Category Archives: News and Comment

Maybe it’s just me, but many of the questions the New York Times poses in its headlines don’t seem all that compelling.  Consider whether the quality of your life depends on the answers to the following, all posed in its pages over the last month:

◊  Why Is It So Hard to Adapt Austen?

◊  No More Pet Store Puppies?

◊  Who Will Make Apple Fashionable Now?

◊  What Is Delaware’s Court of Chancery and Its Role in Elon Musk’s Twitter Deal?

Just to be fair, the New York Times also posed these more pressing questions:

I am glad I subscribe, if only to get answers to questions I never knew I should ask.

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Little Town I Live In: 18

Knowing no action is likely at the Federal level until the day Addison Mitchell McConnell changes his middle name to Delano, at least 11 U.S. cities have stepped up and launched efforts on their own to pay slavery reparations.  Asheville is one of those cities.

Now, while I support the concept, I have no idea what a fair and reasonable reparations plan would look like, or whether such a thing is even possible.  In money terms, my guess is that the debt owed to the descendants of slaves would be 20 to 25% of 200-years-worth of the economic output of the former slave-holding states as well as any state which had Jim Crow laws.  This is too much math for me to tackle — others who have done the math have suggested sums as large as $20 trillion.  For reference, the current total U.S. annual personal income is about $21 trillion.

Any Federal reparations plan that would ever see the light of day in this environment will be more a political statement than a fulfillment of economic justice.  That is why what is happening (to various extents) in those 11 cities is important, and why I am highlighting the recent action by the Asheville Police to partner with the Lights On! program.

Lights On VoucherLights On! encourages police to give drivers with burned-out lights a repair voucher instead of a ticket.  Drivers have two weeks to get their lights fixed at a participating shop.  The cost of the program is covered by donations to the MicroGrants organization.

Others who have launched this program include the police departments of Evansville, WY, Chatham County, GA, Suffolk County, NY, Chattanooga, TN, the University of Maryland, and over 100 agencies in the Minnesota area, where MicroGrants was founded.

The Lights On! website points out that “a broken taillight or turn signal can … spark a downward economic spiral that for some yields multiple tickets, confrontations with law enforcement, and even vehicle impoundment.  The Lights On! program has the potential to disrupt the downward spiral and build goodwill between police departments and the communities they serve.”  This is an ingenious way to reduce the combat mentality of the police (with its often fatal consequences) and is a wonderful example of badly-needed social reparations.

My concern is that, at this writing, only one Asheville repair shop is participating in the program.  (Thank you to the owners, who don’t even live in Asheville.)  Hopefully more will sign on as the program gets going here.

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Look at My Big Payday!

Picture of dilapidated mountain home sold by Becky

I’m sure you know someone who is a real estate agent — could be an old friend or neighbor or former colleague.  Or maybe you are a real estate agent yourself, which would not be a big stretch, as there are three million agents in the US, or nearly one of every eight adults.  If the latter is the case, you may want to move onto your next agenda item, because I have a disclosure to make, and it’s not about mold or radon in my charming home.

Still reading, my Friendly Neighborhood Agent?  All right then, here is what bothers me about certain members of your profession.  Whenever you negotiate a big sale, you think it’s your duty, and my privilege, to let me know about it.  You post the news on Facebook and you even send a postcard proclaiming Manna from Heaven!  A desirable property in your much sought-after area has changed hands for a tidy sum of cash, and I was the agent who made it happen!  Your real and even-less-subtle message?  This could be you, Dear Homeowner, if you engage me, the friend you know and trust, when it is time to sell your house.  Maybe you are thinking about selling it NOW!

I know, everyone is expected to sell everything these days, but the residential real estate industry is unique in how personal connections are routinely exploited for business gain.  Sure, there are the lingerie and kitchen item parties that your casual friends oblig-vite you to attend, but with those you can either make up an excuse or, more likely, buy your way out of them with a token purchase.  Compared to real estate transactions, home parties are small-potatoes friendship-keepers — buying plastic crap in your neighbor’s family room doesn’t involve lawyers or forms, and you may even get to enjoy a glass of wine (or two).

Besides, the stakes are much lower.  The most lavish Tupperware party you can imagine is hard-pressed to net a thousand dollars.  That’s why you’ll never see a postcard celebrating the recent impressive Tupperware sale on your street, the money that changed hands, and the person to call when you need fancy kitchen gadgets.  Because sending that postcard would cost your friend almost all the profit she made on those blueberry tongs you bought.

And speaking of making money.  For the first few years of my engineering career, I got a paycheck every other week.  Then I was promoted, which somehow changed my payday to every fourth week — go figure.  The point is, during my 30-plus years at Kodak, I was paid about 460 times.  Each of those times, I somehow forgot to send all my friends a postcard on my payday which called attention to my miniscule role in making Kodak film and how their buying Kodak film would not only make them happy but also support my family and reaffirm our friendship!  Why didn’t I do that?  [Writer slaps side of forehead.]

I’m not saying all real estate agents treat their acquaintances as potential clients.  All is a rather strong word.  Some is more credible.  But there are enough agents of that ilk to be annoying in any case.

So, Dear Agent, I can either be your neighbor or your sales target but not both.  To those who would say, my friends and neighbors are just trying to make a buck, well, so they are.  Nonetheless, I offer this paradoxical postcard to some real estate agents I know: the more you use me, the less likely it is that I will use you.  Namaste.

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