Anthony Varriano

Anthony Varriano

Until “journalists” intend to provide objective journalism, there will be none. And while objectivity is an impossibility, there’s a lot of value in making it known that objectivity is not your goal or even your pursuit. It’s exactly why the word “opinion” appears at the beginning of so many of my headlines. I’m not going to hide the fact I’m attempting to persuade you, and I hope that you find value in that, because it’s not the case everywhere.

We all have our preferred news sources. For Conservatives, Fox News brings them what they want to hear. For Liberals, MSNBC provides their take on the news. I am no different. I have my sources. None of them are televised, but I have no intention of misleading you to believe you’re reading the news when you read some of my writing, and if more news sources did the same, “journalism” might still exist.

You feel it every moment you read a news story, especially online. You start reading because a headline drew your attention. That’s how we read newspapers. It’s the same formula newspapers have been using for nearly 400 years: draw them in with a headline, and write a lede that makes them read further, until they’re convinced to buy the paper. I’d say nothing’s changed, but the intent of “journalists” has changed.

I have a deep love for the work of The Atlantic. They do fantastic investigative journalism, which is hard to come by these days, but even I come across Atlantic articles that bother me as a journalist because nowhere in the article or on the webpage does it say “opinion” or “editorial.” Yet, in the first or second paragraph the author is describing a personal experience as if it’s fact. Well, I’ve experienced plenty, but I’d hope you’d consider the validity of your adviser before you accept or dismiss any advice. You’re not really reading until you read rhetorically, and that means questioning the very words written and those who wrote them.

There are “journalists” out there looking to write that piece that gets them Associated Press attention. I’ve written plenty of pieces of which I’m proud and none have drawn the eye of editors from my favorite publications. The best thing I’ve written was 450 words on how increasing funding for drug counseling would be more effective than expanding the jail given the methamphetamine problem in Eastern Montana and recidivism rates of drug addicts being incarcerated. I think it ran on page six, and it was some of the most objective work I’ve done. The jail expansion didn’t get enough votes that year, and that’s not even the success I was seeking. My intent was to convey a complex idea about methamphetamine use and how it was being inadequately and improperly treated in the area. I have no idea if my article on page six had any effect on the election, but I received great pleasure knowing that I had written something with the strict intent to inform in the most objective manner possible, despite my political leanings.

I guess that means if I was good enough for The Atlantic I’d be writing for The Atlantic. But editors at The Atlantic should be leading the charge when it comes to the presentation of journalism. Instead they expect people to know what to expect from their publication, which means their work isn’t subject to the same objective standards that newspapers still require.

I can confirm. Your local newspaper is still the most accurate and helpful news source you’ll find. The people putting that information together live in your community and are affected by the same information. You’re not going to get a more honest and objective attempt at journalism than you will from your local newspaper. The hardest job I had was attempting objective journalism for a community completely unlike me -- and I did that for almost five years.

You can watch all the television you want, but the information of highest quality and most objectivity is being provided by your local newspaper and NPR and PBS stations. The people in these professions don’t just have an obligation to provide the most objective news, they have a passion to do so. If you think this is a glamorous life, I can tell you it’s not. It takes a team of writers and a slew of interns to write an investigative piece on anything. And most of these people do it for the love of the game, not the money, because there is no money. There are fast food workers who make more than journalists.

So how can you tell if the information you’ve found is worth a damn? The first thing to do is consider the source. Most “journalists” providing content for a publication available strictly online are simply “content coordinators” or worse yet, “copywriters.” I am one of these content coordinators, and while I have five years of experience in the newspaper industry, being a journalist is just too hard. I took the easy way out that actually pays, and while I regret not seeing my name in print every few days and being held to a higher journalistic standard, I get to go to work everyday, or not go to work everyday and just work where I am, and write about what I want. I’ve been seeking a job that doesn’t feel like a job my whole life, and I’m lucky enough to have found it.

That doesn’t mean you can’t find honest information online. I’m trying to provide it and prove it exists. An author’s presentation of information will tell you a lot about the author. For instance, I make it clear I’m writing an opinion in the first word of my headline. Is your online source doing the same? If it’s not, how long before the author refers to herself or uses first-person narration? The use of “my” or “I” does not indicate an attempt at objectivity. They’re not even trying to be objective, but they might not be as obvious about it as I am.

I like to pursue objectivity on occasion. It’s a fantastic challenge for a writer, perhaps the best challenge (although I’ve just started writing children’s book, and they’re a lot harder than you’d think). But I realize everyone in the world doesn’t want to read my opinions. If they did this piece would be syndicated and published in every major paper in the country. But if just one reader happens to find something informative and helpful in my writing, I’ve done my job. That’s what journalists are supposed to be -- helpful. We are public servants. When there was an oil spill near the source for drinking water in my town, it was our job at the newspaper to get the word out about the quality of the drinking water as soon as possible. That information couldn’t wait for the next edition of the paper, but we and the radio journalists had to let people know if they could drink the water. That’s why we’re here.

That’s right, I said we. I called myself a content coordinator, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still aspire for the impossibility of objectivity. I told you I got out of newspapers because it was too hard. I’m a Socialist that reads The Militant, a newspaper that reports labor strikes around the world that never air on Fox News or MSNBC. I also grew up in Eastern Montana, and lived and worked there as a journalist for years before growing tired of failing -- failing to reach people and failing to inform.

My only goal in life has been to help people through words. When people ask me what I want to do with my life -- what my legacy will be -- the answer for years has been, “To be read.” I knew I was pretty good at this writing thing at a young age. I was lucky not to waste my time attempting something for which I wasn’t suited. “But you spent five years in pursuit of objectivity and failed” you might say. But failure in journalism is a lot like failure in baseball. I’ve written hundreds of articles, ranging from local (teachers’ union/school district contract negotiations), national (temporary halt on the XL Pipeline running through the land of one of our county commissioners), to sports (the 2015-16 Region XIII NJCAA men’s basketball runners-up at a school that might run out of funding and not exist). And now I’m writing about writing because I investigated what we’re now calling “fake news” and what I called “Gonzo rhetoric” back when I was completing my Master’s degree. The way information is being presented these days is hardly honest. Journalistic integrity has been sacrificed by journalists to be first to market, as if providing information is a business. It used to be a service, and now the federal government wants to get rid of some of those services, or just not inform the public publicly. Trump’s budget would cut all funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which got $445 million of the $4 trillion budget last fiscal year.

You don’t have to like NPR or read a newspaper to appreciate what I’m trying to convey. I mean hell, I’m calling myself on my own bullshit here. I’m a journalist turned content coordinator. Just because I can string together words in a way that persuades you to read on doesn’t give me the right to mislead you. And even if I attempt to mislead you, you are in the position of power. You can resist. Just simply ask yourself: “Is this an opinion or fact? Can I trust this author? Does she have my interests in mind?” Chances are if you’re watching television, the only interests they have in mind are those of their shareholders. The value of information means very little in television news. I’ve been in the industry, and they’d rather run videos of puppies rolling in poop than inform. Shit gets better ratings. You can change all that.

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So you’ve got an idea that’s going to revolutionize an industry. You’ve got some startup capital to invest in your business, and you’re ready to dedicate yourself to your startup. But before you launch your product or service, there are mistakes you can easily avoid when starting your business that will sink your startup before it starts up.

1. Write a business plan before doing anything else

You might be thinking, “But I don’t need any funding,” or “I’m bootstrapping this business,” or “I have to be first to market.” And none of that matters. A business plan isn’t just a way to entice investors to provide funding for your startup. It’s a way for you to get to get to know your business intimately.

Most startups that fail do so because the CEO provided a product or service that didn’t solve a problem. Don’t try to solve a problem people don’t know they have; solve a problem they know they have. Writing a business plan is the best way to determine whether your business is solving a problem people know they have.

A business plan will also help prepare content for your website. You’ll nail down your company’s mission and answer key questions customers will have about your business. You’ll likely realize where a section of your business plan fits on your website while you’re writing it.

Most importantly, a business plan will help you prepare for each phase of your startup process, both operationally and financially. You’ll know how much startup capital you’ll need to start your business and have a budget so you don’t overextend yourself. You’ll also know who you’ll need to help start your business, and the list is probably longer than you imagined.

2. Invest in people before your product or service

The most important assets a company has is its employees, and it’s no different for a startup. Before you invest in a prototype or technology, surrounding yourself with the right people can help you avoid a failed launch of your business.

The first people you need are potential customers. You’re not selling them at this point, but their needs should dictate yours and that of your company. They can provide valuable feedback about your product or service that will help you perfect it prior to launch. Talk to at least 15 people you think would have an interest in your product or service. Let them know what you intend to offer and how they would improve it.

One of the best investments you can make in your business is in public relations. You might think you can do this work yourself, especially after writing a business plan. After all, you know your business better than anyone else. But journalists and editors of newspapers, magazines and websites are more apt to publish something about your business when it comes from a PR person or firm with whom they’re familiar. A press release received from an email address that contains the same business name as the press release doesn’t exactly scream “trust me.” A third party writing about your business, though, does have some validity, even though you’re paying that party.

You’ll likely pay more than you think, too, according to Tom Hogan and Carol Broadbent’s new book, The Ultimate Start-up Guide: Marketing Lessons, War Stories, and Hard-won Advice from Leading Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors. Hogan and Broadbent recommend you never have a PR firm work on your account part-time and to hire a local firm where available. You should also seek out a PR firm that has contacts with media members who publish to your target market. And when you set the initial meeting, request that the people who will be actually working on your account are at the meeting. Some firms will send principal members of the firm who will never actually work on your account. Don’t allow them to pull the “bait-and-switch.”

Once you’ve chosen a PR firm to spread the word about your company, set regular updates and weekly meetings to keep everyone on the same page and make sure your goals are being accomplished. Also be sure that your public relations team is fulfilling your agreed-upon reporting style.

Another place new business owners attempt to save money is by not hiring a social media manager. Don’t do this unless you are a social media wizard that understands how to read Facebook Insights and analytics and where to best invest your social media advertising dollars. If your target market is Millenials, the majority, if not all of your advertising budget should be spent online.

3. Don’t do business with family

If you have a family member with money to invest in your startup, don’t allow them to do so unless they’re aware they could lose every penny and you know it won’t alter your relationship.

If your big brother is a social media wizard, think twice about hiring him as a social media manager. How will your big brother handle taking orders from you? Believe me, I know what it’s like to work with family. I made my senior film a family affair and ended up being ordered around by my elders despite being the writer, producer, assistant director and assistant editor of the film. While I didn’t follow their orders, it wasn’t pleasant for anyone else on set.

4. Don’t go it alone

You need a partner. While no one likes to give up equity in their company, investors like to see at least two people working together to start a business. It shows that both are capable of working with others. If you go it alone you don’t give that impression.

Having a partner also allows you to get a different perspective to make more well-informed decisions early in the startup process. Working within your own bubble puts your business in a bubble that will burst. Be open to new ideas and different perspectives because your business can benefit.

5. Find a mentor

You can find business executives that will give you free advice through SCORE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping small business get their start. Just enter your zip code and find business mentors near you. They’ll give you tips on your business plan, sales, advertising, operations management, etc.

There are also other tools available through SCORE. There are templates for business forms, webinars that will answer your immediate questions, and you can even register for a workshop in your area our schedule time with a business counselor. Even if you’re confident in your business plan, run it by a mentor to see what you and your partner are missing.

6. Stick to a timeline for launch and expansion

Whether you’re planning a soft launch or a massive grand opening, your launch is the first impression potential customers get of your business. Don’t screw it up too badly because it can sink your startup before is starts. Plan every part of your launch (and expansion) meticulously and stick to that timeline. Set goals that you want to reach within a certain period of time and then meet those short-term goals. If you say you’re going to launch on a certain date in press releases and advertisements, the worst thing you could do is push back your launch date because you’re behind schedule.

You’ll also want to set goals for expanding your company and meet those goals within a certain timeframe. If you say you want to open a new store within three years of launch, make sure you do your damndest to be in a position to do so. Meeting your goals gives you a lot to brag about as a company and CEO.

These are the easiest and most common mistakes you can avoid when starting your business, so don’t let one of them sink your startup before it starts.

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Sunday, 25 June 2017 19:59

Nothing can stop the Twins on the road

The Minnesota Twins started a catcher in left field on Saturday in Cleveland and walked out of the ballpark with a win and a chance to sweep the Indians. That catcher, Chris Gimenez, would later move to first base defensively and hit a mammoth home run in the ninth inning to pad the Twins' one-run lead by one more.


 

This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community for foul-mouthed, sports broadcasters providing commercial-free, uncensored play-by-play and color commentary during select games.


 

On Saturday, Twins’ manager Paul Molitor had to scratch right fielder Max Kepler after fouling a ball off his right foot on Friday, and left fielder Eddie Rosario due to illness. And since Eduardo Escobar had to play third base for Miguel Sano (illness) for a second straight day, he couldn’t play left field for Rosario. Enter Gimenez, the Twins’ backup catcher, mop-up reliever and, now, fifth outfielder.

Despite liabilities in both corners of the outfield, Gibson walking four over four and two-thirds innings, and Kennys Vargas repeatedly getting in Brian Dozier’s way defensively, the Twins found a way -- like they have all season. Matt Belisle almost blew it for the Twins but battled after falling off the first base bag and missing a double-play throw that allowed the tying run to score. Dozier didn’t miss a big mistake on a fastball up and in and broke the 2-2 tie in the eighth inning, and Rosario came on to play left, moving Giminez to first so the Twins wouldn’t lose their backup catcher for the rest of the game.

Brandon Kintzler, a closer averaging six strikeouts per nine innings, gave up a two-out double to Francisco Lindor before locking up the save. He’s tied for the league lead in saves at 20. The Twins bullpen, the worst in baseball, picked up Kyle Gibson, who failed to complete six innings for the tenth time in 13 starts. He also failed to complete five innings for the fourth time in his last 13 starts. Taylor Rogers and Tyler Duffey carried the bulk of the load again, and the Twins got their most unlikely and impressive win of the season to pull within a half game of Cleveland in the American League Central Division.

Then the Twins went to work on Sunday, taking an early 2-0 lead thanks to a two-run double by catcher Jason Castro. And with Ervin Santana finding his command and pounding the strike zone, the Twins completed the sweep of Cleveland and moved into first place in the AL Central with two weeks until the All-star Break. It was the vintage Santana the Twins will need to remain competitive this season. He was getting swings and misses on sliders buried in the dirt and painting the corners with 95-mile-per-hour heat while walking no one and striking out seven over six innings.

Twins fans keep awaiting the regression, and you feel it’s got to show itself over this stretch where the Twins face quality starter after quality starter everyday for over a week, all on the road. Luckily, the Twins can’t seem to lose on the road, winning over 70 percent of their road games. That’s better than everyone but the MLB-best Houston Astros.

The Twins play 21 games in 20 days entering the All-star Break, with four of those games coming against the surging Kansas City Royals. They have 15 of those games to go, so if the Twins can hang around the .500 mark entering the All-star Break, they’d not only be in contention, but potential buyers at the Trade Deadline.

Instead of searching for pitching prospects for the near future, Falvey might be forced to consider pitching rentals for this season. Maybe free-agent-to-be Jake Arrieta could be had for Eduardo Escobar now that Kyle Schwarber’s been demoted. San Diego’s Clayton Richard is also a free agent after the season, and with the Padres’ glaring needs in left field and at shortstop, Falvey could target Brad Hand as a relief pitcher to include with Richard. Hand won’t be easy to acquire, though, given his stellar K:BB ratio (4.25) and the fact he won’t be a free agent until 2020. I’d say only Nick Gordon and maybe Zach Granite are off the table if your Falvey, but it might take one of them to get Hand if Escobar, Polanco, Grossman or Rosario aren’t desired.

The Twins just got bullpen reinforcements in Dillon Gee and sidearmer Trevor Hildenberger, so they’ll get a sense of whether baseball’s worst bullpen is trending up entering the All-star Break. Phil Hughes could even join the bullpen sometime soon, and while we don’t know what to expect of Hughes, just having another guy out there who can throw more than one inning would be a blessing for a starting rotation that rarely pitches six innings. Hughes has tossed two scoreless innings with AAA Rochester, allowing one hit and two walks while striking out one. Glen Perkins is still a long way from contributing to the Twins, but would be a welcomed addition come mid-July or early August.

One thing is clear -- the Twins’ rebuild is way ahead of schedule.

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The Senate Republicans’ Better Care Reconciliation Act takes federal money dedicated to America’s poor and gives it to the rich. While Obamacare raised taxes on high-income Americans to subsidize insurance for the poor, the Republicans intend to cut those taxes and reduce federal funding to insure low-income Americans.

So instead of insuring the most Americans and lowering the collective tax burden of uninsured hospital visits, the Republicans’ plan is to insure fewer Americans and increase that collective burden for which we all pay. Those visits by uninsured Americans cost $900 each.

Those likely to be hit hardest are those on Medicaid, which includes nearly 40 percent of all American children. The Republicans are proposing a maximum payment to states per enrollee, and while it’s set to increase annually, it will be at a lower rate than medical costs increase. So Medicaid enrollees will be forced to flip more of the bill or go uninsured. As time goes by, fewer and fewer Americans will be insured, and we’ll be right back in the mess Obamacare fixed.

I realize the Republicans are all about personal responsibility, but they have to realize that many Americans are not personally responsible. A 30-year-old, healthy American who doesn’t partake in dangerous activities (i.e. driving, which is the most dangerous activity) could likely go uninsured and not cost the American taxpayer a dime during the year. But those aren’t the people that caused the health insurance mess in the first place. Insurers have caused this mess, and the Republicans just want to keep paying them more.

The moment this idea for private health insurance came about the average American was screwed. Profiting from people’s health is not unlike the undertaker profiting from death. People will pay anything to live longer, and people will pay just about anything for someone to “make the arrangements” for loved ones who have died. “Just because we’re bereaved doesn’t make us saps!” says Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski. Well, people are saps when faced with death, which is exactly why private insurance is wrong on every level.

Faced with death, money's no object. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, you’d give anything you had to live longer. Republicans realize this and intend to take everything you have so you have nothing to give when faced with death. It’s why they take affordable insurance plans and make them unaffordable behind the guise of “personal responsibility,” and it’s why they move federal dollars from benefiting those who need them most to people who don’t need them at all.

I am one of the 74 million Medicaid enrollees that only has insurance because of Obamacare and because my home state expanded Medicaid. I feel sorry for the states that have elected not to expand Medicaid. I pay $264 annually for health insurance. I have made two doctor’s visits in the last year. Before that I was uninsured and paid nothing. At least now I’m creating revenue and saving the American taxpayer money by not making hospital visits while uninsured.

I will lose insurance because of the Republicans’ bill and won’t feel guilty about costing the American taxpayer money if I’m forced to see a doctor while uninsured. Nobody should. This bill will be a disaster for America, and in five years or so, we’ll be attempting to fix the same problem Obamacare fixed. Hopefully, next time, a Medicaid-for-all plan will be the only one considered. Until then, low- and moderate-income Americans will either pay a higher percentage of their income to private insurance companies or go without, raising the tax burden for all Americans. How is this bill supposed to help everyone again? Oh, right. It’s not about everyone for the Republicans. It’s about them and their deep pockets, and the rich people like them.

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Last week I tweeted that I thought the Minnesota Timberwolves had the best shot of dethroning the Golden State Warriors the soonest, and the Wolves seem to be thinking the same thing with their pursuit of Jimmy Butler. The Wolves’ core of young talent is undeniable, and the veteran presence of Ricky Rubio at point guard has been working wonders (ninth amongst PG in real +/-). Offensively, the Wolves are dangerous. On defense, they’re disastrous.

The Wolves have a big problem allowing open shots. Only the Los Angeles Lakers allowed a higher adjusted field-goal percentage than Minnesota’s 53.5 percent. They were tied with Sacremento at third to last in points per shot allowed. So a defender is what Minnesota needs, and Butler can defend every position on the court.

Butler was worth 3.8 defensive win-shares last year. That’s second-best to only his 2013-14 campaign. His value added over a replacement player (VORP) was a career-high 6.3. Best yet for Minnesota is that Butler was at odds with Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg all season and never seemed to complain while working under Tom Thibodeau.

Also, the Bulls were high on Kris Dunn last year, and the Wolves really have no place for him if Butler is added to the mix, moving Andrew Wiggins to the two. It would take more than Dunn to get Butler, so the Wolves could be floating Zach LaVine, who’s recovering from knee surgery, and Gorgui Dieng, who will make over $14 million next year. He made just $2.35 million this season.

“But what about the center position?” you might ask. True, the Wolves are lacking center depth after waiving the oft-injured Nikola Pekovic. Well, there are a trio of college centers right around the area where Chicago picks at 16. My favorite post player down there is probably power forward John Collins of Wake Forest, though. He nearly averaged a double-double last season playing against the powerhouse that is the ACC.

Kentucky power forward Adrice Adebayo is also enticing given his age (19) and size (six-foot-ten, 242 pounds). He averaged 13 points and eight boards playing 30 minutes per game in the SEC. Jarrett Allen was no slouch at Texas, either, going for 13.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. He’s also six-foot-ten and weighs in at 233 pounds.

Then there’s seven-foot-two Anzejs Pasecniks of Latvia, about whom I know very little. He hit six of 13 threes in international play this year and averaged five blocks per game in very limited minutes. Size plays, though, and Pasecniks has it in spades. He’s not going to be the ideal guy to start at center on day one in the NBA, though. He’s going to take time and has taken time to develop and earn minutes in international play.

I doubt Adebayo, Allen or Pasecniks are NBA-ready, starting centers when the 2017-18 season begins, which means the Timberwolves likely lose Dieng as a trade chip. They’ll need someone to hold down the block while the rookie develops, and Cole Aldrich is not that someone. My cousin thinks Nemanja Bjelica could play the four, with Towns moving to the post if the Wolves trade Dieng and have no one else but a rookie and Aldrich as bigs. He predicted all this would happen yesterday and is a trade whiz on NBA 2K, so I generally trust his basketball logic. I doubt that’s the situation the Wolves desire, though. They’re looking to compete in the playoffs and put a halt to the Warriors’ dynasty.

The Wolves might not even be looking to pick in the first round at all, which would be very valuable to the Bulls, since trading Butler is officially announcing a rebuilding effort. I expect Butler to be a member of the Timberwolves before they use the seventh pick in the NBA Draft. It starts at 6 p.m. CST on ESPN and online using WatchESPN.

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Fans will get to see if the Minnesota Twins truly can hang over their next nine games. Starting Thursday, the Twins will see starting pitchers Jose Quintana (8.7 K/9, 2.47 K/B), Trevor Bauer (7 IP, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K in last start against Twins), Corey Kluber (11 K/9, 4.71 K/BB), Josh Tomlin (9.33 K/BB), Chris Sale (12.2 K/9), Drew Pomeranz (10.4 K/9), Rick Porcello (4.72 K/BB), David Price (BOS 3-1 in his four June starts) and Jason Vargas (200 ERA+). All those games are on the road.


This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community of foul-mouthed, sports broadcasters providing commercial-free, uncensored play-by-play and color commentary during select games.


The premiere games will be when Jose Berrios takes on Chris Sale in Boston on Monday, and when veterans Ervin Santana and Jason Vargas do battle in Kansas City next Friday. The Twins have to be underdogs in just about all nine of those games, though.

The Twins better hope they get some pitching reinforcements. Right now the Twins are running Nik Turley out there, but they just signed Dillon Gee, so expect him to get a start over that nine-game stretch.

Hector Santiago is getting a rehab start on Wednesday for the Rochester Red Wings, and if all goes well, he could pitch as early as Tuesday against Pomeranz. That could end up being a big game for the Twins and Santiago, who has fallen and can’t get up.

The bullpen could also use reinforcements, and Alan Busenitz doesn’t seem to be the answer. Phil Hughes could also pitch out of the bullpen for Rochester on Wednesday. Expect Hughes to take longer to get back to MLB ready, but he’d be a welcomed addition to the worst bullpen in baseball. If Hughes can even get through a lineup once, he would leave fewer innings for guys like Matt Belisle (5.1 BB/9) and Craig Breslow (5 SO/9). Hughes will likely be forced back up during that brutal nine-game stretch for the Twins whether he’s pitching well at AAA or not.

This is the stretch of games that will turn contenders into sellers. Consider if the Twins go 2-7 over that nine-game stretch. They’d be two games under .500 at best, and with Cleveland’s offense finally taking off (and three more games coming against them) the Twins could be looking up from farther down in the AL Central than the 1.5 games they are entering Wednesday.

The Twins will have 10 more games after the nine-game stretch against playoff-caliber starting pitching to avoid becoming sellers at the deadline. Regardless, you can bet new chief of baseball operations Derek Falvey will be active over his first Trade Deadline. It won’t take much for him to be as active as Terry Ryan ever was.

So who do the Twins move? Santana’s value has plummeted lately, and given the Twins don’t have enough MLB-caliber pitchers to start every fifth day, it’s a safe bet anyone capable of eating innings will be sticking around.

Brian Dozier’s value has dried up a bit, too, which isn’t all bad. He’s still signed through 2018, and at a very reasonable rate next season ($6 million). This offseason or the deadline next season would be a good time to shop him, depending how Nick Gordon performs if he gets a cup of coffee when rosters expand this season. Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press said it’s a possibility. Gordon would likely push Jorge Polanco to second base.

The most valuable players on the team aren’t going anywhere. Zach Granite can bang on the door all he wants, but Byron Buxton is going nowhere. Neither is Max Kepler, and I doubt Eddie Rosario would be moved given he’s not even arbitration eligible until 2019.

Robbie Grossman is one of the most valuable trade chip the Twins have, and I expect him to be shopped. He’s not an everyday outfielder, but man, can he hit. I think Falvey really likes Grossman. But what’s not to like? His OPS+ is 112, and he’s absolutely wrecking right-handed pitching (6 HR, .435 SLG, .801 OPS). He’s not bad against lefties either (.441 OBP, .741 OPS). He still has the highest on-base percentage amongst designated hitters at .389 and should be an All-star. He has a higher OPS than Hanley Ramirez, Victor Martinez, Mark Trumbo, Albert Pujols and Carlos Beltran. Grossman will be arbitration eligible next year and would be a fantastic addition as a designated hitter for a playoff team, but I can’t expect any of the teams of the players mentioned to make a move for the position.

That leaves Eduardo Escobar, who is on fire to say the least. He has hits in seven straight games and is 22-for-45 in June. His .838 OPS is fourth amongst shortstops, and his OPS+ is a team- and career-high 121. While he’s a below-average defensive shortstop, there are plenty of playoff-bound teams who would love to have a utility bat with a 1.066 OPS against lefties. And the Twins don't need to be out of it to move Escobar. He's arbitration eligible for the final time next year and will make considerably more than the $2.6 million he’s being paid this season. He will also be a free agent after next season.

Escobar can play just about everywhere, which makes me think the Chicago Cubs would be a perfect fit. Escobar could give Addison Russell a breather against lefties (Russell is hitting .219/.349/.346 against them this season), and play the outfield for Kyle Schwarber against lefties (Schwarber has a .567 OPS against lefties this year).

What should the Twins ask in return? Well, lefty starter Jen-Ho Tseng with the AA Tennessee Smokies is intriguing. He’s just 22, and his K:BB ratio is 3.1 and he’s striking out 7.7 per nine innings. Future relievers could include righty Pedro Araujo, 23, who has a K:BB ratio of 7.0 through 31.2 innings with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans of Advanced-A ball. His teammate and fellow righty Craig Brooks, 24, is actually striking out more batters than Araujo (13.3 K/9 over 20.1 IP).

If Falvey and the Twins want to take advantage of Escobar’s hot bat, now’s the time, especially with Gordon knocking on the door in AA. While Jorge Polanco has struggled in June, he is in the Twins' long-term plans. Nick Gordon is also in the Twins' long-term plans, and Escobar is not. That's why it won't matter where the Twins are in the standings come the Trade Deadline. Players will be shed to give playing time to youngsters. Escobar seems like the most obvious choice.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch

You might be wondering how Republicans could be better off than owning a majority in both houses of Congress and occupying the White House. Well, they could do it longer. If Georgia’s 6th Congressional district, and even more surprisingly, South Carolina's fifth, are any indication, the Republicans are in for rude awakening in 2018 and 2020.

 

While Republican Karen Handel won the election, Democrat Jon Ossoff made us all pay attention to a district that’s been nothing but red since Apocalypse Now and Alien were in theaters.

 

While it’s highly unlikely the Democrats win three of the eight Republican Senate seats up for reelection in 2018 to win a majority, the House is a different story. It doesn’t matter whether Congress repeals and replaces Obamacare. House Republicans are under fire whether they do or don’t. Midterm elections have been historically bad for the party occupying the White House, as was epically the case for Barack Obama in 2014. The average loss of House seats by the party with a newly elected President is 23. There are already 23 House seats held by Republicans in districts Hillary Clinton won, while just 12 that have Democratic representatives and voted Trump.

 

FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten compared a President’s approval rating to the results in the midterm elections, and despite a large margin for error, (+/- 33 Congressional seats) there was a correlation. And Trump’s residency of the White House has only just begun. After 149 days, Trump’s approval rating, as measured by Gallup, has dropped to 38 percent, and Trump started with the lowest approval rating for any first-term President ever rated (45 percent). Trump has that record by six points. Barack Obama and George W. Bush had approval ratings of 61 and 55 percent, respectively, over roughly the same number of days. At the time of their first midterms, they were at 45 percent and 63 percent, respectively.

 

Bush’s 63 percent approval rating is the reason why he’s one of the exceptions to the rule that the party residing in the White House loses Congressional seats in the midterms. It’s the highest approval rating ever during a midterm election. An unpopular war brought Bush and Republican Congressional candidates back down to Earth the second time around.

 

The only President who’s experienced a similar decline to Trump over a similar period is Gerald Ford. Over 157 days in office, Ford saw his approval rating fall from a very respectable 71 percent to 37 percent, He pardoned Nixon and still only had nearly the same approval rating as Trump does now! So what I’m saying is there’s plenty of time for Trump to hit rock bottom.

 

Going back to that FiveThirtyEight analysis, if Trump’s approval rating were to fall to say 31 percent, “Democrats would be projected to gain 53 seats” (again, +/- 33 margin of error). I’m not betting on Trump’s approval rating to be that high. He’s already got the record for the lowest approval rating to start a Presidency by six points. I’m betting he has the lowest approval rating of a first-term President going into a midterm election by the same margin.

 

That record also belongs to George W. Bush. He entered the 2008 midterms with an approval rating of 31 percent. The Republicans lost 36 Congressional seats in that election. Now consider if Trump were six points worse than that. He’d be hovering around 25 percent, and House Democrats would stand to gain considerably.

 

The job Trump is doing (or not doing considering all the rounds of golf he’s getting in) is already rubbing off on incumbent Congressional candidates, and the stink is legendary. Georgia’s 6th Congressional district has been a Republican stalwart since 1979. The fact that race was even close shouldn’t be taken lightly. We’ve never had a President this disapproved of at the start of a Presidency, and we’ve never seen a White House like this, so I expect the worst.

 

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: The Costa Report, Drop Your Energy Bill, 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, Know Your Rights

 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017 22:36

Gentrification is the old gerrymandering

The United States Supreme Court will rule on partisan gerrymandering for the first time since 2004, deciding whether Wisconsin Republicans drew electoral district lines with the unfair intent of strengthening their political presence in the state. Gill v. Whitford will be heard by the Supreme Court in the fall and could result in a ruling that will set the boundaries for drawing electoral district boundaries.

 

The case at hand is pretty straightforward. While 51 percent of Wisconsin voters were Democrats in 2012, Republicans won 60 of the 99 seats in the state’s Congress. Republicans say that’s because Democrats have the disadvantage of living in metropolitan areas like Milwaukee and Madison, which is true. Metropolitans are generally underrepresented given the populations in their districts compared to the populations of rural districts, and that’s not Republicans’ fault.

 

But there’s more to the story. Thanks to the work of University of Chicago law professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos, there’s a new way to measure whether district lines are fair representations of representation or partisan gerrymandering designed to be advantageous to the political party drawing the lines. The efficiency gap measures “wasted votes,” or the number of votes wasted in a district where one party wins an election easily.

 

For example, take those metropolitan voters in Wisconsin. In Wisconsin’s fourth Congressional district, which includes parts of Milwaukee, incumbent Democrat Gwen Moore won 77 percent of the vote in a race that didn’t feature Republican opposition. You could argue that Moore wouldn’t have required all those votes to win even if there was a Republican challenger. Those would be considered wasted votes, and voters living on the edges of Milwaukee should have instead voted in neighboring first, fifth and sixth districts to make races more competitive.

 

The same could be said for Wisconsin’s second district that contains Madison. Incumbent Democrat Mark Pocan wasted votes beating Republican challenger Peter Theron by almost 150,000. Move 100,000 of those wasted votes to the sixth district and Wisconsin would have one more Democratic Senator. And we haven’t even started looking at the state assembly.

 

If we look at the Milwaukee area again, there are two districts, the 14th and 21st, that had competitive races Republicans won in 2016. Each race was decided by about 5,000 votes. Wisconsin's 14th district is bordered on the east by the 12th, 17th and 18th districts. Those districts are closer to Milwaukee and all went Democratic. In fact, there was no Republican opposition in any of those races, so the Democrats needed just over 5,000 votes of the 58,000 wasted votes they got in those three races to take the 14th district. Had the east boundary of the 14th district been drawn closer to Milwaukee, the Democrats would have likely won that district.

 

Wisconsin’s 21st district is neighbored by the 20th district to the north, which went to the Democrats unopposed. Another 21,222 votes were wasted in the 20th district, and Democrats needed just 5,000 to take the 21st district.

 

It’s a similar story for Wisconsin’s 42nd district, which is neighbored by the 79th and 81st districts, which went Democrat by a combined 16,000 wasted votes. Democrat George Ferriter needed just 5,000 of those votes to swing the 42nd district blue.

 

The point is Wisconsin Republicans probably gained seats by drawing the district lines where they did, which is not supposed to happen. This is the Republicans’ fault because they were last to draw the districts, and the Supreme Court could rule that the districts must be redrawn to make races more competitive. That was the ruling in the lower court.

 

If the Supreme Court agrees with the lower court, it would set the efficiency gap as legal precedent when determining whether partisan gerrymandering has taken place. It would also give the party disadvantaged by the gerrymandering a better chance of righting the wrong and achieving more accurate representation throughout states. That’s no small accomplishment, but it’s not a solution by any means, because gentrification is the old gerrymandering.

 

Gerrymandering has been around almost as long as America, but even older than America is gentrification, which will continue to weaken the power of the minority vote despite a ruling on gerrymandering. While gerrymandering is the drawing of lines around communities, gentrification is actively creating communities by displacing other communities.

 

There’s nothing stopping a city council our county commission from purchasing land to build whatever they want to “improve” their city or county. Cities, counties and states don’t need your permission to build “improvements.” They can just buy you or your landlord out. If you live in a metropolitan area, you’re likely familiar with these projects and might have been displaced because of them.

 

New research by the University of Minnesota found that “over a third of low-income census tracts in Minneapolis underwent gentrification...and about a quarter of low-income census tracts in St. Paul gentrified” from 2000 to 2014. Northeast Minneapolis is the best example of gentrification in the area, which tends to happen in downtown areas near public transit. So the people who actually need the bus and train to get to work no longer have access to it or have to walk/ride even farther to work.

 

But brown people moving to suburban or rural areas should even out the vote there, right? Wrong. Minorities had a voice in metropolitan areas because they had power in numbers. Those numbers being spread around suburban and rural areas dissipates the power of that collective vote. Those displaced people also lose local representation that’s been dedicated to their interests. They were a member of the majority when it came to their local community, and they are now a minority in a new community. Just like the local elected officials in the cities, the local elected officials of the suburbs and rural areas have the interests of the majority in mind.

Those same Wisconsin Republicans who allegedly committed partisan gerrymandering will simply resort to “improving” their communities and spreading the minority vote around into suburban and rural districts via gentrification in the future. Even if the Supreme Court rules the Wisconsin Republicans were in the wrong, gentrification makes gerrymandering unnecessary, because if you can move the people instead of the lines there’s no need to move the lines. Moving the lines is just cheaper and easier, for now. That’s why gentrification is the old gerrymandering.

 

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: The Costa Report, Drop Your Energy Bill, 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, Know Your Rights

 

Amazon is attempting to monopolize retailing with its acquisition of Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. While Amazon started as a business unreliant upon brick-and-mortar locations, it is now realizing the products and services the company can offer is limited to the locations of its warehouses. The company even has actual bookstores now.  

 

For instance, While Amazon’s Prime Pantry service allows customers to purchase non-perishables online and have them delivered to their front doors, Amazon does not have the ability to connect customers with fresh food, which is where the more than 400 Whole Foods stores comes in.

Food Prices will Fall

Amazon’s price war with Wal-mart just got a steroid injection. The only revenue Amazon was yielding to Wal-mart was on fresh food purchases. That’s no longer the case. Amazon will likely change little in Whole Foods stores to start, simply absorbing the revenue already created at those locations from the customers who would shop there regardless. But it won’t be long before Amazon updates its online catalogs with Whole Foods products that can be delivered to your door the same day you order.

 

Food delivery has to be the way Amazon intends to cut into Wal-mart’s grocery market share. A service that started as a way for the elderly to get their food and evolved into a means for donated food to find its way to people lacking transportation is going to make a comeback on a massive scale. Since the grocery business is such a low margin industry, Amazon can charge a premium to the customers who are already Whole Foods shoppers to not come to the store. All they’ll have to do is go online, pick their food products and wait for them to arrive at their door later that day or the next. Whether Amazon closes the Whole Foods stores entirely and turns them into order processing warehouses for their fresh food is unknown, but it’s a pretty safe bet Amazon is looking to beat Wal-mart into the food delivery market.

 

Wal-mart is currently the top provider of food in the nation, and by large margin because of all its locations, so there’s plenty of market share to be had by Amazon. It’s already shown an interest in catering to the low- and moderate-income American by lowering its Prime membership (which includes Prime Pantry access) to $5.99 monthly for those utilizing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). That’s a pretty good indication of what Amazon intends to do.

 

Amazon has basically exhausted its retail market share for all demographics but one -- the poor. But when Amazon starts enticing the low-income Wal-mart shopper to forego the taxi or bus ride down to the closest store for an online order they can have delivered to their door, there will be little market share for Amazon to gain and no place for prices to move. Until that day, you can expect prices on food to fall. This includes packaged foods like General Mills and Kraft Heinz offerings that have been forced to interior shelves inside grocery stores as Americans have become more conscious and cautious of what they’re eating.

The Acquisition Could Slow Inflation

While it’s unlikely the growth of inflation will come to a dead stop due to Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, there will be a slight effect felt. Consider that Whole Foods private label, 365 brand, comes along with Whole Foods, and now that Amazon owns a private-label food brand, you can bet that label is going to be well-represented online. Amazon has been selling private-label perishables for about a year. Available food is cheaper food, and the 365 brand being available to consumers online could put Amazon in a position to compete with other private labels.

 

So while the effect on inflation might not be to the point that the Fed decides against acting to reach its two-percent growth target in 2018, cheaper food will certainly curtail inflation growth. Even considering real estate and rents increasing in cost, steady fuel prices that are relatively low given recent history help counteract living expenses. And with companies attempting to create an emissions-free semi-truck to change the way food is delivered to Wal-mart and Whole Foods, the cost of food could be falling ever further in the near future. You can do more than hope, though. Here are a few more ways you can save on food.

You’ll Never Have to Stand in the Line at the Store Again

The biggest value the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods has for you, the consumer, is all the time you’ll save not standing in line at the store. We hear it all the time in America: “Time is money.” Well, companies are going to do their best to save you time like Amazon has done with its acquisition of Whole Foods because they can only cut prices so much, and making your purchase easier or more enjoyable is cheaper in the long run. If you don’t have to drive to the grocery store anymore, that’s likely an hour or so per week you have to do literally anything else. That’s four hours per week, and even if you make the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, that’s almost $350 you’ll save annually. So if it costs you $6 per month for a Prime membership as a SNAP member, you’re still ahead $276.12, and you get streaming video at home. If you’re paying the full-price for Prime ($99 annually), you’re up almost $250 if you work for the country’s lowest wage.  Also keep in mind that Amazon will now be able to accept SNAP and WIC benefits.

 

Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods will have long-ranging impacts on the fresh food market and grocery market. It makes Wal-mart’s monopoly over low- and moderate-income Americans’ dollars vulnerable to the influence of Amazon. When my brother-in-law saw people getting out of cabs to go grocery shopping at Wal-mart he was stunned. “Why would you do that?’ he asked. “Well, people without transportation gotta eat, too,” I said. “And they’re not going to take a bus and haul groceries home everyday.” Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods will be good for the average American, but it could change the lives of low- and moderate-income Americans. There never seems to be access to fresh food in low-income areas. That’s why people eat so much fast food -- because it’s there. Well, now Amazon is there.

 

Editor's Note: An update follows.

 

Amazon’s next task is to apparently undermine Wal-mart's clothing sales by offering something called Wardrobe Prime, which allows online shoppers to have clothes delivered to their home to try on, and they can return what they don't like or what doesn't fit. You can sign up for when it goes live here. You'll get 10 percent off for keeping three or more items and 20 percent off for keeping five items or more.

 

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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, What’s Cookin Today

 

This is the second of a series of articles about how the impoverished American can overcome proposed budget cuts by utilizing other services and methods.


Donald Trump’s proposed budget would cut funding that provides low-income Americans with affordable housing. Specifically, the $3-billion Community Development Block grant program would be cut entirely. Of that $3 billion, 70 percent must be used to benefit low- or moderate-income persons. It prevents or eliminates “slums or blight” and addresses “community development needs having a particular urgency because existing conditions pose a serious and immediate threat to the health or welfare of the community for which other funding is not available.” I repeat, “for which other funding is not available.”

That’s not all, though. The entirety of the Section 4 Community Development and Affordable Housing Program funding -- the measly $35 million of it -- would be cut. That $35 million was distributed as grants in the following manner last year:

The HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the largest federal block grant to state and local governments designed exclusively to create affordable housing for low-income households, would also be cut from Trump’s budget. The HOME program awarded nearly $1 billion in grants in 2016 that built affordable homes all over the country.

Also proposed to be cut is the Choice Neighborhoods program, which has funded affordable housing on blighted or empty lots all over the country. To get an idea of what they’ve built go here. (UPDATE: A cut to Section 8 billed at $300 million would actually be a cut of $2 billion given inflation and raising rents.)

The Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program, which awards grants to nonprofit organizations that build affordable homes with volunteer labor (like Habitat for Humanity), would also cease to exist. So affordable home builders would have fewer funds to build fewer affordable homes, and fewer Americans would realize the American Dream.

You might say the government shouldn’t be in the business of providing affordable housing, but if you say that, you’ve likely never been near a project or witnessed people sleeping on the sidewalk or under bridges. And just because you don’t see it everyday doesn’t mean it’s not happening. This money is an investment in America. It provides (or if cut, provided) funding to decrease the number of homeless Americans -- 8.6 percent of which are veterans.

But now that affordable housing is on the chopping block (actually it’s always been) and there will be fewer affordable homes to go around, a lot of low- and moderate-income Americans will have to find a way to pay a higher percentage of their income in rent.

There is still hope, though. The proposed budget cuts have to get through the Senate after all, and those programs are still at work building affordable housing throughout the country. Here are three ways you can pay less in rent despite budget cuts to housing and urban development programs.

Buy a Home

Bet you didn’t think that would be the first suggestion to save money on housing, but a mortgage on a single-family home is currently a cheaper monthly payment than a lease in most of America. I can see how much cheaper here. The Economist provided a review of America’s housing market in five interactive charts back in August of 2016, and the ratio of home prices to rents was below the long-run average.

In my area, even considering the low rent I pay because I share a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate, buying a home is 23 percent cheaper than renting. I know what you’re thinking: “But I don’t have enough for a 10-percent down payment.” Well, you don’t need it necessarily. There state and local, down-payment assistance providers who will loan or grant you a portion of your down payment if you live in the home for a certain period. You could end up putting down the minimum three percent down by coming up with one percent yourself and getting the other two percent as a grant if you live in the home for three years.

A good rule is to never pay more than 25 percent of your monthly income to your mortgage, home insurance, and property taxes. Use a mortgage calculator to determine the maximum amount you can spend on a home, and don’t let a lender tell you different, because they will.

I attended a Home Stretch homebuyer education course to get a better understanding of the homebuying process, and you should too. Registration fees for many of the courses are waived during the month of June for National Homeownership Month, and you can even complete the course on nights or a Saturday.

These classes tend to be offered by your state’s housing finance agencies, which you can find with a Google search of “<your state> housing finance agency.” I just searched “Home Stretch homebuyer education course near me” and registered in minutes. The class was very helpful, explaining the importance of inspections, budgeting and saving for a down payment, shopping for mortgages, working with a realtor and closing the sale. You even get a manual to take home, but the best part is you’ll get the business cards of people who can help you with the homebuying process. And since these folks already take time out of their day to help first-time homebuyers, you can trust them to look out for your interests. Sure they leave their business cards for a reason, but most of them wouldn’t present at the class if they weren’t interested in helping homebuyers.

The first thing you can do before you even start shopping for a home is start saving for a down payment by putting together a budget. The more money you can put down the lower monthly mortgage you’ll pay. And you should shop for a mortgage. There are so many banks out there, which means there’s plenty of competition for your money. Don’t take the first mortgage you’re offered. You should take the best of three or four options.

People think they can handle the homebuying process without a realtor, but a realtor doesn’t cost the homebuyer anything. Their fee comes out of the seller’s fees, so there’s no reason not to employ a realtor. It’s important to have someone looking out for your interests, and just because that realtor is from the same agency as the seller’s realtor, that doesn’t mean they’re trying to screw you over. In fact, it could work in your favor.

The one thing that does cost you money is the home inspection, which is worth the $400 to $600 you’ll pay. If you waive an inspection and buy a house that’s on land being eroded and have to repour a foundation, you will have wished you paid $500 for an inspection. And always be there for the inspection. It’s probably some of the most important information you can get before buying a home.

Also your responsibility is to investigate the neighborhood where you’re buying a home. The first rule of real estate is location, location, location. Go to open houses (they’re good practice) and afterwards talk to the neighbors to get an idea what the neighborhood is like. Come back at night and check the crime statistics online. Most police departments publish a crime map on their websites. If not, call them and ask what crimes have been committed in the area lately and how often. Zillow has a 10-point rating system for the schools in the area, but it’s not a bad idea to drive by them and the parks to see what kind of shape they’re in.

Even with average home prices increasing due to a lack of supply and low interest rates, it’s not a bad time to buy considering the proposed cuts to housing and urban development budgets. Supply is expected to increase but still won’t satisfy demand, and while it’s a seller’s market, taking advantage of the relatively low interest rates before they climb could save new homeowners thousands. Homes are only going to get more expensive, albeit at a slower rate, so you might as well get in while the getting’s still good.

Rent to Own

If you can afford to purchase a home outright, negotiating a contract for deed on a home is still better than paying rent. Paying rent doesn’t allow you to create equity in your home, but a contract for deed does. You’re going to own that place someday, but be careful to read your contract for deed carefully. Some are written so that just one missed payment can void the contract. Then all the work you put into the place that wasn’t yours yet is lost to holder of the deed. A lot of condos and townhomes can be found on a rent to own basis, and can still be cheaper than renting.  

Rent a Spare Bedroom

If you don’t qualify for a mortgage, you can still make renting more affordable if you rent a spare bedroom. Yes, renting more space than you need is more expensive and costs more to heat and cool, but you can make a whole lot of money in a whole lot of places renting that spare bedroom by the night using Airbnb. There are stories of Airbnb hosts making $1 million annually, but you’d need pretty nice digs to do that. But if you’re struggling to make rent (which is likely why you stumbled onto this piece), an Airbnb business can be a lifesaver.

If you’re a natural clean freak and don’t pay for water or laundry, an Airbnb business is perfect for you. All you have to do is figure out how much you can afford to pay in rent, because if the third month comes along and you don’t have half the rent because you couldn’t get enough people to reserve your spare bedroom, you won’t have a home for very long. Generally, if you're paying more than half of your income on rent, that's an unsafe place to be. But if you're going to rent your spare bedroom, you can stand to pay half of your income in rent. Whether the owner will accept your credit based on your income is another story, though.

The beauty is Airbnb does most of the work for you (for a small fee, of course, generally 3 percent of earnings). Take some pictures of your clean home and describe it, you and the location. Be honest. Don’t expect people from out of town to know what they’re getting into. You don’t want to host the people that give you bad ratings because of your location, even though they actually choose the location. If you’re in an urban area where gunshots are regularly heard, make sure people know that before they wake up to gunshots. Even community demographics can be helpful, because some people are racists, and you don’t want to host those people. Being thorough in the description of your home and location can save you from bad ratings down the road, and your rating will affect how many reservations you secure and what price you can charge.

Before you get ahead of yourself, though, call your city hall and ask them if there is an ordinance governing short-term renting or home sharing. Airbnb is not legal everywhere. Some cities have outlawed “transient lodging” or “short-term rentals,” with hefty fines accessed to those who are caught.

New York City started fining Airbnb hosts in February, but has issued only a few fines since. Basically, it’s a really hard law to enforce in large municipalities where city employees are already overwhelmed. But neither GCN Live nor I advocate illegal home sharing. I’m actually trying to change the ordinance in Bloomington, Minn. outlawing short-term rentals less than 30 days by forcing hosts to pay the same percentage in lodging taxes that hotels pay. It’s only fair, and it won’t cut too much into hosts’ profits. The city council doesn’t seem to be interested in taking me seriously, but if I get enough people to help me persuade them they’ll have to address the issue.

If home sharing is illegal in your city, move. If you can’t afford to move, you can use the following as a template to get the ball rolling on legalizing home sharing or short-term renting in your city. Of course, you’ll have to find the law governing transient lodging or short-term renting in your city code and alter it accordingly. Otherwise, you can use this to draft a letter or email to your city council:

To Whom It May Concern:

I think Bloomington’s ban on transient lodging is wrong, and I have a solution. First of all, what people do with the homes they own or rent is up to those people and their landlords, and the City of Bloomington, or any municipality, should not be allowed to limit a person’s ability to make a living.

Secondly, the current law is nearly impossible to enforce, because despite monitoring websites like Airbnb, there will still be transient lodging made available through Craigslist, WarmShowers, and other websites. People will find a way.

There’s no reason why the City of Bloomington shouldn’t profit from transient lodging, though. If every Airbnb or similar host paid the applicable lodging taxes for their location, hotels would have little reason to complain, as the people renting Airbnb rooms are more likely to camp than pay for a hotel, and the hosts would be paying the same taxes as the hotels.

I propose the following alteration to the City of Bloomington Code of Ordinances subsection 14.577.

14.577 ILLEGAL RENTALS, OCCUPANCY LIMITS AND NO SUBLETTING

An owner may adopt standards that reduce the maximum allowed occupancy of a dwelling unit from the standards set forth herein. The maximum permissible occupancy of any licensed rental dwelling unit is determined according to the 2012 International Property Maintenance Code and as follows.

 (a)   Not more than one family, except for temporary guests, will occupy a licensed rental dwelling unit.

 (b)   No one will lease, license or agree to allow the occupancy, possession or tenancy of a licensed rental dwelling unit to more than four unrelated persons.

 (c)   Tenants of a licensed rental dwelling unit must not lease or sublet the dwelling unit to another without the prior approval of the property owner.

 (d)   No one will lease, license or agree to allow the use of a dwelling unit, or portion thereof, for transient lodging, unless applicable lodging taxes are paid.

I believe that tax is seven percent for the City of Bloomington. You can find the applicable codes here: http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/pubs/lodgetax.pdf.

Since Airbnb hosts must pay taxes on their Airbnb income and fill out a W-9 or other appropriate tax form, collecting the tax would be as simple as applying that seven percent to the Airbnb income already reported each year. Let me know your questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Your Name

If a member of your city council or an administrator from city hall doesn’t get back to you in a couple of weeks, contact them and ask when it will be addressed. If they say the council isn’t interested in addressing the issue, ask them when the next city council meeting is and attend. There’s always a time for public comment at those meetings, and it’s a good way to get media exposure for your cause and recruit other supporters. There really is strength in numbers, so if you show up to the next city council meeting with 20 people behind you, and every one of them takes the time to speak their mind on the issue, your city council members will have little choice but to refer your suggestion to the ordinance committee for review.

It takes months to accomplish anything in city government, so be prepared for a lot of waiting. Take solace in the fact you’re trying to improve your community by increasing tax revenue for street and sidewalk repair, etc.

So there are three ways to pay less in rent despite housing budget cuts. Next up in our series on how to navigate federal budget cuts, we’ll look at how to get around proposed cuts to energy and transportation.

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