September, 2011


Americans have lost hundreds of billions of dollars in investment frauds and scams over the past few years. Remember Bernie Madoff? Allen Stanford? Subprime mortgage derivatives? It seems odd to me that investment and consumer fraud is not a hot political issue right now. None of the candidates for president are talking about it at all. If suppressing consumer fraud was important to the U.S. government, I think that one of the first things they would do is force the 'free credit report' companies to take the word 'free' out of their names. All of the companies in this business have names that clearly imply that their service is free, when in fact, it is very expensive. I know 2 people who each paid over $500 for 'free credit reports' and received nothing of value in exchange. I think that if the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) ruled that 'free credit report' companies had to take the word 'free' out of their names and their advertising, the whole industry would collapse overnight.

The ubiquitous television commercials for 'free credit reports' also claim that by signing up for their service, you can 'get control over your credit.' That's nonsense! If you want a good credit score, pay your bills. If you don't pay your bills, you will wind up with bad credit, and none of these so-called 'free credit report' companies can do anything about that. Neither you nor they can get negative information out of your credit report if that information is true. Before ordering a 'free credit report', you should first read: Phony Free Credit Reports. If you would like to get a really free credit report on yourself, and with no strings attached, go to:


California law does not require adults to wear bicycle helmets, and many people will not wear them. They know that what they are doing is risky and that when a bicycle and an automobile collide, it is the bicyclist who winds up in the hospital.

2 years ago, I was driving home in my car from downtown Berkeley. I stopped at the corner of Fulton and Haste. While I was waiting to make a turn, a middle aged man on a bicycle rode directly into my car. He landed on my car's windshield, head first. He was not wearing a helmet. Then he slid off the car's hood and fell onto the street. By a strange coincidence, a nurse I know was standing on the corner and saw this happen. I called the police. When the paramedics arrived, they asked the man if he was OK. He said he was. They helped him onto his feet. Then he then got onto his bicycle and rode away. Neither the medics nor the policemen wrote up a report, which surprised me. I asked the paramedics why they didn't take this man to the hospital. One of them said: "Oh, he's one of our regulars. He rides his bicycle into cars all the time." I had noticed that the man had several scars on his face and was missing most of his front teeth. I left the scene shaken, but relieved.

California law does require that motorcyclists wear helmets, but many bikers refuse to do so. Their usual reason is that they don't believe that the government has a right to prohibit people from engaging in risky personal behavior and that they are 'making a point' or 'teaching them a lesson' about individual freedom by riding their motorcycles without helmets. See last month's article: Teaching Your Car A Lesson.

July 4, 2011. CNN. A bareheaded motorcyclist participating in a ride to protest mandatory helmet laws was killed when he was thrown over his handlebars in Onondaga, New York. Philip A. Contos, 55, was on a ride organized by ABATE, a group opposed to mandatory helmet laws. Contos hit his brakes, began fishtailing and lost control. He shot over the handlebars and hit his head on the pavement. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. State police said that evidence at the scene plus information from the attending medical expert indicated that Contos would have likely survived if he had been wearing a helmet as required by state law. See: Bareheaded Motorcyclist Dies.

The point of this story is: wear your helmet! You are not teaching anyone a lesson by riding a bicycle without a helmet. You are just letting passersby know that you're a fool.


I have 2 freebies this month.

Noah's Bagels Gift Cards. I have a bunch of $10 Noah's Bagels gift cards. They are good at all Noah's locations. If you want one, just come on over and pick it up. They are in the chocolate room.

Treasure Island Flea Market Free Admission Cards. Each card is good for free admission for up to 3 people. Parking is also free. This is one of the best flea markets in the Bay Area. It is held only one weekend a month. During the remainder of 2011, it will be held September 24-25, October 29-30, and November 26-27. Even if you don't care for flea markets, this is worth a trip. Treasure Island is a large man-made island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. It was built for the 1939 San Francisco World's Fair. You can drive to Treasure Island. Take the Bay Bridge and exit on Yerba Buena Island, which connects to Treasure Island. There are numerous high quality food vendors at the flea market, and there are picnic tables and a walkway around the island. The views from the island of San Francisco and the East Bay are really spectacular!

About Freebies. My lawyer advised me to add: "All 'freebies' mentioned in this newsletter and on the web site are offered exclusively to the current tenants of Mark Tarses." I understand why he wants me to say that. Every once in a while, I get an e-mail like the one below, which I received in July:

"Hi! I just found your web site on Google. It says you have a free chocolate store for tenants. OMG! That is awesome! I'm a Berkeley tenant, but my landlord doesn't have a free chocolate store. I asked him. What are the hours of your free chocolate store? Is there a limit on how much I can take? Do you make 420 truffles? Their (sic) my favorite."

A '420 truffle' (pronounced 'four-twenty') is a chocolate truffle filled with marijuana. I don't make them myself, but there are lots of people in Berkeley who do. I did not reply to this message. Can you imagine anyone calling his landlord and asking him: "Do you have a free chocolate store?" I wonder what that landlord must have thought when he got that phone call. Over the years, I have received many e-mails like the one above, which is why I have a sign on my front door that says:

Berkeley Nut Co.
free chocolate store
is open to the public
every day except
Saturday, Sunday,
and Weekdays.

"How do you make money giving away chocolate?" Last year, I gave my tenants over 2,000 pounds of chocolate, cookies, and confections. You may not believe this, but I meet people all the time who think that my free chocolate room makes money. They just can't figure out how I do it. Many people assume that the chocolate bars I give away are free samples. A free sample is a concept that everybody understands. I tell people that these aren't free samples, and that all my chocolate is free. That leaves a lot of people visibly confused.

Goodwill. I think that the money I spend on my chocolate is money well spent because I get a lot of goodwill out of it. I've been a Berkeley landlord for 40 years. I've never been involved in a lawsuit with a tenant, and I've never seen an eviction notice. Sadly, a lot of businesses are run by people who do not understand or care about goodwill. I know landlords who have never spent a dime on goodwill and have no idea why anyone else does.

"It's a tax write-off." When someone who does not understand goodwill asks me why I give away chocolate, I tell him: "It's a tax write-off." That answer seems to satisfy everybody. Everyone has seen movies or TV shows in which a character says that he is making money running an unprofitable business because 'it's a tax write-off.' Actually, our nation's income tax laws don't work that way. 'It's a tax write-off' is just a line that Hollywood script writers use to explain away an obvious flaw in the logic of a story, like how a business that is always losing money is able to stay in business and pay it's employees. You can't really make money, either before or after taxes, by giving away chocolate - or cars, or houses, or battleships, or anything else. Businesses make money by selling or renting things at a profit, not by giving them a away. (Hopefully, you already knew that.)

Mark Tarses

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