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Archive for April, 2010

Sunday Morning Lead Machine

Real Estate Listing Print Ad:

Will have some results to report on this next week, but I’m thinking a half page ad with 8-12 of these babies lined up in a row could add some excitement to an agent’s Sunday morning?

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Define the Tipping Point

The following began as a comment to a great post put up by Greg Swann recently, in which he excerpted a terrific article from Mark Steyn on income taxes and suckers:

…by 2004, 20% of U.S. households were getting about 75% of their income from the federal government… how receptive would they be to a pitch for lower taxes, which they don’t pay, or lower government spending, of which they are such fortunate beneficiaries? How receptive would another fifth of households, who get about 40% of their income from federal programs, be to such a pitch?

I believe My Styne is talking about the “tipping point” here, something I’ve also been talking about since before the election in 2008. Once enough people are dependent on the government, we reach a tipping point from which there is no purposeful return; only failure and rebirth. This is not news.

What’s interesting (at least to me) is the actual equation marking this tipping point. Obviously if more than 50% of the populace received 100% of their income (or benefits) from the government, we’d be over the tipping point. Not much of a stretch there, but not much of a definition either. I suggest the tipping point is well below the “50% get 100%” threshold.

So what is the level? This strikes me as a very important number – and concept – to know. Where is the line if it’s not “50% getting 100%:”? For argument’s sake, let’s say we have a voting block that will endorse politicians and policies which benefit themselves. Is receiving 75% of their income from entitlements enough to effect that vote? 60%? 45%? I suggest that the block crumbles at 20%, but is monolithic at 75%, so the answer lies somewhere in between. A 30% loss of income would be pretty bad for most people, but may not be bad enough that they would forsake their principles and beliefs. At 40% though… I think we’re dialing in the range.

On top of this, we should take into account the actual voting numbers of the population. How is the tipping point affected if only 60% of the population regularly votes? More importantly, what % of people – on the dole for at least 40% of their income – regularly votes?

I don’t have the economic access or statistical model to perform a proper study, but I’m surprised I haven’t seen something like this from one of the pro-capitalist think tanks. For instance, we may discover that once 40% of the total population receives, on average, more than 40% of their income from government sources, we’ve reached a tipping point. Translation: we could, at that point, reliably expect more than half of likely voters to vote in favor of maintaining their entitlements. Knowing this would provide a clear line in the sand of capitalism and democracy.

Perhaps we are already there. If I were to guess, I would say my 40/40 estimate is not far off. How close are we to 40 and 40? Politicians on both sides of the aisle have clearly understood this concept for some time. Today’s political campaigns run on only two real messages: “Here’s how much I’ll give you,” or “Here’s why the other candidate won’t be able to give you as much as me.” But what if we knew where the line was? Would it make a difference? Would we act on it? Is it too late?

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9,999,999 iPads left to sell…

Well, I couldn’t help myself. I bought the iPad – the to-be-shipped-in-late-April, 3G & WiFi, 64 gig model.

I see significant work applications – for instance, keeping all client files available for court, creating eBooks of NC criminal code so I don’t need to lug around books, and, I hope, doing document signing on the fly.

I have not used DocuSign yet since, until now, I’ve been doing criminal law which doesn’t have a lot of documents that need to be signed, and, what’s more, they usually are signed in court.

But I’m starting to do bankruptcy and civil litigation work related to debt defense, and for that I think I’ll either subscribe to DocuSign or some similar service. DocuSign claims their service works with the iPad, although they haven’t created an App for that. As Greg mentioned, they need to Get On That.

I’ll post a review once I get the iPad in late April or early May.

UPDATE: I’ve been searching for a good list of productivity apps for professionals. I stumbled across this article in Forbes Woman which I found pretty irritating. Why? Second app listed is “Big Oven,” an app to help people find recipes so if you “[e]ver find yourself roaming grocery store aisles with little or no clue what to make for dinner.” Are you kidding me? Is this the second most important app for working professionals? No: it’s just obnoxious sexism.

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Simple Concept – Not So Simple To Execute – Grow a Pair

As if it happened yesterday, I remember having just began seriously bodybuilding with a (understatement) stern trainer, a world champ who had no patience for anything less than all-out effort. One day my partner and I were following the workout he’d given us, when our trainer, Gene, walked up without preamble. “This is a man’s gym. If you girls are gonna keep playin’ around, get outa here!” What? Huh?

From that day forward, my workout partner and I never gave less than 100% again, at least if Gene was in the same hemisphere. He was that scary, and we were, well, 16. Gene wouldn’t let us fail. Our goal was to end up competing — which we did about 30 months later. In that time we became the more or less adopted sons of nearly the entire gym population. Our growth musta been fun to watch. What I thought would take a few months though, took over two years to accomplish. The goal was met though, as we both competed, and credibly so.

One might think I’d of learned my lesson about goals through that experience.

Much is made of setting and achieving goals. Dad was a crazy-ass goal setter. The guy had the ability to set a goal, become Stephen King obsessed, yet without anyone knowing about it. Try that sometime. One day after his third Jack on the rocks at the Club, his friends got him to share with them the 10 year goal he’d set for his real estate company over five years earlier. They were dumbfounded, and proceeded to ‘let him down gently’ by explaining how he’d maybe been a mite too optimistic.

It wasn’t ’till almost a year later that he told them he’d already accomplished that 10 year goal a few months before the first conversation. He’d done what they told him was impossible to accomplish in a decade, in just over half the time.

Setting goals and achieving them are entirely different things, an understatement of which I’m sure you’re painfully aware. We’ve all learned that one the hard way, right? I sure did.

I’m putting the finishing touches on a six month goal I set almost two years ago. 🙂 Part of that was me overreaching a bit, but mostly it was due to too much real life insinuating itself into the process. Could I have done it in the six month period? Probably — but it woulda been a Pyrrhic victory. Nevertheless, it’s done.

Our goals’ successful attainment — how long it takes — is contingent upon so many outside forces. But in the end their ultimate attainment, time notwithstanding, is up to us.

In my experience there have been two approaches. The first is how Dad almost always checked off goal after goal. Big, small, it didn’t matter to him. His way was to crush the goal’s spirit. 🙂 If he couldn’t devote massive and continuous effort, he wouldn’t set the goal. It was his makeup. Me? Like many of you, I’ve done my time serving the sentence of the seven day weeks, 12+ hours a day workload. But not for five consecutive years. Who the hell does that?

Someone who wants something very badly, that’s who. At the beginning when money was, um, tight, he’d eat peanut butter and onion sandwiches for lunch. You can’t make that up.

The second approach is simply to be remorselessly ruthless in the daily pursuit of our various Holy Grails Goals — even though we’re unable to spend every waking hour in the crusade to reach them. Whether it takes six months or a couple years, you’re gonna be that much older anyway, right? 🙂 Might as well do what it takes.

Dad once told me unrealized goals illustrate without pity, how little they mattered to us. In a particularly brutal conversation in my mid-20’s, he told me my goals in real estate would never become reality, as it was clear to him I hated the business. He was, of course, right. I was in the house side then, and detested almost everything about it. Shortly thereafter I switched to the investment side, and the rest is history.

We tend to reach the goals for which we carry wickedly naked desire — the kinda desire that brings with it the willingness to plow the same south 40 day after day ’till harvest time — whenever that is.

Goals should be inevitable, a matter of when, never if.

The fat girl whose goal has been to get in shape for the last 20 years? She’s fine with being fat. Feedin’ her face is more important than her so-called goal. I’ve been there myself. The real estate agent who wants to make more than his part time workin’ wife will do just that when he makes the decision to do so. Same with us and our business goals. Not happy with where you are? Been settin’ goals and missin’ ’em by a mile? Try starin’ at the clueless moron in the mirror to figure out who’s to blame. Sometimes it’s another person who acts as your mirror. With me it was Dad, one brutal son-of-bitch.

The bastard was right though.

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Mark Steyn: “We are now not merely disincentivizing economic energy but actively waging war on it.”

Shrug, Atlas, shrug. Mark Steyn from Investors’ Business Daily:

In less than a quarter-millennium, the American Revolution will have evolved from “No taxation without representation” to representation without taxation. We have bigger government, bigger bureaucracy, bigger spending, bigger deficits, bigger debt, and yet an ever smaller proportion of citizens paying for it. The top 5% of taxpayers contribute 60% of revenue. The top 10% provide 75%. Another two-fifths make up the rest. And half are exempt.

This isn’t redistribution — a “leveling” to address the “mal-distribution” of income, as Sen. Max Baucus, (D-Kleptocristan) put it the other day. It isn’t even “spreading the wealth around,” as then Sen. Barack Obama put it in an unfortunate off-the-prompter moment during the 2008 campaign.

Rather, it’s an assault on the moral legitimacy of the system. If you accept the principle of a tax on income, it might seem reasonable to exclude the very poor from having to contribute to it. But in no meaningful sense can half the country be considered “poor.” The U.S. income tax is becoming the 21st century equivalent of the “jizya” — the punitive tax levied by Muslim states on their non-Muslim citizens: In return for funding the Islamic imperium, the infidels were permitted to carry on practicing their faith.

Likewise, under the American jizya, in return for funding Big Government, nonbelievers are permitted to carry on practicing their faith in capitalism, small business, economic activity and the other primitive belief systems to which they cling so touchingly.

In the Islamic world, the infidel tax base eventually wised up. You can see it literally in the landscape in rural parts of the Balkans: Christian tradesmen got fed up paying the jizya and moved out of the towns up into remote hills far from the shakedown crowd.

In less mountainous terrain where it’s harder to lie low, non-Muslims found it easier to convert. That’s partly what drove Islamic expansion. Once Araby was all-Muslim, it was necessary to move on to the Levant, and to Persia, and to Central Asia and North Africa and India and Europe — in search of new infidels to mug.

Don’t worry, I’m not so invested in my analogy that I’m suggesting the Obama-Reid-Pelosi shakedown racket will be forced to invade Canada and Scandinavia. For one thing, pretty much everywhere else got with the Big Government program well ahead of America and long ago figured out all the angles: Two-thirds of French imams are on the dole. In the Stockholm suburb of Tensta, 20% of women in their late 40s collect disability benefits. In the U.K., five million — a tenth of the adult population — have not done a day’s work since the New Labour government took office in 1997.

America has a ways to go to catch up with those enlightened jurisdictions, but it’s on its way. Rep. Paul Ryan pointed out recently that, by 2004, 20% of U.S. households were getting about 75% of their income from the federal government. As a matter of practical politics, how receptive would they be to a pitch for lower taxes, which they don’t pay, or lower government spending, of which they are such fortunate beneficiaries? How receptive would another fifth of households, who get about 40% of their income from federal programs, be to such a pitch?

And what’s to stop this trend? Democracy decays easily into the tyranny of the majority, in which 51% of voters can empty the pockets of the other 49%. That’s why a country on track to a $20 trillion national debt exempts half the population from making an even modest contribution to reducing it. And it’s also why the remorseless shriveling of the tax rolls is a cancer at the heart of republican citizenship.

Pace Max Baucus, this isn’t about correcting the “mal-distribution” of income. What Mal Max is up to is increasing dependency. In the newspeak of Big Government, “tax cuts” now invariably mean not reductions in the rate of income seizure but a “tax credit” reimbursed from the seizure in return for living your life the way the government wants you to.

With ObamaCare, we’ve now advanced to the next stage — “tax debits,” or additional punitive confiscation if you decline to live your life in accordance with government fiat. ObamaCare requires you upon penalty of law to make provisions for your health care that meet the approval of the state commissars.

Unfortunately, as they discovered after passing it, the bill didn’t provide for any enforcement mechanisms. But not to worry. The other day Douglas Shulman, commissioner for the Internal Revenue Service, announced that, if you fail to purchase the mandated health insurance, he’ll simply confiscate any tax refund due to you from your previous 12 months’ withholding.

We are now not merely disincentivizing economic energy but actively waging war on it. If 51% can vote themselves government lollipops from the other 49%, soon 60% will be shaking down the remaining 40%, and then 70% will be sticking it to the remaining 30%. How low can it go?

When you think about it, that 53% of U.S. households prop up not just this country but half the planet: They effectively pick up the defense tab for our wealthiest allies, so that Germany, Japan and others can maintain minimal militaries and lavish the savings on cradle-to-grave entitlements.

A relatively tiny group of people is writing the check for the entire global order. What proportion of them would need to figure out the game’s no longer worth it to bring the whole system crashing down?

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How To Salvage The Mortgage Industry in Six Months

I’m going to say something very unpopular… again:

We gotta get the Government out of the mortgage business.

That’s not going to happen anytime soon but we, as responsible free market advocates of our respective industries, must never stop saying “I told you so” when the whole thing implodes again.  After repeated admonitions, they’ll start listening.  When they start listening, we’ll experience a brutal but swift decline followed by a healthy and sustainable restoration of private mortgage banking.

Everyone is worried about Wall Street securitizing the paper.  The prevailing thought is that without a government guarantee, no clear-thinking investment banker will ever take a risk on the American homeowner again.  I know how to solve that problem;

Make ’em an offer they can’t refuse.

If a housing capital drought reduces housing prices to a stoopid low level, those investment bankers will be back.  Investment bankers have the memory of a four-year old.  We have to remove the current arbitrage game they’re playing so that they can get back into the business of doing what they should be doing; analyzing and pricing risk.

Right now, your mouth is probably shaped like an “O”.  You’re most likely  thinking “mortgage rates will skyrocket to 10% and NOBODY will buy a house! ”  Your conclusion would be wrong and I’ll prove it to you:

Today, a $300,000 30-year, fixed-rate loan, at 5% requires a monthly principal and interest payment of $1610.  If mortgage rates skyrocketed to 10%, the loan amount, for the same payment, would drop to $183,500.

That’s an offer Wall Street can’t refuse.

PS:  If I’m sounding like a broken record, it’s because I’m going to keep saying” I told you”, as my battle cry, until they start listening.  For those of you who believe in “spreading the wealth around”, believe me when I tell you that price deflation redistributes wealth to its proper stewards.

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User versus Profile: South Park shows you what to do when you’ve been sucked into FaceBook (NSFW)

South Park is the abstract and brief chronicle of our age. FaceBook gets it good and hard, but the episode is a tech pastiche. Watch it on-line here.

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If you lived here… you wouldn’t have to drool over this photo…

The flowers are not really all that special. It’s the light that makes them seem so magical…

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Dawn in America Part 3.5- Who Needs Jobs?

The current Adminsitration has its target on one more component of the capitalist model; free labor.  From today’s Wall Street Journal:

You might therefore expect a federal effort to encourage employers to give unskilled youngsters a chance. You would be wrong. The feds have instead decided to launch a campaign to crack down on unpaid internships that regulators claim violate minimum-wage laws.

“If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” the Labor Department’s Nancy J. Leppink tells the New York Times.

Did you hear that?  You might not be allowed to employ a willing student, who wants to learn a trade, without paying him minimum wage.

Consider these two summer job options:

1- Working in the Goldman Sachs  mail room for minimum wage.  That job certainly gets a young person in the door but the opportunity to learn, network, and accept greater responsibilities are practically nil.

2- Interning on a trading desk, for PIMCO, for no compensation.  While that young person won’t make a dime, she has the chance to work alongside fixed income legend Bill Gross.  She’ll speak to fund managers all over the country, meet people who might hire her after graduation, and accept challenges few people her age would ever see.

Anyone should be able to see that the latter is the equivalent of a free MBA while the former is an invitation to a labor union.  Chris Gardner knew the value of an internship.  He worked for free, when he needed fast cash to support his son.  He willingly traded his labor for future opportunity-that’s an investment.

Read what Greg Swann wrote about the value of free, in the early days of Bloodhound Blog:

How much future is there in a job that millions of very smart people are willing to do for free? Maybe not the same work, but so close that any differences become academic.

Greg was talking about the disintermediation of the newspaper industry but he foreshadows subsequent essays about the concept of abundance.  This is what the dinosaurs in the current regime can’t understand; the economy is shifting not depressing.  The harder they try to hammer the orange, the messier it’s gonna get.  In a world of abundance, certain products of labor will become useless.  Other opportunities will be so lucrative that people will apprentice for them.

I have a lot more thoughts about the importance of the entrepreneur in the coming Dawn but I”ll save them for another post.  I’d love to hear your thoughts  regime’s latest attempt to abolish the practice of investing in your future.

PS:  This “crackdown” is only applicable to “for profit” entities.  Governments, schools, and any non-profit are exempt.

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SplendorQuest: Loving Cathleen…

Cathleen and I have been on a love jag, lately, and I cannot begin to tell you how beneficial it’s been. A very simple idea: We added spending time alone together every day as a part of our goal-getting regimen. This turns out to have been an inspired idea, although I did not foresee that going in.

At some point I may write about this experience in detail, because there is a lot to be learned from it. As an example, consider this: If you want to end the day married, start the day married. No relationship can endure if you’re not doing anything to maintain it.

Teri and I have been talking about the same sorts of issues privately. Here’s a clip from email I wrote to her:

My wife is most beautiful when she’s all the way in love with me. Her features are very fine in the ground state — striking, as an old family friend would have it. But when those features are lit from within by her passions, then she is many orders of magnitude more enthralling. But it’s my job to earn that response from her — and I wish I could insist that I’ve earned that response every day. But there is no better incentive to staying on the path to Splendor than to marry someone you have to live up to.

We are a spiteful race. We wound all our treasures and treasure all our wounds. The SplendorQuest begins when you learn to think the other way — to focus on the world as you want it and not as you don’t want it. I wrote the essay shown below six years ago, and I wish I could say I’ve always lived up to it — all the way, every day. But I’m living up to it now better than I ever have before, and I can’t think of any reason why I should not be able to get better at loving my wife every day from now on.

What does this have to do with real estate? I hope you figure that out before a judge orders the sale of your house…

 
SplendorQuest: Loving Cathleen…

I think the thing I like best about her is that I don’t ever yearn to get away from her. That seems silly to say, except for the part about it applying eventually to nearly everyone else. There are so many things about her that I admire, and so many others that I don’t despise — which is just as important to me. But before all of those — and before her beauty or her smile or her scent or her endlessly pleasurable moister places — before any of those is the simple fact that I really, really like being around her. I really like having her around me. When I’m buoyant, yes. When I’m joyous, yes. When I’m serene or enthralled or romantic, yes, yes, yes. But also when I’m cranky or annoyed or angry or frustrated or stymied or bored — I like having her around me. I don’t ever get sick of her, and I think that’s the most hugely loving thing I could ever say about anyone.

I’m writing this because the subject of love keeps coming up in my mail, and my take on it is different from what I keep reading. I think maybe my correspondents are setting standards that are simultaneously unrealistic, unattainable and utterly irrelevant. I actually had to discover that it was possible for me to love a woman in the same way — or at least with the same intensity — that I’ve always loved whatever I happened to be concentrating on. It might be equally accurate to say that I had to discover that it is possible to concentrate on a woman in a kind of equal and interactive way. These are not proud admissions, and I did not come to this epiphany at a young age. But it gave me a very clear understanding, I think, of what matters to me and what doesn’t.

What matters to me most in any human social relationship is that the other party leave me the f*ck alone. I am not a libertarian in politics, I am a libertarian in sum, in total, in everything. I don’t tell other people what to do, what to think, how to be, and I don’t suffer other people to do these things to me. Or rather I do suffer until I can break free, and then I never, ever come back. I would chafe at a chain made from a spider’s silk, and I simply cannot live among people who cannot let me live as I will. It’s not even enough for someone to like me just-the-way-I-am: What if I should change? I won’t live by sufferance, even if the sufferance consists of unlimited license. A license can be revoked, and I don’t live by permission.

And that’s the biggest component of why I don’t ever get sick of her, the thing that makes me sick to death, eventually, with almost everyone else. She’s free enough in her own soul to let me be free in mine. She’s nowhere near as philosophically libertarian as I am. That doesn’t matter. Unlike a vast host of philosophical libertarians I’ve known, she has the seemingly unique capacity of letting me live my own life unmolested.

There’s more, more, more, but I think it all has more to do with her qualities of character than with her abstract credentials. She’s very smart, with a very finely tuned rational mind, but so much more important than that, she’s honest — unmasked, undisguised, non-manipulative, non-cloying. She is not ever trying to put something over on someone, and she is not ever trying to claim a grace she hasn’t earned or escape a debt she owes.

Because there is nothing of deceit within her, there is a light in her eyes that illuminates her entire life. This is something I look for in everyone, and when it is absent, I am very wary. When a person has no life in his eyes, death abounds somewhere within. This is nothing more than correlation — or prejudice — and it might well be an irrational paranoia on my part, but it’s a trusted guide to me by now. I don’t share anything I value with people whose eyes are dead.

She’s fun and fun-loving and much more open to new things than ever I am. Sometimes I feel like I let her down, which is doubly new to me — that I feel the need to live up to her, and that I actually care that I might disappoint her.

I believe almost nothing, certainly nothing of what people claim to take on faith, where she believes almost everything. There are dozens and dozens of doctrinal issues we disagree about, but none of them matters. First, because, like me, she is happy enough to manage her own mind and doesn’t feel the need to assert control over anyone else’s. And second because we are in complete agreement about everything that matters — honesty, integrity, character, and an elemental goodness, grace and beauty.

I talk to her all day, every day — face to face, cell phone to cell phone, mouth to ear. For hours in the car, for seconds on the phone, for a need to touch, a need to share, a need to be together, a wish to be connected, a desire never to be too far apart. Triumph calls and joke calls and time out of the day to meet at Starbucks for lattes and eye-talk. Where she is is home to me, and the fact is that I never had a home until I knew her.

You can read all about our tender coming together here. But the fact is that I’m a writer, and I can make anything painfully beautiful. If you wonder, wonder, wonder, wonder who, who wrote the book on love — it was me.

But the secret to love, I think, a secret I learned late enough in life to truly appreciate it, is not this set of characteristics or that flavor of doctrinal accord or this appearance or that achievement. The secret to love is to find someone you cannot bear to be away from for long, and who brings you a peace you know nowhere else. Love is not love — where it is not a substantial and enduring improvement over solitude. There is nothing to be found in characteristics or doctrine or appearance or credentials that will make you want to stay when you want nothing more than to get away. And none of those things matter, in the end, when you’re with that one person you never yearn to escape.

Find that and the rest comes easy…

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Stopping traffic in Northern Virginia: JustNewListings.com is building custom yard signs for its listings

Jay Seville of JustNewListings.com in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. sent along this photo of the customs signs he is building for his team.

Lo-tech don’t mean no-tech: Sign calls sell homes. If you’re doing custom signs, let me know. I’m delighted to show off the hard work of hard-working dogs.

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