Adventures in Real Estate

Friends, I’m pleased to announce the release of Adventures in Real Estate: A Ridiculous and Mostly Rewarding Journey from Tenant to Landlord. The book has been a long time coming, with work progressing slowly over the last several years. It’s sometimes intensely personal, sometimes densely wonky, but mostly–I hope–entertaining and useful.

Officially, the book is about what began as a quest for a larger yet affordable shop space for a small-town repair business and how that turned into a thirty-year adventure in the ups and downs of real estate ownership with detours into such unexpected crises as adverse possession, lawsuits, evictions, city ordinance violations, easements, and endless tenant drama.

As the author of this blow-by-blow account, I offer helpful hints based on hard-earned lessons about ownership of commercial property in a rapidly growing part of the country, Northwest Arkansas. I wish I’d had this book in 1980! Perhaps even more helpful to anyone interested in dabbling in this particular type of investment opportunity is the entertaining narrative tracking my struggle to learn, adapt, and survive in the onslaught on unexpected legal, construction, and tenant challenges while raising three children and surviving a failed marriage.

Will the story end in despair and bankruptcy? Or will the investment pay off with retirement income sufficient to keep body and soul together into the twilight years? Read to the end to find out!

My observations about my adventures in the local real estate market offer a treasure-trove of advice to anyone contemplating investing in commercial real estate. This richly-told story is a profile of how to get in cheap and make it work for anyone looking to provide a decent return on almost zero dollars and a lot of sweat equity.

Grab your copy today, only $19.95 at Amazon.com

Our Republican Religious War

Why keep Trump? Why would career politicians bare their rotten souls to the world in order to keep him in office? It makes no sense when they have another Republican in line to take his place.

What is the prize with Trump? Why is he the one and only person who can carry the Republican banner?

Why disgrace themselves and their party by dishonoring distinguished veterans and career professionals? Why hear testimony that lays out sharp and clear the bribery and extortion Trump pursued with Ukraine and then pretend it was nothing? Why manipulate sound bites from witnesses by taunts and interruptions in order to feed misinformation to their hapless followers?

Now no less than in 2015, the followers cling to any slim suggestion that Trump is the best man to lead the country. Unbelievable as it may seem, all the evidence of his misdeeds then—stiffing workers, molesting women, cheating on all three wives, an endless stream of bankruptcies and financial shenanigans—and now in the impeachment hearings of his cavalier risk of national security, none of it disrupts the fond narrative that he is the Chosen One who can lead this nation toward some glorious future.

What glorious future do they envision?

It’s a story of turning back the clock and at the same time fulfilling prophecies. We’ll put women back in the kitchen without birth control — that’s keep ’em busy and out of the jobs men need. (Never mind the immediate crisis in household income…) We’ll put Bibles in every classroom and pray hourly at the nation’s capitol. We’ll end the rights of LGBTQ individuals and push back the tide of people of color, declaring once and for all the America is a nation controlled by and for white heterosexual males.

Nothing can be said, apparently, to penetrate the religious fervor of this mindset. They are the monkeys who can hear and see nothing. God works in mysterious ways, and Trump is the way, the unrecognized messiah, the one who has been selected by God Almighty to work His powerful agenda of bringing America back to its reason for existence.

This narrative was carefully constructed over decades of Republican manipulation, a frenzied backlash to the ’60s generation with their free love, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. It was outrage over legalized abortion. It was the pushback to the defiance of an entire new generation against an agenda of conspicuous consumption and materialism at any cost. The Silent Majority were sitting ducks for clever spinmeisters who needed their votes to put the corporatiers in the driver’s seat.

The rewards have continued to flow—destruction of workers’ unions, profits over people, wildly skewed income inequality, continuing devastation of the environment in pursuit of wealth, incarceration of the poor and non-white.

Trump is stupid enough to accept the risk of exposing his inadequacies but smart enough to know he’s being used. He doesn’t care that he’s the mouthpiece of larger forces. He’s in it for himself, his family, and the profits they can generate in one scam after another. He has no concept of right or wrong, no shame, no conscience.

None of that matters to the Devin Nuneses of the world. They have hitched their wagons to the myth of the Chosen One and can’t back out now. The two opposing camps of our nation, one seeking to generate public policy framed in science, compassion and forward thinking and the other seeking to generate policies of near-term greed and blind faith, have never been more clearly defined since at least the 1860s.

This is a religious war.  Even though many people of faith have not given up rational thought in order to serve their religious doctrine, those who long for Someone to rule with a strong hand are dedicated to Trump. His braggadocio stands in for strong character among those willing to compromise in order to worship their golden calf.

Will awake voters show up at the polls in November 2020? Will one side have to kill the other in blood-drenched battlefields, hand to hand combat in our streets and cities? Or are there enough people of good faith and common sense to wrest this nation’s direction back from extremists determined to ensure the prophecies of Revelations, their sacrifice to an angry God with whom they bargain in hopes of walking the promised Streets of Gold?

I ask myself, what can I do today to bring my country back to the Founders’ vision of liberty and justice for all? Quite honestly, I don’t know. I’d like to think that through better education and economic opportunity, people can learn how to think past superstitions and myths, that they would embrace rationalism and equanimity. Sadly, just last week a law was passed in Ohio that permits wrong answers to be counted as correct if the error is based on religious teachings.

Buttigieg is the Best Option

Replacing Trump will require a Democratic candidate who can reunite the people of this nation. This candidate can’t just present viable plans that address concerns about health care or immigration. He or she must show the way to bring us to common ground.

Therein lies the problem with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as well as several lower polling candidates. They’re both wonky enough to have good ideas about solving problems. But Bernie comes across as an angry old man who has spent his life raging against the machine. In some eyes, this anoints him as the natural pick, blinding them to the reality of his negatives.

Elizabeth has worked out the minutia of her health care plan but hasn’t found a way to present herself as moderate. Her gender also limits her viability. Much as I’d like to see a woman elected president, now is not that time. She would, however, make a great vice president.

Republican postcard mailer in Kentucky governor campaign. Red-baiting.

Both Warren and Sanders are extreme enough to be vulnerable to opposition rhetoric that frames them as radicals. We’ve already seen how that will work. The Kentucky campaign for governor unveiled the plan. The good news is that the Democrat won anyway, meaning there is hope that the electorate will see past such propaganda. The bad news is that the Republican candidate for Kentucky governor was widely seen as a jerk.

Biden, sadly, has lived past his electability while the new boys in town with their fat wallets, Michael Bloomberg and Deval Patrick, are too easily dismissed despite their proven executive expertise. Neither Bloomberg nor Patrick have (and probably can’t) connected with voters on an emotional level. If by some chance any of these three become the Democratic nominee, I will of course vote for him. But I don’t think they will succeed.

That leaves Buttigieg, an openly gay man whose sexuality may be a formidable barrier for a specific type of voter. But of all the top candidates in the Democratic lineup, Buttigieg is the only military veteran; like it or not, the U.S. has a vast military commitment worldwide. His executive experience has put him on the front line of our nation’s inner city crisis. His personal life has forced him to learn how to bridge huge divides between people with opposing belief systems.

Buttigieg received a major shot in the arm last week with the publication of a Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa poll that showed him in first place in the first-in-the-nation caucus with the support of 25 percent of respondents, nine points ahead of his nearest competitor, Senator Elizabeth Warren. He has nearly tripled his support since September, when the same poll had him at 9 percent. And he’s also moved into the lead in the Real Clear Politics average of Iowa polls. (https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/11/pete-buttigieg-surge-iowa-democratic-voters-may-want-presidential-temperament/)

That he embraces his Christian faith may be scoffed at by evangelicals whose interpretation of Christian teachings paints his sexual orientation as sinful, but they stumble when faced with the reality of their “chosen one,” a president who has openly violated at least three of the Ten Commandments: You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not covet. And probably two more: Keep the Sabbath day holy. and You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Quite the cognitive dissonance, not that they’ll be aware of it.

Trump was elected by 40% of registered voters. What served him in 2016 was non-voters and third-party protest voters, collusion with Russia that manipulated the vote, and a message of hate and exclusion that excited a certain segment of the population.

Now it’s time for a message of love and inclusion that will motivate a majority of voters to hope for a better future.

Buttigieg’s message has begun to penetrate in Iowa, bringing him to the top of the polls. He’s smart, empathetic, and charming. He’s scary smart—Rhodes scholar, US Navy intelligence officer, former employee of a management consulting firm, and now serving his second term as mayor of South Bend, Indiana. His platform includes support for reducing income inequality, pro-environmental policies, cooperation between the Democratic Party and organized labor, universal background checks for firearms purchases, the Equality Act, a public option for health insurance, and preserving the DACA program for children of illegal immigrants. Buttigieg also supports reforms that would end gerrymandering, overturn the Citizens United v. FEC decision, and abolish the Electoral College.[1]

Buttigieg’s sexual orientation may seem a daunting barrier but then, Obama was black—another daunting barrier. And Obama won and gave us eight years of coherent, intelligent leadership.

~~~

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pete_Buttigieg

Newspeak

From an article published July 19, 2019, in The Week, image Illustrated | Collection Christophel / Alamy Stock Photo, Alex Wong/Getty Images

“Newspeak is the language of Oceania, a fictional totalitarian state and the setting of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), by George Orwell. To meet the ideological requirements of English Socialism (Ingsoc) in Oceania, the ruling Party created Newspeak, a controlled  language of restricted grammar and limited vocabulary, meant to limit the freedom of thought — personal identity, self-expression, free will — that threatens the ideology of the régime of Big Brother and the Party, who have criminalized such concepts into thoughtcrime, as contradictions of Ingsoc orthodoxy.”

Friends, I have nothing to say here that you haven’t thought before. I say it now because it is worth reminding ourselves.

I was watching FOX News Thursday afternoon, amused at the Republican politicos and elected officials huffing about Sondland’s shift in testimony. Their conclusion? Schiff got to him.

HA! “Schiff got to him.” How much easier can it be to see that the principle at work here is to accuse the other side of what you’re doing?

I was reminded of my thoughts on many previous occasions when one or another Republican from the White House on down has blamed Democrats for some particular sleaze or shady move, none of which were true. It’s not only that they subconsciously act out an elaborate projection of their own misdeeds. It’s also that they intentionally seek to distract by assigning their bad acts onto their opponents.

It’s almost as if they’ve been forced to lobotomize themselves in order to exist as a Republican under their Dear Leader. The upper chambers of their brains are shut off.

Which makes it even more understandable that these so-called righteous conservatives would feel threatened. When your brain isn’t fully functional, any threat feels overwhelming.  Trump threatens them. The situation threatens them. They’re feeling very defensive.

Projecting their bad acts, even if they’re only a complicit bystander, is a form of self-protection.

That broken vase? No, I didn’t do that. Me and boys didn’t do that. It was them, those guys over there.

My renewed awareness of this calculated misdirection by those who purport to be our leaders and their willing corruption of our nation’s laws and institutions requires the rest of us to hear the news with a built-in translator in order to understand what we’re really hearing.

Schiff got to Sondland? Trump’s cabal got to Sondland first. Then when faced with a felony charge of perjury, Sondland had to tell the truth. Oh, snap.

The impeachment inquiry is a witch hunt, a fake news event? Trump’s attempted smear of Biden was the fake news event, along with a long list of other manufactured ‘corruption’ accusations against anyone standing in Trump’s path, starting with Hillary Clinton.

(Or probably, starting in his childhood when Don the Con learned this habit. Evidently he was a dullard from the start, a frustration to his parents who couldn’t face the fact that their supposed superiority wasn’t exactly proving out for their kid. So much for those prized blood lines breeding pure.)

That ‘perfect’ phone call to the Ukrainian president? Exactly what testimony has overwhelmingly shown so far – coercion, bribery and extortion by the president and his minions.

I know I’m not the only person watching events unfold with this translator in place. It makes the day-to-day horror almost amusing.

I’ll Be There!

Fall 2018, book signing event at West Fork library with the release of The West Fork Valley.

Hey, this is your engraved invitation to join me this coming Sunday Nov 10 at 2 pm. I’ll be at the Walker Community Room of the Fayetteville Public Library to read from several of my books. Refreshments will be served. I’ll have a few copies of my books to sell, if you’re so inclined.

The library regularly features local authors on their 2nd Sunday Local Authors Day, for which I’m privileged to appear this time around. But before you dismiss the idea of going, keep in mind that these presentations are also available through the library’s Livestream service. Visit the FPL Livestream page at https://livestream.com and get with the program!

It’s been a year since my last series of book signings, when I released the West Fork Valley. The library calendar link for my event Sunday says I’ll read from my collection of murder stories published in 2017, but actually I’m talking about or reading from ELEVEN books.

Those of you who know me well know I’d rather be shot than speak in public or to try to sell anything. Since you know I’ll be suffering, come on down and suffer with me. You’ll be glad you did.

Me with the infamous Denny Luke, book signing at Ozark Folkways for his biography, South County: Bunyard Road and the Personal Adventures of Denny Luke

Those Evil Corporations!

I agree that corporations should not be allowed to make political contributions, and in that regard, they’re not ‘persons.’ That’s a step too far. But I’m here to defend the concept of corporations. Liberals need to get up to speed on corporate structures and why they exist. The long howling rant against corporations as a general concept discredits the progressive movement.

A corporation mostly isn’t a bad thing. There are non-profit corporations we rely on every day, and plenty of for-profit corporations that bring us everything from electricity to internet to vehicles. Corporations have been the construct by which new inventions in digital technology, medicine, and transportation have come to exist in the modern world.

The commercial incorporator has a specific objective—to streamline the business operation. Under the corporate umbrella, the business owner(s) can partner with other entrepreneurs, obtain materials, hire workers, own property, and produce goods and/or services from one checkbook, that is, the corporate checkbook, without having to do those things in his/her own name.

Likewise, the corporation can pay wages to the owner(s) and all employees and provide the corporation’s required contribution to Social Security and Medicare funds as well as unemployment  and disability insurance (required by law) and in many cases, health insurance—all without involving the owners’ private personal income and spending.

Whatever money the corporation holds in its bank accounts (and other investments) that is not spent on production/operations can be paid out in dividends to its stockholders. ‘Dividends’ is a simple concept: whoever put in money to help the company start and/or grow is paid a divided portion of the profits (usually quarterly) according to the amount paid in. If there are significant profits above and beyond operating expenses, the money paid in dividends can be an important income source for stockholders.

My disabled brother in law, for example, received big oil stocks as a gift from his father who had been at the leading edge of early oil exploration in Texas. Dividends from those stocks have made the difference for him and my sister in raising their family and surviving as they age. Even if we abhor the environmental degradation created by the oil industry, is there something evil about him receiving those dividends?

The concept of the ‘evil corporation’ is so ingrained that the term has its own entry in Wikipedia: “An evil corporation is a trope in popular culture that portrays a corporation as ignoring social responsibility in order to make money for its shareholders. …Evil corporations can be seen to represent the danger of combining capitalism with larger hubris.”

What is social responsibility then, that corporations may find easy to ignore? “Social responsibility is an ethical framework and suggests that an entity, be it an organization or individual, has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large.”[1]

Walmart, for example, has tried to claim social responsibility by its efforts to reduce waste, streamline shipping, and provide better work conditions and wages. Their 2018 Global Responsibility Report highlighted collaboration “with industry experts, NGOs, suppliers and the company’s own research to address risks pertaining to social issues in the supply chain.”[2] In general, Walmart’s approach to “environmental, social and governance issues goes beyond minimizing our own footprint or mitigating risk. We take a more assertive approach: sparking collective action to transform the retail sector for environmental, social and economic stability.”[3]

While naming laudable goals for one of the world’s largest corporations, Walmart continues to reap massive profits for its shareholders and especially the Walton heirs. “Sam Walton’s descendants have a combined wealth of $163.2 billion, according to Bloomberg. This is more than Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett, and nearly $70 billion more than the second-richest family in the United States, the Kochs.”[4]

Bernie Sanders has remarked that the Waltons earn more per minute than its employees earn in a year, and number crunchers have shown this is true (about $25,000 per minute). That imbalance would hardly decrease even if the company paid its 2.1 million employees $20 per hour. That would increase the total payroll by around $20 million, a drop in the bucket to the Walton heirs’ annual dividend payment of about $3.2 billion.  Such a wage increase would also go a long way to reducing employees’ need for social welfare support at taxpayer expense, currently estimated at $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing.

This kind of inequity in profits versus salaries is one of the reasons corporations are seen as evil. And there’s no question that over the centuries as the corporation has matured as a legal entity, it has also maneuvered ways to embody self-serving benefits into law. It is this unfair advantage of a large, organized, well-financed behemoth versus the unorganized ‘little man’ citizen that drives much of the present-day fury toward corporations.

We can’t rely on corporate conscience to ensure fairness in its wages or environmental conduct, a lesson we’ve learned time and again. Just as environmental laws have reduced egregious corporate pollution, policy makers should pass laws that apportion CEO pay and stockholder dividends according to employee wages to ensure a livable wage. After all, without the employees, corporations would have nothing. Unions used to provide this balance, but right-to-works laws and the move to overseas production has pulled the rug out from under them.

Nevertheless, it’s wrong-headed to blame corporate structure in general for doing what anyone would do, which is to pursue advantages that benefit its goals and rewards. The problem is with those entrusted to make and uphold our laws and their vulnerability to highly paid lobbyists who sell corporate demands on the economic benefits of providing jobs and ignore inequities that place millions of workers in a form of wage slavery.

Local economies have also suffered in cases such as Walmart replacing local businesses supplying groceries, hardware, automobile supplies, clothing, shoes, stationery, and more. Grinding the point home is the fact that most of the profits made by Walmart don’t stay in the local economy but rather aggregate in Walton heirs’ pockets. Just as destructive is the arrival of a Walmart that lasts long enough to drive out  local drug stores, for example, then after a few years moves away, leaving the community without a pharmacy.

Yet enterprises like Walmart, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and massive financial corporations looming over today’s landscape provide jobs, goods, and services that we could not have any other way. Local grocers had no way to provide the assortment and quality of goods available at Walmart. Is it better to have bananas in January or a local grocer stocking a few essentials? These are problems facing a world in transition to a global economy.

Short of catastrophe and the accompanying deprivation it would bring, there’s no clear path to return to a village economy where local farmers are the primary source of food and local craftsmen fashion the only available light fixtures, for example (assuming electricity would be available). Whether we like it or not, we’re accustomed to a world-wide marketplace with advanced delivery systems.

As far as the current political mess in which the Citizens United ruling gave corporations the right of an individual in making political contributions, again we must look to our legislators to remedy the apparent lack of appropriate law. A constitutional amendment may be needed in order to refine the definition of a corporation other than as a ‘person’ with all the same rights as individual citizens.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), is a landmark United States Supreme Court case concerning campaign finance. … The ruling effectively freed labor unions and corporations to spend money on electioneering communications and to directly advocate for the election or defeat of candidates.”

With the slow death of unions and other consumer/worker advocacy organizations, the political power of corporations has become an obscene force in politics. While the legal structure of corporations in and of itself is not evil, when large corporations spend obscene amounts to influence elections, there is no doubt that their actions are self-serving and not necessarily of benefit to the common man.

The hue and cry, then, must not be about ‘corporations’ but rather against the actions of corporations that undermine our system of government and its stated purpose to protect the rights of its people. The duty to oversee this Constitutional guarantee belongs to all of us as voters but in particular to our elected representatives. It’s past time for us to hold our legislators responsible for their action or inaction on this subject.

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[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_responsibility

[2] https://www.supplychaindive.com/news/walmart-corporate-social-responsibility-efforts/521961/

[3] https://www.energydigital.com/csr/walmarts-2018-csr-report-20mn-tonne-reduction-emissions-sustainable-sourcing-and-more

[4] https://www.businessinsider.com/how-the-waltons-spend-their-fortune-2017-7