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Come in For the Coffee, Stay for the Abuse

Posted 8/17/2005

Considering the history of Red Emma herself, deported from this country for taking full advantage of her rights as a citizen to reject social injustices by the hypocritical, two-faced gay-lord J. Edgar Hoover and this mockery of democracy, just because you hellhounds of the media-ocrity decide to come down from your ivory towers to mingle and be served by the working class and the anti-racist/-fascist mass, you expect the natives to be nice (Cheap Eats, Aug. 10)?

I think the lunch lady deserves to be mean, rude, crude, and have any kind of attitude against you self-righteous, evil dolls/dudes. After all, the murderous liar and thief who resides in the Sleight House, the real Murder Ink, and the whole majority of conservative, white-ists, fucked-up, unchanging barbarian mentalities are propped up—or should I say pooped up—by the stealth structures of journalism and indoctrination that the likes of you maintain. But, please, continue to enjoy your bagels!

Anarchy Forever.

Jahhannibal Abba-Ra

Sucka MCs

I applaud Tom Breihan’s balanced article on non-hip-hoppers grabbing the mic—if only for the restraint he showed in not mentioning last year’s “rap” release by “Macho Man” Randy Savage (“Hustle and No Flow,” Music, Aug. 10). Which, by the way, is frighteningly tight.

Seb Roberts

The writer is an occasional contributor to City Paper.

Mr. Bubble

I want to thank you for the article “Flipping Out” (Feature, Aug. 3). As a founding member of the Baltimore City Anti-Flipping and Predatory Lending Task Force, I appreciate the effort of Edward Ericson Jr. and your paper for keeping the continuing story of house flipping before readers. However, I am somewhat confused as to what final determination the reader is to make regarding the “investment activities” of Steve Cook and others. Was the article intended to be an exposé on the wages of sin or an in-print infomercial on how to flip your way to wealth and fame?

I’m fairly certain that had Mr. Ericson interviewed any of the end users, aka first-time home buyers, who have purchased from one of these investors, he would have had no trouble leaving readers with an understanding of the devastating effect these practices have on individuals, families, neighborhoods, and our city as a whole.

Many of these transactions result in a similar set of circumstances that the Task Force was originally established to address—home buyers with more mortgage debt than the actual value of the homes they’ve purchased. The lending industry calls this being “upside down” in your mortgage, and the predicament is the result of one especially troubling aspect of the flipping practice. Each layer of involvement by persons other than the seller and the eventual owner-occupant adds to the cost of bringing that house to market without increasing its actual value. You purchase the house at a premium price, and because you overpaid, you can’t sell the house, nor can you borrow using it as collateral if you need to make repairs. This type of situation can be a disincentive to ownership, increasing the likelihood of default and eventual foreclosure.

Future appreciation is stripped away by the high selling price needed to pay the many hands involved in the deal. Investors ensure higher prices by churning. One version of churning is where investors financed by “hard-money lenders” make sales to each other with the sole intent of furtively increasing the houses’ selling prices. These sales create quasi-legitimate comparable sales figures that make their way into the existing pool of comps, which is then used by appraisers to justify bloated mortgages.

The other problem with people running around trying to make something out of nothing is they often target properties that are ideally suited for the affordable-housing market. Every time the city loses an affordable house to this mania, the remaining affordable housing becomes less affordable. Unfortunately, the law of supply and demand dictates that fewer items in greater demand increases the cost of those items.

In the end, Mr. Cook supposedly “can’t wait for the market to turn.” Only in America could someone be so sure of their ability to manipulate a process that they can afford to be so arrogant. Exploitation of an opportunity to turn a profit is not new. But I must say that in the context of this discussion regarding professed spirituality, housing, and ultimately ethics, what does seem new is the notion that we should favorably judge those who exploit others simply because they describe themselves as Christians. Perhaps Mr. Cook and his minions will someday realize that you can do good doing good.

Carl Cleary

Be Careful When Giving Away the Store

Sorry to question a gift horse, but a free store for used clothes might not be such a good idea (“Giving Away the Store,” Mobtown Beat, Aug. 3). If the organization is not checking for need, it isn’t much of a charity and would be at high risk for abuse if it grows beyond a neighborhood swap party. Among other things, the organization has to ensure that the best of the “free” clothes are not diverted back to profit-making enterprises, as has been a source of scandal recently with the San Diego Food Bank.

It’s a lot easier to collect cast-off clothes and dispense tax deductions than it is to locate those in genuine need of them. Used clothing is not a business to be entered into naively.

Distribution of used clothing is a multimillion-dollar industry, with more than a few for-profit businesses. In the last year, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Toronto Star have run feature articles detailing the widespread abuses in the field. City Paper itself has run articles questioning the Planet Aid organization, whose boxes continue to spring up like mushrooms around Baltimore (“Adventures in the Rag Trade,” Mobtown Beat, Oct. 20, 2004). Unions are calling attention to the adverse impact of exported used clothes on Third World textile industries. And remember the pictures of piles of useless tax-deductible clothing sent to tsunami victims.

Moreover, tax-exempt donation of clothing is under scrutiny by Congress due to the exaggerated valuations that donors put on used clothes. And there’s no wonder why thrift stores throw away large numbers of donations: far too many people taking tax deductions on items of no worth to anyone.

Also, the description of the 501(c)(3) approval process as “dauntingly complicated” is an exaggeration. The IRS processed 80,651 applications for 501(c)(3) status in fiscal 2004, approved 64,545 of them, and denied only 1,027 (the rest were withdrawn or the applicants didn’t respond to follow-up questions). The high rate of approvals—over 5,000 organizations make the grade every month—shows that the process can’t be that arduous (see There is a good bit of paperwork with both the state and the IRS, but nothing that a lawyer can’t easily handle.

Dan Prives


The inference that one draws from Brian Morton’s column (Political Animal, July 27) is that unions have suffered a 65 percent decline in membership in the last 50 years because we live in “a Republican-run America, a country where unions are emasculated or nonexistent?” In the words of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, “guilty as framed.”

Silly me, I (and many others) thought unions are becoming nonexistent because:

  • historically unionized industries (manufacturing, mining) constitute a smaller share of total employment;
  • net growth in white-collar occupations is stronger than blue-collar ones;
  • legislation makes it easier for workers, without unions, to challenge discrimination, harassment, unsafe conditions, etc.; and
  • global competition.

Between 1992 and 2002, for example, unions lost 80,000 members in Michigan while the state added 400,000 jobs. All the Republicans who pulled this off during the Clinton years in Democratically controlled Michigan must be sitting in their secret meeting house chanting, in the words of Richard Pryor in Stir Crazy, “We bad, we bad.”

Perhaps Mr. Morton’s apoplectic rant about health insurance at Wal-Mart has less to do with Republican-controlled America and more to do with the knowledge that, with fewer members and far less clout, unions in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota (56 electoral votes) will reduce their funds and ground troops for Democratic candidates.

“You can’t handle the truth.” (Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men).

Paul O’Connell

Steele’s the Real Deal

Brian Morton’s article “One Token Over the Line” (Political Animal, July 13) has taken the politics of personal destruction to a new height. As an African-American and proud Republican, I must take issue with the entire premise of his piece.

Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is an eminently qualified public servant whose character and integrity make him a much-needed commodity in politics today. He knows the law, has a strong foundation in the common good, and has spent the last three years working diligently for the best for our great state. He has done this for all of our citizens, not just Republicans and Democrats, but the strongest and least among us. While he has consistently faced criticism from the Democratic Party leadership and the liberal press, he has continued to do what he was elected to do: serve the people’s best interest. He has shown a lot of class by not stooping to the levels that some will go to in the name of politics.

Morton seems more interested in piling on the bile than reporting the story properly. While Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, Mayor Martin O’Malley, and a host of other elected officials are apparently exonerated for their transgressions, Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Steele will not be excused. Why, one must ask, is it OK to excuse some while crucifying others? There seems to be no other explanation other than the fact that they are Republican.

When reporters and columnists continually attack quality leaders like Ehrlich and Steele, the rest of us can only question their motives. If Morton’s motive is to see the Republican Party defeated next year through race baiting and divisiveness, this cannot be considered a winning strategy. Until we all learn that discrimination of all people is wrong, we will never live in the world we all say we are working toward. And with poorly crafted hit pieces like Morton’s, we must ask ourselves: Do you want to be part of the solution or continue to be part of the problem?

Rev. Frankie Powell

F-Bomb Not a Smart Bomb

Hey, let’s take it easy on the rampant use of the word “fuck” and its colorful variations in the paper.

Its one thing for that idiot Mr. Wrong columnist to use it as half of the words in his column—he doesn’t possess the writing skills required to come up with his own 800 words. And Dan Savage can be excused, not only because it actually is his subject matter but also because he understands that the effect of overusing dramatic words is to lessen their impact, making them commonplace.

Using it twice in a description of the original Willy Wonka movie—that is either carelessness or ineptitude.

Michael Plakosh

Correction: Contributing writer John Barry’s byline was inadvertently left off his review of two Baltimore Playwrights Festival one-acts last week (Stage, Aug. 10). Sorry, John.

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