Anthony Varriano

Anthony Varriano

Sure, a business card will remind a potential customer who you are, how to contact you and what your business does, but you can be sure most people will never look at that business card again unless they absolutely need your services. And even then, they’ll probably have a hard time remembering where they stashed it. I know I have multiple stacks of business cards on my desk and bookshelf in the office that were organized in a certain manner I can no longer remember.

 

Even the nicest business cards get lost in the literal shuffle. Your business needs more than just business cards to convert potential customers into paying customers. If you really want to make a good first impression, you need to leave potential customers with promotional items they love so much they won’t even consider them advertisements. They’re just cool things they want, or even need. So here are the best promotional items to advertise your business and turn potential customers into paying customers.

The Best Promotional Items

5) Clever T-shirts

While more expensive than your typical promotional item, a clever t-shirt worn by a loyal customer is the best walking billboard in which you can invest. Not only do you have ample space to let people know what makes your products or services unique, but you have an ambassador who can pay lip service to your company’s quality, too.

 

T-shirts are an especially effective investment for nonprofit organizations because their supporters are much more likely to represent the organization on their backs, or even pay for the t-shirt to represent their favorite nonprofits. Nonprofit supporters associate themselves with their nonprofits of choice like sports fans associate themselves with their favorite teams. They aren’t just consumers or spectators -- they have a real effect on the game. Some nonprofit fans even get in on the marketing efforts by designing t-shirts for their favorite nonprofits. That’s the case for the Marijuana Policy Project, which holds a t-shirt design competition annually.

 

You can save some money by printing your own t-shirts. Here’s a video on how to do just that. Personally, I can attest to how difficult it is to make great looking t-shirts, not because making the t-shirt is difficult. The problem is never applying the ink to the shirt, but properly exposing your silk screen. If you mess it up, you’re out at least $50 -- $25 for the screen you ruined and $25 for the new screen you’ll have to buy. The best screens we’ve worked with we built ourselves rather than buying at the arts and crafts store. They still work to this day despite bottles upon bottles of ink going through them.

 

Building and exposing your own screens might not be worth your time given the many options to design custom t-shirts online for around $3 to $6 per shirt, depending on quantity. But if you intend to print a ton of t-shirts over a long period of time, having a means to print them yourself whenever you need them would be a wise investment.

4) Mugs

Ranging from 60 cents to around $2 each, a customized, ceramic mug is something everyone can use and everyone around them can see. Giving your potential customers or even loyal customers a mug is commonplace in many industries. Most of my mugs advertise something: the title company who helped me close on my house, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, New York Air Brakes, Makoshika State Park, Hershey’s Chocolate. In fact, just one of my six mugs lacks advertising.

 

Mugs are always useful and tend to be used in the company of others. People at the office drink coffee or tea from their personal mugs at meetings, and people at parties drink beer from glass mugs. Both of which should be advertising your business.

3) Mobile Phone Wallets

As phones get larger, pocket space gets smaller. Enter the mobile phone wallet -- a silicone wallet to hold identification, credit cards and cash right on the back of your phone. The backs of people’s mobile phones are like billboards for your brand. People are on their phones constantly, so your brand is bound to reach people while giving your potential customer the convenience of carrying less stuff.

 

You can easily design your mobile phone wallet using online software and choose multiple colors so your potential customers are comfortable affixing your promotional item to their precious mobile phone. You can order mobile phone wallets in bulk at less than 70 cents each.  

2) Calendars

Classic car calendars are my personal weakness. Everytime I see a classic car calendar for free I take one. I could have two at home and still find another place to put a third. You can never have enough calendars or pictures of hot cars. It’s cheap wall art as well as a practical item that serves a purpose. But not all calendars provide the same promotional payoff.

 

First of all, don’t bother with the peel and stick calendars that simply have your company logo atop a small, plain calendar capable of nothing more than telling your potential customer the date. There’s no space to write on it, so it’s not likely to get much attention. It also can’t be easily seen nor does it attract the eyes of passersby. If you’re going to give a potential customer a calendar, make it a calendar that draws their eyes as well as the eyes of anyone in the vicinity.

 

The same could be said of desktop calendars. They’re just too small, and while more practical and useful than the peel and stick calendars, you’re not going to catch the eyes of anyone except the person behind the desk.

 

The traditional, spiral-bound, hanging calendar is still king of the calendars. The average price of a customized calendar is less than $1, and you can design one yourself using online software and your own images.

 

Magnetic calendars are starting to catch on because they combine two great marketing materials into one. Most people’s magnets on their refrigerator/freezer were probably free and probably advertise something. Of the eight magnets on my fridge, I paid for one, and that’s because I wanted a momento from The Mob Museum in Las Vegas, which is well worth your time and money if you’re in Sin City. While I have no use for a calendar on which I can’t write, a magnet always comes in handy, which brings us to the best promotional item to advertise your business.

1) Magnets

While most calendars have a promotional life of one year, magnets will promote your business for as long as they’re magnetized, so don’t pinch pennies, which is all you’ll be pinching. Most magnets can be had for less than 50 cents each unless you’re going big. While I really like the practicality and convenience of magnetized notepads, they too have a limited promotional life, so stick with a magnet that won’t exhaust its usefulness.

 

Invest in a thick magnet that will stand the test of time and secure a bunch of stuff to the fridge. There’s nothing more annoying than a cheap magnet that struggles to keep my cousin’s holiday, family photo attached to my freezer. But don’t pay the premium for the magnetized paper clips. They don’t allow you to convey any other information about your business besides your logo, which will be lost amongst the many papers the clip will hold.

 

The only real drawback of magnets is the competition. Refrigerators are consumed by children’s drawings, “A+” test papers, grocery lists, to-do lists and all manner of coupons or receipts -- each suspended there by a different magnet likely advertising a different company -- maybe even a competitor of yours. So it’s very important that your magnet stands out from the crowd.  

The Worst Promotional Items

3) Keychains

The only people who see keychains are the owners of said keychains, so you can’t expect your investment in this promotional item to payoff. But I’ve seen variations of this promotional item that keeps it out of last place.

 

After a football game one day, I was handed a keychain that doubled as a windshield scraper. I’ve seen others that serve as flashlights. The best keychain I’ve seen is a bottle opener with a beer brand advertised on it. So if you’re going to go this route, make sure your keychain serves a purpose besides hanging from people’s keys.

2) Hats

People who regularly wear hats tend to have hats they prefer to wear. A cheap, trucker hat with your company’s logo is not likely one of those preferred hats. The only time I wear promotional headgear is when I’m doing construction work outside and don’t want to ruin one of my preferred hats. That’s not going to get your brand noticed.

 

Hats are also expensive promotional materials, especially given the limited return on investment. You can expect to pay about the same amount for a hat as you would a t-shirt, which is just asinine.

1) Pens

Pens are too small to allow others to see what’s advertised on them. And while they’re an affordable investment (less than 40 cents each), the return on investment in terms of lead generation is next to nothing.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: USA Prepares, Building America, Free Talk Live, American Survival Radio, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Drop Your Energy Bill, The Tech Night Owl

On this date 13 years ago, renowned writer and creator of “Gonzo” journalism, Hunter S. Thompson shot himself in the head because football season was over, he couldn’t walk or swim, he was always “bitchy” and had lived 17 more years than he needed or wanted to. His succinct suicide note was in keeping with Hunter’s writing style. He made dents, not first impressions.

 

The one thing Hunter could do in his old age was fire guns, and boy did he love his guns. Apparently not enough to continue living, though. He would probably have a lot to say about our constant debate on gun control in this country. Or maybe he’d have little to say, like “You can control my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.”

 

I know the man a little better than that, though. In fact, I think the only fact he accepted while alive was “the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism.” While I never met him, I spent roughly four years of my life researching his life and works, which culminated in a Master’s professional paper entitled “How Hunter S. Thompson Built Fox News and What We Can Do About It.”

 

Hunter was my hero going into that research, but my opinion of him changed dramatically as I began to realize how much he influenced journalism of today and made it more acceptable for journalists to insert themselves as the heroes of their stories, but more importantly, editorialize the news. Journalists are telling us how to feel about the news instead of simply reporting it, and Hunter’s success is a big reason for that.

 

Hunter’s blending of fact and fiction to convey deep meaning through news is a triumphant failure with unintended, lasting effects. Hunter’s most read work, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was what Hunter called “a failed experiment in Gonzo journalism” because his intent was to send his publisher his notes as his final copy -- without editing. That’s what he saw as Gonzo journalism.

 

“True Gonzo reporting needs the talents of a master journalist, the eye of an artist/photographer and the heavy balls of an actor. Because the writer must be a participant in the scene, while he’s writing it—or at least taping it, or even sketching it. Or all three. Probably the closest analogy to the ideal would be a film director/producer who writes his own scripts, does his own camera work and somehow manages to film himself in action, as the protagonist or at least a main character.”

 

Now we have journalists live on the scene reacting to the news as it occurs thanks to mobile phones and the Internet -- and a lot of those journalists are really just actors. Hunter didn’t need to act. He was simply a character. The man was even more interesting than his greatest creation. He reportedly nearly drowned Bill Murray in his pool when they first met prior to Murray portraying Hunter on screen in Where the Buffalo Roam. The story goes that Hunter tied Murray to a chair and told him, “If you can get out of this, I can trust you,” and kicked the chair and actor into the pool. They became fast friends.

 

Hunter also left the heart of an elk on his neighbor’s doorstep as a birthday gift. In the morning, Jack Nicholson awoke to an entryway covered in blood.

 

By the time I finished writing my paper, Hunter was more a villain than a hero to me, and I set out to become a journalist and attempt to do the boring, objective journalism of my new hero, Edward R. Murrow, better than anyone ever had, citing vast amounts of reputable sources and changing minds with facts instead of feelings. My attempts lasted six years, and I still wrote a weekly column in the vein of Gonzo journalism, connecting sports and politics like Hunter did for ESPN’s “Page 2” -- some of my favorite work of Hunter’s. I still can’t escape that theme it seems. It’s become an addiction of mine.

 

I lived my life for a long time based on how I thought Hunter would. “What would Hunter do,” I often asked myself. “Indulge,” was most often the answer. I found myself asking the same question with regard to the gun control debate, but the answer is more complicated.

 

I don’t own a gun. I never have. I grew up firing guns, though. My grandfather on my mother’s side taught me to shoot a BB gun growing up, and he taught me well. I was one of the best shots in my hunter education class, and the first deer I shot I hit through the neck as it was running away from me. I have a pretty poor sense of distance, but I’d say the shot was between 50 and 100 yards. I haven’t hunted since that season. It’s just not for me. I didn’t feel like I was playing fair. I still enjoy a little target practice, though, which is why when I wrote about what I thought reasonable, sensible gun control looks like I didn’t include a ban on assault rifles.

 

I watched a man, teary-eyed, saw an assault rifle in half on social media yesterday because he never wants to worry about his gun taking a life, even in the hands of another gun owner. He reminded me that all these mass murderers were simply legal gun owners prior to becoming mass murderers, but I still don’t think banning assault rifles is necessary. Hunter wouldn’t either. That would surely get his blood boiling.

 

I’m sure Hunter would agree that the mentally ill shouldn’t be allowed to own guns, and while he would likely hate it, he would have a mental health evaluation conducted in order to own a gun if it was required. I’m sure he’d agree that every aspiring gun owner should have to pass a criminal background check, too. And I’m sure he’d agree that taxpayers should never have to pay the emergency room bill of an uninsured gun owner who shoots him- or herself. I’m sure he’d have no problem waiting 10 days or so to buy a gun, but he might take issue with my recommendation of raising the minimum age to own a gun to 21. He probably thinks the drinking age should be 18 again. I can see him saying, “If you're old enough to die for your country, you’re old enough to drink.” If that’s the only issue that brilliant gun nut takes with my attempt at adopting reasonable, sensible gun control policies, I’d say they should be agreeable to most every gun nut.

 

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: The Costa Report, Free Talk Live, Flow of Wisdom, America’s First News, America Tonight, Bill Martinez Live, Korelin Economics Report, The KrisAnne Hall Show, Radio Night Live, The Real Side, World Crisis Radio, Lock ‘n Load

Another 17 children are dead after a mass shooting at a South Florida high school -- another avoidable tragedy allegedly perpetrated by a teenager with an assault weapon who left the following YouTube comment a year ago: "I'm going to be a professional school shooter."

Nikolas Cruz, 19, who was expelled from the school and not allowed on campus with a backpack after being found with bullets on campus, is in custody and charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. But we saw it coming and still couldn’t stop it. Why? Because it’s way too damn easy to get a gun in this country.

There are more guns than Americans in the United States. There are 112.6 guns per 100 residents. Next on the list is Serbia at 75.6 guns per 100 residents. But addressing the number of guns available is problematic given the gun lobbyists and Conservatives clutching their firearms until death do they part.

The typical Conservative will tell you there isn’t much difference between the number of mass shootings in America compared to, say, Europe, citing statistics from the Right-leaning, often erroneous and mostly fraudulent Crime Prevention Research Center. They are, of course, wrong. On average, there is more than one mass shooting for each day in America, and there are 29.7 homicides by firearm per one million Americans, according to 2012 numbers. The next most is 7.7 homicides per one million Switzerland residents.

But how do we keep these tragedies from happening? How do we keep guns out of the hands of people like Cruz? Addressing the ease of access to guns is easy. Here’s what I think reasonable, sensible gun control looks like.

1) Raise the required age to own a gun to 21

The only teenagers owning firearms should be members of the military. If 18 is too young to drink or use cannabis recreationally, then it’s too young to own a gun. Both drinking and using cannabis are less dangerous than firearms. Firearm-related deaths are the third leading cause of injury-related deaths in the United States, and young people are more likely to injure themselves with a gun accidentally. Over 1,300 victims of unintentional shootings from 2005 to 2010 were under 25 years of age, and “such injuries were approximately nine times more common among male than female patients and highest among males ages 20-24.”

I have no problem with children learning how to properly handle, respect and fire a gun or hunt with their fathers and grandfathers. Hell, shooting was one of my favorite pastimes growing up, too, but I was always in the presence of a drinking-aged adult -- even with a BB gun. That should remain the case for those 18 to 20 years of age.

2) Require all gun owners to have health insurance

A recent study released by three researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in October 2017, found the yearly charges associated with treating gunshot patients in American hospitals is nearly $3 billion.

American taxpayers should not have to flip the bill for any uninsured American who shoots him- or herself or someone else unintentionally. As of the 2010 census, there were 234,564,071 Americans over the age of 18. As of 2015, a third of Americans said they owned a gun. That gives us roughly 77,406,143 gun owners in America, and if the current rate of uninsured Americans is 11.3 percent, then roughly 8,746,894 American gun owners are uninsured. Everyday, 46 people are shot unintentionally in America. If 11.3 percent of the responsible parties are uninsured, at $900 per uninsured hospital visit, it results in over $1.7 million taxpayers have to cover annually.

3) Require all gun owners to undergo a mental health evaluation

Since health insurance is now a prerequisite for gun ownership, it shouldn’t be a problem for aspiring gun owners to undergo a mental health evaluation to prove they are not mentally ill or a substance abuser. This would make it more difficult for the mentally ill to obtain firearms and likely lower suicide rates, as “suicide rates are much higher in states with higher rates of gun ownership, even after controlling for differences among states for poverty, urbanization, unemployment, mental illness, and alcohol or drug abuse,” according to the Center for Injury Research and Prevention.

Since the passage of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act in 2008, also known as the Mental Health Parity Law, health insurers are mandated to treat mental health and substance abuse coverage comparably to physical health coverage, so the cost to the aspiring gun owner would be modest.

4) Require all gun owners to pass criminal background checks

Just 12 states and Washington, D.C. mandate background checks for the sale of all firearms, including private sales that occur at gun shows and transfers between family members or friends. Another six only require background checks for the private purchase of handguns. The other 32 do not require a background check to purchase a gun at a gun show or from a private dealer.

Mandating that all states require criminal background checks to be conducted prior to the private sale of firearms would make it more difficult for those with a history of violent crime to obtain firearms.

5) The wait period to purchase a gun should be longer than the wait period to adopt a pet

I wrote about this back in October, but in summation, the process of adopting a pet is more thoroughly vetted by adoption agencies than the gun ownership process. Some adoption agencies will request the medical history of every pet you’ve ever had to make sure you’re not an abuser. They’ll ask if you’re gainfully employed, and some will even conduct in-home investigations to determine if your home is a safe place for the pet. Gun retailers aren’t coming to your home to make sure you have a gun safe or even asking if you own a gun lock. They’re not concerned about whether you have a job or a criminal history or the state of your mental health. They just want to sell you a gun.

Obtaining a gun just after the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791 wasn’t easy -- even for the federal government. There were reportedly just two American armories back then. “In an attempt to equip the militias sufficiently to protect the newly independent country, Congress ordered the purchase of 7,000 muskets in 1793. A year later, it had managed to buy only 400,” according to a story in The Economist based on the works of Michael Bellesiles. So back in the day it took almost an entire day just to produce a gun, and that’s combining the production of every gun manufacturer in the country. By 1808, one factory would produce 50,000 barrels, locks, rammers, and bayonets per year in Britain.

When the Second Amendment was ratified, the American forefathers certainly didn’t think assault weapons and rocket launchers would be possible, but they were also working with a knowledge that guns take a long time to produce. They certainly didn’t think there would come a day where there were more guns than Americans.

Since aspiring gun owners would be required to have a mental health evaluation and criminal background check conducted, a 10-day wait period would give them and the seller an opportunity to fulfill those prerequisites. It would also result in fewer crimes of passion, as those without guns looking to acquire guns in a fit of rage would have 10 days to think about the consequences of their intended actions.

6) Charge gun owners who don’t fulfill all the above prerequisites with unlawful possession of a firearm

Reasonable, sensible gun control starts with enforcing the current laws on the books. This will be easy once the infrastructure is created to allow law enforcement to view whether the gun owner has fulfilled all the prerequisites for gun ownership.


If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows:The Costa Report, Free Talk Live, Flow of Wisdom, America’s First News, America Tonight, Bill Martinez Live, Korelin Economics Report, The KrisAnne Hall Show, Radio Night Live, The Real Side, World Crisis Radio, Lock ‘n Load

Monday, 12 February 2018 17:42

7 home improvements that will payoff most

The Home Building and Remodeling Expo visited Minneapolis over the weekend, providing ample opportunities to win things, ranging from complete kitchen and bathroom remodels to an ATV. There was also ample opportunity to schedule free estimates for home improvements and remodels.

The Dody Kettler Team of Keller Williams Realty put together a flyer with the four “home improvements worth doing,” including estimates and expected cost recuperation according to the 2018 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report. That information was mostly incomplete and is based on who is buying homes now and not who will be buying homes.

Millennials are looking for different things than their mothers and fathers did when buying their first homes. Some staples like curb appeal and off-street parking are still important, but you’d be surprised what Millennials want in a home. So here are the seven home improvements that will payoff the most given the new market of Millennial buyers.

7) Exterior lighting

More than half of all buyers desire well-lit exteriors, but Millennials showed a stronger preference compared to other generations. A well-lit exterior conveys safety and security, and if you think homebuyers won’t drive by your home at night, you’re wrong. Thoroughly informed homebuyers know to visit the neighborhoods where they’re shopping to see what the neighborhood looks and sounds like at night. If you’ll forgive the cliché, the difference can be night and day.

Installing exterior lighting around garden beds and lights operating on motion sensors is a modest expense that will really improve your curb appeal and keep the offers coming. Path lights run $10 a piece, and motion-sensor lights can be had for less than $20.

6) Energy efficient appliances

It should be no surprise that energy efficiency is important to Millennial homebuyers entering the market. They are environmentally conscious and frugal to boot. That’s why you shouldn’t ignore updating your appliances before selling your home.

Installing a Solar Array

If you own a small home and require very little electricity, installing a solar array could pay itself off before you even complete the rest of your home renovations. I averaged 312 kilowatt-hours in January at a rate of roughly 15 cents per kilowatt-hour through Xcel Energy. Wholesale Solar has a calculator that can recommend a solar array perfect for your home and estimates how long it will take to payoff. I could install a solar array for just over $1,000. It will pay for itself in just two years, so don’t let anyone tell you installing a solar array is too expensive.

Replacing Your Hot Water Heater

Besides your heating and cooling systems, your hot water heater is the most energy intensive appliance in your home. My furnace and hot water heater were recently replaced and played a big role in influencing my purchase. Any home with a hot water heater or furnace more than three years old were basically knocked off my list immediately.

Your hot water heater is also the cheapest of the “big three” appliances to replace. Units that can heat 30 gallons run less than $400, and 40-gallon units are less than $600.

Replacing Your Washer/Dryer

Replacing that old clothes washer/dryer combination is an absolute must. Your washer and dryer are responsible for 13 percent of your home energy consumption. That’s way more than your refrigerator, which accounts for four percent of your home energy consumption.

Keep in mind that, more than anything, Millennials want a laundry room, and Millennials prefer their laundry to be on the same floor as their bedroom, so if you have a room on your main floor for a stackable washer/dryer and can run some plumbing to it easily, it would behoove you to do so.

Replacing Your Refrigerator/Freezer

The refrigerator/freezer is the cornerstone of the kitchen. As the biggest item in your kitchen, it dictates the look and feel of your cooking environment and tends to turn heads, in either a good or bad way.

Before you decide to replace your refrigerator/freezer, though, use Energy Star’s calculator to determine whether it’s worth it. A new refrigerator isn’t going to sell your house, but if you have other renovations that will take years to complete, or intend to stay in your home for awhile, having an energy efficient refrigerator/freezer could payoff. Replacing a refrigerator/freezer made in the early 1990s with an Energy Star refrigerator/freezer can save you over $150 per year.

Oven/Range

New appliances can make your kitchen bigger and give it an updated look that will be appreciated by anyone who cooks. I moved out an old, 40-inch-wide gas range in my kitchen and replaced it with a newer, more efficient 36-inch range that gave me enough room to add an 18-inch dishwasher to a kitchen measuring roughly 100 square feet. So not only am I saving energy, but I made my kitchen bigger, which goes a lot further than new appliances in selling your home. I even scored a newer microwave that matches the oven/range! If new appliances aren’t in your budget, shop Craigslist for local deals.

5) Wood deck additions

Curb appeal is still most important when it comes to enticing offers on your home, and nothing improves your curb appeal like a wood deck addition. Composite decking might hold up better against the elements, but wood still looks and feels better, as is indicated by the fact that three of every four new decks built are still constructed with pressure-treated lumber. Much of that has to do with cost.

A two-by-six-inch piece of pressure-treated lumber runs a little more than $1 per linear foot. Composite decking is more than twice that, and plastic decking is three times the price. So if you’re going to build a deck, build it of wood. You won’t mind washing it annually and putting a stain on it every few years because it will look and feel so much better than your neighbors’ cold, composite deck.

The 2018 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report says you can expect to recuperate almost 83 percent of your costs on a wood deck addition. That cost is estimated at $10,950 on average. A composite deck addition only recuperates 63.6% of an average cost of $17,668.

4) Manufactured stone veneer

Again, improving the curb appeal of your home continues to top the list of home renovations that payoff the most. Adding a manufactured stone veneer around the base of your home will have homebuyers salivating before they cross the threshold...or even park the car.

You don’t have to be a millionaire to give your home good masonry anymore. Rock work has exploded in popularity, so there are more people doing it and materials that allow it to be done at a reasonable rate. You can get enough manufactured stone to cover 150 square feet for just over $1,100.  

You’d probably be surprised to discover that adding a manufactured stone veneer is estimated to cost just over $8,000 on average. The return on investment is even more shocking -- 97.1 percent and climbing considerably.

3) Steel entry door replacement

As this list indicates, curb appeal is still king when it comes to selling your home, and nothing improves that appeal more than a designer front door constructed of steel. Replacing your front door not only provides the best return on investment but is the cheapest renovation you can make to your home before putting it on the market.

Even if you’re not selling your home, purchasing a new front door is a smart investment. You can dramatically lower your heating and cooling costs by adding a new front door, and why not change the door if you have to change the locks anyways?

The 2018 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report estimates the cost of replacing your front door at $1,471, which is a bargain considering how much it’ll payoff. You can expect to get 91.3 percent of that cost back in resale value.

2) Landscaping

This would be number one on the list if the return on investment was just a little bit higher. The beauty of improving the landscaping surrounding your home is that it’s something you can do yourself and, hopefully, enjoy doing.

Planting some trees and bushes and putting in a garden with some nice, stone pavers is cheap, and a 2016 survey conducted by The National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Landscape Professionals found the return on investment to be 105 percent. Again -- curb appeal.

1) Insulation

Insulation isn’t typically seen or noticed by homebuyers unless your realtor makes it a point to sell the energy efficiency of your home, but the payoff of proper insulation is better than any other home renovation you can make. It’s also cheap.

Most insulation installations can be done for less than $1,500 -- on par with the replacement of your front door -- but the return on investment was 108 percent in 2017, according to Remodeling Magazine. The best part is, added insulation is a good investment whether you intend to sell your home or not.

So there are the seven home renovations that will payoff the most given the Millennials looking for their first homes. Invest wisely.


If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: USA Prepares, Building America, Free Talk Live, American Survival Radio, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Drop Your Energy Bill, The Tech Night Owl, What’s Cookin Today, The Easy Organic Gardener, Home Talk

The stock market is not the economy. It is not indicative of the economy’s health. The stock market is a human collective reacting emotionally to news and numbers. It is merely a means to measure the perceived value of publicly-owned companies based on human emotion and expectations. Those perceived values can be overvalued, undervalued or properly valued, and with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping nearly 1,000 points the last three days, it seems stocks were overvalued.

Why did stocks fall?

Stocks were overvalued due to a myriad of factors. According to the “Shiller PE Ratio,” stocks were more expensive than they were on “Black Tuesday” in 1929, but less expensive than they were at the height of the dot.com bubble. So historically speaking, stocks were dangerously expensive.

Stocks are overvalued when things are going right. A lack of volatility over the past few years has culminated in a perfect storm that’s seen the VIX -- the stock market’s most popular measure of stock volatility -- rise more than 300 percent in a month.

“One big change affecting the market is interest rates, which have climbed sharply in 2018 to multiyear highs in the U.S. and around the world as economies have picked up steam,” Ed Carson writes for Investor’s Business Daily. Higher interest rates mean higher borrowing costs, which result in people consuming less. Much of the stock market’s recent losses are tied to an expectation that consumers will be spending less in 2018.

What to expect from the stock market in 2018

Don’t expect the stock market to continue providing 2017 rates of return, and with interest rates likely to increase, bonds aren’t necessarily the best place to put your money, but not the worst either.

There is good news for this newly volatile stock market. Midterm elections are more often good for the stock market than bad. “[T]he seasonality associated with midterms has brought positive returns for the stock market a lot more than it has brought losses,” according to Dominic Chu of CNBC. “On average, the S&P 500's return between Oct. 31 of the midterm year and Oct. 31 of the following year has been an eye-popping 17.5 percent.” So it’s not time to pull your money out of the stock market; it’s time to invest in the stock market.

What’s the best approach for investing in 2018?

The best approach for investing in 2018 is the same approach for investing in 2017 and any other year: invest and forget. You’re not going to get rich buying Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), but you will realize a better return than you would from putting your money in a savings account or buying a Certificate of Deposit (CD).

Attempting to time the market is also a mistake, as is reacting to the market like stock traders did this week. Pulling your money out of the stock market at the first sign of adversity is the same emotional response that drove the stock market down in the first place. Traders selling shares in fear worsened the market’s decline because they had come some accustomed to the market’s lack of volatility. In fact, regular contributions to the stock market help limit volatility. So expect volatility and accept it. Just keep feeding the beast and try to forget that it’s there.


If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: USA Prepares, Building America, Free Talk Live, American Survival Radio, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Drop Your Energy Bill, The Tech Night Owl

Wednesday, 07 February 2018 20:39

Why the Vikings should sign Kirk Cousins

The only quarterback the Minnesota Vikings have under contract is 24-year-old Kyle Sloter out of Northern Colorado. Case Keenum is a free agent. Sam Bradford is a free agent. Teddy Bridgewater is a free agent. And Kirk Cousins is a free agent. Here’s the case for the Vikings to sign Kirk Cousins.

1) Cousins is better than Keenum

The numbers from this season aren’t on Cousins’ side, but he is the better quarterback. Keenum had a better touchdown-to-interception ratio this season (3.14 to 2.07). Keenum completed more of his passes (67.6 to 64.3 percent), and while Cousins threw for more yards starting two more games (4,093 to 3,547), he took almost twice as many sacks behind an injury-plagued offensive line, leading the league with 342 yards lost due to sacks. That wouldn’t happen behind the offensive line of the Vikings, if healthy. Similarly, Keenum wouldn’t be the same behind the offensive line of say, Arizona.

While Keenum excelled more than any other quarterback against the blitz this season, his decision-making deficiencies were on display in the playoffs. Cian Fahey of Pre-snap Reads wrote about this. Keenum had a fantastic regular season, but fell apart in the biggest game of the year and turned the ball over in both playoff games. Even his walk-off, touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs to lift the Vikings over the New Orleans Saints was the result of his inaccuracy. That pass was supposed to be on the sideline so Diggs could get out of bounds, and Saints’ safety Marcus Williams defended the play assuming Keenum threw an accurate ball. Sure, he should have played the ball instead of going for a game-ending tackle, but the Vikings went on to the NFC Championship Game thanks to their own quarterback’s mistake.

Cousins’ 94 total touchdowns to 47 turnovers is sixth amongst all quarterbacks over the past three seasons. His yards-per-play average over those same three seasons is fourth overall, and he’s fourth in total yardage. Cousins knows what to do with the football in dire situations. He knows taking a sack is better than throwing an interception. Keenum displayed that he didn’t realize that in both playoff games, throwing an ill-advised pass into double coverage when hurried against the Saints that was picked off by the same young safety who blew the tackle of Diggs on the play that decided the game.

When brushed by Philadelphia’s Chris Long up 7-0, he threw this pick-six instead of holding the ball and taking a sack on 3rd-and-8.

2) Keenum will be overvalued

Keenum’s big-game mistakes aren’t the only reason the Vikings shouldn’t retain him. The reason they shouldn’t retain him is the market for quarterbacks. There are at least five teams who would love Keenum’s services: the Cleveland Browns, the New York Jets, the Arizona Cardinals, the Buffalo Bills and the Denver Broncos.

According to Sportrac, the Browns have more than $110 million in salary cap space for 2018, but ESPN’s Todd McShay has them taking USC quarterback Sam Darnold at number one overall in the NFL Draft.

The Jets have more than $79 million to spend, and are the most likely suitor for Cousins. They are paying less than $3 million to the three quarterbacks on their roster (27th in the league), and neither Bryce Petty nor Christian Hackenberg is the answer at quarterback for the Jets. But McShay also has the Jets drafting a quarterback -- Wyoming’s Josh Allen -- at number six overall.

The Cardinals are in the same boat as the Vikings. They have no one captaining their ship. They also have only $23 million to offer a quarterback in free agency. That’s more than half as much as the Vikings have in cap space, and won’t be enough to land Cousins, but could be enough to sign Keenum.

Buffalo and Denver are working with over $29 million and $26 million, respectively, which makes a Cousins signing improbable. The Vikings are the logical landing spot, and Cousins has said the Vikings are at the top of his list.

3) Bradford won’t stay healthy

Sam Bradford is a fine quarterback when he’s available and well-protected. But he hasn’t played a full season since 2012, has two bum knees and is an injury waiting to happen. Despite all that, Bradford will be overpaid by some team desperate for a competent quarterback. But you can’t just put him behind any offensive line. Bradford needs protection similar to that provided by the Vikings much of the year, and even that wasn’t good enough to keep him upright.

4) Bridgewater will be undervalued

The Vikings could sign Kirk Cousins and retain Teddy Bridgewater at a reasonable rate. Bridgewater threw the ball once this season for an interception after recovering from a career-threatening knee injury. No team knows Bridgewater’s body and readiness better than the Vikings, and teams will be sceptical, for good reason. But Bridgewater is beloved in Minnesota, and many would like to see him get an opportunity to return to his All-Pro form as the Vikings starter. Playing behind the veteran Cousins for a few years could be a good learning experience for Bridgewater, and he will inevitably get a chance to step in given how often quarterbacks are injured in the league (although, Cousins has started every game for the last three seasons).

Bridgewater is just 25, so even playing three seasons behind Cousins, who will be 30 in August, would have him in his theoretical prime. But Bridgewater is unlikely to settle for a backup role given the need for quarterbacks.

5) The Vikings are a quarterback away

The Vikings are a quarterback away from winning a Super Bowl, and Case Keenum is not that quarterback. Sure, Nick Foles did it, but he did it behind the best offensive line in football. Minnesota now has a competent offensive line, but it wasn’t the most healthy offensive line entering the playoffs, and Keenum didn’t change his game to accommodate the changes on said offensive line. He still played like a wild gunslinger even though he had even less time to throw the football, which resulted in more turnovers.

Sam Bradford could be that quarterback, but again, the Minnesota offensive line is good -- not great. Whoever quarterbacks the Vikings needs to be able to take some hits, of which Keenum is capable. He just doesn’t make great decisions in those moments. Kirk Cousins does.


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Friday, 02 February 2018 20:16

A local take on the Super Bowl

While I’ve only been a Minnesotan for about a year, the state has been my second home since I was a kid fishing the Land of 10,000 Lakes with my dad and uncles. I’m now a Minneapolis resident and homeowner. I drive home from work on South 11th Street to avoid the backed-up Interstate 94 West at least three times per week. I attend Minnesota Timberwolves games regularly and Minnesota Twins games even more regularly. So my take on the Super Bowl is this: I’m ready for it to end and never come back.

1) You don’t get to complain about the cold

If you have tickets to the big game, you probably have enough money to invest in warm outerwear. If you refuse to do so, you still don’t have to subject yourself to the elements. I walked nearly a mile from the Super Bowl Experience at the Minneapolis Convention Center on 2nd Ave South and South 12th Street to Target Center on 1st Avenue North and North 7th Street -- without going outside. The skyway system should allow you to get from just about any downtown hotel to U.S. Bank Stadium without going outside, so you don’t get to complain about the cold. You knew this game would be played in Minneapolis in the winter, so you had ample time to prepare. The Super Bowl doesn’t sneak up on anyone, except The Dan LeBatard Show.

2) Bicycling is the best way to get around Minneapolis

Whether you’re a local or not, you don’t want to be driving around downtown Minneapolis. Army National Guard members in armored Humvees are serving as extra traffic cops and some four-lane streets are cut down to just two lanes to account for increased pedestrian traffic. Even bike lanes are being sacrificed to accommodate increased foot traffic, but at the speed of downtown traffic, bicycles will blow by cars on the crowded streets. Bicycle parking isn’t much of an issue either given the weather. I had no problem finding a place to lock up my bike just a block away from the Verizon Up stage for the free Morris Day and the Time concert on Monday night, which brings me to my next point…

3) Perhaps putting a sledding hill on Nicollet Mall wasn’t such a great idea

Getting to the Verizon Up stage was a nightmare because of a giant, man made snow hill parked on Nicollet Mall. You couldn’t move for minutes at times because it was so packed with people. Nicollet Mall was just remodeled to better accommodate foot traffic, and the first opportunity we have to test it a sledding hill is installed instead. While streets around the stage were closed, pop-up tents selling overpriced food and drinks minimized the added area for foot traffic. So the sidewalks are basically the only means of entrance or exit to the Verizon Up stage despite the ample increase in foot traffic.

4) The Super Bowl Experience is a children’s playground

If you have children, they’ll love the Super Bowl Experience at the Minneapolis Convention Center, and at $25 per child 12 years of age or under, it’s a bargain. There are tons of games to keep them busy all day, including actual NFL combine competitions against pro football players. There’s even a mini-football field in the basement that looked to be setup for a field goal kicking contest. There’s a punt, pass and kick competition, and, of course, there’s plenty of people selling stuff.

The Super Bowl Experience might not be too attractive to adults, though. There are lounges throughout the convention center where you can play pool and get some food or a drink. There are Super Bowl rings on display as well as the Lombardi Trophy. Even some Hall of Fame busts made the trip to Minneapolis, including Vikings’ Cris Carter’s and Brett Favre’s. The most interesting thing I found at the Super Bowl Experience, though, were the tiles chronicling the game’s history. I’m betting there’s a bunch you didn’t know about football, like a touchdown used to be worth four points prior to 1898, which was less than a field goal’s five points until it was changed to four points in 1904, and then three points in 1909. A touchdown wasn’t worth six points until 1912.

I bet you didn’t know baseball’s Philadelphia Athletics and Phillies formed professional football teams in 1902. Ace pitcher Christy Mathewson played fullback for Pittsburgh, and the first World Series of pro football was a five-team tournament featuring a team made up of players from both the A’s and Phillies. I never knew the St. Paul Ideals and Duluth Eskimos existed, with Duluth having the coolest uniforms ever.

5) Radio Row is a circus

I couldn’t imagine standing around the Mall of America watching people do radio with celebrities, but plenty of fans did it with hopes of getting a picture with their favorite players. It took me about 15 minutes to realize my media pass actually granted me access to Radio Row, so upon entering I broke the only rule posted at the area: I asked Allyson Turner of The Dan LeBatard Show to autograph my headphones, and she obliged. Had I not had access, I would have gone into the office to write this immediately after my short conversation with her. Instead, I literally bumped into Drew Brees, met local, comedy legend Louie Anderson, and told Busta Rhymes how much I appreciated his music. He patted me on the shoulder with a hand the size and weight of a prize fighter’s while he said, “I appreciate you, too, man.” The highlight of my Super Bowl week was meeting Busta Rhymes. I wanted to thank Rod Carew for being such a damn fine human being, but he was the busiest person at Radio Row -- and for good reason.

So there’s a local take on the Super Bowl I’m sure my fellow Minneapolites can appreciate. Had the Vikings made the Super Bowl my take might not be so harsh, but that would be an even more biased opinion based on elation brought on by lust and desire. Do yourself a favor and heed the advice offered. We can only be “Minnesota Nice” for so long.


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According to the CDP Carbon Majors Report released in July of 2017, “investors in fossil fuel companies carry influence over one fifth of industrial greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.” There’s a very good chance your investment portfolio includes the ticker symbols of some of the biggest contributors to climate change, and with the largest greenhouse gas emitter, Saudi Aramco, opening up its initial public offering to foreign investors, it’s time you knew the ramifications of giving these companies your money.

Of the 30.6 gigatons of equivalent carbon dioxide of operational and product greenhouse gas emissions from 224 fossil fuel extraction companies, 41 percent are either public- or private-investor owned. While another 59 percent are state-owned, there’s not much you can do about those emitters unless you live in those countries. But you can withhold funding from publicly-traded companies looking to use that money to further sully the Earth, and 20 percent of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions comes from companies owned by public investors, which will grow significantly with the addition of Saudi Aramco as a publicly-traded entity. Saudi Aramco was responsible for 4.6 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2015.

The best way you can curb climate change is to not give or loan your money to these carbon-emitting companies. If you can’t afford an electric vehicle, you still have to fill the tank, but perhaps instead of filling your tank at the nearest or cheapest gas station, you fill it at the gas station owned by the company that emits the least carbon, which is likely Conoco in the United States.

According to the CDP report, ConocoPhillips was responsible for 61 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than ExxonMobil, half the emissions of BP, and emitted 40 percent less carbon dioxide than Chevron in 2015. So buy your fuel at ConocoPhillips’ stations if you can and Chevron if you can’t. If neither are available near you, Shell seems to be working the hardest toward a low-carbon, energy policy globally. Phillips 66 is doing the least.

With enough people boycotting the purchase of shares in corporate carbon emitters, these companies will be forced to change their approaches. So here are the publicly-traded companies to avoid supporting financially.

1) Saudi Aramco (Ticker Symbol To Be Determined)

1,951 megatons of CO2 emissions, or 4.6% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

Saudi Aramco is responsible for almost twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as the next biggest emitter in the CDP report. When it comes to polluting the Earth and warming the planet, no one does it like Saudi Aramco.

But even Saudi Aramco is planning for life after oil, investing $20 billion to construct the largest chemicals facility in the world. The move is in tune with the wishes of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who would like to see the country wean off its “dangerous addiction to oil.” Still, investing your money in what is likely to be the biggest initial public offering in history is an investment in the destruction of Earth.

2) Gazprom OAO (OGZPY)

1,138 megatons of CO2 emissions, or 2.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

Gazprom is the largest natural gas company in the world and is tasked with providing most of Russia and some countries of the former Soviet Union with natural gas. It controls one quarter of the world's known natural gas reserves and accounts for eight percent of Russia's gross domestic product. But international sanctions have cut into the success of Russian energy companies since the country’s annexation of Crimea, so Gazprom isn’t exactly a safe investment. It certainly isn’t a safe investment for Earth.

3) Coal India (COAL)

1,025 megatons of CO2 emissions, or 2.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

Coal combustion is generally more carbon intensive than burning natural gas or petroleum for electricity, which is why Coal India easily makes this list. Although coal accounted for about 70 percent of CO2 emissions from the electricity sector, it represented only about 34 percent of the electricity generated in the United States in 2015. In India, more than 75 percent of electricity came from coal in 2014 -- up from 67 percent in 2011 and at an all-time high.

India is working its way off coal just as Saudi Arabia is looking to lessen its dependence on oil. Research from The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) suggests that India can cut its CO2 emissions by up to 10 percent or 600 million tons after 2030 if renewable energy and batteries become less costly than coal within 10 years. An investment in Coal India is a sucker bet.

4) Shenhua Group Corp. Ltd. (CSUAY)

1,001 megatons of CO2 emissions, or 2.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

Shenhua Group is a Chinese coal company, where 72.63 percent of electricity came from coal in 2014 -- down from an all-time high of 80.95 percent in 2007. It’s another sucker bet, as China is ahead of schedule when it comes to curbing carbon emissions.

5) Rosneft OAO (OJSCY)

777 megatons of CO2 emissions, or 1.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

Rosneft is a Russian oil and gas company. Again, sanctions have limited the success of Russian energy companies, so you wouldn’t want your money behind them regardless of their damage done to Earth.

6) ExxonMobil (XOM)

577 megatons of CO2 emissions, or 1.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

ExxonMobil is selling itself as an innovator in energy solutions and biofuels, but it also spent almost $31 million supporting organizations that spread climate change denial propaganda between 1998 and 2014. ExxonMobil reportedly spends $27 million annually to oppose climate policy as of 2016. It’s the largest carbon emitter amongst the gasoline companies and that should be all you need to know.

7) Shell (SHLX)

508 megatons of CO2 emissions, or 1.2% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

Shell was second to ExxonMobil in dollars spent to oppose climate policy with a $22-million annual budget. It even made a film warning of climate change in 1991 but did not heed its own warning so it could reap the benefits of increased profits. Of the energy giants, though, Shell and Total are the only companies to receive a “D” rating from InfluenceMap when it comes to transitioning to a low-carbon, energy policy globally. ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Chevron all received “E-” ratings.

8) British Petroleum (BP or BPMP)

448 megatons of CO2 emissions, or 1.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

We all know BP for spilling 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and killing 11 people at Deepwater Horizon -- the largest oil spill in history and eight to 31 percent larger than the next largest. In September 2014, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that BP was primarily responsible for the oil spill because of its gross negligence and reckless conduct, and in July 2015, BP agreed to pay $18.7 billion in fines -- the largest corporate settlement in U.S. history.

9) Peabody (BTU)

397 megatons of CO2 emissions, or 0.9% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

Peabody is a coal company based in St. Louis, and as less and less American energy is produced by coal, Peabody’s stock price will fall more and more. Just 34.34 percent of America’s energy production came from coal in 2015 -- down more than five percent over the course of a year.

10) Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras (PETR4.SA)

382 megatons of CO2 emissions, or 0.9% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

Petrobras is Brazil’s largest oil and natural gas company and is dirty in more than one way. It paid $2.95 billion to settle a U.S. class action corruption lawsuit at the beginning of 2018 -- the largest settlement paid to the United States by a foreign entity. The settlement was six times more than it has received so far under a Brazilian probe into bribery schemes that involved company executives and government officials.

11) Chevron (CVX)

377 megatons of CO2 emissions, or 0.9% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

Shares of Chevron have increased nearly 30 percent in the last six months, so there will be no bargain for buyers of CVX now. Worse yet, its $34-billion project in Western Australia could face tougher emissions curbs, which would increase costs and sink shares.

12) Petroliam Nasional Bhd, or Petronas (PNAGF)

340 megatons of CO2 emissions, or 0.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

Gross profits of the state-run, Malaysian oil and gas company have decreased over the last three years in all divisions -- gas processing, gas transportation, utilities and regasification. And its Sabah-Sarawak Gas Pipeline transporting liquid natural gas sprung a leak on Jan. 10. A 2015 report found that there’s enough natural gas leakage to outweigh the climate benefits of using natural gas instead of coal.

13) Lukoil OAO (LKOH)

328 megatons of CO2 emissions, or 0.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

Russia’s second-largest oil company expects sanctions to continue for a decade.

14) Glencore PLC (GLEN)

322 megatons of CO2 emissions, or 0.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

The Democratic Republic of Congo forced Glencore’s billionaire head of copper into a smaller role after a review raised questions about accounting and management, but Congo’s doubling of taxes on cobalt will hurt Glencore even more.

15) Koch Industries

300 megatons of CO2 emissions, or 0.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

How much Koch Industries actually pollutes Earth is difficult to determine, as Koch is privately owned and exempt from risk disclosures required of publicly-traded companies. Multiple estimates have Koch Industries at 300 million tons of CO2 emissions annually, but the Kochs do more to obstruct policy addressing climate change than anyone.

InfluenceMap ranked Koch Industries dead last in its readiness for a transition to a low-carbon policy globally. The Koch Brothers also contribute more to climate-change-denying candidates than anyone else. They budgeted for $889 million in campaign contributions to Conservative candidates in 2016 and are planning to spend up to $400 million during the 2018 midterm elections.

You can avoid giving Koch Industries your money by avoiding the companies it owns, like Vistra Energy Corp. (VST), of which it holds nearly five million shares. Vistra is a Texas energy company.

Dishonorable Mentions:

BHP Billiton Ltd. and PLC (BBL)

317 megatons on CO2 emissions, or 0.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

The Australian-English company is the world’s largest mining company.

Total SA (TOT)

311 megatons of CO2 emissions, or 0.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

The French, multinational, “Supermajor” oil and gas company was fined $313,910 for air emissions violations at its Port Arthur refinery in Texas just under a week ago, and this after the Clean Power Plan was mostly repealed.

Arch Coal Inc. (ARCH)

232 megatons of CO2 emissions, or 0.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015

Arch Coal is an American coal mining and processing company. They burn coal.


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Wednesday, 24 January 2018 21:35

The state of voter suppression in America

Just because President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission has been disbanded doesn’t mean the state of voter suppression in America has improved. Many states fought to defend the privacy of its voters from the voter fraud commission and won, but the fight has just begun to curb voter suppression in states throughout America.

Suppressing the Student Vote in America

Young voters can sway elections, and the Republican-led New Hampshire Senate has passed a “poll tax” that will suppress student voting. The bill will likely pass the Republican-led House, but Republican Governor Chris Sununu doesn’t support the bill and could veto it. Regardless, the constitutionality of the bill has been called into question.

The 24th Amendment to the Constitution states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”

Now the New Hampshire law isn’t a “tax” in the exact sense of the word. Instead of forcing out-of-state students to pay a tax to access the polls, which would be unconstitutional, House Bill 372 allows the State of New Hampshire to impose fines on voters who do not have a New Hampshire driver’s license, even though it is legal to vote in the state with an out-of-state license.

The bill would impose two obligations on new voters. Within 60 days of registering to vote, a New Hampshire voter would need to register her car with the state and obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license, the cost of which could amount to over $200.

Suppressing the Minority Vote in America

Minorities have already been deciding elections in America, with black voters making the difference in Alabama. This is a major threat to Conservative incumbents, and Conservative-led, state legislatures have taken measures to suppress the minority vote in America.

Ohio’s law purging voters who have not participated in consecutive elections or failed to respond to a notice from state officials will likely be upheld by the Conservative majority of the Supreme Court.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the essence of the case is whether Ohio’s law is “disenfranchising disproportionately certain cities where large groups of minorities live, where large groups of homeless people live, and across the country they’re the group that votes the least.”

While federal law doesn’t allow states to use failure to vote as a reason for purging voters from rolls, federal law also calls on states to keep accurate voter rolls and allows for removal when a person fails to respond to a state’s request to confirm registration and then fails to vote in two federal elections. Ohio sends a notice after a voter misses a single election, and removes said voter if they don’t reply. It’s the most aggressive law of its kind in America.

Redistricting All the Rage in America

With the 2020 census upcoming, the redrawing of states’ voting districts is getting a lot of attention, especially in the courts. Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that its voter district map was partisan gerrymandered to benefit Republicans and must be redrawn.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court delayed a lower-court order that would have forced North Carolina Republicans to redraw its state’s congressional district map while similar cases involving Wisconsin legislative districts and one Maryland congressional district are considered by the Supreme Court.

Bills governing redistricting were introduced in 27 states in 2017. Here’s a complete list of those bills. What’s the reason for so much redistricting legislation? Well, 37 state legislatures have primary control of their own district lines, and 42 legislatures have primary control over the congressional lines in their state (including five of the states with just one congressional district). And why wouldn’t an incumbent legislator draw district lines to his or her advantage? That’s why organizations like Common Cause are having success campaigning for independent commissions to handle district drawing. All of the 27 states with pending legislation governing redistricting have bills calling for a commission separate from the legislature to handle the map-making.

For instance, in Minnesota, there are companion bills calling for independent commissions to handle redistricting. HF 246 and SB 2052 call for a commission of former judges to draw district lines, but objectors to the bills say former judges aren’t representative of Minnesota’s minority populations. In nearby Michigan, bills have been introduced mirroring California’s citizens’ commission for redistricting -- the favorite model of organizations working toward democratic, competitive elections.

So while the state of voter suppression in America is improving and bound to continue improving for voters, there will still be states where partisan gerrymandered districts result in undemocratic, noncompetitive elections in 2018 and 2020. And until every state gets redistricting out of the hands of incumbent legislators, free elections are an impossibility.


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You could say the Minnesota Vikings had no business playing in the NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia after needing a Minneapolis Miracle to get there. But they entered play as the NFL’s best defense in points and yardage allowed and were three-point favorites on the road. They left Philly 31-point losers.

Eagles’ offensive coordinator Frank Reich picked apart the best third-down defense in football -- getting first downs on 10 of 14 third-down tries. Shutdown cornerback Xavier Rhodes summed it up succinctly, saying the Vikings’ defense played like “trash.”

The defense wasn’t the only problem on Sunday, though. Quarterback Case Keenum finally turned into the pumpkin everyone expected this Cinderella season, and Vikings’ general manager Rick Spielman should not ignore the result when addressing the Vikings’ roster at quarterback -- or lack thereof.

Who Should be the Vikings’ Quarterback in 2018?

With 23-year-old Kyle Sloter out of Northern Colorado the only quarterback on the roster going into next season, the Vikings will once again have to answer the quarterback question this offseason. Some would say Keenum has earned the starting job, but given his latest performance, the Vikings should let him test the free agent market.

Upon throwing a pick-six after his arm was hit by Cameron Graham, who beat right tackle Rashod Hill on just about every play, Keenum fell apart. Before the pick-six, Keenum completed four of six passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. Afterward, he completed just 57.1 percent of his 42 passes, gaining just five yards per attempt on average, with no more touchdowns and another interception. That is not the performance of a quarterback worth $21.3 million per year. That was the franchise tag salary for quarterbacks in 2017, and the least the Vikings could pay Keenum to return next season.

With Sam Bradford’s $18 million coming off the books along with 13 other players entering free agency, the Vikings have a little over $60 million in cap space next season. That’s enough to do more than just retain two of their three quarterbacks, and with Kirk Cousins and Drew Brees potentially available in free agency, the answer to the quarterback question is even more difficult.

The Vikings should be pretty confident in allowing Keenum, Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater to test free agency. Bradford and Bridgewater haven’t proven they can stay healthy as starters, and while there are plenty of NFL teams who would love to have either, Bradford and Bridgwater couldn’t be entering free agency at a worse time for them.

Keenum, on the other hand, will be considerably over-valued on the free agent market, and will likely be overpaid by a desperate team. The Vikings would be smart to let him go elsewhere and pay the undervalued Bradford and Bridgewater to return. But if Spielman does intend to bring back Bradford to start and Bridgewater to back him up, he best protect his injury-prone investments.

Vikings’ Offensive Line Needs Improving, Again

The additions of tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers vastly improved the offensive line play of the Vikings. As of Week 5, Pro Football Focus ranked the healthy Vikings’ O-line 20th overall and 15th in pass-blocking, after finishing last season ranked 23rd in pass-blocking. But the Vikings’ offensive line wasn’t healthy going into the NFC Championship Game, and the Eagles showed the value of having the league’s top offensive line, keeping Nick Foles upright and, at times, allowing him seven seconds to throw the football against the Vikings’ four-man, pass rush.

While the Vikings offensive line improved in pass protection, run blocking was still an issue, which isn’t something Spielman must address with running back Dalvin Cook coming back from injury. But if Bradford and Bridgewater are his quarterbacks, he’ll want to add some depth to the offensive line if he hopes to keep either of them healthy. Playing Remmers out of position at left guard in the NFC Championship Game and forcing backup Sharod Hill to take on the Eagles’ sacks leader probably wasn’t how Spielman drew it up prior to the season.

Spielman will likely have another hole to fill on the offensive line, too. Right guard Joe Berger has hinted that he intends to retire. With a lack of interior, offensive lineman available through free agency, it’s likely Spielman and the Vikings will address the offensive line through the draft. R.J. White and Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports think Spielman will target the former college teammate of Pat Elflein, Billy Price. But if Spielman can save some money by retaining the undervalued Bradford and Bridgewater, he could potentially sign the best guard in football.

Carolina’s Andrew Norwell, 26, is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and lining him up next to the second-year center Elflein and the veteran Reiff (or Remmers) would certainly increase the chances of Bradford and Bridgewater staying healthy and effective. Spielman could then address the issue of depth through the draft, even selecting Price and easing him into a starting role so he’s ready when Nick Easton becomes an unrestricted free agent after next season.

The Rest of the Vikings’ Roster

It’s time to let the soon-to-be-40 Terrance Newman ride off into the sunset, while 33-year-old run-stuffer Tom Johnson should probably be retained given the lack of availability at his position in free agency. There’s no one on the depth chart behind him at left defensive tackle, and he could be retained at a reasonable price.

Marcus Sherels made $2 million to catch kicks this season, and at 30, averaged just 9.5 yards per punt return -- down from a career high of 13.9 yards per return last season. That position is better filled by a young draftee and likely will be.

Jerick McKinnon wants a bigger role running the ball and has likely played his last game in purple and gold, while kicker Kai Forbath probably earned a raise with his play in the Divisional Playoff Game against New Orleans.

The Vikings are so close to contending for a championship, and adding a guy like Norwell should put their offensive line in the top third of the league and protect the brittle Bradford and Bridgewater. Depth is the biggest concern, and given Spielman's success using the draft to add talent, the Vikings should enter next season even better than this season.


 

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