Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life

June 24, 2012

Legal Views

Comments Off on Increasing Formality in Crossing Borders


Below are some of the common variations in requirements imposed by nations in allowing foreigners into their country.

A treaty based unfettered right: This exists in the European Union. Once you are admitted by one nation, you may simply travel to any of the nations participating in the treaty.

A very informal entry procedure: This is what I experienced a lot as a child in crossing the U.S./Canada border. No passport was required until 2009. The questions by customs or immigration officers might be an inquiry as to your name, the purpose of your visit, whether you were bringing in new purchases and the like.

A passport is required: This requirement respects the procedures of the visitor’s nation in having a secure passport issuance system. The nation to which you are applying for admission can be confident that if your name appears on their data bases, it is indeed you. They can deny your application for entry if their records indicate doing so is lawful and prudent under their laws, regulations and policies.

A passport and a visa are required: This is a robust system, where the passport is issued by the citizen’s home country and the nation being visited issues a visa. The visa often includes a photographic image, signature, the passport number, and the rights of the visitor such as the duration and allowed purpose of the visit. The U.S. requires the visa holder to inform the U.S. of their location within the U.S. a few days after they are admitted. The visitor is essentially registered with our federal government.


June 24, 2012

Miscellaneous Comment

Comments Off on My Five Least Favorite Presidents

My five least favorite presidents in reverse order are:

Barack Obama Our prestigious law professor president who taught at a prestigious law school and forgot that the federal government was supposed to enjoy only those powers enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. His interpretation of the commerce clause is not consistent with limited government. If the individual mandate of the health care act had been upheld by the Supreme Court based on the Commerce Clause as he supported, we would have had a government with unlimited power except where that power was not specifically granted by the Constitution. That is completely backwards, a departure from the principle of a limited federal government.

He has kept us in two wars for way too long, as well.

Jimmy Carter  A pacifist who let his strong personal beliefs impair the perceived strength of the United States by our antagonists. Sometimes there is less violence if your enemies believe there will be a strong response to their bad choices.

Richard Nixon  The Watergate cover-up was unconscionable. The man had no notion of being subject to the laws that all of us must follow as citizens.

Franklin D. Roosevelt  He did two things (at least) that caused irreparable damage to the United States. The Social Security Act was a good idea, but its funding, with the young paying for the old instead of transitioning to a vesting system set us up for the funding problems we now face. The second decision harmed the environment by diverting the waters of the Columbia River, and killing the largest of the salmon varieties on the face of the earth. He was instrumental in the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam.

Number Five  I am open to your suggestions.



June 3, 2012

Legal Views, Money and Finance

Comments Off on Is Your Identification in Good Shape?

Recent trends are causing new problems with our identification.  For example, as of 2011, birth certificates issued by American jurisdictions that do not list the parents of the applicant no longer constitute proof of citizenship for issuance of a passport. This is a problem for people applying for passports and can be one for those who hold U.S. passports but fail to renew them.

Lawyers and financial advisers ask about estate planning, but seldom check whether the client has adequate documentation of their identification. Here is a short check list to make sure you have the basics covered.


1. Is the name you are using the same on the most recent of the following documents: name change order, order of dissolution or divorce, marriage license, and birth certificate? If not, it is time to visit the local court house. This is the kind of law, petitioning to change your name, for which you should not need a lawyer in many jurisdictions. In Washington, the courts of limited jurisdiction often have simple forms available.

2. Do you have adequate proof of citizenship or other proof of your right to be in the United States? As stated earlier, if your proof of birth does not list your parents, it is time to contact the state or territory where you were born to get a new certificate of birth. This can take many weeks, and should be done even if you have no immediate need for a passport.

3. Are all your important records under the same name? These include your legal name as established by the documents listed in item no. 1 above, your academic records, your certificate of citizenship if applicable, licenses you hold, your social security and tax records, and your business and credit records.

4. Can you prove citizenship to a country other than the United States? Some Americans  enjoy citizenship to more than one nation. Dual citizens may not wish to take any action to prove a second citizenship, and that is fine. Reasons might include the need for U.S. government security clearances, which can be impossible to acquire if you have exercised rights as a foreign national while an American. But proving citizenship to a country can take a long time, and can grow in difficulty as ancestors die and records and memories of residences fade. It is silly to wish to move somewhere immediately and find it will take you a year or more to do it when a little advance work at your leisure would have made the move easy and quick.

Because of changes in the documentation required by the United States to cross the U.S./Canada border a few years ago, I realized that the documents I had did not allow travel between the two countries, despite being a citizen of both.  My decision to get an enhanced driver’s license was a good one, but the state would only issue it with my name as it appeared on my U.S. Certificate of Citizenship. That name was different than the one I use. It was different than the one on my state licenses, credit records, real estate holdings, and even different than the one on my social security records.  I would not have been able to use my license as identification with credit cards or even in court to prove I was a lawyer – the bar association records would not have matched my common picture identification. So I obtained a new birth certificate; the old one was not valid and had not been since 1994. I then changed my name to the one I use for all other purposes and applied for the enhanced driver’s license. I recently obtained a passport using the name that is mine for all purposes. The benefits are personal, but also inure to my survivors. They can prove that the guy named on my death certificate is the same dude that holds various assets without resorting to affidavits or worse (because more costly, difficult, risky, and time-consuming), going to court to have a judge decide the two names used to identify me were for the same person. Note that taking care of identification problems now is easier and cheaper than waiting until you or your survivors need a lawyer arguing in court to sort things out.

March 11, 2012

Money and Finance, Opinion

Comments Off on A Shift in the U.S. Housing Paradigm

Many years ago my then boss explained that you could live in a house for nothing; every payment would be covered by the appreciation in value. What a deal! It will be unlikely for you to agree with all of my conclusions about the housing market, but see how far off the mark the following lists are.

The Old Thoughts

Housing is an investment for the owner-occupant.

You cannot lose money in housing. Finance as much as possible to maximize leveraging.

There will be a growing demand for housing as long as the population increases.

Repair before selling to maximize profit.

Be careful of location. Buy the worst house in the best neighborhood.

Buy in a great school district.

Houses sell quickly, so buying for an upwardly mobile and career-oriented individual is a great decision.

The New Paradigm

Housing is an expense. The land is a small portion of the expenditure, so it’s better to think of a house as a depreciating asset.

You can lose a lot of money in housing. The greater the purchase price, the greater the opportunity for loss.

The demand for housing is amazingly elastic. Even with increasing population, demand can decrease as the average number of occupants per dwelling increases, and those demographic groups who typically buy cannot due to unemployment and low wages.

Caution is warranted with improvements and repairs made in preparation for sale. Cleaning, painting and yard work are okay, and you’ll have to make repairs anyway if the buyer uses FHA financing, which is quite common now. But improvements will yield 50 cents on the dollar at sale if you’re lucky. (The real estate agents will still encourage you to repair houses.  The reason is simple. Most agents still work on commission. Repairs and improvements speed sales. Agents are happy to earn 5% on the 50% of value remaining for each dollar you spent.)

Location is still important, but can be trumped by a shrinking local economy that was impossible to predict.

Renting may be better for those who will pursue career goals perhaps with a move to another city. Career aspirations and where we live can be antagonistic goals now, especially if we own a house.

February 19, 2012

Current Events, Money and Finance, Opinion

Comments Off on The Curse of Fame or the Risk of Wealth?

The Seattle Times published an essay by Kathleen Parker on February 15 entitled Whitney Houston: the Curse of Fame. The earliest comments to the article disagreed with Ms. Parker, assuming that Whitney died of a drug or alcohol overdose and emphasizing that Ms. Houston made her own bad choices. This is a case where you can agree with both viewpoints; there is no inconsistency. Whitney did make bad choices in how she lived, perhaps for almost the last two decades of her life. However, her situation, with lots of money, low education, the rigors of performing, and the company she kept certainly changed the risk of making those bad choices.  In all fairness, the comments as of today are more balanced than the early few. For example, one noted that there are actually few people with fame that succumb to self-indulgence and mind-altering substances.

Ms. Parker’s editorial is thought-provoking. Fame does not mandate stupid choices, but the loss of privacy is usually inherent, pernicious and irreversible. How many of us want our worst behavior, greatest weaknesses, physical infirmities, and social missteps known to all? This loss is costly, and not just economically. Have you ever gone shopping without wanting to meet anyone you knew or who knew of you?

It is very easy to think that more wealth would improve our lives and make things almost perfect for us; that the negatives accompanying wealth are minor annoyances. The truth is more harsh. Wealth brings about some serious problems. Everybody is friendly to you, even people that do not like you. It is difficult to distinguish friend from foe. Good choices, like learning a craft, volunteering, returning to college, starting a new profession late in life, exercising, limiting the intake of excellent liquor, avoiding expensive drugs whether legal or not, exercising, helping others, and even deciding to perform some menial labor on your own house (or at one of your estates) can become difficult choices and seem like silly things to do.

I have long noted the effects of wealth on people generally, and term the potential bad consequences from some choices open to them as “wealth risk.” The wealthy can buy cars with top speeds near 200 mph that are street legal. They can sky dive, engage in rock climbing, buy illegal drugs in copious quantities, and engage in many activities that are more risky than working forty hours each week.

It seems most of us should find happiness in our present circumstances and get to a point where we might change very little of our lives with an unexpected infusion of wealth.

January 14, 2012

Money and Finance

1 comment

My wife and I are practicing frugality to a greater extent than ever, despite there being no pressing need by what I would guess to be the standards of most people. There has been no job loss nor huge expense. All debts are retired, and cash flow has never been better.

The reasons for this behavior are hard to understand, but are likely related to a basic affinity for some level of frugality that is in our nature, our experience in knowing depression era parents and grandparents, and the recent plunge of the middle class who were not careful with their expenditures or who were unlucky in timing and have moved to that nervous group who struggle to pay the mortgage, fuel bills, car loans, etc. etc.

So here are some money savings ideas:

1. Keep your driving to a minimum. For example, shop on the way home from work to reduce the number of trips.

2. Drive a car that sips gasoline. We put most of our miles on a Honda Civic that gets 32 to 39 miles per gallon, and usually gets 34 to 36. We also have two 4 wheel drive pickups that are driven 2000 to 3000 miles each per year, only as needed to carry loads or when a second vehicle is needed.

3. I bring a sack lunch to work every day.

4. My sack lunch is double bagged. Two bags last much longer than twice as long as a single bag. Yes, I carry my lunch in the same bags for many weeks.

5. We shop at a few good stores: Trader Joe’s, Costco; Fred Meyer; WalMart, and Home Depot.

6. We do not pay interest or bank fees.

7. We fix stuff ourselves: ABS brake failures, intake manifold gasket replacements, electrical failures and additions, appliances, plumbing failures, roof replacements, adding windows, building structures, replacing engines, sweeping chimneys, etc. Sometimes we hire work done and watch the repair so that we can do it ourselves the next time. Health permitting, this will be the case with our septic system dosing pump, which was replaced last November. It cost $2500 and I can do a much better job myself for less than $1000. It will be done faster, too.

8. Top load washing machines work great and are cheaper than front load. Saving water with front load technology seems silly; our wash water is plenty dirty.

9. Pressed shirts last two days in winter, when a T-shirt is beneath.

10. Cheap Norelco shavers work great.

11. Non-name brand or bulk bathroom supplies from Costco or WalMart are good enough.

12. I do not need an i-phone at $70 per month. My old flip phone works fine.

13. Basic cable television service is good enough.

14. I buy cars new and keep them for no less than 11 years. My F-150 will be 16 years old in March.

15. We make an effort to clean and repair things to keep them longer than average.

16. We do not have trash pick-up service in this rural area. We haul our trash to the transfer station a few times per year in the old F-150.

17. We service our own water treatment equipment.

18. Reverse osmosis (RO) water is cheaper than bottled water and makes excellent coffee.

19. We essentially do not eat at restaurants.

20. Yes, we eat food that is past the pull date. We are still alive.

21. We never go to movie theatres. Our home theatre with BlueRay, Dolby 5.1, and 37 inch HD television is just fine.

22. Coffee is whole bean and comes in a 3 pound bag from Costco. It is San Fransisco brand, not Starbucks.

23. We have money for great dental care, medical care, and other professional services as needed.

24. Light colored laundry goes into a duffel bag I carried as a Boy Scout in 1967. That is 45 years ago. It has some holes in it, but they are too small still for the dirty laundry to fall through.

December 21, 2011

Current Events, Opinion

Comments Off on U.S. Congress Is Dysfunctional

The U.S. Congress is spending more time on the Social Security payroll tax cut than they did debating the invasion of Iraq. As a body, they decided quickly to illegally invade a nation based on erroneous intelligence that even if correct did not justify their action. This cost thousands of young Americans their lives and left many with physical and mental injuries. It cost about $1 trillion, give or take some trivial billions.

The payroll tax cut is an allocation decision among various accounts: the national debt, the social security trust fund, and the net worth of American families. On average, all three accounts or classes of accounts are in trouble. Therefore the decision on whether to continue the lower tax rate is almost trivial.

Perhaps we should recommend that Congress establish a special commission to study how a large group of intelligent people can be stupid in their collective actions. The first body to study will be the U.S. Congress.

November 13, 2011


Comments Off on Guest Post

The following post originated on www.honeybeesuite.com and was written by Rusty. It is posted here with the author’s permission. Thank you, Rusty.

The feds forced me to use insecticide

. . . and ticked me off no end. Although I spend vast amounts of time and energy preaching the dangers of indiscriminate pesticide use, last week the FHA forced me to hire an exterminator and spray for non-existent anobiid beetles. I argued and pleaded, but no amount of logic had any effect on the all-knowing and all-powerful FHA. In short: no spray, no sale. End of argument.

It all started when my husband and I decided to sell a rental house we owned in downtown Olympia. The house was built in 1906 and was completely remodeled by a VA finish carpenter in the early 1980s. We purchased it in 1997 and kept it in rental service until September of this year. The house had been a great investment, but we were tired of being landlords and decided to get out.

We told our real estate agent in advance that we did not want to accept offers based on FHA loans, but he assured us it would be “no problem” so we reluctantly let him check off the FHA box. Sure enough, the first offer that came in was from a first-time home buyer seeking an FHA loan.

The problems started almost immediately when the certified pest inspector crawled under the house and photographed what he called an anobiid beetle infestation. Although neither of us had ever heard of such a creature, we studied the photos and decided he was crazy. When the carpenter re-built the house in the early 1980s he apparently found some weak joists under the floor, some of which had beetle holes. At the time he “sistered” these with new lumber. This simply means he installed new joists alongside the old ones to add strength and minimize distortion.

The photographs clearly showed the old wood with the beetle holes and the “new” (1980s) wood without a single hole or any other damage. We reasoned that if there were active beetles down there, they would have started boring into the “new” wood by this time. After all the “new’ wood is now thirty years old. Furthermore, an associate of my husband assured him that if anobiid beetles were active down there all these years there wouldn’t be a house left to sell.

Instead of listening to logic the bank was adamant. The spray had to be completed and the beetles “certified” dead. I couldn’t—and can’t—believe that a branch of the federal government would require us to spray poison in a dwelling as a condition of sale—a poison that will seep through the floorboards and into the home—a poison that isn’t necessary—a poison that the new owner will get to breathe and live with for who knows how long. I asked how this was ethical. But no one seemed to care. “Just do it and get it over with,” I was told.

So I did. It was the last thing on my list because I didn’t want to go back into that house after it was sprayed. I choose an exterminator—the $250 guy—who I liked better than the $500 guy, who I liked marginally better than the $600 guy.

Turns out, I really did like the $250 guy. He was a large man who arrived wearing a bushy gray beard and knee pads. He had a hand sprayer that he filled from a big tank on the back of his truck. I eyed him doubtfully but he managed to marshmallow himself into the tiny crawlspace opening. He spent all of fifteen minutes under there and then reappeared, spanking thirty years of dust from his fleece vest. “I’m done,” he said, “but there ain’t no beetles down there. Never was.”

I asked about the holes in the old wood. “Them’s exit holes,” he said. “No entrance holes. Dry as a bone down there.”

He went on to explain that in the old days, before wood was kiln dried, the lumber might contain anobiid beetles that entered the wood while the tree was still standing in the forest. If the wood was used in a damp environment, the beetles could thrive and you would see entrance holes and sawdust where the larvae bored back in. If you see only exit holes, the environment was too dry to support them and they died. End of story. Kiln drying kills the beetles, which explains why they are no longer a common pest.

I wrote a check and received my precious “pest certification.” As I walked back to my truck I could smell the pesticide seeping from the crawlspace. I thought of those molecules landing in the soil, washing away in the coming rains, and racing through the storm drains to pool in the estuaries where fingerling salmon try to survive their first year—all for a pest that doesn’t exist and never did. It’s so sad I wanted to cry.




September 18, 2011

Money and Finance, Opinion

Comments Off on A Report Card for the United States

If I were to outline the chief responsibilities of any central government, I would only include three essential functions: (1) the common defense, assuring that the nation is not conquered; (2) assuring that human rights are preserved; (3) operating the government with fiscal prudence. The report card for the United States government would be:

Defense: B

The U.S. has achieved the essential objective against our enemies, defeating them and keeping them outside our borders. A higher grade would correspond to not invading countries based on bad data and without justification, and by achieving great results at less expense.

Human Rights: B+

The U.S., despite some glitches and gaffes, has done quite well in this regard. Exceptions include over-regulation (100 watt lamps as we know them are about to be illegal to produce and sell; prohibition was silly; and the internment of the Japanese and modern airport security are a few other exceptions to a good record.)

Fiscal Prudence: D

By not creating a surplus within ten years, we are counting on inflation to reduce the ratio of debt to GDP. This is so bad that it is essentially a failure to even admit the magnitude of the problem, always the first and essential step in solving one. This D has a good chance of becoming an F if it leads to the result that is increasingly probable, a decline in the wealth and power of the United States.

September 18, 2011

Miscellaneous Comment

Comments Off on My Australian Cattle Dog

He is named Q2 (for Quimby II)

The veterinarian said my ACD will be a good dog. I take this to mean she well understands that this four month old pup isn’t good yet; the old negative pregnant. Of course, her assessment is correct. The dog is remarkable in many ways, and many of the good behaviors are quite surprising in a young dog. He comes to us reliably; he walks with us with or without a leash; he sits and lets us connect or disconnect the leash; and he can  successfully play a formal game of fetch, abiding by the commands: sit, stay, fetch, and give (me the ball). He is untied all day and doesn’t leave our property. He helps us move water and air hoses, and releases them with the command “give.”

But his bad habits are frustrating and taking a toll. He is destroying our drip irrigation piece by piece. He still jumps on us to greet us. And he loves to chew our Adirondack chairs. He also likes to herd us, nipping the back of our legs, then running in circles and barking with great energy, even right after a four-mile walk.

Despite the problems, which my wife and I are working on diligently, he actually is a good buddy.

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