Eliminate the 3Ds

It is time to move beyond the 3Ds of financial life and  get to the next level.finance

This is specifically what I am doing in my own financial life. It simplifies things. It allows you to focus on being creative. It avoids massive risk and waste.

The 3Ds are debt, derivatives and deceit. They are actually closely related monsters even though it is not obvious.

Debt

I wrote about it on October 24, intending to start a series.  Simply put, debt (aka other people’s money)  gives those other people control of your life.

Derivatives

Derivatives are financial instruments with value that comes from other financial instruments. There are many kinds and they are VERY difficult to avoid because they come with common names like ETFs, Mutual Funds, Options.  Theses are the least damaging kind. There are others (non-exchange traded  or private derivatives) that nearly destroyed the financial system in 2007-2008. You might have heard of CMOs – one particular type of private derivatives.

Deceit

The lies hidden in your financial affairs can really hurt you. The Enron scandal destroyed a couple of companies but it had severe consequences to their shareholders. The Madoff scam destroyed vast amounts of the charitable work of an entire generation within the Jewish community. More recently, fraud surrounding the sub-prime bubble caused many middle aged people to postpone retirement plans forever.

It can be hard to detect deceit but once you root it out, you need to protect yourself by avoiding  investments that are based in lies. This often means fighting your own greed because “everyone is making a killing with this”.

The saddest victim of deceit is shattered trust. People severely injured will frequently blame the wrong institutions, people or companies. That postpones or prevents their individual recoveries from the scam.

The first step is to identify and reduce exposure to the 3Ds if you own publicly traded securities. You need a plan to reduce your exposure. They are probably in your 401(k), your stock portfolio and even your bank account.

Can you list examples of the 3Ds you own right now?

The Constitution no longer applies, the Final Chapter – Ignoring the facts they know

Toilet_paperThis is the final post in a series about how the Constitution is being subverted by the very people that have sworn to “preserve, protect and defend” it.

 The earlier parts mostly pertained to the Bill of Rights.

Specifically how they have been eroded away.

 Part 1 was about the first 3 Amendments in the Bill of Rights

Part 2 was about the Fourth Amendment

Part 3 covered the Fifth Amendment

Part 4 discussed the activities of the US Government on the World stage

Part 5  showed how the state-level legal system is not following the Bill of Rights, either 

Part 6 was combined with Part 5 and it discussed how the Ninth and Tenth Amendments gave us some visibility into the Framer’s thinking about personal liberty.

The Articles of the Constitution

The body of the Constitution has only about 4000 words  and roughly half are used to describe Congress. This is the document that frames our form of government.

The generation that wrote the Constitution had high hopes for the fledgling nation. Even then, such faith sounded naive to tough-minded men who cherished no illusions about the fragility of their republican experiment. Virginia’s James Madison predicted that unless voters of “virtue and intelligence [select] men of virtue and wisdom … no theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure.”

So much for virtue, wisdom and intelligence. Today, the average legislator has to raise between 350 and 850 and hour toward re-election. The reward is basically a legalized system of insider trading and a system where satisfied donors give big benefits.

The House of Representatives is basically stuck in place: Both parties practice gerrymandering coast to coast, no one in power wants to do anything about that. (To vote in a gerrymandered district is to vote in a fixed election, an election massively weighted toward one side. Whatever that is, it is not a republic.) District boundaries are drawn to heavily favor one party in 85% of Congressional Districts.

Here is Michael Ventura’s last installment:

http://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2013-08-09/an-arbitrary-nation-part-7/

 What can we do?

1. Understand that everyone offers opinion. Those that claim to be objective tend to ignore the facts they know that don’t fit the agenda. Understand the bias of those reporting the “news”. It is all slanted.

The only “facts” in Economics are the basic laws of supply and demand.  Everything else is based on someone’s theory. The dominant theory – Keynesianism, is so flawed that even John Maynerd Keynes himself declared that he was the “only non-Keynsean in the room”.

2. Understand that if you are old enough to vote, this is not the country you learned about in High School Civics.

3. Avoid becoming dependent. Most people assume that dependency is only for the poor. Actually, the rich and upper middle class are more likely to be dependent than the poor. It is subtle and it is the road to serfdom! Interact with the government only enough to avoid breaking the law. Do not interact voluntarily.

Seek out your own solutions to problems. Those tend to be the best fit for you, anyway!

4. Mostly, be of good cheer. I close with the words of his holiness,

 If we are demoralized, sad and only complain, we’ll not solve our problems. If we only pray for a solution, we’ll not solve our problems. We need to face them, to deal with them without violence, but with confidence – and never give up. If you adopt a non-violent approach, but are also hesitant within, you’ll not succeed. You have to have confidence and keep up your efforts – in other words, never give up.

 ~ The Dalai Lama

This will be (I hope) my last post about politics. I plan to try and pay as little attention as possible to Washington. They are clueless and trying to convince you they have the solution.  BS!

Part 5 – The Bill of Rights is breaking down in the state-level justice systems.

Editor’s note: Frankly, I am getting tired of this series. I love what this country stands for and chronicling its decline is sad. Therefore, I am goingBill of Rights to combine parts 5 and 6, then augment the last part with my own thoughts about what we can do about it.

 Previously

In Part 4, Michael Ventura looked at the behavior of the United States on the international scene and described how it has become a rogue nation – one that makes agreements and then ignores them.

  Part 5

In this post, Ventura takes a look at how the Bill of Rights is breaking down in the state-level justice systems.

http://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2013-07-12/letters-at-3am-an-arbitrary-nation-part-5/

First, we look at what the rule of law looks like. Put simply, no one is above the law. It worked in Italy where an intelligence community official got jail time for “complicity with the [US] CIA”

Second, we look at what the rule of law is not – members of the intelligence community are exempt and in many cases promoted for ignoring the rule of law.

Third, we examine how the fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth Amendments are routinely ignored by federal and state courts. It has always been somewhat true that lack of money causes the system to break down but now the situation is chronic.

 Part 6 – The invisible Ninth and Tenth Amendments

This post discusses how the last 2 parts of the Bill of Rights are Universally ignored.

http://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2013-07-26/an-arbitrary-nation-part-6/

What is left of the bulwark of the Constitution? (Bulwark is defined as a “defensive wall”)

The Ninth and Tenth Amendments help us understand the Framers’ intent more than any other part of the Constitution.

Ventura uses quotes form the debate about weather there should be a Bill of Rights at all to show us that all of them were passionate about liberty. Ironically, in the end both sides (for and against a Bill of Rights in the Constitution) were proven right.

 The Ninth: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

 The Tenth: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The intent of these Amendments is CRYSTAL CLEAR – if the Framers forgot anything, those interpreting should err on the side of liberty. Trying to say they mean anything else is simply WRONG.

 In the final post of the Constitution no Longer Applies series

And finally, Part 7 looks at the rest of the Constitution and how the press subverts it

The Constitution No Longer Applies, Part 4 – The United States has become a Rogue Nation

This is the fourth in a seven-part series about how the Consititution no longer applies in the United States. Previously, Michael Ventura fifthAmendmentdiscussed how our leaders have rendered the first half of the Bill of Rights non-functional. Here are the high points about the Fifth Amendment:

 “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The 5th Amendment is not law because it is arbitrarily enforced. It does not seem to apply to foreigners or those accused of terrorism.

  • Americans look the other way in the name of “Security”
  • Secret memos are now enough evidence to be killed by drone at president’s orders.

 Now – Rogue Nation

A “rogue nation” is a country that purposefully, continually, and systematically defies the international laws and treaties that govern civilized behavior – treaties that said rogue nation had previously promised to abide by and enforce.

http://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2013-06-14/letters-at-3am-an-arbitrary-nation-part-4/

Ventura specifically looks at 2 treaties the United States signed and has systematically broken in the last 12 years – The

International Bill of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions.

 Looking to Part 5

Ventura describes how the Bill of Rights is breaking down in the state-level justice systems.

5 Ways to Become a Debt Slave

Want to be a debt slave? I didn’t think so but it is really EASY it is to become one. Most people spend more than two decades of their lives working their way out of debt. You DO NOT have to be like most people if you recognize and avoid the traps.DebtSlave5

  1.  Let the good times roll – running up credit card debt for partying will get you enslaved. Those fees and that interest remains a lot longer than the hangover.
  2. Consumerism – buy now, pay later. An easy payment plan.  Those consumer goods lose value quickly. The terms “upside down” and “underwater” indicate that what you bought is worth less than you owe for it.
  3. Failures – this is a bit more subtle. You tried to use debt the right way and it did not work out. Paying off that debt is “another freaking growth experience”.
  4. Capital gains borrowing – (also called being “land poor”) buy something that you expect to gain in value but you have to rely on a different income stream (for most people, that means working for a living) to pay for it. This might work out, it is just risky.
  5. The teeter-totters – these are things that could go either way.  For example, borrowing for a car. If your job depends on transportation, that is OK. If you take on student loans to learn a marketable skill, that is OK. Running up 60k in student debt for a degree in sixteenth century feminist literature is going to make you a debt slave.

Once you ARE a debt slave, you loose options. You MUST work, even if you hate it. You might get stuck in your house, even though it is too small for your growing family.

So what is debt good for? Find out next time.

The Constitution No Longer Applies – Part 3

Recapping – Bill of Rights, Article 4

In part 2, Michael Ventura detailed why the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply.fifthAmendment

Fourth Amendment: “The right of the People to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Here is a summary of his points.

  • Technology knows no checks and balances – specifically drones and other off-the-shelf surveillance technologies
  • The Fourth Amendment never applies to Muslims or people that associate with them, particularly in New York City.
  • The FBI can search any electronic media at will and without cause. How do you think David Patreus’ infidelity was discovered?
  • We know that the NSA has a 1 million square foot “intercept” (i.e. email, calls, text messages) data storage facility in Utah but telling the US Senate how many US citizens have had their data stored there is a violation of privacy. Huh?
  • The Supreme Court has upheld the FBI and NSA’s right to this level of without a warrant surveillance.
  • In April, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ruled that “the FBI’s practice of so-called national security letters to banks, phone companies and other businesses is unconstitutional, saying the secretive demands for customer data violate the First Amendment”. Note that this is the BANK’s rights, not the rights of the party under surveillance.

Is there good news? Well, the supreme court has ruled that police need a warrant to extract blood from your veins.

Part 3 - the Fifth Amendment

Fifth Amendment: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Read the sad details here:

http://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2013-05-17/letters-at-3am-an-arbitrary-nation-part-3/

Note that this Amendment specifically says “No PERSON”. Most Americans are fine with the fact this does not apply to foreigners accused of terrorism or “enemy combatants”.  And, oh yes, it does get worse!

 Next Monday

Part 4 will discuss why Ventura believes the United States has gone rogue.

Moving – Massive Personal Change, Part 2

home_sweet_homePart 1 described accepting/starting a new job, starting the move process and the part of the move that entailed  negotiating 2 real estate deals.

Part 2 of the story picks up on 9/11.

The “Sell” transaction (selling our Austin house) went about as smoothly as expected. All real estate transactions have issues that need to be addressed, so “smoothly” means no deal-killers. The “Buy” transaction (purchasing a house in San Antonio) had several odd issues but we were confident they could be fixed. Most notable was the lien created when one of the sellers defaulted on a student loan. It showed up on the Title Commitment and typically is NOT an issue for the buyer (the seller is forced to apply all proceeds from the sale toward the defaulted loan.

The ORIGINAL plan was to have movers pick up our furniture on Thursday, double-close on Friday the 13th, spend the weekend working on the new house while it was empty and moving in on Tuesday.

Late in the day on Wednesday (9/11) I got a call from Tammara. The sellers were behind moving out and wanted us to delay closing for four days.  They had been in denial about the whole student loan issue – so much so that they had just figured out they would have to move in with relatives. To close this deal, we would effectively have to throw a family of five out in the street. It became obvious that the only person who would benefit from this was the seller’s Realtor who (in my opinion) was negligent in not making sure the sellers fully understood the consequences of contracting to sell their house. We chose to allow them to default (and stay in the house) over enforcing the contract and collecting a lot of bad karma. The cost to us: the money we spent on inspections, the time involved and living in our hotel until we found another house to buy.

Thursday came and so did the movers. The 4 guys that showed up worked HARD and got us loaded out in about half a day. Karen, Walter (our lovable Yorkie) and I caravanned down to San Antonio. Leaving the Austin City Limits for the last time as a resident was very emotional for me. I love the town but I had known for months (long before being approached about a new job) that my time there was ending.

We took up temporary residence in the Super 8 Fiesta. I had been staying at there part time since August. The price was right and the people working there made me feel instantly at home. Walter immediately missed his back yard (and dog door) but quickly got used to the added attention. I wrote a review of the hotel on trip advisor. The ORIGINAL plan had been to stay there five nights. The pivot (buy a different house in San Antonio) meant we might be there as long as six weeks. I want to give a particular shout out to Jack and Patricia, the night auditors that provided company during my bouts of insomnia.

The good karma of NOT forcing a family of 5 out of their home swiftly moved in our favor.  At least 3 house deals (better than the original one that fell through) came our way over the next 4 days. On Monday, September 16, we saw our new home in the rain. By Friday, the deal was far enough along that we had exited the Option period.

LOTS of people moved heaven and earth for us. The guys at Unicorn Movers had to crate our stuff for an undetermined amount of time, effectively making this 2 moves instead of one. Real Estate Broker Tammara Alarcon and one of her Reators, Shelby Howell, went into overdrive to find a house.  Travis Fenner and Usa Heyward made sure as much of the existing mortgage work as possible could transfer to a new loan. The Title company put a rush on everything they were responsible to produce.

We used a pre-purchase lease to get us into the house Monday afternoon, a full week before the closing. The close happened on September 30, compressing a process that normally takes six weeks into 14 days!

We are “settling in”. Unpacking promises to be an ongoing process for some time. This all happened so fast that we certainly packed stuff that we no longer need or want. There is always more stuff to detach from your life! This new chapter in our lives is extremely full of promise and possibilities.

Thanks for reading this self-indulgent post. Its main purpose was to thank everyone that helped make this happen,  The next  Thursday’s post will begin a series on personal finance and the finance of education. Jack  (one of the Super 8 night auditors) will be a case study!

The Constitution No Longer Applies – Part 2

Editor’s note: Each installment of this series will be published on Monday. Unrealted posts will published on other days.Toilet_paper

This article is the second of a seven part series highlighting Michael Ventura’s well  thought-out columns in the Austin Chronicle.

Recap – Bill of Rights Articles 1, 2 and 3

Part 1 focused on why the first 2 Articles in the Bill of Rights are history.

The First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Ventura discussed:

  • Dumbing down of the electorate – A free society assumes an educated electorate electing intelligent leaders.  Witness the third grader behavior of the DC leadership regarding the shutdown (both sides). A great primer for this is the movie “Idiocracy”.
  • Money = Free Speech – Dark money and the Super PACS (declared OK by the Supreme Court)  gives anyone with the cash power to influence any election anywhere in the country.
  • Intelligence Authorization Act severely limits the news coverage of National Security issues by restricting the Press’ access to government employees.
  • Tarek Mehanna got 17 years for speaking his mind. Granted he is a “stinkin’ thinker”  in favor of al_qaeda. That said, until his conviction, “ugly beliefs” were protected by the First Amendment. Here is a wikipedia link describing his Thought Crimes. (Yes, this is a reference to George Orwell’s “1984″.)

The Second Amendment: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

We would not have a country if the American colonists were not an armed citizenry. The Second Amendment is not about our right to shoot rabbits or burglars. It is about our right to fight oppressive rulers.

It is important to understand what “militia” meant in 1787. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the old U.S. definition as: “The whole body of men declared by law amenable to military service, without enlistment, whether armed and drilled or not.” “Militia” meant men of age for military service, rather than a federal- or state-controlled outfit.

Gun control is constitutional; so is packing heavy ordnance. Ah, those Framers, what a sense of humor!

Third Amendment:  “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

Good news: nobody has messed with the Third Amendment. For what it’s worth

 4thAmendmentNow Part 2 – The Fourth Amendment

The second column in Ventura’s series picks up with the Fourth Amendment.

Fourth Amendment: “The right of the People to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

 http://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2013-05-03/letters-at-3am-an-arbitrary-nation-part-2/

 I feel a BIT safer knowing that I am not Muslim and I don’t live in New York City.

 Next Time – The Fifth Amendment

Part 3 explains why the Fifth Amendment effectively no longer exists.

Moving – Massive Personal Change, Part 1

This particular post is a very personal account of the massive personal change that occurs when you move. Many of you know that Karen and I left Austin after 12 years and moved to San Antonio. The last couple of months have been quite an ordeal.

If you have read the Become A Change Agent books, understand that I practice what I preach. We made extensive use of Vision and the MoveMapFramework. You should also recognize the 80/20 rule, Now, Pivot, Law of Attraction and other principles described in the books!

It happened really fast. I  interviewed for the position on June 19 and gave notice to my old employer on June 28. Things really got going on July 6 when we moved our first load of stuff to storage in San Antonio and had lunch with Tammara Alarcon.

The distance from our old driveway in Austin to the parking lot of my new job is only an 85 mile journey down Interstate 35. That distance is also a whole different world. The 2 cities are very different in ways that I am still discovering.

Picking a new place to live is the biggest task after deciding to move. I had to gauge the relative strength of real estate markets. Luckily, I knew someone – Tammara Alarcon, a Real Estate Broker I worked with for several years, moved her family to San Antonio 2 years ago and does business in both cities. She immediately helped us define our requirements, formulate a plan and warned us of pitfalls to avoid.

We made the decision to list the Austin house and search for a place in San Antonio at the same time. The first person that looked at our Austin house made an offer that we accepted. We (well Karen) looked at MANY houses in San Antonio.

Meanwhile, I started my job in San Antonio on July 22. My weeks went something like this: Sunday, we loaded up my car with stuff that could be put in storage in San Antonio. Monday, drive to SA, offload and be in the office by 8:30 am. Spend Monday-Thursday  in a hotel, drive back to Austin after work on Friday. There were LOTS of variations. It took 3 tries to find an inexpensive hotel that I liked enough to call (temporary) home.  That would be the Super 8 - 6 Flags (more on that in Part 2).

We made an offer on a house that was rejected and it became clear in the counter-offer process we were not going to make a deal.  The “sell” real estate deal was progressing and the buyer agreed to allow us a long contract period to give us time to vacate. We made an offer on a second house that was negotiated into a contract. The Plan became a double-closing on Friday the 13th.

The next point in my outline is “Getting rid of stuff and attachments” but I made a couple of posts on that subject DURING the transition, “Am I Really Attached to That?” and “Moving, the Ultimate Test of Non-Attachment“.  It is now a couple of weeks after the end of this story and I am still detaching from Austin.

We really did get rid of (mostly via trips to Goodwill) about 25% of our stuff. But try as we might we couldn’t really downsize without REPLACING a lot of our furniture and giving up even more stuff because smaller houses means smaller rooms and fewer closets. That just wasn’t meant to be and Karen hired a mover for the bulk of our stuff.

Part 2  will pick up the story as we approached the closing date of September 13.

The Constitution No Longer Applies – Part 1

US_ConstitutionThe Constitution of the United States – read it lately? If so,  you would realize that our “leaders” seem to be using it for toilet paper.  This is a lot bigger than the Government shutdown, the budget crisis or Obamacare.

The document that makes America the land of the free – our Constitution – is no longer a functioning document of law. It has been replaced by a legal hodgepodge that is arbitrarily applied with scant regard for constitutionality or any coherent code of principles – that is not the rule of law.

This article is the first of a 7 part series that that links to Michael Ventura’s well   thought out columns in the Austin Chronicle, starting with a focus on why the first 2 articles in the Bill of Rights are history.

Sorry, but it is idiotic to speak and think about American politics as though our system is what it was 20 years ago. Worse than idiotic – delusional.

http://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2013-04-19/letters-at-3am-an-arbitrary-nation-part-1/

 So, what do we do about it?

Toilet_paper