Mobile homes aren’t too mobile and create financial risk

John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” may have a comedic bent, but is one of the best news shows around. The latest episode included a detailed look at the mobile home industry. The key takeaway is private investor groups prey upon the mobile (and modular) home buyers through a rigged system.

Between a truly captive audience (more on this later), the fact the significant majority of mobile home buyers rent the land underneath, and the predatory lending and sales practices, the buyers are at the mercy of greedy players in a shady industry. Adding to that, the value of the mobile home will only depreciate (like an auto), so the buyer truly must beware.

We have come to this problem as several conditions have culminated together. We have an increasing number of “have-nots” in America, so mobile or modular homes are the most affordable route. The mobile home park owners have consolidated and were purchased by several private investor groups, but even the larger regional players operate under this rigged system. These folks see a market to squeeze. Finally, if the buyers do not own the land, they are truly held hostage.

Why? Over 80% of mobile homes never move due to the cost of moving. The property owners know this, so they annually jack up the rent increasing by exorbitant amounts. The renters are then inundated by collection agencies who get them to pay. When they cannot, they eventually move, leaving their home behind. Then, the property owner takes possession of the abandoned home and rents it out.

Finally, the sellers of these products often own the financing agency offering a turn-key purchase. The loans are more like predatory car loans than they are mortgages. So, the interest is higher than normal at the same time the rent is getting increased.

Oliver’s show highlights a couple of the players in the industry. One property owner has sites in 25 states and offers seminars on how to gouge your captive tenants. In one instance, this property owner referred to his tenants as “like being chained to a Waffle House table.”

There is a small movement afoot which will allow homeowners to buy the mobile home park land en masse, as a right of first refusal. Nonprofit funders are helping make this happen. What is needed is more states to have right of first refusal laws, so that the property is not sold to a predatory landlord.

The other need is education. If you must buy a mobile or modular home, place it on land you own or in a tenant owned development. Also, seek better financing than what is offered by the seller. But, know going in this home will not go up in value. If you buy a modular home for $50,000, it may be only worth $10,000 in a few years.

The “have-nots” have little recourse in this industry. Education is a must, as you will truly become a hostage in your home.

 

 

Homeland Security approaches John Oliver’s Wall Cost Estimate

In previous posts, I have commented on the news analysis used in John Oliver’s comedy show called “Last Week Tonight.” Amid the comedy, there are detailed news stories about pay-day lending, supplemental drugs, court system abuse of low-income offenders, voting fraud, etc. During interviews, he has been recognized by at least two legitimate news sources, CBS News and PBS Newshour, for his team’s veracity.

Last year, well before the election, Oliver had a news/ comedy piece on our then campaigner, Donald Trump, about Trump’s estimates of his escalating price tag on his infamous wall. In various clips, Trump said $2 Billion, then he would increase it to $4 Billion then to $7 or $8 Billion, etc. I think Trump topped out around $12 Billion.

Oliver asked a construction engineer to come up with an estimate. Based on broad assumptions (height, materials, etc.), the engineer estimated $25 to $30 Billion. The engineer also added you have to factor in the cost of ongoing maintenance, which is not inconsequential.

Yesterday, Reuters published a story where Homeland Security estimates the cost of the wall. Here are the two lead paragraphs from Reuters:

“President Donald Trump’s ‘wall’ along the U.S.-Mexico border would be a series of fences and walls that would cost as much as $21.6 billion, and take more than three years to construct, based on a U.S. Department of Homeland Security internal report seen by Reuters on Thursday.

The report’s estimated price-tag is much higher than a $12-billion figure cited by Trump in his campaign and estimates as high as $15 billion from Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.”

There are two key takeaways here. Our now President likes to toss figures and data around like they are candy and offers them up without back-up. He just presumes people will take him at his word. In this case, a man who is a real-estate developer significantly underestimated the cost of building something.

The other takeaway is Oliver’s team should be commended for the underlying journalism in his comedy show. I have written before his team has far more credibility than some actual news sources who do not want to take the time to get it right or are so biased they take a politician at his word. So, the next time our President makes fun of Oliver, my suggestion would be to look more closely at Oliver’s position as he likely did more homework.

 

Beliefs equal facts per the GOP

At last week’s Republican Convention, the big loser was accuracy and factual data. Why let the facts get in the way of your story? If you want to scare the hell out of folks and tell everyone how bad things are and that you alone are the man and group to fix such problems, then why should facts interfere with that narrative? The problem is what was presented is largely at odds with the truth. I ask people who tell me how bad things are by asking a simple question, what country are you talking about?

John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” broadcast on Sunday shows the several bald-faced lies that were told by the convention speakers, including their nominee. The fact the nominee lied is not news as he has broken all records for lying in a campaign dating back to when fact checkers started measuring comments. What turned out to be the most fascinating conversation was an interview with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who is portrayed as the most serious and knowledgeable GOP spokesperson.

During the interview, the reporter challenged him when he said violent crime is up in America. The reporter said the data clearly shows a decline over the last twenty-five years. Gingrich refused to concede that, but the reporter kept insisting. She gave him an out saying there are a couple of large cities where it has gone up the past year and he seized that, but she reiterated it has clearly declined over time. Gingrich then said people believe it to be higher and I will leave the data to the liberals and media. “As a politician, beliefs are more important,” said Gingrich. Unfortunately, he was not the only person to say he believed something over facts, so in so doing it must make it true.

As Oliver pointed out, it does not work that way. You cannot substitute your beliefs for facts and think everything is alright. You can believe all you want that climate change is a hoax and even make it more colorful as The Donald does adding it is a hoax invented by the Chinese to steal our jobs. But, it remains a huge problem we must deal with.

Let me offer a few facts in rebuttal to the story painted at the GOP convention.

  • America’s economy is actually doing pretty well, especially related to the rest of the world. The stock market has more than doubled under Obama, unemployment is down to under 5%, 10 million plus net jobs have been created on his watch and we are currently on the 5th (soon to be 4th) longest economic growth period ever in the US.
  • In 2015, the US sold more US made cars than ever before, beating the previous record, ironically, when Bill Clinton was President.
  • The rest of the world still respects the US as we have higher ratings than when Obama took the reins from Bush. Our reputation had fallen with the WMD story. By the way, the British just completed their review of the Iraq invasion story and were highly critical of Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush. We have chosen to investigate Benghazi ad nauseam rather than the WMD issue.
  • The Affordable Care Act is not perfect and needs improvements, but is working pretty well with over 20 million new insureds and slower cost growth than before it was implemented.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has penalized banks, credit card companies and pay-day lenders over $11 Billion for aggressive and fraudulent marketing practices, with over 90% of that money going to cheated consumers. Consumers benefit, but GOP legislators hate this program. By the way, Senator Elizabeth Warren played a strong role in its passage and implementation.

I could go on, but we are in a much better place than was told last week. Yes, we have things to improve upon such as the declining middle class and increased poverty which have occurred over the last forty years and we must have better dialogue around race and violence issues, as well as gun governance, but America is not going to hell in a hand basket. And, even if it were, The Donald is the absolute worst person to be given keys to the car. His track record is one of great salesmanship, but poor management.

So, please ask questions of politicians and don’t let them off the hook if they say they believe it to be so. Show me your data.

 

John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” is a must see

I have written before about John Oliver’s show which is now in its second season. He truly should take over for Jon Stewart, but he may be better placed doing this show. While the show is steeped in comedy, underneath the comedy is some very good journalism on a variety of topics. His show has gotten the attention of other news sources such as PBS Newshour and Charlie Rose’s Show, as well it should.

“Last Week Tonight” typically has the following format – a brief news summary of the week with a break off on one issue for comedic purposes, followed by a more in-depth review of a topic with comedic highlights seasoning the mix. Between the two large segments, he has a taped topical summary called “Now This.” But, it is his crew’s in-depth research and his reporting on the elongated topic which actually leaves some pseudo-news organizations in the dust.

His show is actually covering topics that should be discussed, but don’t get much airplay as the issue is too complex or subtle, or the pseudo-news sources are too biased to cover an issue. The national news sources may whisk by the topics as their viewers don’t want subtlety, time does not permit an in-depth review or their funders would not allow such depth of reporting on an issue. As an example, here are a few topics Oliver has reported on:

– Pay-day lending and the politics and conflict of interests that won’t call this industry on the carpet. He noted some particularly bad examples of conflict of interest in the state of Texas legislature. Predatory pay-day lending is bad news no matter how you slice it.

– Climate change and that it should not be an even-handed debate as 97% of scientists support that it is real, it is a problem and it is man-influenced. Showing this as a 50/50 debate is disservice to the issue.

– The involvement of one small evangelical US organization who helped convince the government of Uganda to persecute homosexuals. The government was surprised when the US government condemned them for this maltreatment and retreated some.

– The lack of oversight of the supplemental vitamin and drug industry, which has been perpetuated by two senators from each party dating back to the 1990s. He also took Dr. Oz to task for his un-scientific based claims of miracle drugs that actually are not proven and some are harmful (Dr. Oz was called on the carpet by Congress as well).

– The lack of awareness of who Eric Snowden is and how the brief notoriety over what NSA is and was doing has waned. The question he is asking has much changed as a result? He also poses a very comical, but vulgar way to get Americans to care about this issue, which has many hits on line.

– The abuse by law enforcement officers in civil forfeiture cases, where departments can seize property or goods if suspected of being used in a crime. This is not uncommon and is how many departments can get around budget cuts. Our rights as citizens are being stepped on by this abuse.

– The abuse of “Patent Trolls” who sue everyone for patent infringement just because certain words were used and they filed a patent on those words, that were not supported by an invention. These trolls extort money, as the true inventor organization would rather pay them off such as $150,000 than go to court and spend millions.

He has also covered the extortion of the World Cup organization that requires a country to spend money needlessly to host the event, the wealth gap in America, the gross misuse of college scholarship marketing by Miss America when it is not significant, and the for-profit college fraudulent claims of success and high marketing budget and many more.

It is a sad indictment of pseudo-news organizations that a comedy show has better news reporting than they do. On the flip side, maybe more people will pay attention if we make fun of the news. Certainly with the changing positions of politicians, there is a lot of material. I would encourage you to watch his show via You Tube or on HBO. A link to You Tube follows:

https://www.youtube.com/user/LastWeekTonight

Interviewers – please refrain from answering your own questions

While on hiatus, John Oliver’s show “Last Week Tonight” did a brief skewering of shows like “60 Minutes” where the interviewers have a terrible habit of answering their own questions. Since I like “60 Minutes,” it made it more fun to see interviewer after interviewer feed the answer to the person being interviewed, who would echo the response or just agree. When this form of questioning and fed answering was packaged together where you witness it done twenty times in a row, it is quite humorous.

Yet “60 Minutes” is not alone in this interviewing style. It is more widely used by interviewers on all kinds of shows, be they entertainment, pseudo news or more serious news shows. If there is any thoughtful hesitation by the interview subject, the seconds are filled with the interviewer’s perceived answer to which the subject must react. It becomes less amusing when the interviewer is not interested in the response and is more antagonistic to the subject being interviewed. These tend to occur on the pseudo news networks or with an overbearing host, even if the show is a comedy show.

When I see this occur either in a demonstrative or antagonistic way, I find myself saying “Let him (or her) answer the question.” I enjoy watching Bill Maher’s show “Real Time with Bill Maher” due to the subject matter, comedy and guests, but find he often will talk over someone who does not entirely agree with his view. To his credit, he will have people with opposing views on his show and he tends to be more well-versed than many of his non-expert guests, but when he disagrees (or curtails conversation) with a true subject matter expert, it is often puzzling. But, Maher does a better job than many of the hosts of  talk shows which become a shout fest, where listening to the other person’s view is a challenge.

Much of this gets back to people using their own set of facts to foment their opinion on something. If the subject offers any opinion that creates a dissonance in the interviewer, whether they are anti, neutral or pro the argument, then it is unsettling to the interviewer and audience. It may also be due to the interviewer wanting to show how smart he or she is to validate his or her worth to his viewers and management. I also think the lack of control over the interview scares people, as they don’t want to be shown to be foolish. Some people cannot help themselves in this regard.

Yet, what we are lacking through this interview process, is more people asking “why” questions. Why do you believe that? Why did you change your mind from an earlier stance? Why should we believe you now? That would be scary, but would give us more answers to our many questions. One final comment about talk show hosts – just because you have a talk show does not make you right or right on every opinion you espouse; it just means you have a talk show.

When comedy reports deeper stories – kudos to John Oliver

When my friends used to tell me they got their televised news from The Daily Show, I encouraged them to also look to good news sources to balance that out. Jon Stewart does a wonderful job of looking at the issues of the day and casting them in a funny light. Since hypocrisies abound, especially in politics, there is ample fodder to make fun of. But, at the end of the day, it is comedy, right? Maybe, not just comedy.

John Oliver, who hosted The Daily Show while Stewart was mentoring his Middle East counterpart, has a new show on Sunday evening called Last Week Tonight. I have seen every one of the thirteen episodes thus far and he is funny, but also very insightful with a journalistic bent. Jeffrey Brown of PBS Newshour did a piece on Oliver recently where Brown noted the compliments Oliver is getting on the investigative reporting which underlies his comedy. In other words, Oliver is reporting stories in the US and around the globe in a fairly robust manner and mocking the hypocrisies of leaders and public figures and highlighting the marginalization of others. He and his staff are doing their homework to get it right.

To give you a sense of what he is reporting and making fun of, here are a few examples:

– He noted how Uganda’s legislature passed a law that condemned LGBT behavior and created open season on gays, lesbians and transgender people. These people were being physically brutalized, fired from their jobs, and put in jail. It turns out an American evangelist helped sow the seeds fomenting laws to promote violence, actually speaking for five hours in front of their legislature. Plus, the Ugandan proponents were spreading vile misinformation to fan the flames. After this show went viral and the US condemned Uganda for these laws, they just last week said the laws were unconstitutional as a quorum was not present for the vote.

– He noted how the dietary supplement business has greased the skids to avoid being regulated over the years. They contribute heavily to two Senators (Orrin Hatch and Tom Harkins) campaigns, who jointly promoted legislation to protect this growing industry from FDA scrutiny. He also shows the hypocrisy of Dr. Oz who shamelessly plugs dietary supplements as “magical cures” and “miracle drugs” without the supporting science. He noted with Oz being a medical doctor, he is far worse than a regular salesperson as his credentials and passion validate the drugs. The story occurred when Oz was grilled by a Senate Committee back in June for this issue.

– He put the climate change debate in its proper proportions, when he invited two experts on his show and then stopped them and had 96 experts join the climate change is real and man-influenced side and 2 experts join the climate change denial expert. This provided a visual comparison of the argument for all to see, with 97% of scientists favoring one side and 3% favoring the other.

– He noted on his most recent show the troubling concept of “native advertising” in online and print publications where advertisement copy is presented and integrated into the news. He notes it is flagged, but the purpose is to mask the “flags” and make it look like an actual news story. He called several publications on the carpet for their move down this path, including Time Magazine and the New York Times. He noted the wrongheadedness of blending the two together, chastising those who said it would not make a difference. In short, of course it will.

Each of these stories is reported on in varying degrees in real news shows and Oliver is good to show footage of their coverage. Yet, given the nature of the show, he is able to dive further into the issues and note how the common person could look at this and say something is simply wrong. Again, I would ask that you pay attention to reputable news sources that are not spin doctored versions of the news and who disclose funding sources and potential conflicts of interest. Also, watch out for the native advertising.

But, Oliver’s show is worth the watch. You definitely will learn something you did not know before. You may want to avoid watching with young children, as he is not bashful.