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15 Dunstable Road Westford, MA - $419,900

We are retired — both of us. we live in a beautiful house in a wonderful town — Westford Massachusetts. Our plan is to sell out house and move to Cape Cod. Its a plan we’ve had for a few years now. The thing is though — our house isn’t selling. In the past we’ve sold three houses together. They all sold right away. The last one sold nine years ago two weeks before it was to go on the market. Some folks saw it almost by mistake and made a better than full price offer twenty minutes later. So as prepared as we were for a tough market — we weren’t prepared. We take excellent care of our houses. The one we have now in not an exception — its is in much better shape than when we bought it. The infrastructure is in top shape, it is esthetically beautiful and very comfortable. It is larger than it looks at 2156 square feet, cozy yet spacious. Yet it is currently listed at the same price it was nine years ago — $419,900.

Right now my wife and I are in a kind of limbo — waiting for someone to buy our house. The real estate market is log jammed with people wanting to move on and buy a new home but unable to do so because they can’t sell the one they own. This market is stagnated to the point of near non-existence. At least that’s how it feels to us.

Our house is priced at almost exactly the mid point for houses in our town. In other words its not a cheap super buy and its not excitingly, over the top luxurious. Its a well kept, comfortable home with four bedrooms, two bathrooms on a treed builder’s acre. But it doesn’t draw many potential buyers nor is it the subject of criticism. In other words there is little to do except wait.

We work at maintaining the house and did repaint our kitchen and family room recently on the advice of new brokers. Our most recent project has been to clean up the damage to trees due to the October storm.

We withdrew from all of our activities in town, resigning from the town and church committees we belonged to. I resigned from the art gallery I helped create. So we wait. Organize and get rid of stuff and wait. We can’t afford to just move, leaving the house to be sold in our absence. So we wait. We look at listings on Cape Cod where we want to live, visit there once in a while and we wait.

Meanwhile the occupy Wall Street movement has taken hold and many of the non-rich or less rich also grow impatient. Dreams deferred dry up like raisins in the sun. The economic crisis was created by the greed and arrogance of the investment banking world. The lawyers and professional investors who have milked the working public for decades have finally gone too far. When we were kept happy with an acceptable share of the spoils the system seemed to work. But behind the gloss of daily economic life there always were the bankers and investment pros buying IPO stock at 10 cents and selling it at 10 dollars. Securitizing near worthless mortgages and then betting that they would fail while at the same time selling the securities to the great unwashed masses. I’ve spoken to some of these ‘gentlemen’ and heard them speak of how stupid the public is, how easy a mark we all are.

Now we in the middle are afraid to act. Housing prices have rarely been more attractive. Interest rates have never been lower. Yet the market doesn’t move. Not in the price range of our house. The less expensive and more expensive homes do seem to sell at a faster rate. We are still waiting. Of course its “only” been 6 months but with so little traffic coming through our house we are likely to wait a while longer.

Once we do have a buyer I wonder if we will have the courage (or the capital for that matter) to buy. We may stay out of the real estate market for the rest of our lives becoming renters. Will that put us in a lower class? I doubt it — I think we will have plenty of company.

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Twin Towers

I read in today’s Globe that a grade school teacher observed that teaching about 9/11 is like teaching about the civil war. The kids in her class didn’t experience 9/11 so for them 9/11 is history. Is it becoming history — in that negative way that Henry Ford evoked when he said “History is bunk” —   for us? Are we going to forget?

Have we already forgotten that none of   the issues related to 9/11 have been resolved? As a nation we still don’t know what hit us or why. We have fought and still fight wars without satisfaction and without settling anything. We’ve apparently learned little.

The terrorists knocked down two symbols of American financial might. Recently some of the greatest financial firms were knocked down by their own stupidity. 

I think these events are related. And unfortunately the destruction of financial institutions is out of the terrorist play book

That our financial system is structurally  unfair and leaves many people disenfranchised and without hope is difficult to refute. The American middle class and above has been living in a dream world, disconnected from the realities of life for most people around the globe. The death and destruction of 9/11 could have awakened us to that reality. But it did not. The unfair economics of greed is still our way of doing business. The cruelty of structural violence and structural prejudice that crushes millions of people every day is unfelt by most of us living comfortable lives in the States.

Paul Farmer is one American who has fought structural prejudice for all of his professional life. He does this in Haiti and right here at home. We need more Paul Farmers and fewer chicken hawks who want to send unmanned drones to kill enemies and let the collateral damage fall where it may.

We have a volunteer army that relieves most of our children of sacrifice. Is this sensible given our situation? Or is military power any kind of solution at all? The last 60 years of our history tends to teach us that it is not.  Perhaps instead of sending armies into places under distress we should be sending Doctors and agricultural and economic experts. Or volunteers like  Joyce Tannian  who learned from 9/11 that service to humankind would make her happy. She founded Water is Life Kenya and spends most of her time helping the people of Kenya live better lives by helping them have water; something both precious and scarce in Kenya. Before she decided to serve in this way, Joyce lived in Manhattan and on 9/11 learned a lesson — about what is important in life — well.

May God bless Paul and Joyce and may their numbers increase!

If our nation and people started to use  power to help the helpless in the world instead of  constantly trying to impose our will or “protect our interests around the world” — goals that reenforce structural violence against people —  we might find that we would be loved by the same people who now hate or distrust us. Sounds like a dream? I think it is our only way forward. The military solutions of the last 60 years have not produced good results. Isn’t time to try something new?

In any case let’s not forget 9/11 — not until we learn what Paul knew along and what 9/11 taught Joyce.


Who has been the freak of Wall Street? You and me?

Who has been the freak of Wall Street? You and me?

Now we are getting somewhere!

The excrement has finally hit the fan!

We are victims of our collective naiveté, gullibility and willingness to off load responsibility for our future. Conservative financial thinkers have long lauded the trickle down theory: if the top people get filthy rich the rest of us will share in the wealth the way the pariahs of ancient Rome did (wild dogs at the garbage dumps).

We believed this. So we put up with ridiculous schemes and bought securities that couldn’t be explained and weren’t based on anything of real value. You see it wasn’t just Wall Street greed that led to the mess we are in it was Main Street greed as well.

So what are we to do? I think and hope it’s simple — stop investing in stuff you don’t understand (Peter Lynch said it best years ago) stop believing in Wall Street magic and stop looking for a quick or extra special buck.

All of us need to face reality — everyday and in every aspect of our lives.

I watched the News Hour with Jim Lehrer last night. He had two ‘financial advisers’ on the show. They were in a panic because the trite ‘wisdom’ they dole out on a regular basis didn’t sound good to them anymore. Here is what I wrote in an email to the show:

“After listening to four very reasonable politicians (there were 4 members of Congress on earlier), I was stunned tonight to hear the panic stricken ‘advisers” speak to the issues facing individuals during our current crisis.

One said he hesitated to write a column about the wisdom of long term investments in the market. The other warned against putting money in the market unless you don’t need it for ten or fifteen years.

What nonsense!

The primary concern of individual investors aught to be the quality of what they buy for investment purposes. The garbage masquerading as blue chip securities created by Wall Street is at the root cause of the crisis. Investors need to know what they are buying and need to be working with conservative, honest and trust worthy institutions.

The last thing we need now is to listen to advisers who panic when their tired ‘wisdom’ fails to comfort even themselves.”

The investment industry has for a long time been populated by ‘experts’ who become so by taking a 3 week course in how to sell securities to those even more uninformed than themselves. The industry includes smart people who invent securities based on an offset from vague and almost indescribable assets. Most successful Wall Street workers — those who make $500K and up in a bad year — don’t make investments they make bets. Listen to them and you will hear them say so themselves.

Now we have a treasury Secretary who was CEO of Goldman Sacks, an engine of strange investments if there ever was one. He wants to bail his buddies out. ‘No!’ was the answer and I thank  our representative form of government for that. (One Congressman said his constituents were mixed on the issue — some said no while others said hell no!)

While I don’t oppose all government help on this crisis I want it to be applied where it will do the most good. None of the derivatives, concocted by Wall Street to attract money for worthless assets, should be bought by the government. Rather an agency designed to keep people in their homes should be set up. But not everyone can stay in the home they recently bought because some folks were foolish enough to spent way above their ability to pay. Greed and foolishness has been in evidence at every end of the economic spectrum and it must not be encouraged any longer. Greed is not good, not matter how many times the “Masters of the Universe” say it is.

What do you think? Am I just letting off steam? Or are we finally getting somewhere?

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