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FEDs, AGs, Law, Weaponized Gov’t – Business Risk, and Defense

May 29th, 2018 Comments off

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There is in all communications efforts the risk of saying too much, or too little, when seeking to make an important point.

 

In an era when thousands of messages are heard or seen daily by the average American, the risk of tuning out news or issues that seem disquieting is real.

This report may appear to some readers who skim as a partisan column, but the point is non-partisan and far more nuanced.

Specific examples will be used to make broader points that are important for investors, business owners, and all others too.

Before we dive into them, a quote from Sam Zell, Chairman, of Equity Lifestyle Properties (ELS), which helps make the point on one of a blizzard of reasons why this issue of the law and its application matters to every investor and business professional.

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See those quotes and more in two MHProNews exclusives on Zell, linked here, and here.

 

Equal Justice Under Law

Equal Justice Under Law” is a powerful slogan, and a noble ideal.

Justice, like affordable housing, ought to be non-partisan issues.

The words “Equal Justice” are etched in stone on some judicial edifices, plaques, and statues. To be meaningful, they must be etched into minds and hearts.

As an example, the Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigation of so-called Russian collusion with the Trump campaign is now seen by the majority of Americans much as President Donald J. Trump has defined it. Over half of those polled now see the Mueller probe as a partisan witch hunt. After a year and tens of millions spent by the special counsel, that reflects the reality with a majority, even though some 90 percent of big, mainstream media news reports have an anti-Trump bias or slant, per Vox and the Media Research Group. Yet, the president is still winning on that issue. Would that be true without his regular Twitter or video push-backs and counter-punches?

But the point here isn’t the president or Mueller, per se.  Rather, it’s as an example of how governmental power can be weaponized.

There are several people who are being investigated that are being driven to the brink of bankruptcy by federal officials associated with the Mueller investigation. That ought to be a concern to every American. “Michael Thomas Flynn is a retired United States Army Lieutenant General who served in the U.S. Army for 33 years, from 1981 until 2014. In January 2017 he briefly served as National Security Advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump,” says Wikipedia. Flynn is an example of one of those being targeted for something that Democratic Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz says is an investigation into an allegation that isn’t even a crime.

Flynn was charged, even though FBI interrogators said they saw no evidence of deception, and Dershowitz said there is no underlying crime involved.  Nevertheless, Flynn was charged with lying to the FBI.  His legal bills were overwhelming their family.

So, even though there are plenty of grounds for defense, Flynn has plead guilty to lying. Why? Some sources say it is because of the high cost of his legal defense. Others add that it was to protect a Flynn family member that the special counsel’s office was threatening to “squeeze” in a similar fashion.

Those are arguably un-American tactics.

But this could just as easily happen to you, your partner, or a colleague. It can happen unintentionally. It can occur even when there is arguably no citizen who has been harmed.

There was a claim by an author some years ago that there are an estimated one million laws and regulations on the books in the United States, at all levels of government.

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Sam Zell and ELS had the money to fight back. But what about you, and your business?

 

Another author used as a theme in his book the notion that the average American has broken three laws each day. That means, you, family, friends, others could get the retired Lt. General Flynn treatment. You could be charged with an offense and be forced to pay the cost of defending against a potentially unjust charge.

This isn’t just a matter of what a federal or state attorney general’s office can do. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allegedly misused their power to target conservative groups, starting around March 2010, per Wikipedia. Lois Lerner has suffered little obvious consequences from that tragic recent chapter in our nation’s history.

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Still from the second video, below.

If you or your business was unjustly targeted by prosecutors, the costs of a good legal defense could drive many into bankruptcy in a period of months.

People in government aren’t automatically angels. It’s a fallacy of those who believe in big government, with big bureaucracies.

The Fredric Bastiat video on this page teaches principles that are similar to those of America’s founders. Like American’s founders, Bastiat believed in limited government that gave maximum liberty to people, which in turn protected private property rights. Bastiat felt that law should routinely negate government power, as a check against an abuse of power.

 

We, the People

The founding founders created a system of checks and balances, precisely as a counter to government overreach.

But research indicates that in the U.S., most don’t know the Constitution, much less their constitutional rights. For example, the Annenberg Public Policy survey in Sept 2017 found that ”Nearly half of those surveyed (48 percent) say that freedom of speech is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. But, unprompted, 37 percent could not name any First Amendment rights.”

Millions have little or no understanding of the historic reasons why the principle of constitutionally limited government matters.  That’s a recipe for an abuse of power by people in government.

The ultimate check on an abuse of government power is the citizen jury system.

A single informed juror can keep an unjust law, or a law that is being unjustly applied, from being enforced. They can do so by voting, “not guilty.”

Education, motivation, and a keen sense of curiosity for objective truth are useful in business. Those skills are also useful in society.

The power to tax, and the power to regulate, are the power to destroy.

Weaponized education, agenda journalism, and government overreach are among the reasons for voting for those who support limited government that operates within constitutional boundaries.

The entire notion of constitutional government is that it limits government power.  Legitimate government gets its power from the “consent of the governed.” But more than that, legitimate government protects life, liberty, and private property.

 

The 5Ws and the 1 H

Who. What. When. Where. Why. How.” They are the basic questions that must be answered by objective journalism. They are the basics of police investigations, and the core of all research. By all research, that means research by investors too.

That means they 5Ws and 1 H are – or should be – at the core of informed professional and investor question when probing any issue.

In an era where there seems to be clear examples of “Weaponized Justice,” everyone ought to be alarmed. Again, this isn’t a partisan issue.

There is a need to be informed, but a challenge of getting authentic information. That’s why analytical thinking is so important.

Take the time to understand. Encourage others to be informed.

Vote wisely for those who want to roll back bloated government, which can become weaponized.

Understand the Constitution and it’s principles.

 

Vote at the ballot box, and vote in the jury box. Every vote is important, but your vote as a juror may be one of the most powerful rights any citizen possess.

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The well-informed citizen juror is a great check on potential abuse of power by simply being able to vote, “not guilty.” Someday, you or someone you know could be targeted by government overreach. Applied knowledge is an important tool to stop such abuse. ## (News, analysis, and expert commentary.)

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“Trapped. Threatened. Scared.” “Mobile Home [SIC] Owner’s Fears Reflect National Crisis”

May 5th, 2018 Comments off

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Trapped. Threatened. Scared. That is how thousands of people across the Front Range are feeling and they all have one thing in common: They live in manufactured homes,” says Denver 7 in their report on a manufactured home community in Thornton, Colorado.

 

At a time when about half of all manufactured homes are being shipped into land-lease manufactured home communities – what Denver 7 and others incorrectly call a “mobile home park *” – the solution that manufactured housing offers is being obscured by a steady wave of negative news.

 

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With housing costs out of reach for many people in Colorado, the only path to home ownership is often through a mobile home park.*” said Denver 7.

The problem is that while they own the home, they do not own the land it sits on and that puts them at the mercy of their landlord.”

 

Several residents reached out to Contact7’s Theresa Marchetta about problems they face in their mobile home community.

After weeks of digging for answers and accountability, Marchetta uncovered the problems at one local mobile home park reflect a growing national crisis and a system failing to protect those who live there,” said their report.

Management, says Contact7, wouldn’t speak to them on camera.

That’s reminiscent of a comment from Frank Rolfe, who has often spoken with the mainstream media.  Rolfe says that he’s also scared about talking to the media. But he says that failure to engage only cements the stereotypes. He argues that engagement is necessary, noting that’s especially true, because the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) and others won’t do it.

 

Friendly Village

At Friendly Village of the Rockies, homeowners say management does not live up to the name,” said Denver7.

You can either do it or just get out,” said one homeowner who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation by park management.

“Put a note on your door, do this within a certain amount of time or you’ll be fined,” said another resident in the community, Anthony Velasquez,” per Contact7.

 

The Pattern and the Trend

MHProNews asked then MHI Chairman, Tim Williams about the failure of MHI to engage on negative or problematic media accounts.  His reply to that inquiry is linked here.

Part of what Williams said is that there is a good case to be made that the engagement should take place routinely.

Hasn’t years of reports like Denver7 made it obvious that routine engagement with media and others is necessary?

Another Tim Williams, from the Ohio Manufactured Home Association, responded when bad news hit his state.  One of several examples of his pushback are linked below.

Tim Williams, OMHA, Responds to Issues Raised by NPR Report on Manufactured Home Communities

Rolfe has argued on stage in front of dozens of industry professionals that every time something harmful to the industry takes place, there should be push-back by the industry that clarifies any false or misleading issues.

Another state association executive told MHProNews that they have a policy of ‘not defending bad actors.’  Those two principles apply balance and context.

Because sometimes, there are simple, and yet unstated to the media, explanations for concerns that arise.  For example, enforcing guidelines for living are similar to a deed restricted residential subdivision enforcing their standards on residents.

In the case in Thorton, CO in the video above, the following is unclear based upon local media reports: did the home owners with the fencing concern agree to no fencing in writing, before they moved in?

That’s the sort of detail that Brad Lovin told MHProNews last year is often left out of such reports.

At the same time, should community operators reconsider certain standards?  In Paradise Cove in Malibu, home owners are allowed privacy fencing. Some other manufactured home communities (MHCs) allow for it, within specific guidelines. While fencing isn’t the only reason that the rich and famous move to a place like Paradise Cove, operators ought to consider the more upscale type of residents that allowing fencing or other appropriate additions may attract.

Baywatch Bombshell Actress Pam Anderson’s Famous Malibu “Mobile Mansion” Up for Sale, Photo Spread, Videos

Should that $3,000 fence be reconsidered by that management company?

If the Thorton community owner is indeed unable or unwilling to defend their fencing policy on camera or in writing to local media, how does that one-side local news report reflect on them?  Or how does that video report impact other MHCs in the same market, who are also in the land-lease community business?  How are retailers impacted?  Factories, lenders, and on down the list of industry connected professionals?

Part of the troubling answer is found in the Channel7 video.  The quotes below from the video are statements made by a sociologist that’s studied this issue, and they are telling a tale that isn’t entirely comfortable for the industry to hear.

University of Colorado Sociologist, Esther Sullivan, says 80 percent of the residents in places like Friendly Village own their homes,” said Denver7.

When I share with you the predatory practices I’ve seen in this mobile home park,* you’re not surprised by that?” Channel7’s Theresa Marchetta asked the professor.

No, this is indicative of cases occurring across the country,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan says she has become an expert on the topic, spending nearly a decade documenting “housing insecurity in mobile home parks.*

These issues that you see at Friendly Village may seem unique to this one park, but they are indicative of the capricious and arbitrary actions landlords take in mobile home parks across the nation. You hear these same stories over and over again,” said Sullivan.

The professor and author said she lived in “two mobile home parks* in Texas and Florida and documented the impact as they were sold off and closed down.”

They’re subject to rent hikes, often without notice, upon fees that are tacked-on, a lack of maintenance or an expectation they maintain the land that they don’t own,” Sullivan said.

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Sullivan is not anti-manufactured housing. “Absolutely. We can’t build our way out of our current affordable housing crisis which we all can see in Denver,” Sullivan said. The industry’s members would be wise to properly engage with voices like hers, along with business that operate in a way that gets them A+ BBB or similar ratings.

 

The Broader Issues for MHVille, Current and Prospective Home Owners

The issues point to an image problem for commercially operated MHC properties owned by individuals, or portfolio operators. Failure to address the issue has arguably plagued the industry’s good operations.

The issues has been a boost to the image of resident owned communities (ROCs), which are often mentioned as the solution to this problem.  But that’s an oversimplification, as it ignores good community operations.

Who says?

ROC USA President Paul Bradley has stated repeatedly to MHProNews that there are a number of good operations in the country.  Bradley says they should not be lumped in with those who may fail to provide the same level of “economic security” for their residents.

Rephrasing, there are different kinds of privately owned companies.  But if the individual property owners don’t make that clear to prospective and current residents in their own markets, then they too can be harmed when bad news hits other nearby land-lease properties.

 

Resolution to the MHC Image Issues?

Common sense – sound reason – suggests there are two, and only two ways that this issue will find positive resolution.

  • 1) A community operator, or any other manufactured home industry business, must do is own marketing, and make their case to the public in their market area(s).  UMH Prosperities CEO Sam Landy has stated as much to MHProNews.
  • 2) Independent operations with shared values that provide residents an appealing lifestyle must band together, and work to resolve these issues through an association or alliance.

While some state associations strive to do just that, it is obvious from the steady drum beat of negative news that it is not yet enough.

What is self-evident is that years after MHProNews publisher L. A. “Tony” Kovach presented to MHI attendees a positively received message on engaging the media, MHI has failed to directly engage the news in an effect way.

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Observing a problem without offering reasonable solutions is called whining. Consultant and publisher Tony Kovach pointed to actual cases of properly engaging with residents and media, in a highly praised presentation. Years later, what has MHI done with those examples shared?

Instead, MHI has focused on social media and controversial advertorials. If those were effective, would their own website traffic, and the industry’s ongoing image issues persist?

Note that Denver7 gave more than one favorable mention to manufactured homes as an affordable housing solution.  Professor Sullivan did too.

It’s the related image-harming issues that are causing ongoing problems for many in the industry.

The data doesn’t lie, see that report, linked below.

What are the FACTS about Manufactured Housing Industry Traffic vs. Real Estate? MHVillage, MHProNews, Manufactured Housing Institute Data

Head in the sands won’t change what’s self-evident.  There’s proof that the proper local efforts can work.  The logic of collective efforts is clear.  The reality of failure to act is demonstrably harmful.  Rather than deal with the issues, MHI stands accused of trying to silence those voices that raise the concerns or who provide meaningful solutions.

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* This is a terminological problem, mobile home and manufactured home are not interchangeable terms.  To learn more click the second linked related report, below.

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Hundreds of New Manufactured Home Communities Opened, But How Many Have Closed? Industry Research Result$

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