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

July 16, 2011

Managing Debt, Money and Finance, Opinion

Comments Off on U.S. Efforts at Deficit Reduction

News concerning debt ceiling negotiations recently mentioned three plans by  Mr. Obama to cut the deficit. The most aggressive, and offered as such, is a $3 trillion cut.  He did not say that we will cut $3 trillion over ten years, or an average of $300 billion per year. Assuming an equal cut per year, a big leap, this is only a 20% cut in the current deficit,  reducing the deficit to about $1.2 trillion per year. And it is quite likely the majority of the cuts will be delayed to affect future administrations.  Thus, the unsustainable and profligate spending will continue,  providing substantial annual additions to the $14.3 trillion debt of the United States. The Republicans are correct that this level of deficit reduction simply postpones more instances of raising the debt ceiling in the future. Also, cutting the deficit the same amount each year over ten years is not in the interests of Mr. Obama because delaying the cuts helps his chances for re-election.

Stated differently, the current debate is not about reducing or eliminating the debt of the United States. It is about finding an agreement on the appropriate rate at which the debt should increase!  If the United States eliminated the deficit, there would be no need to increase the debt ceiling.

Paul Krugman and many Democrats argue that this is not the time to cut government spending because we need to create jobs. They are right, except that the U.S. government cannot afford to do the best thing. We spent too much during good times and bad since World War II, creating a huge debt load.

The Republicans are against raising taxes. They are wrong. Taxes must rise to resolve this. They should agree to a ten year tax increase, with a sunset provision and a tax trigger, causing the application of the tax only if deficit spending is at or below an agreed annual target. Cutting Social Security benefits is within the authority of Congress, but they should not do it for anyone who is paying social security taxes. We are relying on Social Security for our retirements and will need much of that income to cover medical insurance costs, especially if we retire prior to attaining the Medicare eligibility age of 65.

News organizations should be more factual in reporting what is happening, clarifying when someone refers to a reduction over a ten year period and leaves the period of the reduction out of the statement. News organizations should be clear that the debt will continue to rise irrespective of which party dominates the outcome. And finally, news organizations should simply stop reporting on these negotiations daily. The budget, tax law, spending, and debt management are under the exclusive control of Congress and Mr. Obama. They made this mess; they need to solve it.

The average citizen is simply stuck with what passes Congress and is signed by Obama. Congress and Mr. President, please do your job and tell us the truth about what you are doing. We don’t hold the power to decide this issue, but you may not get re-elected if you continue to screw this up.

June 11, 2011

How to

Comments Off on Security for a Manual Residential Garage Door

 

Locks for non-automatic garage doors can simply be inadequate on a modern house, as mine was. It had numerous shortcomings:

  • It had a low security key, indicating the lock could be picked easily.
  • Removing two Philips screws and turning the tee handle and the flange together allowed entry without a key.
  • The old snap latch became smooth with use allowing the door to be opened when the latch slid over the catch even when you thought the door was locked.
  • The snap latch was sharp and the shaft of the tee handle protruded on the inside, snagging skin and clothing.
  • I wanted a higher security key, one that matched my other five locks on the house, cabin and pump house.

My goals in security are few and simple:

  • If someone is at home, an intruder must spend enough time and make enough noise prior to entry so that the occupant can be armed and ready to stop the intruder.
  • If no one is at home, there must to be visible damage to the house so the owner can understand the method of entry and, preferably, know something is wrong before entering.

The instructions for the new lock only included replacement installations, not those for a new installation. Based on the instructions and the lack of seeing the system I installed on newer homes, I suspect many homes without automatic garage door openers have low security garage door locks similar to the one I replaced. The new lock and handle remind me of how the garage doors worked in the houses of my youth, houses built in the forties through the sixties.

There are several feature that are convenient with the new installation:

  • You can see whether the door is locked or not from a distance. This is convenient for the owner, but a bit of a risk if a potential burglar knows the door is unlocked from afar.
  • There is no obvious way to defeat the lock without damaging the door.
  • You can re-key the lock to match your other house locks.
  • You can close the door without having the door latch each time. Closing the door and locking it are two separate actions.

The installation is a bit tricky. Install the new tee handle first. It is retained with a spring washer. Then install the sheet metal cam that has the notch for the bolt. Use washers for a tight fit, then install the inner handle and the pin to lock the inner handle in place.

Then mount the interior lock bolt assembly. Make sure the bolt fits in the cam slot well and that the cam clears the interior bolt assembly through its range of motion when the bolt is within the assembly. Remove the bolt assembly, draw a line on the garage door that connects the centers of the two top holes and mark the center of the line. Measure from this center point on the lock bolt assembly to the center of the lock operator, where the cylinder bar will enter the bolt assembly. Mark this spot on the door. Do not drill the cylinder hole at this point. The bar is not at the center of the cylinder. Measure the offset of the bar from the center of the cylinder, and transfer this measurement to the door. The new mark will be above the lock operator mark. This will be the center of the cylinder. Double check all measurements and visualize the relationship of the cylinder with the bolt assembly. Use a punch to dent the door to receive your hole saw drill bit. An error on drilling the hole for the cylinder will require installation of repair plates, not a pretty outcome. Measure twice and cut once. Doors that are thin will require a firm backer piece for the handle, cylinder and lock.  A good piece of hardwood will stay in place if secured by the tee handle and fastened to the door with two carriage bolts with the nuts on the inside for security.

I found the parts on line, but had to call the outfit to get what I needed – the website was light on detail and parts information. The long bars come in sizes for 8 and 9 ft. doors, assuming a center handle mounting. Mine is a double wide garage door, so I just used one bar. I used the other hole on the disk or cam for the spring. If you use two bars, attach the spring to one of them. Stretch the spring slightly when the door is unlocked, so that the door becomes unlocked smartly with spring force when the locking bolt is withdrawn. Do not forget to order the spring; they are made for this application and you may not find one at your local home center. Also, ask for the pins that connects the long bar with the disks or cam. The vendor forgot to include those in my order.

May 15, 2011

Opinion

1 comment

My wife commented that some of the big companies, like Wells Fargo, serve us quite well and that some of the local shops disappoint. Except for noting that Wells Fargo wouldn’t seem so good if we paid the fees for bouncing checks, I had to agree. Some businesses we like:

Costco: Narrow selection of excellent products at great prices. They do the hard work for you; if a supplier raises prices excessively, they drop the product. Their return policy has been a life saver in those rare instances when we buy a lemon.

Nordstrom: Too expensive for us in general, but the only place to buy a man’s suit. You get what you pay for. Their adjustments give you the look of a tailored suit.

Harbor Freight: Great prices on all kinds of tools. Sometimes the quality is low, but care and study will usually be a sufficient guide for you in deciding what your needs are, as long as you do not make the mistake of assuming low quality correlates with low price. It is not necessarily so at Harbor Freight.

Wells Fargo: Great service and good terms on accounts. You save money if you do not break the rules, such as bouncing checks. They give the best mortgage statements in the business, providing you with the remaining principal owed each month.

Home Depot: Pretty good, but not exemplary. Great hardware stores tend to go out of business because they must carry weird stuff that gives the store low margins. Home Depot falls short on specialty fasteners and high quality (commercial grade) door hardware. Also, to get help, I have to start cutting my own rebar or climbing on their shelves, at which point someone admonishes me for increasing the store’s liability. Then they help me.

Fred Meyer: Great vegetables, great variety of groceries that includes lots of organic food. Speeding the check-out lanes, ceasing inquiries about the store discount card and even eliminating the stupid things would be a further improvement.

Trader Joe’s:  The best little grocery store I have ever visited. Great wine at great prices, always free coffee for the customers with samples, great bread and I like the frozen Mandarin Chicken dinner. Great chocolate at good prices, too. If you need to gain a few pounds, this is the store for you.

Amazon.com: Fast, easy, free shipping for orders greater than $25, and you can get all kinds of things from them. Recently I ordered a $12 garage door lock. My wife said I needed to add to the order to get the free shipping, so I asked for the $125 Honda Civic Service manual. Free shipping. The manual arrived and we are still waiting for the lock.

 

May 6, 2011

Current Events, Legal Views, Opinion

Comments Off on Obama Kills Osama

The two major ways nations kill is by execution pursuant to criminal laws and through war. Osama bin Laden was not killed by the United States because of his criminal acts; he was not tried, convicted or sentenced. All of these processes are prerequisites to execution. Instead he was declared an enemy combatant by the executive branch and killed by the same branch of government. The only legislative involvement with Osama’s death was the passage of the Uniform Military Code of Justice into law long before he was shot. There was no court or judicial check on the use of executive authority.

It is quite clear that nations have the authority to defend themselves from attack by military invaders. The executive branch would argue further that it can initiate combat operation without a declaration of war under many broad circumstances. Interesting questions follow from this. Should the United States and the Commander in Chief  kill those, like Osama, who are unarmed, not a member of a uniformed military service, and not engaged in espionage against the U.S. on behalf of a foreign government during time of war?

I make no argument that Osama was not depraved, not evil, and not a perpetrator of heinous acts. That is established. But that Osama was an enemy combatant and could be declared such and then executed by the president of the United States without a check on that power is like the authority vested in British kings many hundreds of years ago. We revolted from a system with more protections for those being killed at the hands of the state than that.

The budget fight continues. Here are a few myths and observations:

1. It is the wrong time to fight the deficit and debt. Creation of jobs is what is important.

This is catchy. It is correct, except that we are essentially out of money. Indeed, the U.S. would be brilliant to spend any surplus on re-vitalizing the economy. The problem is that the U.S. already expended the funds and cannot afford to stimulate the economy as much as it should.

2. We should not cut spending for public radio because U.S. spending for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is trivial compared to the deficit and debt.

Most spending that is wasteful or that should be reviewed for cutting is trivial compared to the enormous debt of the U.S. This argument applied to all expenditures dooms to failure the frugal and diligent who believe spending is too high.

3. We are making cuts to the wrong programs.

The parties need to first agree on the magnitude of the cuts, then they can fight about where the cuts should be taken. There are two issues. There is no reason to disagree on the cuts, but where they should be made is a natural area for controversy.

4. We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem. New taxes are not justified.

The first sentence is true. However, the hole we have dug is too big to fill without new taxes. The only questions should be against whom should they be levied and how much should they be.

5. We have a budget deal that kept the U.S. Government open for business. Isn’t this wonderful?

Right. Congress cut the budget about 1% and spending is more than 40% greater than income. Great work.

6. We need to close tax loopholes for corporations.

This is not so. It is far better to use the Individual Income Tax as a tax for individuals and keep corporations in the U.S. by not taxing them at all.

 

There is no one to bail out the U.S. in case we default or otherwise need financial help. It took years to create the current mess and will take much diligence and pain to reverse the trend. The analogy is to the family that is spending at the rate of 140% of its income; a lot of good expenditures must be cut to make the finances work in the long term.

BBC World News is reporting this situation well, distinguishing between the debt and deficits of the United States and regularly comparing our debt to GDP ratio with that of other nations struggling under mountains of debt. When people know the amount of debt we have per worker the political pressure will increase on our leaders. This debt level makes every major spending decision, such as funding a huge stimulus package or war effort, a Hobson’s choice. We gamble with not addressing a present need or risk economic collapse because of excess spending and debt. This is not a path to a world leadership position and is unacceptable.

 

March 27, 2011

Opinion

Comments Off on Land Clearing Efficiency

While I was hand-clearing a little area in our forest for a small storage building, I thought of the mischief mechanical engineers did by designing modern equipment for logging, earth moving and other tools that can quickly change the face of the planet. We have been part of a quasi-conspiracy that can destroy the natural environment with unprecedented speed and ease.

One example is logging. Instead of whole villages of men engaged in clear-cutting forests, we can now watch one or two men remove all the commercially valuable timber from hundreds of acres. They arrive with high-quality chain saws, changing the forest to something resembling the game “Pick-Up Sticks.” Then they limb the trees, and cut the timber into lengths for transport and market. One fellow returns with a track hoe that has a thumb attachment on the bucket to stack the logs and pile the boughs and limbs. He burns the slash pile, loads his own trailer using the same track hoe, then drives his truck to his buyer. He repeats the truck loading and delivery operation until the huge stack of logs is gone. The final step is reminiscent of the old, more labor intensive operations. Prison crews arrive with seedlings to expedite the return of the forest.

Logging in this area used to require temporary rail lines, camp kitchens, cooks, machine shops, riggers, laborers, yarding operations to drag the logs to loading areas, and derricks to lift and load the logs. All of that, and the local villages to support the families of the loggers, is gone. The rate at which they harvested and the substantial decrease in manpower needed for logging means that most of these jobs have vanished.

March 20, 2011

Current Events, Legal Views, Opinion

Comments Off on Professionals are Sometimes, Well Unprofessional

On February 18 an article appeared in the Seattle Times entitled, “Dispute Over Cancer Tied to Breast Implants.” A physician, Dr. Phil Haeck, advised his colleagues in a webinar to not describe a cancer caused by breast implants as cancer. He suggested avoiding other factual and descriptive terms such as tumor, disease or malignancy, and instead advocated that doctors use the less fear-inducing term “condition.”

This is very logical if the intent of the medical profession is not dissuading women from sometimes unnecessary surgery that enhances the income of doctors. It also violates an ethical duty. The doctor must  inform the patient  of probable outcomes and risks associated with procedures sought by them or recommended by the doctor. It is very similar to the duty lawyers owe clients, to inform them of their options and gain consent before acting on their behalf. Professionals should never assume their idea of a course of action is best for the patient or client and then proceed to bias their disclosure to get consent. Accurate and complete disclosure is the mark of the professional. Assuming the patient or client is incapable of making a good decision for themselves and not providing full disclosure is arrogant. Lack of frank disclosure should subject the professional to discipline.

 

March 12, 2011

Legal Views, Opinion

Comments Off on Funny Justice in Olympia, Washington

I was in a municipal court recently to fight a personal parking ticket. Approximately fifty citizens had requested mitigation hearings or decided to contest their parking tickets that had been issued to them by the City of Olympia. The judge was the Honorable Skip Houser, judge pro tem.

The notice from the city advised me to be at court at noon. I thought I would be one of a few willing to contest a parking ticket, but that was wrong. Then I hoped to get called soon, which also proved wrong. The judge said he called people in alphabetical order during the last hearing, so today he would start with “z,” or “zed” for my Canadian friends. I then groaned as he flipped the three inch packet of documents over.

But I was actually pleased to witness the conduct of the hearings. Judge Houser found humor in every case. He took the explanations of each defendant at face value, explained the law, and exercised the utmost in compassion. I do not recall one of us leaving the court without a dismissal or substantial reduction in our fine.

Judge Houser made an adversarial process into an educational and humorous one. He executed a task that could have been drudgery for him and painful for us, and made it joyous. More judges should learn from him.

However, the proceedings were a little strange, even for something as informal as handling parking tickets. The city had no one representing it. The judge accepted the city’s declarations and record as fact, and there was no opportunity to confront the witnesses against you; they were not there. Also, only those contesting their tickets were sworn in. I wondered if it was okay for those requesting mitigation to lie at will.

I suspect all of this conformed to the statutory law of Washington, which years ago de-criminalized many traffic matters and began to allow very informal hearings for things like hearings on parking tickets. But this relaxed process does not feel anything like what we bargained for as American citizens.

March 12, 2011

Current Events, Managing Debt, Money and Finance

Comments Off on The Effect of Japan’s Debt on Recovery From the Earthquake and Tsunami

Japan will soon embark on a massive reconstruction from the earthquake. We all know that natural disasters that cause the death of people and the destruction of property are bad. This post confines itself to the property loss and economic effects.

I am a fiscal conservative, and have argued in this blog that the debt of the United States is a significant problem. Japan’s debt (compared to GDP) is much greater than the debt of the United States. Both countries are far from having a surplus.

If Japan had a budget surplus and monetary reserves, it could pay for the work needed to recovery from the earthquake. This would modernize the areas destroyed, employ people, and stimulate the Japanese economy for years to come. Instead, Japan has two very bad choices: minimize the repair subsidies by government or go deeper into debt.

The United States, to maintain freedom to choose military options based on national interests, to recover from disasters, to have money to help other nations, and to remain a world power and agent of change, must deal with its deficits and reverse the constant increase in our national debt.

March 12, 2011

Legal Views

Comments Off on The Judicial Frown

A most unpleasant experience is watching the judge frown as you argue a point of law. Often the ruling that follows is largely based on what the judge feels is the correct outcome based on his prejudices, not based on things like statutes and constitutions.

It happened to me. Fortunately the cost was to me, not a client. And the cost was a blow to my pride and $5. I fought a parking ticket in a nearby city, contesting the ticket and not requesting mitigation. The frown came when I argued that I did not pay to park because I never saw the pay station and its sign. Its view was blocked by a landscape tree owned by the city, my argument supported with excellent photographs of the dire circumstances I faced on that January day. My guess is the judge was substantially bothered by my admission that I paid nothing. He argued that the parking ordinance did not require the city to post signs at all. Apparently, it would be alright to not notify drivers and simply ticket them. The judge’s mindset was that I was local, despite not living or voting in the jurisdiction, and that I should know what is going on. I didn’t. I left the court wondering what happened to procedural due process; didn’t cities have to provide reasonable notification to folks parking on city streets of how to comply with their silly ordinances? I guess not.

The judge was not a mean guy. He even converted my hearing into a mitigation proceeding and reduced my fine 67%.

Even good judges lose on occasion the idealism and judicial temperament so valued by Americans for our courts.  That’s why we have life appointments for federal judges and the right to jury trials. It is also one reason why many lawyers encourage negotiation and settlement, thus avoiding a court ruling.

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