Friday

19 by 25 on Christmas Day

It’s a wonderful Christmas morning. The tree is still beautiful, even with torn wrapping paper and opened boxes scattered amidst some still-unwrapped presents intended for friends who haven’t yet arrived.

As things settled down, I wandered to the kitchen table with my coffee cup in hand, to read the morning newspaper, with Johnny Mathis and others singing in the background. The music isn’t my day-off morning ritual, but the paper is. It only took me a few minutes to see what I didn’t expect on Christmas Day.

This was never part of Christmas before, at least not that I know of.

As I sat down, I separated the paper by sections as I always do, pulling out the sports section and the want ad section to set them aside for later reading, after my customary read of the front sections. But I never read the front section. Separating the paper, that was when I saw a different section.

I counted. 19 pages. 25 listings or so on a page. The smell of the eggs and ham my wife was cooking on the stove top began to fill the kitchen but I couldn’t put this section of the paper aside. Something made me ignore the rest of the paper and start to read just this section. I had seen this section of the paper before, but never bothered to look at it. This was Christmas morning and it was just “different.”

The entire section was foreclosure notices by the sheriff of the auction sale next month. 19 pages. 25 or so on a page. About 500 homes. But they aren’t homes anymore though. Just houses. Each one was probably someone’s hope once. A dream gone bad.

I wondered how many families still lived in some of them this Christmas morning, waiting out the last few days before they, too, had to leave.

I wondered how many homes were empty already, from families that couldn’t stand the thought of staying any longer in a hopeless situation. I wondered how many of the homes weren’t home to anyone at all now. Just empty houses.

Taylor Swift sang a Christmas song in the background as I turned the page. And then another. I no longer smelled the eggs and ham cooking as I thought of all the big shot suited-up politicians I had seen on the evening television news this last year, blaming each other for the layoffs and lousy economy. But those 19 page made me realize that it didn’t really matter how we got here.

One sheriff’s sale. 19 by 25. It meant 500 homes just in my county alone. On Christmas Day, it bothered me. Homes that aren’t anymore. How many children lived in them? How many mothers and fathers have cried from the shame of their faultless failure? And even if there was fault for any failure, that really didn’t matter either. Foreclosure changes lives.

In a world of million dollar athletes and multi million dollar penthouses, this is not the Christmas I thought I would grow up to. It just never occurred to me that foreclosures would become such a natural part of America. Or that homeless would be so very real for those so very young.

We shouldn’t lose dreams in America. And the Christmas Day newspaper shouldn’t have 19 pages of foreclosed homes up for auction. It shouldn’t. But it does.

So what do we do? I don’t know but I’m smart enough to know that I’m not smart enough to have an answer for this big problem. I hope someone does.

For now, I’ll continue doing some volunteer work, donating to church, and putting all the loose change I get at the register into whatever “give a little” charity cup is nearby. I know it’s not much, but it’s kind of like just trying to help out in the smaller world that I walk and live in. It’s the reason I never walk by someone wanting a hand out anymore. I used to. But that was before I could see their faces.

Maybe if we all did a few little things like that, things would get better. I don’t know that for sure either though. But I do know one thing.

19 pages, by 25, is very sad. And sad just doesn’t seem like it should be part of Christmas Day.

Thursday

Ford Dealership becomes Sorority Headquarters in Detroit

The Detroit Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority has a new headquarters building with lots of parking. Heck, they can even work on their cars in the garage. That's because they bought the former Kruse's Stark Hickey Ford dealership.

The acquired the dealership, with its 50,000 square feet and its 6.2 acres of land, in October, according to Crains Detroit Business newspaper.

Well, it's good to see the dealership lot, which closed last year, isn't going to waste.

Meanwhile, to show you just how much things have changed, where do you think one of the world's biggest maker of cars in its domestic market is located? Well, the one who made and sold the most vehicles is actually Volkswagen AG. But that's not the attention grabber. It's second place.

The second place holder is in a small Chinese city that no one has ever heard of. Located in the remote southwestern province of Guangxi is a relatively small city called Liuzhou. Few people have ever heard of it but in the first ten months of 2009, SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Company built and sold 893,729 light vehicles on the domestic market. That's nearly 3,000 vehicles a day out of one maker.

The company is joint venture between Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. and GM and the city government and their plans are to keep growing by taking on the auto industry in India next.

So while US automaker executives were on their private jets and getting handouts from the federal government, and more dealerships have closed since any time going back to the 1950's, and college sororities are taking over empty dealerships, China's car makers are going like gang-busters.

Detroit? Is anyone listening up there?

Wednesday

Cars the Stars Drive

Just out of curiosity, just what are the cars that stars are driving? Well, we did some digging and although most stars own more than one car, this is what we came up with...

Actress Julia Roberts (and Meryl Streep too), a Toyota Prius. Price? Just under $23k
Supermodel Tyra Banks, Lexis SC, at $65k
Singer Bono, Maserati Quattroporte
Actor Kevin Costner (and Bill Murray and Mel Gibson and Jack Nicholson), Land Rovers all around
Singer Rihanna, Chevrolet Suburban
Heiress and Tv Personality Paris Hilton, Bentley Continental GT at $171k
Singer Britney Spears, Mercedes SLR McLaren at $452k
Singer Madonna (and Donald Trump), a Maybach 57 at $335k
Actress Charlize Theron, Land Rover Range Rover at just under $75k
Basketball legend Shaquille O'Neill, Rolls Royce Phantom at $328k
Actor Tom Cruise, Porsche 911 at $71k
Actress Lindsey Lohan, Mercedes SL65 AMG at $185
Musician 50 Cent, Dodge Charger at $23k
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio (and Cameron Diaz too), Toyota Prius at just under $23k

But we haven't been able to find out what kind of car Oral Roberts drove.

Notably, we can say that while we have had lemon Bentley, Mercedes, Land Rover, Dodge, Toyota and other lemon cars, we haven't had any of the above clients. Oh, we've had a couple of judges, an artist, a sheriff, some lawyers, a brain surgeon (it wasn't McDreamy), doctors and lots of others like that, but most of our clients are just ordinary people with ordinary cars that went bad or ordinary people who were ripped off.

Helping people is what we do. Since 1978.

Burdge Law Office
Because life's too short to drive a bad car.

Sunday

US Rep Mike Turner Tries to Help

We live is some tough times. And some politicians aren't helping any. US Rep. Mike Turner, however, isn't one of those.

Too many policitians vote by party label first and people's needs second. That shows up early in the process too. Such as when they sign on as a sponsor of a bill or amendment. That sponsoring is important because it signals to other members of congress where they stand on an issue.

Maybe that's why Rep. Turner, a republican from Centerville, Ohio, signed on as the only republican as a sponsor of an amendment to help bankruptcy homeowners keep a roof over their heads.

Maybe he did it because he realized the much-ballyhooed government home loan program earlier this year (you know, the one that was supposed to help millions of homeowners modify their mortgages to keep their homes in hard times) had pretty much failed to accomplish anything at all. A good idea, badly implemented, which created lost of paperwork and frustration but accomplished no good. Only about 4% of homeowners whose homes were reworked thru the program have managed to get a permanent modification to save their home from foreclosure, reports USA Today writer Stephanie Armour.

Maybe he heard the defensive clamoring of near countless mortgage companies that said they were still "working on it" while hundreds of thousands of modifications remain tied up with their red tape. Why? Well, after all, lowering interest rates and reducing payments is not going to put any extra money in those mortgage company pockets. And, bottom line, that's what bankers are all about.

George Bailey may have been running his savings & loan to help folks out, but that's just a seasonal movie to be found on television once a year. George Bailey doesn't live on Wall Street.

Maybe Mike Turner did it because he's from one of the hard hit states that have suffered the loss of thousands and thousands of jobs, foreshadowing the foreclosure crisis that always follows on the heels of pink slips being passed out.

Whatever the reason, we say "Good for Mike." He appears to be the first republican to wake up and realize that the ultimate power to modify a mortgage is not to be found in a mortgage company's boardroom. It's to be found in the power of a federal bankruptcy judge.

No one has seen more foreclosures, or the impact they cause, than the judges who sit on the nation's bankruptcy courts every day.

On December 11 Rep. Mike Turner signed on as a sponsor of an amendment to the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009 that would give federal bankruptcy judges the power to modify mortgage terms on primary residences when the homeowner is in bankruptcy. In doing so, Turner acknowledged reality and, at the same time, necessity.

In the Dayton, Ohio area, Turner noted, it is estimated that some 10,000 housing "units" (let's just call them homes, or at least they used to be) have been abandoned because of the mortgage crisis (let's just call that a mortgage mess, which is what it is).

Ironically, bankruptcy judges already have the power to modify mortgage terms for people's vacation homes (that tells you something about who wrote that law, for sure). This new amendment would give them that power for primary residence homes. It's about time.

Meanwhile, the money-grubbing American Bankers Association came out against the amendment, shouting from the roof tops that the amendment will "impose unforeseeable costs on lenders." Gosh, folks, I just feel so very, very bad for them bankers.

Not surprisingly, another Ohio congressman, Rep John Boehner (looking remarkably well-tanned for someone from wintry cold-weathered Ohio), opposed the amendment. Clearly, while he knows where the tanning parlor is, Boehner's home is not in foreclosure. He just doesn't get it.

Helping banks and mortgage companies will not stop foreclosures. Creating government programs that they don't have to do anything about is not exactly going to keep roofs over the heads of the jobless victims of this economy.

Judges are notoriously conservative and almost always neutral. What's wrong with giving them the power to make a mortgage company accept a little less profit in order to keep another home from being abandoned, boarded up or not?

Abandoned homes are a major cause of crime increases, blight, and reduced home values for everyone. If you doubt that, then just call up the Detroit police chief and ask him.

Rep. Mike Turner has spoken his conscience. That's because he understands what he sees in his hometown.

It's too bad a lot of people in Congress don't get that. But then again, it's not their homes (or their neighbors) that are being foreclosed on. If it were, they'd be voting a lot differently.

Saturday

Car & Driver's 10 Best Cars for 2010

The list is out.

Every year, Car & Driver magazine announces its 10 best cars of the new model year and the list is out and once again US car companies only managed to get 2 cars onto the list, the Cadillac CTS and the Ford Fusion Hybrid.

Making the list for 2010: Audi S4, BMW 3 series and M3, Cadillac CTS - CTS-V, Ford Fusion Hybrid, Honda Accord, Honda Fit, Mazda MX 5 - Miata, Mazda 3 - Mazdaspeed 3, Porsche Boxster - Cayman, VW GTI.

18 Car & Driver editors rated vehicles on a scale of 1 to 100, with a focus on performance, driving satisfaction and value. The only requirement was that the vehicles be available in the US in January 2009 and priced below $80,000.

We can't fault the selection, when viewed against our lemon car cases either. While the Cadillac line has had its lemons, the CTS is not one we've run across. Same for the rest of the roster, except for the Honda Accord, which has seen its share of lemons in our files. But the rest of the list we heartily agree with.

If you are looking at buying a new car and don't want to end up with a lemon, the Car and Driver Ten Best Cars list is a good place to start. Just watch out for that Accord.

Burdge Law Office
Because life's too short to put up with a lemon.

Tuesday

China Buying Saab from GM ?

Auto News magazine's European publication is reporting that GM is talking to a Chinese company, Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Corp., BAIC, about buying chunks of the Saab business. BAIC is China's fifth largest automaker.

And why not? After all, it was a Chinese company that bought the Bummer. Sorry, I meant to say Hummer.

At this rate, GM will be left building parts for the Chinese companies that it has sold its business to. Meanwhile, China automakers reported their November sales doubled.

And Opel, General Motors' "other" soon-to-be orphaned company, now says it wants to give GM nearly half a billion dollars in annual wage concessions to stay alive.

Folks, GM's struggle to survive is a long way from over with.

Burdge Law Office
... because life's too short to drive a lemon.