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Walter Duranty



"
But -- to put it brutally -- you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs"
-Walter Duranty. "Russians Hungry But Not Starving"  New York Times.  March 31, 1933.
















Two weeks before Memorial Day weekend 2010, WFAA-TV in Dallas/Ft. Worth reported a story about an American soldier who had his $300,000 house (which was paid for, free of a mortgage) foreclosed upon by his H.O.A. to collect $800 in H.O.A. dues while he was deployed to Iraq ("Back from Iraq, Frisco soldier finds home sold by HOA" WFAA-TV. May 14, 2010) .

Who profited from this action?

In May 2008 -- while Captain Michael Clauer was commanding over 100 men in a combat zone -- the Heritage Lakes H.O.A. sold the house to Mark DiSanti for $3,500 to pay its attorney, Vinay B. Patel.  DiSanti then sold the house to Jad Aboul-Jibin for $135,000.  In June 2009, Aboul-Jibin started demanding rent from the Clauers, which was the first time they were aware their house had been sold.  In August 2009, Aboul-Jibin sent the Clauer family an eviction notice.  Captain Clauer was still in Iraq at the time.

Before Memorial Day weekend, only one national media outlet picked up on this story -- the left-wing Mother Jones ("Soldier in Iraq Loses Home Over $800 Debt" Mother Jones. May 28, 2010). A month later, NPR's "All Thing's Considered" mentioned the incident in a story about H.O.A. foreclosures ("Not So Neighborly Associations Foreclosing On Homes" NPR. June 29, 2010).


This story had the heroes and villains that should have made it headline material for right-of-center news outlets and pundits:

- an American soldier deployed to a war zone
- Memorial Day weekend
- theft of private property
- greedy lawyers

But, like the modern day heirs of Walter Duranty, the conservative and libertarian media kept their viewers, listeners, and readers completely ignorant about this unconscionable crime.

If you think that conservatives and libertarians aren't enamored with H.O.A. unions, I challenge you to find one single story from any conservative or libertarian source about this incident. Just one.

This wasn't a case of just one or two right-of-center media outlets dropping the ball.  This was all of them ignoring a story that didn't fit some ideological narrative.


Shame on you Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Glenn Reynolds, Bill Whittle, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, Mike Rosen, John Stossel, James Taranto, Jonah Golberg, Jon Caldara, etc. 

Special scorn is reserved for Walter Olson and Ted Frank, editors of a conservative/libertarian web site called Overlawyered.com , which describes itself as "chronicling the high cost of our legal system." Over the past dozen years, this duo has given a free-pass to the activities of H.O.A. lawyers, a group that Professor McKenzie (a former H.O.A. attorney himself) has described as "so rapacious that it's just shocking" ("The Myth of Privatopia" SFGate. December 17, 2002). It's not as though there was a shortage of material for Messrs. Olson and Frank to work with, so some other motive is at work. All I can be sure of is that their concern for consumers is as sincere as Al Gore's concern for the environment.

Why these disciples of Ayn Rand have chosen to place the interests of Collective Corporate Communisty Privatopianism (CCCP) and legalized Home Owner Association Racketeers (HOARs) above the individual private property rights of American home owners -- including the troops they claim to support -- is a topic beyond the scope of this comment, although I have my suspicions.

Maybe if Senator John Carona, who owns the largest H.O.A. property management company in the country, had a "D" after his name instead of an "R"...



The above is a revised version of a comment I wrote and posted on Evan McKenzie's "Privatopia Papers" blog on June 24, 2011.  


What happened to the Clauers was, as the saying goes, "another isolated incident."

A few weeks after conservative news outlets failed to report about the Clauer story, Lieutenant Mike Lukaszonas -- a United States Navy aviator-- was fined $10 a day, $300 a month, for renting out his condominium in Virginia. 


But when the Navy transferred the helicopter pilot to Florida, he started leasing his home to someone else to help pay for the mortgage. He asked his homeowner's association for permission

"They decided unanimously to vote no," said Mike Lukaszonas, "and the reason was never cited in the letter. They just said denied."

WAVY.com wanted to talk to the association president, who happens to be Lukaszonas' neighbor. The door was open, the dog was barking, but no one came to the door.

At Wednesday night's meeting, the association decided to fine the lieutenant $10 a day for leasing the condo.

When Lukaszonas asked for a reason behind the fine, they refused to give one. One member said, "We're not here to debate this. Our decision has been made, sir."

The by-laws of the homeowner's association say you're allowed to lease an apartment for a hardship. According to the by-laws, "Examples of 'hardship' include but are not limited to, military transfer or ill health preventing occupancy of the unit."

"And here I am with a spelled out example of hardship and they're just denying it straight out," Lukaszonas sighed.

Lukaszonas said he had no choice now but to take the association to court.

"We're going to be looking to have a judge say that he can rent his unit," said attorney Javier Martinez. "He is thoroughly entitled to lease his unit as long as he's required to be out of the area by the military."

Even though his condo has led to a legal battle between neighbors, Lukaszonas said this is still the home he wants to return to when his time in Florida is over.

 source:  "Sailor Faces Fine For Leasing Condo"  WAVY.com   July 15, 2010

Once again, the "We Support the Troops" and "We Support Property Rights" coalition did not inform their audiences about this.

One thing is certain.  Regardless of the outcome, the H.O.A.'s attorneys got paid.  And the H.O.A. directors Board of Directors who made the decision did not pay the legal costs of defending the association from Lt. Lukaszonas's legal action out of their own pockets.   That cost was passed on to the other homeowners.

It's like something you would see in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. People think these things don't go on. But we know they go on every day in condo and homeowners associations. These people who have no idea how to use power at all. They won't even accept limits on their power. They don't even know what the law requires of them, these directors. They go by what some lawyer tells them to do, which the lawyer tells them to do only because he or she knows they can get away with it. Because the only recourse you have is some civil suit. Here in Illinois, we don't have an Ombudsman. Most states don't. There's nowhere for owners to turn. If the lawyer tells them "Oh, just jack 'em around. Who cares what the rules are? Who cares what the law says? It doesn't make any difference."
The transaction costs of enforcing an owner's rights are so great that they are hardly ever able to do it.

source:  Evan McKenzie.  OnTheCommons.net  June 26, 2010.  from 0:22:48 to 0:23:40

While the Clauers were fighting to keep their home, there was an incident involving some document called a contract that did provoke outrage from the political Right.

Pam Geller may sue PayPal for calling her blog a "hate site."
source:  InstaPundit.com  (June 12, 2010 at 11:34 PM)

Ms. Geller is the editor of a web site called "Atlas Shrugs".    After PayPal suspended her account, she solicited funds for "another lawsuit. Want to make a contribution to my fight?" (Pam Geller.  "PayPal Cuts Off Atlas:  Truth Is The New Hate Speech"  June 12, 2010).

The irony of an Ayn Randian threatening to litigate against a private corporation for a claim of discrimination was lost in the conservative/libertarian blogosphere.

If she, or any of her supporters, had bothered to read her adhesion contract with PayPal -- which is 19,007 words long (276 paragraphs, in 30 pages) -- she would have been aware that PayPal had the right to terminate her account at any time for any reason.

V. Rights, Obligations and Disclaimers of PayPal
4.  Termination. PayPal, in its sole discretion, reserves the right to terminate this Agreement, access to its website, or access to the Service for any reason and at any time upon notice to you and payment to you of any unrestricted funds held in custody for you.

source:  PayPal.  "User Agreement For PayPal Service"

But apparently, Ms. Geller's supporters believe that she has more of a "right" to use PayPal's services than everyone else does to, say, health care; or to own their own home.
  Even the folks at Overlawyered.com could not be bothered to inform their readers about Pam Geller's threat of a frivolous and baseless law suit against a private corporation that had not violated its contract with her.

However, there was enough negative publicity that Ms. Geller's account was re-activated within one business day.

On Monday, after what Geller says was a storm of protest, PayPal backed down.
Geller said she received a phone call from PayPal early Monday morning informing her it had all been a “misunderstanding.”
“They called me back and said it was a misunderstanding and we’re all good,” Geller said. “They obviously received an overwhelming response.”
“I have a pretty big soap box, but what are the little guys supposed to do?
source: "PayPal Relents and Apologizes to Pamela Gelller" PajamasMedia. June 15, 2010.  (emphasis added)

Indeed.

To this day, Pam Geller has "relevance" among conservatives and libertarians ( InstaPundit.com on July 29, 2011 at 8:21 pm),
while Captain Clauer has none.

As for Captain Clauer and his family, they eventually got their house back after months of stressful litigation.  Because the federal judge in the case placed a gag-order that prohibits anyone from discussing the decision, we can only speculate on what really happened ("Iraq War Vet Declares Victory In Frisco HOA Battle"  WFAA.   July 28, 2010).   I suspect the law was bent over backwards (and perhaps forwards) by the judge to allow Heritage Lakes H.O.A. -- which never admitted to any wrong doing and probably acted in a perfectly legal but immoral manner -- to save face.    If it was simply a matter of a falsified affidavit by the H.O.A. about Clauer's active-duty status, or enforcement of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), there would have been no need for the Clauer's to litigate, nor for a gag order by the judge in the case.   At the end of 2010, Captain Clauer returned to permanent active duty with the U.S. Army and left Texas, moving his family to Virginia and selling his house.

Evan McKenzie, a former H.O.A. lawyer, author of Privatopia (1994), Beyond Privatopia (2011), and editor of the "Privatopia Papers"  blog said about the Wenonah Blevins case nine years ago :


But not all evicted homeowners are so lucky. McKenzie says foreclosures by homeowners associations are happening all across the country.  "What's really driving this is the dynamics of these collection lawyers who are just out to generate fees and to sell these houses off as fast as they can."
source:  "Do Homeowners Associations Go Too Far?"  ABC 20/20  April 20, 2002.


If you get your information from conservative and libertarian outlets such as Fox News, Reason, Pajamas Media, National Review, the Wall Street Journal, Overlawyered.com, etc., you would never know this.


UPDATES:

USMC Lance Corporal Corey Burr

The Family of USMC Lance Corporal Corey Burr

Sign for USMC Lance Corporal Corey Burr

In Bossier City, Louisiana, the family of USMC Lance Corporal Corey Burr placed a banner on the front of their home dedicated to their son, who had just been deployed to Afghanistan.  On March 18, 2011, the attorney for the Gardens of Southgate Association threatened to sue the Burr family if they did not remove the banner.  In July, the H.O.A. made good on its threat, and filed the lawsuit.  (source:  "Homeowners Group Fights Marine Family's Banner"  Marine Corps Times.  May 08, 2011.  "Marine's Parents Sued Over Sign Supporting Son"  Marine Corps Times.  July 24, 2011.)

T.K. Mastny, the president of the H.O.A., is also the president of the Republican Women of Bossier, a group that describes its mission as "To foster loyalty to the Republican Party's policies, ideals, and promote an informed electorate."

Republican Women Of Bossier, 2011 Officers


Although the Burr story has been developing for several months, outlets like Fox News did not start reporting about this until July 25, 2011.


Prediction:  The H.O.A. will cave in due to the bad publicity.  But other homeowners across the country, who are not receiving publicity and free legal assistance, will continue to be abused; out of sight and out of mind.  As Pam Geller asked, "What are the little guys supposed to do?"


U.S. Army SFC Sean Gittens

On his third deployment to Iraq, SFC Sean Gittens suffered concussive head injuries that left him partially paralyzed.

The charity Homes For Our Troops was all set to build a new home for SFC Gittens in Evans, Georgia, when the Knob Hill Property Owners Association reversed an earlier decision and obtained a court order to stop construction of the home.  To their credit, both Fox News and the conservative web site Hot Air reported the story.

"Neighbors Pull Plug On Injured Vet's Home"  (video) Fox News. June 24, 2011.


"Neighborhood Rejects Disabled Vets Home"  Hot Air.   June 24, 2011.

"Neighbors Pull Plug On Inured Vet's Home"  Augusta Chronicle.  June 22, 2011. 


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