Posts By: Michael Scott

Confiscation of Money and Private Property: Are You Fed Up Yet?

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It’s 3:00 a.m. in the morning, and I am up writing this after having my sleep disrupted by a disturbing dream. In my dream, I am headed somewhere on an Amtrak train when it suddenly comes to an abrupt stop. A federal agent approaches and asks for the work ID I have on a cord around my neck. I say “No,” stating that it is unconstitutional to ask me for this without reasonable cause. The agent responds with “Okay, thank you very much,” before proceeding to ask other passengers the same question.

Later in the dream, I notice a long line of people have been rounded up at the back of the train. The female conductor, who is stationed at the front of the line, just shakes her head. She mentions to the remaining passengers that this has become a frequent occurrence on many train routes and that those who agree to the confiscation are rounded up for additional search and seizure. “Those who say yes are presumed to be guilty,” she says, with a very concerned look on her face.

I am not surprised by the timing of this dream, because I have been preparing for several days to write an article on what is known as Civil Asset Forfeiture. This practice is coming under fire across the U.S. as growing numbers of innocent Americans are having their cash, computers and other items confiscated by the feds, without even being charged with a crime.

Civil Asset Forfeiture is a little-known legal tool used by law enforcement to confiscate your property, sell it and then use the proceeds to fund their crime-fighting efforts – or just buy themselves new stuff that they want. Because of the egregious manner in which it is used, states like Michigan and New Mexico have enacted reforms to prevent innocent citizens from having their money and property taken. And even law enforcement officers are now speaking out against this practice, which brings in millions in revenue to police departments who then use the money to further oppress the masses.

So how widespread is this issue? Well, you be the judge. The best case example is in Philadelphia – the so-called City of Brotherly Love – where from 2002 to 2012, over $64 million in forfeiture funds (almost $6 million a year) was exacted from its citizens. Just in 2011 alone, city prosecutors filed over 6,500 forfeiture cases to confiscate cash, cars, homes and other property. The worst offense of all is that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office is reputed to have used $25 million of that $64 million to pay salaries, including those of the very prosecutors who led the forfeiture actions.

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Are Freelancers Making Bank?

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In May of 2002, a book entitled ‘Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself’ was released to much acclaim. In it, author Daniel Pink coined the term ‘free agent’ to reflect  movement towards an economy dominated by freelancers and the self-employed. His message was revolutionary at the time, sparking debate as to whether this new band of independent workers would be able to earn a sustainable living via non-traditional work.

Let’s fast forward to 2015. According to a new report released by the contractor-matching site Upwork and the Freelancers Union, freelancers say that they are indeed making bank, bringing in more money than their counterparts in traditional office jobs. This year, an estimated 34% of the U.S. workforce categorized themselves as freelancers. When distilled down to raw numbers, 54 million Americans – up by over over 700,000 workers from the previous year – are functioning in either a full or part-time freelance capacity. Many talent economy experts expect this trend to continue.

My Own Personal Journey

After 7 years in leadership roles in the healthcare human resources field, I began my journey as a solo business owner in 1993, providing consulting services to a wide swath of corporate clients. This later morphed into a career on the speaking circuit, amassing an average of 60 engagements a year for conferences throughout the U.S.  

To handle the heavy demand of my growing business, I even hired a virtual assistant (me in Chicago, she in Minneapolis), before this idea had even become popular.

Needless to say, we – among the rare few back then who elected to unlock the corporate handcuffs to pursue our own gig – were considered to be nuts. “What about your retirement benefits?”,  a few would ask. “It seems so unstable,” said others.

Yes, it seemed risky at the time. But honestly, I’ve always felt more secure pursuing my own thing. Even to this day, the thought of being locked into a W-2 job evokes a nauseating sense of unease in the pit of my stomach. I know, I know… it’s a control thing.

In fact, talk to most freelancers these days and they will share a similar tune. We all love the flexibility of creating a career on our own terms. And in terms of money, it’s far better to capture all of the money due for the value you’ve delivered than to have to work for pay that has a ceiling. Unlimited income possibilities + flexibility: how can you beat that?

Those surveyed indicated that they are largely satisfied with how the freelance lifestyle is working out for them. 60% said they turned freelance by choice and as a result, they are earning more than they did previously in their traditional jobs. And somewhat surprisingly, 78% noted that they had exceeded their previous earnings within a year of going solo.

Bars Bustle with Sports Season Boost

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Fall is my favorite season. I delight in the changing leaf colors and temperate weather patterns. But what I love most is that it’s the time when the world of spectator sports seems to come into full bloom, cramming in college and NFL football as well as NHL hockey. Furthermore, the baseball world series run is also in full trajectory. And my favorites – the NCAA and NBA basketball seasons – are just around the bend.

Bars and restaurants that have been on a slow cooker during the summer months suddenly become alive with sports enthusiasts from all walks of life, as the dawn of fall sports season arrives. The sound of fans hooting and howling for their favorite team reflects the important role that spectator sport plays in fostering community spirit and economic development.

In this vein, local bars function as ‘third-places’, a concept coined by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg. These are places where people congregate, other than at work or at home. In his book ‘The Good Great Place’, Oldenburg suggests that locales like community bars are vital to local civic connection and economic vitality.

 

Hot Wings and a Cold Brew

Back during my undergraduate days at The Ohio State University, a watering hole hangout called Buffalo Wild Wings & Weck (known as BW3) was an off-campus favorite of mine. It was famous for its 3.2% beer selection and blistering hot chicken wings; the hottest batch on the menu was affectionately called Three Alarm Fire.

Fast forward to almost twenty years later when BW3 morphed into what is now known as Buffalo Wild Wings, a franchised series of restaurants and bars that have become an epicenter of activity for rabid sports fans nationwide. In November of 2003, their initial public offering stock price was $8.50 per share. This price skyrocketed 35% in its first day of trading. If you had purchased shares then, you would be sitting pretty on an investment that has today realized an almost 1,600% gain on your initial investment. Just as a comparison, the S&P returned a respectable 135% over that same period.

By the way, I have a friend – a highly successful professional investor – who asked me one day back in 2010 whether I had any recommendations for stock picks. Out of my ass, I mentioned Buffalo Wild Wings. Now whenever I cross paths with her at a local Denver coffeehouse, she frequently offers to buy me a latte… which I request with a couple of espresso shots to jolt me out of the regret that I did not take my own advice and buy that darned stock.

Lest I digress, the point I am trying to make here is that bars and sports are ideal team mates for fueling a free market economy.  Let’s take pro basketball as an example. It is said that during his playing days in Chicago, Michael Jordan was worth in excess of $100 million to the Windy City. I conjecture that a sizable chunk of that amount was accrued at local bars and restaurants where foot traffic swelled, both before and after games. The same effect occurred with the Chicago Cubs and the White Sox of baseball lore.

Harriet Tubman: New Face of the $20 Bill?

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The abolitionist Harriet Tubman has long been admired for her civil rights legacy. And if a grassroots organization has its way, she will one day adorn the front of a $20 bill.

The group, Women On 20s, recently asked the public to vote to get Tubman on U.S. printed currency. She garnered nearly 34% of the vote, edging out former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for the distinction of replacing Andrew Jackson. If this is codified by the Department of Treasury, Tubman would make history as the first woman and the first African-American to be represented on American paper currency.

A little history about Tubman. She was arguably the most influential figure in the Underground Railroad Movement, a network of routes that facilitated slaves fleeing to northern free states as well as Canada. Tubman, who herself escaped slavery in Maryland, made it her personal cause to free hundreds of slaves out of bondage. In addition to her work to free slaves, she was a passionate advocate for women’s equality and suffrage.

As she noted about her abolitionist work, “I was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, never running my train off the track and never losing a passenger.”

This campaign to highlight women via U.S. paper currency has gained a ton of political support, including U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), from a state that has a prominent history in the freedom movement. Women on 20s has delivered a petition to President Obama, asking him to instruct Treasury Secretary Lew to circulate these bills in anticipation of the women’s suffrage centennial in 2020. This will be an unprecedented move if executed; one with rich historical significance for the cause of liberty.

 

 

Rocky Times for Obamacare: What’s Next

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A few of my friends here in the Rocky Mountain State recently had a jagged boulder heaved their way. Sadly, I had warned them that this would be likely to occur, but they wouldn’t listen. Now, after drinking the health care reform Kool-Aid, they are the ones whining about the very initiative for which they had high hopes.

So here’s the scoop…..

Colorado HealthOp, a non-profit co-op that has been a key element of Obamacare in this state, announced last week that it will not be offering health care plans in 2016, becoming the seventh of 23 taxpayer-funded co-ops to shut down across the country. This comes on the heels of the $2 billion-plus in government funding that has already been distributed to insurance cooperatives across the nation to fuel a more competitive environment for Obamacare marketplaces.

This decision to close down is due in large part to a ruling from Colorado’s health insurance regulator, decertifying the insurer from Connect For Health Colorado, the state’s Obamacare marketplace exchange. Reports suggest that the move is linked to financial troubles at the co-op, attributed in large part to the federal government reneging on its commitment to provide $10 million for operational support under the Obamacare Risk Corridor program. As a result, it is estimated that nearly 83,000 Coloradans will struggle to find alternative

America’s Growing Qualms About Banks

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“I will lose my vehicle if I don’t get my money. My car note is past due.”

“They (Rushcard) make 94 cents every time a direct deposit hits, $2.50 every time you withdraw money and $1.00 every time you use the card.”

“No access to my money. Been waiting since Oct. 9th”

“This card only preys on poor folks who have messed up their credit and can’t get a regular bank account.”

These are among the comments posted on social media in response to technical issues facing RushCard, a prepaid debit card program founded by iconic hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. This highly popular alternative to traditional banking has recently faced major criticism among its members due to paychecks and direct deposits failing to appear in their accounts. It also raises questions about whether services such as those offered by RushCard take advantage of people who, due to myriad reasons, may be unable or unwilling to secure a traditional bank account. “