Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/13/2021: Christmas Countdown Edition (Part 2, The Present)

Oddly, at my local CVS (about which I will be filing official complaint #6 today, with all previous filings stalled and ignored by what is obviously an intentional stonewalling policy) there are three Santa avatars on sale ranging from 4 feet to 8 inches, and all of them are black Kris Kringles. Maybe, as my wife suggested, the white Santas sold already…or maybe Santa is on the way to joining Captain Marvel, Jake from State Farm, Mikey of the Life cereal commercials, Magnum, P.I., Bobby of “Company,” Perry Mason’s investigator Paul Drake and other once familiar white fictional characters in turning female, black or “of color” because…well, just because. Meanwhile, my informal month-long survey of TV fare (including 2021 streamed movies and TV ads) showed more than 50% of all couples portrayed were interracial. That’s almost three times the actual demographic number, so all of those “look like America” demands should be taken with a grain of rock salt. I don’t care, except that I resent having my arm being pinned behind my back by culture dictators in Hollywood and Madison Ave.

1. How did I miss this vibe in the Jussie Smollett fiasco? Before Smollett was convicted of 5 of 6 charges, Jonathan Turley interpreted his weird and defiant defense as a deliberate effort to get a jury nullification verdict. The Professor concluded that Smollett was following the lead of social justice anarchists like Georgetown professor Paul Butler, who wrote in the Washington Post in 2016 that “confronting the racial crisis in criminal justice, jury nullification gives jurors a special power to send the message that black lives matter.” Racist African-American pundit Elie Mystal has advocated the same: black members of juries should refuse to convict black defendants. Turley concluded,

Smollett is the very definition of a race-baiter seeking to use our racial divisions for his personal aggrandizement and advancement. If successful, he would reduce the court to the same narrative-driven reality of our politics and entertainment arenas.

In that sense, Smollett is still playing to his audience. He knows reality is not what is true but what an audience wants to be true.

In politics, Vice President Harris, Speaker Pelosi and others proved that with their protestations over his “attempted lynching.” In the media, not only his story but questioning of his story were cited as evidence of a viciously racist society.

Now that Smollett has been convicted, none of the journalists, pundits and politicians that immediately assumed his ridiculous story was true because bias makes you stupid have had the integrity to apologize or admit that their lack of objectivity helped Smollett advance his hoax. John Kass argues that we need to remember this…you know, as with the Nick Sandmann episode, or what the news media did to Kyle Rittenhouse.

2. Presumed racism?  A black couple was shocked when a California appraiser valued their Marin County, California, home nearly $500,000 less than previous appraisals. Suspicious, they asked a white friend to pretend to be the homeowner for a different appraiser, and “whitewashed” their house by removing their family photos and stripping the walls of their African-themed art.  The new appraisal came in at $1.48 million, nearly a half-million more than the previous estimate. Based on the discrepancy,  the couple filed the suit December 2, along with Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, alleging that the first appraiser,gave them a lowball valuation because of their race. They are seeking financial damages and asking the court to order the defendants to ensure they won’t discriminate when appraising houses.

Isn’t the problem with this lawsuit obvious? Property assessments are based on various factors, but they are still opinions. The opinion of one appraiser can’t prove that the opinion of another appraiser was wrong or biased. For the couple’s experiment to be persuasive, both appraiser would have to work for the same company, and they didn’t. The couple may indeed have been victims of discrimination, but that hasn’t been shown. They are definitely the victims of confirmation bias, however.

3. When ethics alarms are never installed (among other things)….It’s estimated that Americans owe more than $1.7 trillion in student loans, so a group of progressive Democrats, notably “The Squad,” wants President  Biden cancel student loan debt.  After all, the National Debt isn’t high enough, and inflation is a myth, or something. Squad stalwart Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) took to the floor of the House a week ago to urge Biden to sign an executive order forgiving the loans of nearly 48 million people, including her own. The 45-year-old Tlaib makes $174,000 per year as a United States Representative and complained about the nearly $70,000 she still owes “and most of it was interest,” she said. “Most of it was our own government making money and profit off of me.”

Personal responsibility? Equity? The flaws in Tlaib’s logic, math and sense of fairness could fill a book. She apparently thinks the government should provide interest-free loans, and then have it understood that no one will have to pay back the principle anyway. And apparently she isn’t smart enough to worry about how stupid her argument sounds to anyone above the IQ of a trout. She can’t be bothered to pay off what she owes, so the taxpayers should. One wag wrote, “Having listened to this woman speak, do you think her education is worth $200K+? Does the intellectual and spiritual formation she received seem worth even a tenth of that?”

4. Then don’t play roles you played decades ago? The cast of “Sex in the City” is complaining that so many critics are commenting negatively on their looks and the toll the years have taken as the women re-unite to play the same characters they played beginning in 1998. HBO is offering a reboot, “Sex in the City 2021,” and the actresses are wounded by some of the reviews, calling the comments about their bodies “misogynist.”  I suggest they read some of the reviews of Harrison Ford’s last “Indiana Jones” movie (I don’t even want to think about what the critics will say about old Indy when the next one comes out.) The audience interest in such “whatever became of…?” exercises is largely based on curiosity about  how the stars have aged, and it has always been thus. These actresses want to profit from that curiosity, but don’t want to have to accept the audience’s verdict. When you accept millions to be judged, you have sold your right to be aggrieved when the judgment is rendered.


42 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/13/2021: Christmas Countdown Edition (Part 2, The Present)

  1. Isn’t this part II?

    2. One article I read said the timeline difference was 3 weeks, another said 9 months. If it was the later, that’s years in reality.

    3. Agreed, but the student loan interest rate is ridiculous (6-13%). Most car loans or morages aren’t even close to that. In this way, she is right that the government profits off of us Furthermore, most students don’t understand what that means over years. Doesn’t negate the responsibility of paying it back, but I would like to see something more akin to 1-2%.

    • I was going to say something similar on 2:

      I bought my house for X dollars in 2019. I mortgaged through the bank I had been dealing with because even though it was 200 miles away from where I was moving, I liked the people and they’d been good to me. Couple years later, my loan officer had moved on, the bank was talking about an amalgamation, and I was looking at having to make a six hour round trip to sign some docs… So instead I transferred the loan over to a local bank. In order to proceed with the loan, New Bank needed a valuation, and so they sent an appraiser.

      I winced when they told me that, I told them that I was renovating, and there literally wasn’t a finished wall up on the entire second floor of the house, I assumed that they were going to value about 80% of X, which would have been fine, I’d still be safely over water, but I was concerned about the rate. “Not to worry” they said, “you’ll be pleasantly surprised” they said. Boy howdy, was I. The valuation came back at 1.8X and they offered me a lower rate.

      Purely anecdotal, but my impression is that real estate is back in a growth pattern. Is that anecdotal? Absolutely is. But I also don’t think I’m special. Your mileage may vary depending on where you are, but at 50% gain over a year is absolutely within the realm of possibility.

      • I can’t believe that “whiteyifying” a house resulted in a $500k increase in value. This is a complaint about an appraisal, not an offer to purchase or make a loan, as I understand the claims.

        An appraisal is simply an estimation of the property’s market value, which is based on the applicable price per square foot, the area, comparable recent sales in that area, property condition, the quality of the neighborhood, schools, tax base, etc. One appraiser’s valuation is not binding on anything. I would like to see what properties were used in the first appraisal and which were used in the second appraisal, along with the assumptions each appraiser used to render an opinion on value. Also, I would like to know why an appraisal was obtained in the first place – was it for a loan, a sale, a refinancing, a tax protest, a valuation for bankruptcy planning, etc? If the couple was denied a loan, why? What is their debt to income ratio? What is their credit score/rating? Are they current on their debts? Are they employed or self-employed? Without knowing those answers, it’s impossible to tell if their claims have merit.


        • I won’t speak to the accuracy of this claim, but apparently it is common enough that many black people have noticed it and there are quite a few article written about it.

          Though I wonder if it’s just confirmation bias.

          • Most (if not all) appraisals are calculating using nearby comps of actual sales and then including adjustments for various factors, such as square footage, bedrooms, age of home, pools, etc. These are all itemized and their value is added or subtracted to the comp price to arrive at the valuation. Looking at the differences between the two valuations would go a long way towards itemizing the $500,000 difference.

            Regardless, I don’t see why an appraiser would be incentivized to either over- or under-value a home based on its owners, unless there are a host of virulent racists hiding among appraisers. BLM would agree with that hypothesis, I’m sure.

        • I don’t know about the “whiteyifying” of the house, but it’s common for real estate agents to declutter a house. Paint the walls beige/off white. So, how much was the result of removing many of the personal belongings unique to the family and making it the blank canvas that is desired. They would have their work cut out with mine. Bold wall colors, furnishings from our time in the military, etc.

          • I agree but staging is typically done for the purposes of selling the property not for appraisals. Nobody cares what color the walls are for valuation unless there is mechanical/structural issue with it.


    • Well, it’s not limited by credit worthiness either, and the default rate is high. And if the students can get a better rate, they should get it. The government should limit the degree to which it competes with private lenders, don’t you think?

      • Yes, I agree but if the government is going to be in the business of school loans it should favor the student. Personally, I think they should stay out of it.

    • John Paul wrote: 3. Agreed, but the student loan interest rate is ridiculous (6-13%). Most car loans or morages aren’t even close to that. In this way, she is right that the government profits off of us

      The primary difference being that if you default on a car loan or mortgage, the car can be repo-ed and the house can be foreclosed. Either way, the bank has an asset. What’s it going to do with your Master’s degree in French Literature?

      I’m not arguing that student loan debt is an intelligently-run system. Far from it. In certain fields, particularly STEM, it can be argued to be a reasonable investment. But I suggest that, as a start, all loan documents be custom-created for the student, ending with something along the lines of:

      Notice: statistical data shows that of students graduating with comparable degrees in your desired field of study, only [9] percent end up working in the field after five years, and the average salary of those who do is [$30,000] per year. What say you skip the middleman, save the dough, and start working at Starbucks now?

      And then we can start chipping away at academia itself, where administrators and lint sorters now outnumber instructional personnel.

    • Agreed, but the student loan interest rate is ridiculous (6-13%)</blockquote.

      Agreed. 6% interest for an unsecured loan to an 18 year-old with no income and no credit history is absurdly cheap. The going rate for unsecured loans to good credit risks is north of 15%. So why is it absurdly cheap? Because it’s subsidized, of course. It’s a public policy choice to invest public money in a way that comes off as a direct loss, because it’s expected the indirect effects are a net benefit for society.

      But if the interest rate is so artificially low, why do so many complain about the interest being unaffordable? Because when you make funding cheap, it allows colleges to charge more, until it’s once again no longer affordable. A failure to understand this dynamic is what got us into this mess in the first place, and (not coincidentally) underlie a number of proposed solutions to the student debt problem. Lower interest rates? Great – make the deal even more of a loser for the public coffers, while enabling universities to hike tuition again until even 2% interest payments break you. Make them dischargeable in bankruptcy? Wouldn’t take long for students to figure out seven years of bad credit is worth not paying off several hundred grand, effectively making the program a blank check machine for higher ed.

    • The most telling and informative expose I’ve found on the student loan debt is available* on Netflix in an episode of Hasan Minhaj’s “Patriot Act,” an entertainingly deadly serious, in-depth, and (as far as I can discover) thoroughly fact-checked series on subjects seldom undertaken by comics. As someone who suffered for decades under the lies and financial machinations of “debt collectors” like Navient and a criminally silent, or actively corrupt, Department of Education who allowed or colluded in this situation – and still do? – watching it was a revelation. It is essential viewing for anyone you know who is about to enter any area of “higher learning” or who is still paying that particular piper. (Some) things have changed (somewhat) since the episode first aired in 2019…

      I don’t even know if Netflix is available. An hour ago, Netflix, Google, YouTube, Firefox, etc. went black …. Only Microsoft Edge remained – the pop-up kudzu vine in the garden of computer programs.

  2. If you can, I’d say take CVS into Special Civil Part. Sometimes it’s the only way to break that stone wall. I think the black Santas are there because they aren’t selling. Interestingly, in life St. Nicholas was probably closer to brown than white, but, whatever, Coca-Cola made him the character he is now.

    1. More racial breakdown.

    2. Their case is going nowhere without an expert. Let them pay some appraiser $10,000 to say this was racist, if they can find one who doesn’t know that is a career-ender.

    3. Personal responsibility is a foreign concept to the Squad.

    4. More accusations of body-shaming when the body is what it’s all about.

    • Re Santa: Coke, but most of all, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” I sympathize with black kids wanting Santa to ‘look like them,” but since all couples are bi-racial now, this should be moot.

  3. Preamble: I wish I could recall the product,but I saw an ad with a bi-racial couple with a child that appeared to be od yet a third origin. Could “adopted” be a new member to the protected classes?

    #2: Maybe they should test their assumption by putting the house on the market and seeing what it actually sells for. That should settle it.

    It is not uncommon for one to get a high valuation from an assessor or even a realtor in order to get the listing. If it works, it is often followed by an advisement to drop the asking price.

  4. Let Sleepy Joe forgive all the student debt. Then listen to all the howling that will go on when the former students get their 1099’s, because, according to the IRS, forgiven debt is income. (Bankruptcy forgiven debts aren’t income, because the bankruptcy code says so.) So they couldn’t afford to pay on the loans, but I’d love to know where they’re going to get the money to pay the tax bill for $100,000+ in income.

    • Normally that is true, but one of the lesser known sweeteners in the American Rescue Act (the 3rd stimulus bill) was that any student loans discharge from 2021 through 2025 did not have to be reported as income. The bill didn’t actually discharge any loans, but if that should happen they don’t have to include them as income (unless, of course, a subsequent law changes that).

      The American Rescue Act is a sea of money flung into the economy (picture industrial scale logging of the Money Tree Forest). In my opinion, it is one of the significant causes for the inflation we’re experiencing now and for the next several years, most likely.

    • Yes, forgive the debt and let the SCHOOLS take the loss! Most of these institutions are greedy for money, power, community land grab, and political influence without paying any taxes. Enough!

  5. regarding #2, yes, appraisals are opinions, but a 33% variation is worth a second look.

    As opinions go, they are fairly well-documented. They compare relevant factors (square footage, rooms, features). The comparables are also going to be critical. If different comps were used, that could significantly affect value. The purpose of the appraisal could also affect things. Appraisers often do not like starting from scratch, if they are trying to support a specific dollar amount in a specific purchase agreement for a specific bank loan, they will pretty much nail that number. Still, even if there is no stated purpose, you would think an earlier appraisal or, more importantly, a sale would act as a floor to the value.

    Or, maybe they got a bad appraiser.

    I would not presume racism, but something does not seem quite right.


      • Correct. Not seeming right makes it worthy of further investigation. Can’t do that here, since we do not have any appraisals.

        However, after reading the article, I am less skeptical. They bought it low, re-financed it a couple times when they got the low number 4 years after purchasing it. That low number was still significantly higher than the original purchase price, but below one of the other appraisals. And, there was substantial renovations that went on without being subject to the market. Also, those other appraisals were not public record, as far as I know; a sale, however, would be.

        More than before, I think the comps are crucial because the renovations done to this house may outstrip houses in the neighborhood. If good comps are hard to come by, you could get screwy numbers.

        After reading the article, I can imagine a non-racist basis for the discrepancies in the appraisals.


  6. Re: No. 3; the Runaway Student Loan Problem.

    It seems that the issue is much bigger than lots of student loan debt. The Obama Administration effectively federalized/nationalize student loan debt in 2010. There is a correlation between that action and the costs of higher education, along with student loans. Add to that the treatment of student loan debts in bankruptcy (which essentially renders them non-dischargeable), and you have the makings of a real mess. Why has the cost of a college education skyrocketed? It can’t be that the value of education has increased so dramatically over the last 10 to 15 years to justify the increase. So, what is it? Could it be that colleges and universities thought, “well, the feds are guarantying our costs, and our operating costs are really high, so why can’t we increase our prices by just a little and see what happens?” They did, and people paid the costs, lots with student loans. Now, the schools have no incentive to minimize their costs. Why would they? Post-graduation employment figures have no bearing on tuition costs, so it falls on the student to pay the price and the added interest costs. Perhaps if the feds got out of the college education business and let market forces dictate the problem would solve itself.


    • There is an article circulating on how UC Berkeley pays salaries and materiel to the tune of 25 million dollars a year on JEDI-related expenses (JEDI: Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion). I don’t think it’s a coincidence that despite a huge magnifying glass being put over these institutions, they’ve taken opportunity over the last decade to even more seriously bloat the cost of education… They know what the game is, they know that the people in power support the mandates, they have no incentive to reign in spending, because inflating the debt number is politically expedient for them.

      • Haha, hey, what makes you think you Hellenics have exclusive rights to the olive tree? 😀 Anyone between 30 degrees and 45 degrees north and south of the equator can make that claim. I think I’ve only gotten cooked once, there is NO shade at these airshows and I can only withstand about 5 hours direct exposure with no sunscreen.

    • Actually he lived in Asia Minor probably a good 700 years before the Turks ruled there (Manzikert, 1071), BUT, being of Hellenic descent (at least according to what we know), most likely he was olive-skinned and dark haired (at least initially) and eyed like yours truly. Maybe he was a shade or two darker because he probably did not have any blood of lighter-skinned folks.

      • I did say modern-day Turkey which in my opinion does a better job of putting a location into American minds than Asia Minor. So between ethnicity and lack of sunscreen… *shrug*

        No doubt if you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the real Santa rather than one of the shopping-mall based assistants he appears in whatever way your brain finds most fitting.

        • I dunno, I thought I saw the real deal once, when I was about 7, but that was just part of a dream. 😀 Truth be told, between the beard, the long white hair, and the red suit you see very little else. Ho! Ho! Ho!

        • BTW, what’s the difference between St. George and St. Nicholas?

          One slays a dragon, the other drags a sleigh! 😀

          Honk! Honk! Wocka! Wocka!

          • Dragons are canonical so forget the Secret Vatican Archive (which clearly isn’t secret, just exclusive) I wanna visit the Secret Vatican Zoo.

  7. 2)That does seem rather odd, but one thing missing is the time frame — how long between the two appraisals. I heard someone mention 3 weeks or 9 months.

    If 9 months — it actually could well have gone up that much. The housing market has been insane recently. I had a client a couple months ago who was expecting to list her house for ca. $750 or so. She ended up getting over a million for it — there were several bids for it over the asking price.

  8. I have two thoughts.

    First, I didn’t believe his story because, who walks in frigid weather to get a Subway sandwich, especially when you have at least modest enough wealth to order it through a delivery app? The day he allegedly was attacked was really cold (I don’t remember the exact temperature). The walk also wasn’t just up the street either (though I again forget how far it actually was).

    Second, I think a lot of the media was skeptical of him. I have a co-worker who is black, and his parents are pretty liberal. When the story came out, they thought Smollet was lying. So, I’m not really sure all these journalists believed him. I think they were just afraid of doing actual journalism because of Smollet’s race. Either way, still untrustworthy.

  9. I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I’m not sure that I’ve said it before here:

    I’m against student loan forgiveness, not only because of the obvious financial fallout such payouts would incur, not only because of the lack of fairness inherent in what would be a massive, generationally felt wealth shift (both ways), but the sheer immorality of asking the tax base to subsidize the wealthy.

    Regardless of the number of people who get their BAs so they can work in a Starbucks, the fact of the matter is that on average, the best indicator of future wealth is an education. Period. Education is an investment in yourself, and depending on the kind of education, it might be more expensive. Ideally, the expense of the education is more than offset by the increase in quality of life and future earnings. If you’ve made awful life decisions and your education didn’t translate into a job that didn’t involve inquiries on the portioning of oil scalded potatoes, that seems like a massive personal failure.

    Anecdote time: My cousin took 7 years in biology because she wanted to be a marine biologist and play with dolphins. Then reality hit her and she realized there’s maybe 10 positions in Canada that allow for that, and there’s a lot of competition. Dejected, she abandoned her dreams of permanent arrested development and took a 6 month ag certificate, and became an agronomist instead. I deeply envy and resent the amount of money she makes (not really).

    So sure, people with a significant amount of student loan debt might not be wealthy now, but they will be in a decade. And so student loan forgiveness is a direct pipeline to people who will eventually nest in the top quintile of earners, from a tax base made up in part of people who have less and will make less. It’s unconscionable.

  10. 3. I’m currently paying for my child’s tuition, I paid off my student loans. Do I get reimbursed? No. Not only that, I will be paying for daycare via tax dollars for the rest of my life. If I wanted to pay for someone’s daycare or college tuition, I would. There’s plenty of scholarships, grants and programs to contribute to. It’s a huge business, and this will just bring more predators into it to prey on the young and innocent. If they wanted to do something meaningful, make the colleges who lose their accreditation cancel the student debts. Make them not alter credit requirements once the kids begin a major so they can finish on time. As far as interest rates, it’s fair to say they’re charging too much. It’s a debt you really can’t get out of easily. If it’s a risky loan that requires a high rate of interest, then maybe they need to limit it to degrees with a job at the end.

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