Thursday, January 17, 2019

Deja Vu - Sand Lake Hills In Crosshairs of New Association

While posting on The Midnight Review has been sparse these past few years, there are a handful of topics that warrant a response.  While this site likes to take a look at some of the absurdity of politics, there is one extremely absurd subject that cannot go ignored - Homeowners Associations, or HOA for short.  And while HOAs are a ridiculous concept for numerous reasons, The Midnight Review had spent years advocating for a couple local neighborhoods in particular because of locality and also because they clearly highlight what is wrong with how community associations operate and how the government deals with them.

It has been nearly six years since I had last written about HOAs and a recent situation has sprung up that deserves some attention.  I had written numerous times about the Central Florida neighborhood Sand Lake Hills.  To some things up if you are new to the community, Sand Lake Hills was a large neighborhood made up of 12 separate smaller communities in Doctor Phillips that did not have a HOA but over time one of those sections decided they were going to be in charge of everybody and they lawyer shopped until they found someone willing to draw up paperwork to rewrite the covenants and restrictions and they went through a twisted process of granting themselves supreme authority.

The section presented themselves to the rest of the community as the HOA, going as far as to legally rename their organization. Their new covenants and restrictions forced everyone - members and non-members - into owing their corporation an amount of money determined solely by the board of directors.  And the board?  They had rewritten the by-laws of the corporation to allow non-residents sit as officers and hold titles and as a result multiple residents from a single property gained control, as well as individuals from neighboring communities.  They also misrepresented themselves to the county for grants, abused the municipal service benefit unit process to build a shoddy brick wall and speed bumps, and paid police officers to serve and protect only members of their association.  Their attempted conversion landed them in a lengthy legal battle which (spoiler alert) bankrupted their corporation and forced them to shut down.  The courts had found that they had been illegitimate for decades.

So why is this relevant?

Recently a real estate investor by the name of Tarsus Hunt was behind the incorporation of a Not For Profit Corporation called Sand Lake Hills Community, Inc., not to be confused with the now-defunct Sand Lake Hills Homeowners Association, Inc. (formerly Sand Lake Hills Section Two, Homeowners Association, Inc.), the Sand Lake Hills Property Owners' Association, Inc. (which became East Bay Homeowners Inc.), or Sand Lake Hills Homeowners Association Section 3, Inc.  Hunt is also a resident of Sand Lake Hills, Section Ten. 

The Sand Lake Hills Community, Inc. is currently being run by acting president, Vice President David Vanz, who is also a real estate agent and resident of Sand Lake Hills, Section Six.

What exactly is the Sand Lake Hills Community, Inc.?

According to them they are not a HOA but they sure want to act like a volunteer homeowners association but not just for their respective sections but for every section. They also seem to be entertaining various improvement ideas like security cameras, irrigation, electricity, wall maintenance (which is another different and hugely complex matter), and representation and/or maintenance of other non-Sand Lake Hills communities like East Bay or the entirely encapsulated Orange Bay.  This is also evident in their articles of incorporation, which insist they were established for "community improvement and enrichment of the Sand Lake Hills Subdivision."

If this doesn't sound familiar, this is exactly what the previous non-mandatory volunteer association did before they eventually got tired of some homeowners not wanting to participate in some of their costly endeavors and decided to force them to pay.  While this new group seems to be insisting they will be some merry band of volunteers their website and public comments seem to be rather vague and the professions of the board can leave the impression that they do not have the best interests of the actual residents of the community in mind.  I say this because I am reminded of another local real estate agent who decided to meddle in various associations and county projects. 

Paul McGarigal is a real estate agent who had sat on various neighborhood boards and was also director of the short-lived Dr. Phillips Preservation Association, Inc., which appeared to be a community enrichment association guise meant to benefit property investors. McGarigal used to be a featured "expert" with the old Sand Lake Hills folks, writing misleading articles for the newsletter, giving improvement "grants" that only benefited select properties, or pushing a tax on thousands of homes to fund flowers and foliage along Apopka-Vineland Road to benefit the neighborhoods that held his investment properties. His motives were dubious and while this new set of individuals may very well have the best interests of the neighborhood at heart, past experiences tells otherwise.

This new association is in its infancy so it is a question as to what their goals are but there is some suspicious behaviors that have already set off the alarms for some.  For instance, when it was pointed out that they provided little notice for their meeting or held private Facebook groups, there was nothing but excuses.  The neighborhood was given such short notice due to indecision and the private online group is supposedly to prevent "bots," although this is a completely disingenuous excuse since Facebook provides for authentication processes that weed out automated accounts. 

They have established a very low threshold to establish quorum and conduct business on behalf of nearly one thousand homes, with such power resting in that of the board, which requires residents to pay a membership fee to serve on (although one does not have to pay to participate establishing different classes within the organization).  They also have already amassed a few thousand dollars in money but have no clear use for these funds, or they have and have just not disclosed them, and have filed for tax-exempt status. 

All of these may not seem too big of a deal but combined they are alarming.  Either they show a group of inexperienced do-gooders who are in over their heads or a couple of ambitious real estate investors who believe in duping residents to buy into a supposed not for profit organization so that they can benefit professionally. Either way, residents get left behind and screwed, as was evident by the actions of the past association that caused hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal expenses and headaches for the county.

As Yogi Berra once said, "It's like deja vu all over again."

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Giuliani's Judas Metaphor a Slip?

With each passing day it appears that the Trump administration just keeps digging a deeper hole.  Countless people associated with the president, and by default, his campaign, organization, inauguration, transition, and family have found themselves either under investigation (or close to it) or guilty of one crime or another. So it comes as no surprise when Trump's legal team seems to constantly go on the offensive making excuses, shifting explanations, and trying their hardest to delegitimize the current Mueller investigation into whether or not the president had colluded with a foreign power to get elected.

One constant attack that is made against those who speak out or cooperate with the investigation is that they are either a liar or a traitor to the president. Rudy Giuliani, Trump's current counsel, has referred to numerous people that have turned on Trump as "Judas."

Back in May he referred to the former FBI director as the famous biblical figure and as recently as Friday (December 13th, 2018) he also referred to Trump's former personal attorney as being a "Judas" as well.

What makes this funny is that while Giuliani is implying that the two were disloyal to the president and betrayed him, if you look at the full biblical account of Judas Iscariot you would see that Giuliani may actually be professing Trump's guilt.

Should you actually pick up a Bible and read, Judas betrayed Jesus by calling him "rabbi" in front of a crowd and as a result revealing Jesus' true identity. If we take Giuliani's use of the name and the context of the story, he is upset not with the disloyalty of Cohen or Comey but the fact that they revealed the true nature of Trump to the people.

Giuliani also admitted to The Daily Beast that Trump had committed a crime.

“Nobody got killed, nobody got robbed,” he said. “This was not a big crime.”

It appears these false narratives or incorrect uses of rhetorical devices (or even things like diagrams) seems to persist among circles on the right. It makes you wonder why they are so disingenuous? Guess they lie about even the most simple and verifiable facts.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Baloney Comey Firing Excuse...

The continuing saga of the Comey firing resurfaced this week with news that Special Counsel Robert Mueller got a hold of a draft letter from Trump regarding the firing of FBI Director James Comey.  That letter was basically never released and the message that came from the administration was that Comey was fired because of his deviation from protocol in discussing the Hillary Clinton email case (or lack thereof).  What makes this excuse baloney is that while Trump claims he fired Comey for going public about Clinton, Trump wanted him to go public with a Trump defense!

While Trump hadn't come out and directly said he wanted Comey to defend his reputation publicly, Comey had stated such in his personal notes, leaks from aides pretty much said so, and Trump's stream-of-consciousness midnight tweets and ramblings pretty much verified such claims when he added that Comey told him in private that he was not being investigated.

So basically, the official excuse is nothing more than an excuse. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Trump, Republicans To Create Big Government Voter Database

Republicans have long touted their role as the advocate for a small central government with its powers checked by the fifty states but recently the Trump administration (with the blessing of the GOP) have decided to take a step in the opposite direction and create a huge federal database of information on voters.  While this may sound somewhat innocuous at first glance, when you read what information the Trump administration is seeking to acquire from all of the states you might become a bit more alarmed.

Pema Levy wrote the following for Mother Jones:
After notoriously (and falsely) insisting in January that as many as 5 million fraudulent ballots were cast in the 2016 election, Trump created the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity last month to study vulnerabilities in the election system and provide recommendations for fixing them. The commission is led by Vice President Mike Pence and vice-chaired by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has a national reputation for pushing the myth of widespread voter fraud and erecting hurdles to registering to vote.

On Wednesday, Pence announced that the commission had sent letters to all 50 states “requesting publicly available data from state voter rolls.” That prompted immediate concern among voting rights advocates, which was heightened when one of the letters, sent to Connecticut, was published online, revealing alarming details about the extent of the information the commission wanted...

The requests, sent by Kobach, demanded a long list of items. The Connecticut letter requests, “if publicly available under the laws of your state, the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.'” Rather than keep this data under lock and key, Kobach’s letter says he will make it publicly available.
While many watchdog groups have alerted the public of the potential threat for voter suppression, which is not too far-fetched considering the numerous voting-related laws Republicans have pushed through over the last several years, many have which been struck down by courts for being unconstitutional political power grabs, there is also another aspect of this big government database - Republicans are seemingly using federal government resources to increase their technological ground game.

The information collected not only provides Republicans with enough information to attack political opponents at the voting booth with exceptional precision, the consolidation of such information and the making of that information public will provide Republicans with the kind of data that occupies a huge amount of resources of any given campaign.

This announcement also comes nearly two weeks after Republican analytical contractors exposed 1.1 terabytes of data on over 200 million voters online, causing the Republican National Committee to halt any operations with the firm responsible.  While there has not been any link between this announcement and the information breach, a move like this could be a boon for the political party effectively cutting out the middle man.

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Glimpse of the Fox News Racist Fans

We have all read reports about the rise of Right Wing Extremism (here, here, here, here, here, here, &... well, you get the point).  We have also read about the xenophobic and militant rhetoric coming from conservative circles and the Republican party (including the current Republican administration and its leaders).  But what about the people who feed of conservative news?

While Hillary Clinton made a terrible error with her choice of words when she spoke during the 2016 presidential campaign about half of the supporters of Donald Trump belonging to a group called the "basket of deplorables," which conservatives then used to mischaracterize her positions against Republican voters, there is another issue at heart here -  the right wing echo chamber and the role it plays in stoking the fire.  Consider this - Donald Trump got the guy who used to run to be a chief strategist and news just broke that prior to going public about withdrawing from the Paris Climate treaty Trump called Fox News commentator Kimberly Guilfoyle at 8 a.m. in the morning for reassurance.  Those so-called "news" organizations cater to a certain demographic and in turn must provide their fans with material they desire.  That is why Fox News always touts their viewership and popularity over substance and fact.  So let's look at a snap shot of the people Fox News caters to.

In this instance I will highlight the comments on an article discussing a Mike Pence interview where he defends the administration's Muslim immigration ban:

Notice anything racist and anti-Muslim?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Did Trump Leak His Taxes?

Trumpcare is in peril.  Daily reports are released detailing conflict and strife within the new administration.  Almost two months in Trump's nominees and cabinet have been plagued with scandals and dogged with the looming presence of Russian interference (and/or cooperation from the Trump Campaign).  And now for the distraction:  Trump's taxes.

Well, sort of.

It seemed like Kellyanne Conway was Trump's major cheerleader and deflector, hitting the news circuit spouting any kind of nonsense that popped in her head and the media would run with it.  Meanwhile Trump and his team would silently sign off on controversial Executive Orders, or his nominees would demonstrate how clearly unqualified they were, or some other thing would happen that was more newsworthy than say Conway claiming microwaves can be turned into cameras.  But when the media started to feel burned by her and her lack of substance she started to become less effective.  Trump needed a fix, and fast.

Cue in the leaked taxes.

Trump's taxes were a big issue on the campaign trail and he constantly toyed with the idea of releasing them, but then he would periodically draw back and then offer them up again, but with caveats.  Then after he was elected they were taken back off the table.  Liberals and critics of Trump believe there is some extremely damaging information in those documents while conservatives believe it is a witch hunt.  Considering the numerous scandals that have broken in the administration in the last couple months, especially in regards to Russia, where there is smoke there is fire and the Trump team is doing a piss poor job getting rid of that smoke.  Instead of being transparent he is playing the public like the dog from Up, constantly throwing squirrels at us, and this new "leak" can quite possibly be one of them.

Think about this - Rachel Maddow teased the leak of the tax documents leading up to her show.  Not only were the copies (only the first couple pages) marked "client copy," right before the show was aired Trump released information regarding the taxes.

This is like those old crime novels where the suspect comes forward with information about the crime that they could not possibly know.  So here are the possibilities - Trump leaked the documents and therefor knew what was going to be on Rachel Maddow's show or Trump didn't know and released some information in an attempt to soften the blow of the leak and try to gain control of the narrative.

But what if Maddow was bluffing? 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Eminent Domain and the Art of the Deal

Donald Trump talked about building a wall throughout the entirety of his campaign as well as the rocky first month of his presidency.  He was going to build a big wall - a great wall.  It was going to be long with a big door to let immigrant in legally.  This rhetoric sounds nice when vying for the votes of the electorate but there is the nitty-gritty reality of such an endeavor - property rights.

As Bloomberg had reported, much of the land on the southern border is privately owned and while there have been laws passed to construct a wall, the results have been mired in lengthy court battles or exorbitant costs associated with acquiring such land.  That is why the so-called border wall currently has so many walls - it has only been able to be constructed on federally-owned property.

While the government has purchased land in the past for the purpose of constructing a wall, here lies the dilemma - Trump's campaign rhetoric and electoral victory may have inadvertently increased the fair market value of those properties.  As stated in the Wall Street Journal, prices for border land in the past had ballooned from hundreds of thousands of dollars to multi-million dollar amounts, and that was before Trump started trumpeting his desire to build a wall deep in the heart of Texas.

If anybody should have realized the supply and demand nature of property, self-proclaimed real estate guru Trump should have been that person.  Instead he threw the "location, location, location" mantra out the window for some cheap votes instead and now it will end up costing him the American tax-payer (that is if he decides to steal private property).

He should have learned a lesson from a real titan of industry - Walt Disney.  When Disney wanted to build a theme park/resort in Florida he kept it on the down-low, bullied local government, and ripped off local landowners to buy property on the cheap.  Maybe Trump should pick up a book for once instead of watching Fox News or firing off a tweetstorm early in the morning.

Not In My Backyard: The Republican Modus Operandi

Ever notice Republicans are against a lot of stuff?

Gay marriage?  No.

Employment equality? No.

Maternity leave? No.

Transgender rights? No.

I mention these because it seems Republicans are constantly attacking one thing or another as an affront to our democracy... that is until it affects something in their backyard.

Case in point:

Megyn Kelly used to attack maternity leave until she was faced with a preexisting condition known as pregnancy.  She then became a proponent for it.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney tried to ignore the issue of gay marriage, especially when it came to getting elected, but once out of office Cheney came out in support of marriage equality.  Did I mention that he has an openly gay daughter?

And now the latest surprised conservative - Caitlyn Jenner.  Jenner famously supported Trump and thought he was doing a great job, that is until he rolled back transgender rights with the stroke of a pen.  This left Jenner upset because the newly minted transgender spokesperson thought that there was a promise from the new Republican administration.

“From one Republican to another, this is a disaster,” she said. “And you can still fix it. You made a promise to protect the LGBTQ community. Call me.”

Here is the problem.  Jenner is by no means the face or voice of the LGBTQ community and has consistently been tone deaf in regards to civil rights matters.  She has proudly wore her GOP badge claiming that the two - being conservative and being transgender - were complimentary.  The problem is that Republicans have consistently come out against marriage equality - or any equality for that matter - going as far as to make it part of their party platform and to obstruct judicial nominees so that they would have the opportunity to stack the courts with anti-LGBTQ judges.

Will Jenner learn her lesson?

No.  Just look at her comment above.  She believes a promise was broken and urges fellow Republicans to "call [her]" so that they can straighten things out.  The problem is that is exactly what Republicans want to do - straighten things out.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Case For 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)

Upon revelations of the fact that Donald Trump's former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn lied to the FBI (and the vice president if you believe that the executive branch was not aware of his negotiations with the Russian government prior to the inauguration), it has been rumored that the FBI will choose not to pursue charges for the felony act Flynn committed, and that newly-minted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Trump ally, will not prosecute the matter as well.

This is very alarming.  For years the Republicans have attacked former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State for numerous alleged incidents of lying, with the president running his campaign calling for special prosecutors to go after his candidate, leading rallies with the call to "lock her up," Republicans have decided to balk when faced with real issues of national security when involving their own party.

This is why now more than ever we must work to apply pressure to the current administration in any way possible.  While the Republicans played a dangerous game of obstruction these last eight years, Democrats are not engaging in the same or similar behavior demanding standards be met.  Trump and the Republicans did not win the popular vote, which means that they are in the minority and must govern with respect of the majority.

There is also something else we must not forget - 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a).

Commonly referred to as "making false statements," this federal statute "generally prohibits knowingly and willfully making false or fraudulent statements, or concealing information, in "any matter within the jurisdiction" of the federal government of the United States, even by mere denial," of which the statute of limitations is 5 years.

Why is this important?

While Trump ran o a campaign of "locking up" his opponent for fictitious crimes, Democrats can respond with the same call, and this time be backed up by real events.  While Flynn is the first casualty of the Trump administration, it has only been a couple of weeks and more will eventually arise from this "shit sandwich" over the next 4 years.

What is ironic is that Attorney General Sessions made a video on his first day in office announcing his priorities in which he stated there was "no place for partisanship or bias" and called for the "maintaining and strengthening the rule of law" and "preserving and advancing" American ideals and "fair administration of justice... regardless of their station or position in life," yet in less than a week in office he has decided to do just the opposite. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Pence Lied About Deportation Raids, Among Other Things...

Remember that time when Good Old Uncle Pence attempted to quell the concern the American public had over Donald Trump and insist Trump only spoke in hyperbole and that he had no intentions of doing the things that Trump said he would do?

If you do not, then let's take a look at a comment Pence made during the vice presidential candidate debate with Tim Kaine regarding deportation raids.

Tim Kaine said the following in regards to immigration, border security, and deportations:
Donald Trump proposes to deport 16 million people, 11 million who are here without documents. And both Donald Trump and Mike Pence want to get rid of birthright citizenship. So if you're born here, but your parents don't have documents, they want to eliminate that. That's another 4.5 million people. These guys -- and Donald Trump have said it -- deportation force. They want to go house to house, school to school, business to business, and kick out 16 million people.
What did Pence say?

"That's nonsense. That's nonsense."

"Senator, we have a deportation force. It's called Immigrations and Customs Enforcement," he said, later ellaborating that Trump was referring to criminals.

"He's talking about criminal aliens."

Earlier Pence tried to delegitimize reports of Trump's statements by casting a cloud on whether or not Trump made such statements in the first place - enlightening when looking back at the glut of "fake news" that proliferated during the campaign.

Pence tried to minimize Trump's statements by debating that "if Donald Trump had said all of the things that you've said he said in the way you said he said them" he still wouldn't be as bad as his opponent, Hillary Clinton, insulting his supporters at a campaign rally.

So why are we looking back at the debates months later?

Especially in light of Pence being embroiled in the Mike Flynn resignation scandal, in which honest Uncle Mike claimed ignorance and that he was lied to by the now-former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn for negotiating with Russian diplomats prior to the inauguration... and that the Trump administration had known for weeks that Flynn lied to the public about his conversations with the Russians, this throwback to the debates shows that Pence isn't the choir boy that he claims to be.

While he did a fine job polishing the turd called Trump that night against Kaine, news this week showed just how much of a politician (and liar) Pence truly was.

All across the nation the Trump administration had been engaging in immigration and deportation raids.  While the administration claimed they were targeting criminals, that is not who they netted in their raids, and considering they didn't prioritize the criminals, as did the previous administration, it would appaer that vice-presidential candidate Pence seems to be at odds with Vice President Pence.  

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The 10th Amendment Hypocrisy of Greg Abbott

Donald Trump's first couple weeks of his presidency have been filled with controversy and legal defeats, as he has issued edict after edict while congressional Republicans battled over his nominations.  While everyone had fought over his proclamations, local and state governments have decided to act, some for and some against the president's actions.  One glaring hypocrisy comes from the heart of Texas - Governor Greg Abbott.

A couple of years ago when President Obama was in office, Abbott was all for states' rights and fighting Federal overreach, even going as far as to propose a new Constitutional Convention over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, among other things.
“Departures from the Constitution are not the aberration. Now they have become the norm,” said Abbott, speaking at an event by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin. “The irony is the threat to our republic doesn’t come just from foreign enemies, it comes in part from our very own leader.” 
His proposed amendments — which include allowing a two-thirds vote of the states to repeal any federal law and preventing Congress from regulating activity that takes place all within the borders of one state, such as marriage and gun ownership — would “put teeth in the 10th Amendment” and guarantee states’ rights, he said.
Now that Republicans are in charge of Congress and the executive branch, and are poised to take control of the Supreme Court after refusing to perform their constitutional duty of advising and consenting President Obama's nominee, Abbott is singing a different tune.  Abbott is now threatening to jail his political opponents who do not respect the federal government and their demands of local municipalities.

"Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is vowing to pursue legislation to 'remove from office' any official who... defy federal law." wrote Fox News' Andrew O'Reilly.

While this story is still developing, it is troubling to see that conservative governors and officials are now feeling emboldened to publicly state their desire to take out political opposition and install friendlier and compliant administrators.