actually a partnership (not entirely explained) using First Democracy FV as a bridge between Microventures and Indiegogo, a respected company which adds some credence to the viability of the fundraising companies; there are 7 companies currently listed. Some of the companies have very clear terms of the deal, while others take a little more digging.
5. FUNDANNA - Whereas many crowdsourcing platforms steer away from start-ups involved in the cannabis industry, Fundanna focuses on such companies. The 6 companies listed have *very clear* terms, and have done a good job explaining their business plans and approach to their businesses, with extensive information for the investor. One gets the impression that Fundanna is a small operation: the website has a few glitches, and is not entirely intuitive, and the chat function is not always on...but when responding to email, it is clear that they are giving highly personal responses rather than pat answers. One nice touch is that they actually accept old-fashioned checks in addition to bank withdrawals for payment.
I have used all five of these of that platforms, and will continue to do so as I seek to diversify my investments, which currently include a race horse, a vertical farming operation, an organic dairy, a cannabis growing facility, a boxing club, a Brazilian liquor company, and a sports bar.
In addition, some states have set up Non-profit platforms (Such as MILKMONEY VT) to assist local in-state businesses, and which are often only open to in-state residents.
Happy Investing! Be smart and be cautious, but know that you CAN get in on the ground floor of the "Next Big Thing!"
Friday, February 23, 2018
Dear Sen. Nitka,
I am a resident of Chester, and am writing to you regarding the proposals in the Senate regarding increased firearms regulation. I am extremely concerned for the ramifications of some of these proposals. PLEASE hear me out.
I am a retired teacher, who chose to move to Vermont - in spite of the financial burden on retirees compared to other states - precisely because of the life style here. I am a fairly liberal gay man who, more than once, has found myself a target on the streets of New York and elsewhere. To protect myself, I carry a firearm, because I am my own best line of defense when these incidents occur.
I used to live in Massachusetts. In spite of currently being in the US Coast Guard Auxiliary out of Station Burlington, with Homeland Security Clearance, having NO criminal record of any kind, and having been fingerprinted with the FBI no fewer than 11 times (for Coast Guard work and during the adoption of 6 children and foster care of three others) - the background check and license I requested there TOOK EIGHT MONTHS to process (even though the law there said 60 day maximum). No one should have to wait that long to exercise a Constitutional right to protect themselves! The background check there was a total disaster. I moved to Vermont for several reasons, but paramount was the fact that it is the safest state in the union, and I don't have to beg for permission to exercise my right to self defense.
In a vacuum, Universal Background Checks seem to make sense, to weed out those with criminal records and mental health issues, and that seems to be driving this initiative, but there are terrible unintended consequences:
1) The majority of people with criminal records are non-violent offenders, most for drug offenses, and many with marijuana convictions - ironic, considering we have just legalized marijuana in Vermont! A background check will not only flag these people, but will disproportionately affect minorities who are caught up in this system (and yes, I have an inter-racial family). Progressives are appropriately trying to seal these types of convictions so that non-violent offenders can be re-integrated into society and get jobs - and yet this throws that entire effort into chaos.
2) As a teacher, I worked frequently with Veterans, many of whom return from overseas and are assisted with mental health counseling for PTSD. These are men and women who know how to safely use firearms better than most - and yet, they are precisely the ones who will be caught up in mental health check. Are we now going to require that physicians and counselors report the details of privileged patient-client information to a government database?
Similarly, the effort to raise the age for purchase to 21 is an insult to the people who we consider old enough to vote for you at age 18. At 18, they can join the military and carry military-grade automatics, and they can be trusted as armed police officers in our Towns...but they would not be able to purchase a hunting firearm in a state with a long, proud history of hunting?!
I realize that in the wake of the tragedy in Florida, people are emotional and looking for "government to do something;" and yet, this is precisely the time when legislators make poor choices. The 'crisis of the moment" lead to the internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII, and it lead to the Patriot Act and FISA courts - both examples of terrible losses of Constitutional Rights as a result of an emotional reaction to tragedy.
I am asking you to OPPOSE any effort to restrict the firearms laws here in Vermont.
Thomas T Simmons
Posted by Thomas Simmons at 10:12 AM
Tuesday, February 06, 2018
Now, rather than waiting for a monthly check from the state, I have taken my stash of cash with me, to use as I see fit. And having spent the last 20 years teaching Economics & Business, and working with young entrepreneurs seeking to start their own businesses through the Grinspoon Entrepreneurship Initiative, I am now entering a new phase of "work:" using my accumulated retirement funds to invest directly in new and growing businesses.
We're not talking stocks here: we're taking making loans and buying equity in small family businesses that are not traded on the markets. It is probably one of the most exciting and rewarding things I have ever done.
After planning for this for the past year, I have eight deals in various stages of closing. And so today, I reveal my first investment:
Green Mountain Organic Creamery is a 20,000 sq/ft dairy processing plant located in Hinesburg, Vermont. GMOC was founded by Cheryl and John “JD” Devos, organic dairy farmers from Addison County, Vermont. Cheryl and JD own and operate the 200 cow, Kimball Brook Farm, which is capable of producing 3,400,000 pounds of milk per year. GMOC purchases its organic milk primarily from the Farm at fair market value prices and then produces and distributes certified organic, Vermont milk and value-added milk products (flavored milk, cheese, butter, etc.) throughout Vermont, New England, and New York.
Posted by Thomas Simmons at 4:40 PM
Tuesday, September 05, 2017
To all my 3rd and 4th generation-American friends who are complaining about immigrants who "broke the law" and came here "without papers"....how the hell do you think YOUR ancestors got here? And before you shout out, "They came legally and went through all the paperwork!," listen up.
No, they didn't. They didn't have paperwork. Your Irish ancestors who arrived in the "coffin ships" during the famine had no papers. Neither did your Greek, Italian, and German ancestors fleeing war.
Many did not know what day they were born on, because they didn't have nice pictoral calendars on their non-existent refrigerators. In fact, they were born at home, and had no birth certificates. They not only lacked a college degree, they lacked a high school degree. They had no social security cards or driver's licenses, because they didn't exist.
They arrived penniless. Paperless. With little knowledge of US government, the English language, or basic literacy. They arrived at Ellis Island, had an eye test and a TB test, and some official gave them an "americanized" name because most didn't know how to spell their own names so the immigration officers guessed.
The Dreamers you're bitching about now? *These people are no different than your grandparents and great-grandparents, folks.* It's just that now you've 'made it' so you want to close the door on the next wave who just want a better life.
Before you bitch about them, go into a quiet room and ask your great-grandma up in heaven what she would say about the immigration experience, the hope of America, and the heartbreak and obstacles she encountered. Ask her what she would have done if after being here 15 years, she was threatened with being
sent back to Europe. And ask her how *she* sees those threatened by Trump's reversal of DACA.
End of rant.
Saturday, January 28, 2017
Intuitively, students understand how ridiculous this is. They conclude that while they could, if absolutely necessary, do these things, it is highly inefficient. The time and effort needed to undertake these actions means would require so much of their effort that they would have to give up engaging in other activities - such as washing their clothes, going to work, or studying for school. They understand quite easily that it makes far more sense to do what they do best - wait tables, work at a retail store, stock items in a warehouse - and then use the fruit of their labor to purchase those goods they do not or can not make as efficiently (such as a T-shirt, a can of coffee, or a piece of lumber.)
That, of course, is the basis of trade: nations do what they do best, and trade for those items that others produce more efficiently.
Mexico is the United States' third largest trading partners. In spite of the social media comments by those who insist they don't buy Mexican goods anyway, we import - quite cost-effectively - billions of dollars of goods from Mexico annually. Beer. Washing Machines. Chevy and Dodge Trucks. Medical Equipment. The United States imports a total of about $295 billion per year from Mexico, including $74 billion worth of vehicles, $63 billion of electrical machinery, $49 billion in machinery and $21 billion in agricultural products. Mexico is the second-largest supplier of agricultural imports to the United States: tomatoes, limes, lettuce, avocados, and more.
Trump's current proposal is to pay for his wall with a 20% import tariff on Mexican goods. Applying this 20% tax to $295 billion worth of imports would result in an increase in prices to the tune of almost 60 Billion dollars annually.
How would this affect Americans?
Well, once again, let's break this down into understandable personal transactions.
Let's say that I have $100 in my pocket. I go to the store to purchase a tricycle for my child, and it costs $50. I can buy this tricycle for $50, and still have another $50 left in my pocket to spend elsewhere - a pizza for the family for dinner, a bouquet of flowers for someone on their birthday, and one or two new pair of blue jeans.
Now let's say that tricycle was made in Mexico, and now there is a 20% tax on top of that price. Instead of $50, that tricycle now costs me $60, and I purchase it. But wait, now I only have $40 left in my pocket instead of $50 - in other words, i have $10 less in disposable income than I had before.
Who loses? I have to give up some other purchase: either the pizza, or the flowers, or one of the pair of jeans. Some American business must lose out, because I no longer have the ability to purchase the same number of goods I could before.
Now multiply this times all the consumers in the American economy. With the tax, $60 Billion dollars less is available for spending in American businesses.
But it gets worse.
Let's say that, due to this new tax and my lower disposable income as a result, that I decided to skip buying the flowers at the local florist. If I *had* purchased those flowers, the ten dollar bill would not have sat in a cash register: the Florist may have used some of that to buy ribbon from a ribbon manufacturer, or to buy some vases in which to display flowers, or to pay their delivery man. And of course, that delivery man would then have used that income to purchase something for himself - perhaps a new windshield wiper, or a baseball for his child, or a ticket to a local performance.
And since I couldn't buy those flowers, none of those transactions took place.
And now, multiply that by $60 billion dollars which will no longer multiply throughout the economy.
The 20% tariff may be a great way for the President to buy political capital and 'pretend' that Mexico is paying for his wall...but the reality is that Americans will pay - over and over - as the economy takes a hit it can not afford to take.
Thomas Simmons is a graduate of Hofstra University and Hofstra Law School, and has worked as an Economist for the last 30 years. He is the author of three college textbooks on Economics.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
It seems that every strong Clinton supporter, and every strong Trump supporter (or, perhaps more accurately, every Anti-Clinton Voter and every Anti-Trump Voter) has been working overtime in the mainstream media and on social media to convince people not to vote for a third party in 2016. "After all, they won't win...and that will only help Candidate X win," they say. They don't seem to understand that even if there were no third parties, I would not vote for either Clinton or Trump.
And to be honest, many of them try to give me constructive advice: "Please, this is a two-party nation, and only one of the two major party candidates can win. Why don't you work within one of the major parties to make effective change instead?," they plead.
Because history has shown that won't work.
There are only two factors that motivate party policy.
The first is money. And sorry, I don't have enough to influence either party in that respect.
The second is votes - and more important, winning elections.
When they win, they assume they touched on the right issues in the right way, and ran their ground games in an effective and successful way. If what you want is more of the exact same nonsense that both major parties have handed out, then by all means, vote for a major party. They will assume that their win means they did everything correctly, and you can expect more of the same in the years to come.
When they lose, they must admit that they did something wrong, and begin the process of looking at polls and votes and voter turnout rates to see where they lost ground.
Want to send a message to the major parties to make them seriously examine what they have done this election cycle? FORCE THEM TO RE-EVALUATE WHAT THEY'VE DONE.
It is a Media cliché at this point to speak of 'blue states' and 'red states' and 'battleground states.' But the number of states on the edge is far bigger than anyone could imagine this year.
This year, in 36 states, polls show that the combined support for Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Green exceeds the margin of difference between the Republicans and Democrats. These states represent 358 Electoral votes: far more than the 270 needed to win.
The table below indicates the margin of difference between Clinton and Trump, and the combined 3rd Party support, as published by the Washington Post 50-state poll on September 6:
And, to further drive home the point, here is a map (courtesy of 270towin.com). Red states are runaway Trump, Blue states are runaway Clinton, and the Grey states represent those states where the 3rd Party support now exceeds the difference between them:
So there you have it.
Are the chances slim that a 3rd Party candidate will win the election outright? Yes.
Are the chances large that the 3rd Party vote might tip an election in some of these state one way or another? Yes.
Are the chances even larger that a party that loses a state - or even comes close to losing - will need to examine what they're doing wrong? ENORMOUS.
No, your vote for a Third Party is not a wasted vote; rather, it is the most significant way you have demanding change in the system.
Thursday, March 03, 2016
Both parties deserve blame for creating the rise of what amounts to a Fascist candidate for President.
For years, Republicans have promoted and courted – usually with a wink and a knowing glance – racial and xenophobic politics. Mean-spirited attacks on the poor, demanding drug-testing for those on financial assistance and efforts to cut food stamp benefits – have been laced with an effort to generate warfare against a tiny portion of the population, even while slavishly throwing trillions of dollars at industry and runaway military spending. The purposeful intention has been to create an “us-versus-them” philosophy, blaming the poor, immigrants, and every “easy target” as the enemy. Beginning with Nixon’s “southern strategy” in the late 1960s, the GOP has actively courted a base that sees enemies all around. “Family Values” has become a buzzword in campaign literature for blaming gays and single mothers for the nation’s ills. Memes designed to justify the Police State and marginalize minorities have been carefully constructed to tap the darkest feelings of fear in every working-class, blue-collar white man in America. YOU, Republicans, created this monster: by courting this phenomenon, you always believed you could rely on those votes, without ever thinking that the voting block you created would ever rise, pitchforks in hand, to turn against you. Well, my friends, the chickens are coming home to roost. Trump has seized on this fear, and launched a classic fascist campaign, blaming immigrants and the poor for the economic mess we are in, cheering physical confrontation at campaign rallies, and openly showing disdain for the First and Fourth Amendments. Your subtle – and not-so-subtle – history of using racial and ethnic warfare as a standard campaign tool has created a populace that is actually acting on their fears.
But Democrats, please do not think you have had no role in this. The GOP has courted these people, but you have enraged them. One only needs to peruse the facebook postings and newspaper Op Ed pages to see how your response has to take this group of the electorate and further marginalize them. Examples of elitist, nasty, and disdainful comments directed against southerners, poor whites, evangelicals, and those who have jumped on the Trump bandwagon are plenty. By viewing – and branding - this group of the electorate as stupid, uneducated yokels, and pick-up driving redneck gun-toters with small penises - you have done what the GOP could never do: you marginalized a group that already feels fear and marginalization, and added to their anger and feelings of isolation. You don’t win hearts and minds by telling people they are stupid. Rather than build bridges and show how your policies might actually benefit these people, you have chosen, in your words and actions, to treat them like sub-Americans.
In other words, the GOP has convinced these people that there are un-American enemies out there who want to destroy their ways of life. You have answered the call by confirming that you despise these people, and that you need to legislate against their wishes “for their own good.”
Sociologically, the two major parties have created a disaffected group of low-income and middle-income Americans who are reeling under economic pressures and feel alienated, taken advantage of, and ignored by government leaders. A powerless sub-class. And they have now found their voice in Trump.
Meanwhile, both parties ignore their fears and anger: Both parties have spent us into unending debt, both parties have propped up a corrupt Banking Regime, both parties have refused to fix a broken immigration system, and both parties have acted in the interests of Big Pharma, Monsanto, and crony capitalism. Even as I write, even the Democratic National Committee is moving to eviscerate the Financial Consumer Protection Agency.
The prospect of a Trump Presidency is scary. But more scary is the situation that both Democrats and Republicans have created by pandering for votes, by playing divide and conquer with racial and class politics.
The Trump phenomenon is the result of a classic failure of career politicians to lead. He is your creation.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
First, let me introduce myself to you. I am a Christian. I am a Gay man. I am an attorney who fully embraces the civil liberties enshrined on our Constitution.
Throughout your protestations, you have made fools of the majority of Christians in this country, you have made fools of the people of Kentucky, and you have employed a tortured and innovative interpretation of Constitutional Rights.
You, Madam Clerk, insist that you are being denied your right to live out your faith. I call Balderdash.
No one is telling you to marry a woman. No one is telling that you must engage in homosexuality. In fact, no one is even telling you that you should change your mind, your beliefs, or your most sincerely held religious convictions.
But when you are acting as County Clerk, you are not acting as Kim Davis - you are acting as an agent of the Government.
The First Amendment has a long, time-honored and cherished history in this country. It reads, in part (in case you haven't actually read it) as follows:
Amendent I: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
Amendment XIV: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States."
Taken together, this is very simple: Under Amendment I, the federal government may not impose a religion upon the nation, nor may it prevent private citizens from exercising their religion. Under Amendment 14, the prohibitions imposed on the federal government are extended to State governments.
A lesson in civics, dear: Counties are administrative units of States. When you act as County Clerk, you are acting under the authority of the State - not as a private citizen. You are therefore bound by a Constitution which mandates that States must abide by the same rules as the federal government when it comes to citizen's rights. And what are our rights? To not have a particular religion and it's doctrine 'established' as official policy.
As a private citizen, you may believe as you wish, protest as you wish, worship as you wish, and even campaign for a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Marriage Equality.
As an agent of the State, you may not impose or establish a religious test on the citizens. It's very, very simple.
But I'll take it even further: As a Christian, you need to stop speaking for the Church, speaking for God, and making grand pronouncements about what you believe the Bible requires as if your position is Infallible In fact, dear, your statements are erroneous at best, and blasphemous at worst: you have presumed to speak for God on the issue.
Millions of Christians in this nation support same-sex marriage. Numerous denominations have endorsed same-sex marriage, ordination of gays and lesbians, and full GLBT equality. For you to presume to 'declare' what is or is not biblical, or Christian, or "God's Position" on the issue is the worst form of arrogance: you presume to speak on God's behalf. Shame on you.
Your approach is not supported legally, Constitutionally, or theologically.
It's time to retire from public life, consider the damage you have done to other Christians and Kentuckians by association, and reconsider your self-righteous, self-aggrandizing motivations.It's bad enough you have made a fool of yourself and a circus of Rowan County - but in addition, you have betrayed your faith, your God, your public trust, and your Constitution.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Although the case is called Obergefell v Hodges (an Ohio case), there are actually four cases involved: Obergefell v Hodges (Ohio), Tanco v Haslam (Tennessee), Bourke v. Beshear (Kentucky) and DeBoer v Snyder (Michigan). These four cases are from the four states that comprise the 6th Circuit, the only federal circuit court that has ruled against finding a right to same-sex marriage.
Contrary to popular understanding, Obergefell, Tanco, and Bourke do not directly address the question of whether states must permit same-sex marriage; all three are cases where a valid same-sex marriage was performed in another state, and the plaintiffs are suing to have their marriages recognized in their new home states. Only DeBoer raises the issue of same-sex marriage within their home state Michigan, and even that case is a little tortured because the original suit was brought against a Michigan law forbidding adoption by same-sex couples, not the actual marriage statute; the complaint was later amended to address the issue of same-sex marriage in Michigan.
With that as background, the Justices have a wide variety of choices open to them. I present them from the narrowest to the broadest possible rulings:
1) Full Faith & Credit: SCOTUS could address the very narrow issue as to whether or not a state that prohibits same-sex marriage must recognize valid same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. The precedents are somewhat divided here: interracial marriages must be recognized across state boundaries, but other marriages – such as that between cousins (which are permitted in some states, but not others) or between young people (state marriage laws vary, some permitting 16 year olds to marry, while one requires an age of 19) have been decidedly inconsistent. In a narrow ruling, the suits would be decided under the Full Faith & Credit Clause of the Constitution. Even if the couples win, it would not require the states in the 6th Circuit to legalize same-sex marriage: it would only require them to recognize valid marriages performed elsewhere. This is the least likely scenario (but it is possible) and would happen only if Justice Kennedy felt it necessary to ‘slow down” the march toward GLBT equality. A win, but a disappointment, and the battle continues.
2) Gender Bias. Raised as a possibility by Justice Roberts, this approach would apply the existing law that outlaws discrimination based on gender without a compelling state interest. In oral arguments, Roberts asked, “If Sue can marry Tom but John can not marry Tom, isn’t this a simple case of gender bias?" This has several advantages: it would effectively legalize same-sex marriage throughout the US, while creating no new law or precedent; it is also a way for the conservatives to further the issue of same-sex marriage without specifying specific “gay” rights. This approach would probably have a decisive majority of 6-3, or even 7-2, with Roberts (and possibly Alito) joining in the majority. Since this is basic existing law, gender discrimination, no new law, no new rights or ‘protected’ status for gays would be granted. This could be 6-3 or even 7-2, which would add a sense of legitimacy to the court’s ruling, and would be the 'compromise' approach in an effort to gain the widest acceptance of the decision. To me, this is a very possible outcome.
3) Equal Protection Clause. This would immediately result in legal same-sex marriage across the country, and, by applying it to gays and lesbians, would create a new application of this clause. This approach has the advantage of a clear statement concerning GLBT marriage rights, but would be more controversial than choice #2 above; it would likely be a 5-4 (possibly 6-3) decision. This is the outcome most LGBT groups are looking for.
4) Heightened Scrutiny/Protected Class. This would be the most far-reaching approach, and would affect not only marriage, but every law in every state that discriminates against gays and lesbians (such as employment and job termination, adoption, etc). Under current US law, it IS legal to discriminate between groups if the government has a rational basis. So, for instance, a state may pass a law requiring 7 years of school for doctor licensing, 5 for dentists, and 8 for anesthesiologists if they so choose. This is the standard the 6th Circuit applied to the state laws in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky. However, if a group of people is found to have been the subject of ‘animus’ (hatred) resulting in discriminatory laws, then the government must go beyond a mere rational basis; they must prove a “compelling state interest” in order to discriminate. This is a very high standard, and laws almost never meet it. If the Court decides that gays and lesbians are to be considered a protected class, there are several ramifications: first, nothing might happen initially: the Court could send all four cases back to the 6th Circuit for a re-hearing under the new standard. Justice delayed. However, in the long-term, this would affect single every law in the nation that discriminates against gays and lesbians. It is the most sweeping choice; gays would win the most rights for the long term, and the decision (like Roe v Wade) would also generate the most controversy. It is highly doubtful that this could be anything better than a 5-4 vote…and in fact, somewhat unlikely, Justice Kennedy would need to go further out on a limb than he ever has to make this happen. the dissenting opinion would likely be vicious, and conservative political groups would have the most ammunition against the court.
Of course, the Supreme Court often surprises…and often the majority vote is fractured into majority and concurring and dissenting opinions, so elements of all of the above may actually be part of a very complicated decision.
Monday, May 18, 2015
I want to address your criticism and disdain over my “poor attitude” concerning your attendance habits. It is clear that you think I’m some sort of ogre for being annoyed at your constant lateness and cavalier attitude towards actually attending class, submitting work by the assigned deadline, or taking an exam at the appointed time.
Let me explain something to you.
This is a class called “Introduction to Business.” It is designed to expose you to the work habits, issues, and dynamics of today’s business world.
Now, I realize that I may be a little bit old-fashioned. In my day (yes, I hear your groans and see your eyes roll), if the train left the Long Island Railroad Station at 7:15am, I did not wander up to the platform at 7:17 and expect it to be waiting for me. And I knew that the excuse, “Sorry, I missed my train” was not an excuse at all. It was a cause for termination. You see, if I am expected to start work at 9:00 am – and if I expect to get paid beginning at 9:00 am – that does not mean I am combing my hair in the bathroom at 9:15 and then wandering over to the coffee machine and getting around to turn on my computer at 9:30. It means I am working at 9:00 am, so when a customer calls with a problem, I am prepared to efficiently and courteously assist them.
So you are correct, I am annoyed when you seem to think that it’s perfectly fine to wander into a 9:00 am class at 9:05, 9:15, or even later, because I should somehow be honored that you chose to show up at all. I don’t care that your gas tank was low, that you burned your toast, or that you didn't anticipate that the snow might cause slower travel times. You are interrupting the class and the flow of learning, and worse, depriving your fellow students of all the wisdom you have to impart on the subject we just discussed (The very subject for which you will demand personal tutoring and explanation just before the exam, at your convenience, of course.)
And that report that was due at the beginning of class on Thursday? No, it’s not “OK if I print it off after class,” or “give it to you tomorrow,” or “just email it over the weekend because my thumb drive wasn’t working right.”
Let me explain: When I worked in an office competing for government grants, we were given strict deadlines – to the minute – to submit our proposals. When a dozen competing proposals came in, had I sauntered in 5 minutes late with our proposal, it wasn’t “OK;” it meant I just blew a chance of securing a 5 million dollar contract for my office. And it also meant that I was incredibly disrespectful to my co-workers, because all of their work on the proposal was for nothing.
And yes, when the UPS man is rushing to pick up your line of next season’s designer clothing for the Fashion Show, and you aren’t ready because “tomorrow is good enough,” you just blew your chance to sell a line of clothing to every department store in the country – and 30 months of pre-planning just went down the drain.
How do you think your co-workers and employer will feel about that?
I suggest you learn this lesson NOW.
Yes, sometimes cats run out the door and get hit by cars. Yes, your child suddenly falls ill. Yes, flat tires happen.
That doesn't mean you get a “freebie.” What it means is that you learn that these are the things that happen in the normal course of life, and if you have a deadline, you plan to meet your deadline ahead of time – you don’t start the night before and then expect a free ride when nothing is ready in the morning. Rushing in at the last minute because it's "on time" is little more than "adequate;" it is the minimum to be expected. It's nothing special.
Perhaps you’re seeking an employer who is a little more lenient than I am.
Better to learn this now than when your mortgage, auto loan, and kid’s soccer tuition depends upon your steady paycheck.
Planning on being self-employed so you don't have to put up with being told what to do? I got news for you: you will need to be even more diligent in your work, because your customers won't stand for the quality of delivery that you have exhibited.
So, call me mean, rigid, and old-fashioned. If I have presented you with a standard that requires you to grow and change – I have done my job. If you're not into that sort of thing, consider dropping the course while you can still get your tuition back.
I’ll bet that's one thing you will do on time…
Monday, May 11, 2015
I also have reason to support military veterans, whether it be at the college at which I teach, or from a more personal perspective: My son is a Marine, my uncle was a Navyman, and I’m in the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
But I am also a student of history, and what I see occurring at sports stadiums today is frightening at best.
In his 2003 seminal essay, “The 14 Characteristics of Fascism” in Free Inquiry Magazine, political scientist Dr. Lawrence Britt summarized the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia), and Pinochet (Chile). Dr. Britt found they all had 14 elements in common. Some of these include:
Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – [the] constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, [and] songs….in public displays
Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals...
Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding... Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
Obsession with Crime and Punishment - The police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism.
Enter the Sport Stadium: the largest on-going collection of citizens in "public displays."
Now, I expect the National Anthem at the start of a sporting event. I look forward to it, to be honest. And I even appreciate the playing of other nation’s anthems when the match is international. But the trend is now towards something very unsettling – so unsettling that it’s reminiscent of the elements of Fascist Propaganda cited above.
The last time I went to a Mets game Citifield, I have to admit that I was a little uncomfortable when I was exposed to a “new tradition” in the 6th inning: the announcer required that we all stand, sing God Bless America, and participate in honoring ‘the veteran of the day.’ The fact that a stadium full of thousands dutifully rose as soon as they were told to, in order to honor the military, should cause some pause. In fact, it’s downright chilling.
I thought this was a one-time special event; I have since observed this ceremony multiple times, at multiple baseball stadiums. It’s now the norm.
This past week, the Washington Post revealed a ‘formal,’ paid relationship between the government and the NFL for much the same type of intertwining of the military state and sport.
As articulately expressed by www.FreeThoughtProject.com,
“The national anthem is a long, drawn-out, pregame event. There’ll be a flyover by the Blue Angels at the perfect, climactic moment. During a break in the action, some soldier returning from Afghanistan or any other foreign war-zone will be reunited with his family while the stadium erupts in deafening applause and heart wrenching sobs.
Well, hold off on purchasing those tickets just yet, because the Washington Post found something interesting this week. All this patriotic propaganda- the troop-salutes, the banner ads, even the community service events where troops and NFL teams “build or re-build” a playground together, come with a price tag.
Fourteen NFL teams were paid a total of $5.4 million by the Department of Defense to cover the nationalistic propaganda filling downtime during the games.”
That’s right: not some organic, groundswell of thanks to our vets; but a paid program by the Pentagon to create a pro-military groupthink at a captured audience. Think about that.
So yesterday, perhaps my sensitivity was on high alert, but what I saw at a Major League Soccer game was equally scary. Soccer – often thought of as the international, or even “un-American” sport – took its required worship of the Police State to yet another level.
In the wake of the murder of NY Police Officer Brian Moore – thousands of police officers from around the nation lined the highways of Seaford, NY for his funeral. It was portrayed as a show of “support” for the officer and his family – but of course, the majority of those in attendance wouldn’t have known him if they had tripped over him when he was alive. Rather, at a time when police wrongdoing is revealed daily on websites such as CopBlock.org, this was not a show of respect as much as a show of force: the Blue Line that protects its own, showing its muscle and demanding respect and awe from the public.
The start of the inaugural match between the New York Red Bulls and the New York City Football Club in Harrison, NJ, was launched with a moment of silence for the slain officer (I could argue that while police officers get such treatment, hundreds of innocent Americans slain by police get no such honor…but I won’t belabor that point.) But then the players entered the field – with black armbands. They didn't read, “Moore” – they read “NYPD.”
Yes, I have a problem with that.
At a time when there is a public relations war between the cops and the citizens they are supposed to serve; when police defiantly turn their back on the Mayor of New York City when he dares to criticize their tactics; when courtrooms have revealed the systematic and routine planting of evidence on innocent citizens; when military equipment and armaments are being distributed to civilian forces – yes, I have a problem with two sports teams being required by their league to “take sides.” When I was insolent enough to suggest so on a Supporters Club website, the post was removed by administrators with no explanation.
When I was merely 2 years old, none other than General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned,
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist."
BBC’s documentary “Fascism and Football” is described thusly: “A documentary on how the Fascist regimes of Spain, Italy and Germany made football an important pillar of their propaganda and the lengths they went to in order to control the sport…”
Sports Fans, take note: The next time the masses at the stadium is told what to do, and how to do it, and when to do it, in an effort to honor the Police State – be aware of how you are being used – and the history behind it.
Sunday, July 06, 2014
If you support the right to advertise contraception, even if it ‘offends’ some people; if you believe that newspapers need to be able to report on corruption in government; and if you think that big banks need to be prosecuted when they conspire to manipulate currency and commodity prices – then thank the concept of Corporate Personhood.
In the wake of the Citizens United and Hobby Lobby decisions, many people are just coming to see that corporations are often treated as ‘persons’ under the law, and are upset about it; many believe it’s an invention of a runaway, pro-corporate court.
But nothing could be further from the truth. The concept of Corporate Personhood – and of corporate rights under the Constitution – is as old as our Republic itself. Having grown weary of trying to argue this point over and over in limited space on Facebook, I decided to put my thoughts into one longer blog post, and stroll through some of the critically important background relating to corporate personhood.
1. Freedom of the Press – Surely the founding fathers understood, when they penned that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom..of the press” (First Amendment) that they meant newspapers and corporate media, and not just individual reporters. Indeed, two of the most important decisions in this century protecting a free press protected a corporate entity: The New York Times.
In 1964, the New York Times claimed that the arrest of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. for perjury in Montgomery, Ala., was part of a campaign to destroy King's efforts to integrate public facilities and encourage blacks to vote. In response, Montgomery city commissioner L.B. Sullivan filed a libel action against the newspaper as a corporation. The Court ruled, in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, that even though some of the newspaper’s statements were in fact false, that the corporation was protected by the First Amendment.
Seven years later, a second blockbuster case arose involving the NY Times: New York Times Co. vs. United States.
Yes, the Corporation had rights under the Constitution, even as against government arguments of national security.
2. Freedom of Speech: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.”
In the 1970s, New York State enacted a law prohibiting anyone other than a licensed pharmacist from distributing nonprescription contraceptives to persons 16 years of age or over, prohibiting the distribution of nonprescription contraceptives by any adult to minors under 16 years of age, and prohibiting anyone, including licensed pharmacists, from advertising or displaying contraceptives.
Population Services International was a North Carolina corporation that distributed birth control knowledge and services. The corporation sold and advertised contraceptives to New Yorkers primarily through mail-order retail sale of nonmedical contraceptive devices, which was a violation of the New York law.
In Carey v. Population Services International, 431 U.S. 678 (1977), the Supreme Court held that the law was unconstitutional:
3. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
For almost 100 years, this right of “the people” has been extended to corporations.
In 1924, the US Federal Trade Commission – acting on its own - demanded internal documents and private communications from the American Tobacco Co., and denied that any warrant or cause was needed. In FTC v. American Tobacco Co. - 264 U.S. 298 (1924), the Court held,
“A governmental fishing expedition into the papers of a private corporation, on the possibility that they may disclose evidence of crime, is so contrary to first principles of justice, if not defiant of the Fourth Amendment, that an intention to grant [that] power to a[n]agency will not be attributed to Congress unless expressed in most explicit language…We cannot attribute to Congress an intent to defy the Fourth Amendment, or even to come so near to doing so as to raise a serious question of constitutional law.”
And so yes, your desk and office and items in your workplace are subject to the same protections that you have elsewhere…because 4th amendment rights have been bestowed on businesses as well.
5. Double Jeopardy – most of us growing up watching police dramas know that you can not be tried for the same crime twice once you are acquitted. It is the 5th Amendment that offers us that protection:
[N]or shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb . . .
And yet, this too has always been seen as applying to corporations.
In 1977, the Martin Linen Supply Company was brought up on charges for collusion, and after a trial by jury, acquitted. The US Government sought to bring the same charges again, and in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that the right against double jeopardy clearly applied to the company, and the suit was tossed. (United States v. Martin Linen Supply Co, 430 U.S. 564 (1977).
6. Due Process and Equal Protection – Two places in the Constitution address these rights.
The 5th Amendment provides:
[N] or shall any person . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . . , and
Section One of the 14th Amendment provides:
[N]or shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . .
In general, these two clauses require that laws be transparent and equitably enforced by both the federal government and state governments. A law must be clear, fair, and have a presumption of innocence to comply with procedural due process; all have a right to a fair and public trial conducted in a competent manner, the right to be present at the trial, and the right to an impartial jury; Taxes may only be taken for public purposes, property may be taken by the government only for public purposes, and owners of taken property must be fairly compensated .
The 14th Amendment was adopted after the Civil War, and even though it clearly states ‘person,’ the same generation that adopted the amendment understood it to apply to corporations. In Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad – 118 U.S. 394 (1886), Chief Justice Morrison Waite began oral arguments on a case by stating,
"The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does."
In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise—
words importing the singular include and apply to several persons, parties, or things;
words importing the plural include the singular;
words importing the masculine gender include the feminine as well;
words used in the present tense include the future as well as the present;
the words “person” and “whoever” include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals
The notion of Corporate Personhood has been supported by almost every provision of American Constitutional Law and legal jurisprudence, and has been since our founding. You may not like some of the decisions that rely on that concept, but, over the course of American history, the concept has carried out what the Constitution was designed to do: enhance the rights of private entities, of whatever make-up, and restrict the power of government.
Monday, June 16, 2014
100 Years of Western Meddling in the Middle East (Or, Is the Friend of the Enemy of my Enemy's Friends an Enemy - Always?)
In the timeline below, I'm not even including Afghanistan, long a proxy war between the US and Russia ... nor am I including the usual focus on Israel and Palestine. This is just an overview - a brief timeline - of the chaos that has been caused in a large part by the US, Britain, and France in the nations of Iran, Iraq, and Syria over the last 100 years. Follow along....if you can.....
1911: WWI: Russia and Britain occupy Iran. Britain stays10 years.
1916: Britain and France develop the Sykes-Picot Agreement, a secret Plan to divide the entire middle east outside of the Arabian peninsula.
1920: Britain receives Palestine, Jordan, and what is now Iraq, and installs Sunni elites into power. France occupies what is today Syria and Lebanon. France transfers some Lebanese territory to Syria, and continues occupation of both until 1946.
1921: Britain withdraws from Iran, and Reza Khan becomes Shah of Iran.
1941: WWII begins. Iraqis overthrow puppet British government in Iraq. Britain and Russia occupy Iran and Iraq to guarantee oil supplies for the Allied effort. Shah Reza Khan is deposed by the superpowers; his son Reza Pahlavi is installed as new Shah of Iran in return for western access to oil. Britain stays in Iraq until 1948.
1943: Lebanon gains independence from France; Britain occupies both Lebanon and Syria to avoid alliances with Germany.
1948: State of Israel established. Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria declare war on Israel. Syria undergoes years of internal revolts following their defeat, many based on ethnic and religious rivalries.
1951: Iranians elect Mosaddegh as Prime Minister.
1953: Mosaddegh nationalizes oil fields, and is subsequently overthrown in US-UK led coup d’etat. The Shah assumes complete control and crushes opposition with torture and secret police with US-UK support.
1958: Iraqis revolt against British-installed Monarchy and Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist party assumes control.
1966: Ba’athist Party also takes control in Syria, but the group is divided between pro and anti Iraq factions.
1970: The Anti-Iraq wing of the Ba’athist Party, supported by the military, overthrows the Syrian government and installs anti-Iraq Ba’athist Hafez el-Assad as leader.
1975: Civil War breaks out in Lebanon.
1976: Syria begins a 30 year occupation and effective control of Lebanon.
1978: Iranians revolt against the Shah; The Iranian Revolution installs Ayatollah Khomeini in a theocratic state.
1979: US refuses to return the Shah to Iran to face trial; students take Americans Embassy hostage for 444 days.
1980: Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invades Iran, receiving financial, military, and chemical weapons from the US.
1988: Hussein’s Iraq launches chemical genocide against Kurdish minority in northern Iraq.
1990: Iraq annexes Kuwait. US, France, UK, and Syria enter the Gulf War against Hussein; Kurds rebel in the north.
1998: US President Clinton signs Iraq Liberation Act, calling for “regime change” in Iraq.
2000: Syria’s Hafez el-Assad dies; his son Bashar al-Azzad takes control.
2001: Al Qaeda attacks the United States. US State Department meets with Iran secretly in Switzerland to obtain cooperation on the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan and al qaeda throughout the region.
2002: President Bush refers to Iran as being part of the “Axis of Evil” and US-Iran relations deteriorate quickly.
2003: US-led coalition enters Iraq and overthrows Hussein. Shi’ite led coalition government installed, with a semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north.
2005: A series of assassinations of Lebanese officials is blamed on Syria’s Assad; protests and pressure from the west result in Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon.
2008: Lebanon’s new Cabinet establishes Hezbollah, a Shi’ite paramilitary organization, with legal status. Hezbollah is committed to driving the Americans, French, and British out of the Levant, is funded by Iran, and allied with Syria’s Assad in the Syrian Civil War.
2011: US Troops leave Iraq, and Sunni-Shi’ite struggles accelerate. The “Arab Spring” spreads to Syria and full-scale civil war ensues, resulting in over 100,000 deaths and 2 million refugees. Anti-Assad forces include Kurds and ISIS (“Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant”) allies in the northeast of Syria.
2014: The Sunni-dominated ISIS military assume effective control over eastern Syria, and begin successful invasion of Western Iraq.
News outlets and US Government Hawks reduce the march of ISIS to that of "al qaeda linked militants" - a simpleton's version.