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Failure to Report

I confess there are times that we at MHProNews.com have failed to report on a topic. An example might be my sitting in a room where former MHI President Thayer Long sat and was politely told by a respected state executive director that MHI was not getting their job done. Would it have been a great headline? Oh, yes. Did I report it? We touched on this in other ways, but did not report this incident until now. Why? Therein lies the topic for today's column.

If this post causes a few to furrow their brows at what follows, it won't be the first or last time. If trade journalism means something, it ought to mean reporting and commentary that will at times make some uncomfortable. Doesn't the truth have a way of doing that?

It being Friday the thirteenth and not believing in bad luck, my thought was that this would be as good time as any (okay, I'm kidding) to bring the subject of "failure to report" up, as I do get asked – why we cover this and why we don't cover that – so here goes.

What needs to be expressed first are principles. The principles we strive to adhere to could summarized in the three points as follows:

  • We are unabashedly pro-Factory Built Housing Industry. This is from experience, being a veteran 'true believer.' We have the best housing value in the country, and it is sadly not generally well known or seen that way. While most of my work in sales, marketing, ownership and management has been with HUD Code Manufactured Homes, my experiences with modulars or other prefab houses date back to the 1980s as well. The Industry has more than its fair share of detractors. We are not likely to be named among them. Quite the opposite, we want to improve the image of factory built homes and are for positive efforts that will accomplish that goal.
  • MHProNews is pro-Association. It pleases me that we have good relationships with most state or community associations and get along just fine with the national ones too. We are told from time to time that someone joins or re-joins an Association as a result of our writing. Before you frustrated, un or anti-Association types sigh or shrug, more on this later. For now, let's say, association membership is important and valuable. We have associations under our resources tab, it is visited often and we are pleased to mention that fact.
  • We believe in Best Practices professionally and principled service to our customers, consumers and the public at large. Whenever someone fails to take good care of their customers, they are arguably failing the customer and our industry too. When someone gets arrested or imprisoned for breaking the law, we report it as fact in our Daily Business News when we learn about it. So we do report 'bad news.' But we don't report personal stuff (eg: so and so is married but slept with this other person anyway). We know what some people earn, but we fail to report that too. In short, we focus on news and commentary relevant to a professional. With that in mind, my thanks to all of you who use the iReportMHNewsTips@MHMSM.com for sending us news tips or story links, R.I.P.s (obits), new appointments or any other news items of general industry interest. To dot the i, we report 'good and bad' news, but we don't publish the sort of sensational stuff that as a rule ought to remain private.

As a subset to the above, we are routinely told things off the record. We don't name a source unless that source wants to be named. Some of those off the record statements made to us come with the idea that we will not report them. We have a strong record of honoring those requests.

While even some of our friends disagree with our policy of allowing the use of pen names to protect the identity of a writer in an article, when I know or talk with a writer who wishes to remain anonymous, that policy will stand. Newspapers publish letters to the editor from "anonymous" writers. Why should MHProNews be different? There are good reasons to do this, but we won't go into them beyond saying this is smart and opens up doors that would otherwise be closed. That would rob us all in the policy's absence.

MHARR and MHI

There is nothing unusual in an industry having dual national association representation. The strongest example is housing, where you have the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), along with mortgage and a range of other housing related interests. From early on, we had the policy of providing both MHARR News and MHI News. For those of you who don't go beyond a once a month column from a national association president or a periodic missive by another commentator, well, you are missing too much!

The differences between the two national trade body's respective reports can be quite insightful. You can read them virtually side by side at the link above, something you won't find on another trade media site. We Provide, You Decide.

As an MHI member, I am happy MHARR exists. MHARR President Danny Ghorbani and I disagree on some things, some strongly. Among them, is their mode and manner of communications. We have run columns critical/analytical of Danny at times.

That said, we have to give Danny his dues. He is often correct on an issue as being in the Industry's best interests; yes, even when he may not deliver the MHARR message in a way that you or I may like. MHARR members understandably believe their organization helped keep Independent Manufacturers going while also benefiting the industry at large. It may seem shocking to some, but free enterprise believers know that the competition MHARR member manufacturers provide vis a viz the larger HUD Code and Modular producers is arguably good for all, including MHI members, or other competing factory home builders.

As examples of the benefit to our Industry in having MHARR, MHI's approach on the 'voluntary' fire sprinklers issue comes to mind. The policy MHI adopted is seen as flawed by a number of MH Communities and Retailers, while MHARR's stance is far more logical. The same holds true for the often misunderstood importance of the independence of the Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee (MHCC). Under the Manufactured Housing Improvement Act (MHIA 2000 law), that independence should be a check against a run-away regulations by HUD's manufactured housing program.

Many of these stances where in place before MHI's new President, Richard "Dick" Jennison, came on board. It will be very interesting to see what direction he takes MHI on topics that pre-dated his arrival. One hopes to see MHI and MHARR working together on topics like the MHCC, strengthening and protecting federal pre-emption, fire-sprinklers, Congressional hearings and a range of other legal and regulatory topics.

FYI, the reports on Dick Jennison – as well as my personal experiences – have been positive. But the honey moon period (100+ days in office) is now over. His leadership will now be increasingly examined by all.

So while many – including myself – are supportive and hopeful, time will tell. There are a few things which have already come up worth watching. So more on those later…

Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

I frankly don't agree with some tendencies in MHI's PAC in the 2010 congressional election cycle. As we reported then, MHI did a good job picking 'winners and losers.' So they deserve 'credit' for that accomplishment. But some of the candidates backed struck some industry and MHI members, including myself, as questionable choices.

For example, there were cases when MHI PAC backed candidates who may say they're pro-MH Industry, but those same candidates gave us 'gifts' that keep on giving, like SAFE Act and Dodd-Frank. Meanwhile, HERA's Duty to Serve manufactured housing languishes, essentially forgotten.

That sort of PAC support to me was hard to imagine. In fairness, some association leaders have taken the time to coach me on such matters. They have explained why it may be wise to some support this candidate over that one, even if politically the party label may not seem to fit pro-business attitudes at first blush. To rephrase, sometimes an association may support someone they may not otherwise be crazy about for strategic reasons.

With that statement, it still seems wrongheaded to back someone who is threatening to regulate a sizable number of you out of business!

Not yet knowing which direction Dick Jennison and a re-forming team at MHI will go this election cycle, some of us have not raced to return even a dime in MHI PAC contributions. I say this with no joy, as I happen to like and respect the MHI PAC Chairman, Rick Rand. I hope MHI re-evaluates the 2010 picks and goes with candidates this year that are clearly pro-Industry and pro-business.

The Third Rail in Manufactured Housing Today

The third rail federal politics is Social Security and Medicare. The third rail in the MH Industry today is Clayton Homes and Berkshire Hathaway. When Kevin Clayton speaks, everyone listens. When Warren Buffett speaks, we cover it in the Daily Business News. When you control about half of an industry, you are the elephant in the room.

I own and enjoyed a copy of the book, Thoughts of Chairman Buffett: Thirty Years of Unconventional Wisdom from the Sage of Omaha, by Warren Buffett. We cover a lot, but we do hear things about them and others – that at times – we fail to report.

That said, it is obvious that Warren Buffett publicly backed Barack Obama for president in 2008. To me, this is a sad reality for manufactured housing. It may be good for Buffett, but not for most of the rest of us. Many communities and retailers buy Clayton family of companies product or finance with a Berkshire Hathaway owned lender. Some tell me they do so, not because they like the Buffett-Obama link, but in spite of that reality.

This is a slippery slope indeed.

During the Republican primaries, we heard a lot about 'crony capitalism.' This is not new in our nation. There is an ebb and flow of government-businesses influence that can be subtle or direct and dramatic.

buffett-obama-mhmsmWhen you are sitting with the president, as Warren Buffett is in this photo, well, it's obvious you have a level of access that most of us do not enjoy.

Just look who is talking and who is listening in this photo of Messrs. Buffett and Obama.

Has our industry in general benefited from this?

President Obama cites his call for the "Buffett Rule" on tax policy, even though Mr. Buffett has said recently that said rule would not balance the gaping federal budget deficit.

It is obvious that President Obama has been a tax and spend president, cut from a different bolt of cloth than Democratic President Bill Clinton, who famously said the 'era of big government is over.' Clinton was shrewd enough a politician to work with the same Republicans who wanted to impeach him for lying under oath to balance the budget and reform welfare. Tip your hat on that.

Some opine that Barack Obama may still track to the center before the election. But the president has shown a remarkable ability to spit in the eye or ignore some people and groups – like finance, Jews, Catholics, or even minorities – that supported him in 2008.

The point here is that our Industry is locked in what for many of you is a life and death struggle to survive. And Warren Buffett, with all due respect, has been backing a president whose administration has been anything but helpful to the millions of home owners and most of the business professionals in our Industry.

Why?

That too can be another column. Buffett's support for the upcoming 2012 presidential race deserves scrutiny, third rail or not. One would hope that arguably the most anti-business president in U.S. history would not be backed by the largest player in our industry. We may be enjoying rising shipments for now, but our Manufactured Housing Industry is still struggling with the worst years since the 1950s. Different policies in Washington would rapidly change that fact!

So let's keep our eyes on such matters together, shall we? It may be politics. But politics and policies impact our livelihood daily.

Political Principles

Publishers endorse candidates. I will admit I voted against candidate Obama for president last time and plan to do so again, based on principles, not personalities.

I think Senator John McCain was one of the weakest candidates to run in many years. I cast an unenthusiastic ballot for that man, applying the principle of the lessor of two evils.

Mitt Romney is not my first choice either. But as one professional pointed out to me, Ronald Reagan was seen by many as a moderate before he came into office. Should Mitt Romney be elected in November with a conservative House and Senate and if fiscal and other conservatives hold his feet to the fire, Romney could well be the most conservative president since President Reagan.

This is not an endorsement, but a statement of fact.

The facts are that President Obama's policies have been anti-jobs and anti-business. His "solutions" for housing have arguably kept the housing recovery from being accomplished. We are over five trillion deeper in debt than when he stepped in, after he criticized his predecessor for deficits less than half the size of his as being unAmerican. He ran on the message in 2007-2008 that this was the worst economy since the great depression. So the president can't hide behind that now, when he himself said he had one term to clean up the mess or not get a second term.

ObamaCare is an ongoing disaster waiting to happen that – combined with other policies – hastens the loss of personal liberty, religious liberty, the quality of health care, jobs and our economy. 83% of doctor's in a survey covered on the Drudge Report have said they have considered quitting due to the new health care law.

How can that be good public policy? How can underestimating the costs of ObamaCare by 50% – per the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) – be good stewardship or policy?

Answer, it can't.

Just Vote No on O

My opposition to the ObamaNation is based on principles. Those principles would be summed up in two words: Solidarity. Subsidiarity.

President Obama violates both principles daily. He plays divide and conquer, rather than being the unifier he said he would be. Whatever the rhetoric, he supports the creation and existence of the biggest federal government with the largest debts in history.

Larry Hahn's Industry Voices guest column outlines in less than a page – without naming a name – why President Obama's principles are NOT fair at all. We turned that into a political cartoon, linked here.

I have industry colleagues whom I respect that voted for President Obama. At least some of those who voted for O now regret that vote.

I would join with those who say, it is great that our nation was able to elect a non-white president.

That said, I would not vote for or against a man based on his skin tone. That is just a different form of bigotry. We should vote based upon principles, not party, personalities, sex or race. Alveda King, niece of the famous civil rights activist, has publicly said she doesn't think that Dr. Martin Luther King would say 'his dream' was accomplished in the Obama presidency. Ouch.

President G.W. Bush was not my hero. I strongly opposed the notion of going to war against Iraq, for example, before we dropped the first bomb or sent the first soldier to spill their blood or that of Saddam Hussein's defenders. I won't go into a long history of U.S. policy fiascoes overseas. Ask Marco Rubio what his parental homeland's countrymen think about how Castro came and stayed in power. Ask yourself why we so strongly oppose Iran – who have no nuclear weapons – when we have shipped millions of jobs and trillions of dollars to China, that has nukes by the thousands and has said they can reach our West Coast with their nuclear warheads. Obama was silent when Iranians protested their Islamist government. Wasn't that our chance to see change happen there that would have been good for Iranians and for the U.S.? Our foreign policy has been a disaster under Obama, but Republicans and Democrats share that sad reality of ill advised foreign policies.

Much of the above may not sound like it matters to manufactured housing pros. But even on the practical level of oil prices, the Obama administration's policies have arguably caused spikes in oil due to Iranian-U.S. tensions, along with failure to support the Keystone pipeline and more domestic drilling. All of that and other misguided federal policies costs us potential home sales! All of the anti-oil policies up the cost of our products, which have to be shipped to a market.

Obama may find Democrats in West Virginia, Kentucky and other states that produce coal voting against him. Other Democrats in Pennsylvania or Ohio may vote against Obama for not robustly supporting more domestic oil development, which sparked a surge in manufactured home sales in the states like ND and TX.

The George W. Bush Presidency years heaped too many regulations on our nation, as did the Clinton years. But by comparison, we may look back and say, W was a better president than Obama.

The point is that when we support principles, we can see past personalities. It isn't about this or that party. It is about common sense in government, business and life.

Principles shed light when political correctness does not. If the truth has value – and I believe it does – we can't risk four more years of the same nonsense that could get worse since he will no longer be accountable to the people.

Big government is not the answer. Limited government under principled leadership that protects our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is. America became the world's industrial superpower before the era of big government.

Is it a coincidence that as the post World War II and Korea era of big government hit, that our industrial base has increasingly suffered?

I listened to all of Mitt Romney's speech to the NAACP. While former MA Governor Romney was booed at times, I was impressed that over half the crowd in attendance stood at the end an applauded him.

Living near Chicago, where the murder rate has soared and unemployment among blacks – especially youth – is sky high, one can only say that the president's policies have not helped blacks or most other Americans, but only a select few. If you haven't read the cartoon and the link by Larry Hahn above, please do after you finish reading this post.

Regulators

What the 'right balance' of regulations and laws regarding business is too long a topic for today, but the fact is that we are over that line federally at present. That is not to be blamed on most of the individuals who work in those offices. I've met and communicated with some of our industry's regulators – federal, state or local – personally. I value the relationship with them. My impression of many of them is that they are doing their job as best they can.

Opposition to over-regulation doesn't mean we should think less of regulators, that too is a form of division. Armed with the truth – we need bridges, not bombs – when it comes to dealing with regulators or others.

But one regulator I've met was totally disappointing. The man was a robot for big government and couldn't see the truth of the negative impact of their policies if it hit him with a 2×4; which he has likely never seen.

Government does not create private sector jobs. Public sector jobs exist because the private sector pays for them. Too many in elected and appointed office in government today act more like autocratic rulers than accountable public servants.

Regulators and public officials must work hand in hand with people of good will in our industry or any other.

HUD's Manufactured Housing Program is in need of a shakeup. How are they helping the public or the Industry?

Failure to Report

We track Berkshire Hathaway's stock's daily, along with AMG, Cavco Industries, Champion Enterprises, Deer Valley, Drew Industries, Equity Lifestyle Properties, Liberty Homes, Louisiana Pacific, Nobility Homes, Palm Harbor Homes, Skyline Corporation, Third Avenue Value Fund, Universal Forest Products Inc and UMH Properties.

But we fail to report all that we hear or see. In a sentence, Why? Because some things would arguably do more harm than good to report.

We are not a tabloid. We are not into shock journalism. Some people get read because they are a little like a drunk driver on the road; you have to keep an eye on them, even if you don't like it.

We want MHProNews to be read because we provide the best and the most comprehensive News, Tips and Views Industry Pros can Use.

We are no one's house organ. We believe we serve our Industry and are good for your organization or business, because we strive to be accurate and the truth is liberating.

We are independent in our coverage, but share the views of any who wish to sound off on topics of industry interest. Don't like something here? Including in this column? By all means, please do post a comment or send me a message and sound off.

We invite anyone to share written or video commentary for Industry Voices. See the about us pagefor more details.

So we do report, more than any other trade media in Industry history.

What we fail to report is akin to the reverse of the NY Times slogan, all the news that's fit to print.

We believe that there are Dark Clouds, but that our Brightest Days as an Industry could lie ahead. But those bright days will not happen without enough people like you and me putting our time, talent and treasure where our mouth is.

We have changes within our Industry and in government that must be made.

You read about more of them here than any other industry news source. If I didn't end by challenging you to give your best every day to the public, your customers and our great Industry, I'd be failing to report the truth. ##

Post by
L. A. 'Tony' Kovach
www.MHProNews.com
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Innovation – Information – Inspiration for Industry Professionals

Office – 815-270-0500
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L.A. 'Tony' Kovach, MHM - Publisher, Marketing Director and Industry Consultant
http://www.linkedin.com/in/latonykovach
Manufactured Home Marketing Sales Management trade journal
www.MHMarketingSalesManagement.com aka MHMSM.com aka MHProNews.com
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