Airlines are, at long last, beginning to say No to animals that shouldn’t be on airplanes. Delta announced that they will no longer allow therapy animals on flights that are untrained, and United just refused to allow a passenger to bring a therapy peacock onto a plane. Below is a photo taken at Newark Airport at the United check-in. How would you like to find this bird sitting on the seat next to you? I hope this is the beginning of bringing some sanity to this issue! People have been going on airplanes with therapy and emotional support pigs, turkeys, ducks, parrots, snakes, and giant lizards. It’s easy at laugh at these stories, but would you laugh if you were living in an apartment house and found a peacock like this one in the hallway standing between you and the door to your apartment – and the peacock was in a bad mood. Would you think that was funny? I know a landlord in Santa Rosa who had to allow one of his tenants to keep a 100 pound therapy Burmese python in his apartment – until it escaped. A snake like that can swallow a whole pig or an alligator or a child. An animal like that shouldn’t be in an apartment anywhere!

In 2015, a woman casually walked into a McDonald’s in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin with a kangaroo. The customers panicked, fled the restaurant, and called the police. The police arrived, but they couldn’t do anything. They couldn’t arrest the woman or forcibly remove the kangaroo from the restaurant  because it was a therapy kangaroo. The woman had a note from her doctor saying that she needed it. The woman owns 4 other therapy kangaroos in addition to the one took she took to McDonald’s. She says she takes her kangaroos everywhere with her – to shopping malls, movie theaters, and to church. As I say, I hope that what United and Delta are doing will start to bring some sanity to this issue, and federal regulations on therapy animals are truly insane.


In June, 2016; 39 year old Marlin Jackson arrived at his row on a Delta flight from Atlanta to San Diego. The middle seat was occupied by a man with a large emotional support dog on his lap. Mr. Jackson squeezed past them to get to his window seat. As he did so, the Labrador mix lunged at his face. The attack lasted about 30 seconds, and left Mr Jackson with facial wounds that required 28 stitches. His scars are still visible. This was not an isolated case. Delta said that this was just one of thousands of such incidents. As a result, Delta, the nation’s largest airline, has tightened its rules for passengers flying with service, comfort, and emotional support animals. In announcing the changes, Delta said it flew 250,000 animals in these categories last year, up 150 percent from 2015, while incidents such as biting and defecating on the plane have nearly doubled just since 2016. I have a photo of Mr. Jackson’s face, but take my word for it, you don’t want to see it. As I said, the government’s policy on therapy animals is just plain madness.


A Social Security number is the Holy Grail of identity thieves. Nothing else comes close to a Social Security number in value on the black market. That’s because even if an identity thief has your address, phone number, date of birth, and driver’s license number; he still can’t get credit cards or open bank accounts in your name without your Social Security number. Protect your Social Security number!

  1. Go through your wallet. Your Social Security number should not be on anything that you carry around with you. There is no reason to carry your Social Security card with you. It says on Social Security cards ‘Not to be used for identification’, so why carry the card with you?
  2. Get your Social Security number off account numbers. For example, some insurance companies make your Social Security number your account number with them. Contact these companies and demand a new account number, one that is completely different from your Social Security number.
  3. Give your Social Security number to people and businesses on a need-to-know basis only. Some businesses actually do need to know your Social Security number, for example, landlords – like me. Sometimes an applicant for an apartment will refuse to tell me his Social Security number. I tell those people that while I understand their privacy concerns, I cannot run a credit check on someone without his Social Security number, and if I cannot run a credit check on someone, that person will not be getting an apartment from me. Every landlord I know has the same policy. On the other hand, some businesses ask people for their Social Security numbers without a real need-to-know. For example, when you visit a doctor for the first time, you have to fill out a New Patient form. These forms often ask you for your Social Security number, but there is usually no good reason why a doctor needs to know your Social Security number. Leave that line blank. If there is a reason why the doctor needs to know your Social Security number, ask him what it is.


My Name is Mary. I once had a memorable applicant named Mary. Mary was a polite, well-dressed middle-aged woman. She filled out my rental application form; however, the only questions that she answered were ‘Do you smoke?’ and ‘Do you have a pet?’ I said: “Mary, you forgot to write down your last name. You also forgot to fill in most of the rest of the form.” She said: “I didn’t forget. I don’t like to give personal information about myself to strangers.” I said: “Well Mary, if I rented this apartment to you, what name would I put on the lease?” She said: “Mary, just plain Mary.” I said: “Mary, I cannot run a credit check on you if all I know about you is that your name is Mary and that you don’t smoke or have a pet.” She said: “That’s OK with me. It’s OK with me if you don’t run a credit check on me. In fact, I would prefer that you didn’t.” I said: “Mary, what I am trying to tell you is this. I cannot rent an apartment to someone who I cannot identify.” She said: “You have to rent this apartment to me.” I said: “Why?” She said: “Because the reason I won’t tell you my name is because of my disability. I’m protected by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act.) I have a letter here from my psychiatrist.” She showed me the letter; however, she had cut out all the names and addresses. The letter said that she suffered from ‘chronic paranoia’ – but I already knew that. It was obvious that this woman was paranoid. However, Mary was wrong about the ADA. A landlord actually can refuse to rent an apartment to someone who he cannot identify, whether that person is disabled or not. I rented the place to somebody else. I later found out that Mary tried to rent an apartment in Oakland from another landlord I know, but she told him that her name was ‘just plain Wendy.’


Net neutrality means that all internet content is treated equally by internet service providers. Under the old net neutrality rules, internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon were prohibited from speeding, up, slowing down, or blocking certain web sites. Internet service providers couldn’t steer customers towards certain web sites just because it was more profitable for them. Donald Trump has ordered the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to dump these rules, something that internet service providers have wanted for a long time. Once net neutrality rules are gone, when you go on the internet, you will likely see fewer web sites pop up that are relevant to what you are searching for and more irrelevant, but high profit web sites at the top of the list instead, web sites for things like online gambling, fantasy football, herbal nutritional supplements (aka snake oil), payday loans, etc. These business run on high profit margins and can afford to pay internet service providers for listing priority. Personally, I am not looking forward to this. A number of state legislatures have passed laws requiring net neutrality within their states.


Every now and then, a tenant will ask me if he can pay his rent with a credit card. My answer is No. All of my leases state that the rent must be paid by check or money order. I don’t accept credit cards. Why? It’s the bank fees. Most of the new apartment houses in Berkeley and San Francisco allow tenants to pay their rent with credit cards, but that’s because credit card fees are an insignificant expense for them. A 2 bedroom apartment in a new building in downtown Berkeley rents for $4,000 to $5,000 a month, but I’ve seen some that are over $6,000 a month. If I was getting that kind of rent, I would accept credit cards too!


A growing number of landlords are allowing their tenants to pay their rent with Bitcoin. I really, really don’t understand that. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are not currencies, they are not money, and they are not legal tender. I don’t know what they are, but I do know that I can’t pay my property taxes, garbage bills, fire insurance, etc. with Bitcoin. I can’t buy cocoa beans with Bitcoin either. I think some businessmen accept Bitcoin because they think it’s tax-free income; however, income that you don’t report on your tax return is not tax-free income. That’s called income tax evasion, not tax-free income. You don’t need to be a CPA to know there’s a difference. Supposedly, Bitcoin transactions and transfers are completely secret and untraceable, but I wonder if that’s really true. I suspect that the IRS has figured out how to crack Bitcoin’s computer codes.

Military Grade Encryption. People tell me that there is no way the U.S. government can get into Bitcoin computer records because they use military grade encryption. But what does that mean? Does ‘military grade encryption’ mean ‘unbreakable’? As you know, I teach history, and history tells me to be very suspicious of unbreakable military codes. For over 5,000 years, governments have been trying to create unbreakable military codes, but without much success. During World War 2, the Germans thought they had an unbreakable military code, but Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt got decoded copies of Hitler’s most secret coded messages to his generals before the generals to whom they were addressed got their decoded copies! That went on all through the war too. During World War 2, the U.S. also broke the Soviet diplomatic code and several Japanese codes.

The Battle of Midway. The biggest naval battle of World War 2 was the Battle of Midway. There will never be another naval battle like that again. The Japanese were hoping to win a decisive victory that would knock the U.S. out of the war. The Japanese thought they were going to catch the U.S. fleet by surprise; however, the U.S. Navy had broken the Japanese naval code, so they knew where and when the Japanese were coming. Instead of ambushing the U.S. Navy, it was the Japanese that got ambushed instead. The U.S. Navy sank all the Japanese aircraft carriers at Midway. As a result, Japan also lost hundreds of their best pilots. After all the Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk, Japanese pilots had no place to land. When they ran out of fuel, Japanese pilots crashed their planes into the sea and drowned. Midway was a disastrous defeat for Japan from which they never recovered. Prior to Midway, Japan was always on the attack. After Midway, they were always on the defense. OK you say, that was then, but what about now? Now we have military grade computer encryption. Well Yes, we do have that, but you know, Vladimir Putin didn’t seem to have much difficulty getting past U.S. computer encryption during the 2016 presidential election. I think that people who do business in Bitcoin in the belief that they are fooling the IRS may actually just be fooling themselves instead.


I was at the Target store in Emeryville today. It”s a fairly large store with 12 checkout lines – but only 1 live cashier was on duty. Customers were encouraged to use the self-checkout registers instead. From a practical standpoint, customers didn’t have much choice. There was a long line of people waiting for the 1 live cashier. The same thing is happening at supermarkets everywhere. Supermarkets and lots of other stores are replacing cashiers with self-checkout registers. Did you read that Amazon just opened its first 100% self-service convenience store in Seattle? It’s like a 7-11, but with no cashiers, none at all. Amazon plans to open these stores all over the country.

According to a new study by the McKinsey Global Institute, robots and automation will eliminate 800 million jobs around the world by 2030. As shocking as this number may sound, it is in line with other studies on the same subject. The jobs most likely to be eliminated by automation are low-skilled, low paying, repetitive jobs. You don’t need a crystal ball to know this is coming. Just look at what’s happening to cashiers. And it isn’t just cashiers. All sorts of jobs are being eliminated by automation and robots.  The jobs of the future will require more education than the jobs that are disappearing. What will happen to the U.S. if our educational system is producing mostly high school graduates who are only qualified to work at the kind of jobs that are disappearing?


Most people assume that internet retailing is a very profitable industry. Internet sales are growing rapidly, and internet retailers don’t have the enormous expense of operating brick-and-mortar stores, like the ones you see at shopping malls. Because of internet retailing, hundreds of departments stores and shopping malls have closed all over the country. It seems like internet retailing should be a gold mine, but it isn’t. The sad fact is this – most internet retailers lose money, a lot of money. And it doesn’t seem that its a question of size. In most cases, the bigger an internet retailer is, the more money they lose. Even Amazon loses money. Over the past 20 years, Amazon has only made a profit in few quarters but lost money the rest of the time. Amazon makes money on some of their services, especially Amazon Prime, but they lose money selling merchandise, and they always have. Amazon may someday become profitable, but if that happens, it probably won’t come from selling merchandise online. So what’s the problem?

The problem is the cost of shipping and returns – especially returns. About 10% of all the merchandise purchased in brick-and-mortar stores is returned, but 20% to 30% of all goods purchased online is returned. Even worse, 30% to 40% of all the clothes and shoes purchased online are returned. Still worse, most internet retailers pay the shipping both ways. Add to that the labor costs for filling and packing orders and then unpacking and processing all those returns. Then add to that the fact that most returned merchandise cannot be resold for full price. Some cannot be resold at all, like damaged clothes and toys. Some can be resold, but only at a discount, like the ‘out of box’ TVs at Best Buy. However, most returned merchandise is sold to liquidators, and they pay just a fraction of the good’s wholesale cost. So, why don’t internet retailers charge for shipping or adopt less generous return policies? Well, they would if they could, but they can’t. People who buy stuff on the internet have gotten accustomed to free shipping and returns. People take it for granted. Besides, who would buy something like a pair of shoes online if they didn’t know that they could easily return them for a refund if they didn’t fit? But most important, internet retailers know that if they charge customers for shipping or for returns, they will quickly lose those customers to other online retailers that still offer free shipping and no-cost returns. Until internet retailers figure out some way to significantly reduce the cost of shipping and returns, I don’t see how the industry will make money.

Of course, things are very different for retailers that just sell their own brand products, like Ikea, Godiva, and Gap. Because they are just selling their own products, they have pricing power that general merchandise retailers do not. If you are considering a career in internet retailing, think twice about it. Remember that we live in a market economy. Making a profit is not just a desirable objective. A company that fails to make a profit must eventually go out of business.



_Are you going to a Super Bowl party? Would you like to take something that
looks showy but that’s easy to make? Marble brownies are showy and very
easy to make! The finished product looks like a cheesecake brownie._

1 jar of Berkeley Nut Co. brownie mix
1 8 ounce package of cream cheese (softened to room temperature)
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9″ x 13″ baking pan or spray it with Pam. (I always go with the Pam. Greasing baking pans is messy.) Prepare the brownie mix according to the directions on the jar. Spread the brownie batter into the pan. Beat the cream cheese until creamy. Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla. Mix well. Drop by spoonfuls over the brownie batter and swirl them together with the tip of a knife. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the cream cheese mixture is lightly browned. Cool completely before cutting. This makes 18 good-size brownies. Because these brownies are made with cream cheese, you should store them in the refrigerator.


In 2007, Congress changed the federal bankruptcy law to exclude student loans from the debts that are discharged in bankruptcy. As a result, if you run up $200,000 in debt to become a doctor (and that is not hard to do) and declare bankruptcy, you will leave the bankruptcy court still owing the full $200,000. However, if you run up $200,000 in credit card debt traveling around the world and declare bankruptcy, that debt will be wiped out completely.

Last month, the House of Representatives passed a tax bill that made college tuition waivers taxable income. Senate leaders removed this provision from the final draft of the tax law just after strong national public uproar against this provision. Had this provision remained in the final law, tens of thousands of graduate students would have been forced to drop out of college because they would not be able to pay this new tax. The tax on tuition waivers would have taxed the discount graduate students receive for working in labs and teaching classes. The problem is that you can’t pay income tax if you have no income, and a discount is not income. The House bill would have eliminated the deduction for interest on student loans as well, but this too was eliminated in the final law due to public outcry.

All over the country, state legislatures are passing laws designed to make college education less affordable. Did you know that in a lot of states, if you don’t pay your student loans on time, you can lose your job? For example, if you are a physical therapist and you get behind in your student loans payments, your license to work can be revoked in 20 states. If you default on a student loan, you can be fired as a schoolteacher in 11 states. And in South Dakota, Iowa, and Oklahoma; if you don’t make your student loan payments on time, the state can take away your driver’s license. In other words, if you went to college and are not making your student loan payments on time, the state can take away your ability to work in your profession. Then how do you repay your student loans?

SOUTH DAKOTA. South Dakota has perhaps the most punitive student loan default laws. If you default on a student loan in South Dakota, they can take away your driver’s license. However, if you default on your mortgage on a multi-million dollar mansion overlooking Mount Rushmore – well – that’s OK. The state’s DMV can’t take away your driver’s license for just that. Taking away a person’s driver’s license, and in a largely rural state like South Dakota, for failing to repay a student loan on time seems just plain mean-spirited to me. Also, in South Dakota, if you get behind in repaying your student loans, you can also lose your license to work as a registered nurse, a physical therapist, or a speech pathologist; and if you are employed as a public schoolteacher in South Dakota, you can be immediately fired. Plus, at last count, about 1,500 people living in South Dakota were denied hunting and fishing licenses for failing to repay student loans on time. So, if you are behind in your student loan payments in South Dakota and you work in a licensed occupation, not only are you barred from working in your profession, but in addition, you can’t legally hunt or fish for your dinner. You can legally eat vegetables that you grow in your backyard. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

HATS OFF TO MONTANA. Things are getting better in one state. Montana used to have the harshest student loan laws in the country. Not only could you lose your job and your driver’s license for failure to repay student loans on time, you could also go to prison for it! However, in 2015, the Montana legislature passed a law with rare bipartisan support that decriminalized failure to repay student loans. The new law also allows Montana residents to keep their driver’s licenses and their jobs when they are behind in their student loan payments. The argument for the new law was that it doesn’t make any sense to punish a person for failing to repay a loan on time by taking away his ability to earn a living. That just makes it more unlikely that the person will ever repay the loan. Unfortunately, Montana seems to be the only state moving in a more enlightened direction on this issue.

BERKELEY. Here in Berkeley, the main driver of college student debt is the cost of housing. A 2 bedroom apartment in a new building near campus costs $4,000 to $5,000 a month, but I’ve seen some that cost over $6,000 a month. Everyone in Berkeley city government is aware of this, but no one seems to be concerned about it. Quite the opposite. The mayor and Berkeley city council are constantly passing new laws and regulations designed to raise, not lower, the cost of building new apartments near campus. For example, a permit to build a new apartment house in Berkeley near campus now costs between $100,000 and $200,000 per apartment – and the council is planning to raise the price of permits next year. Now – who do you suppose ultimately pays for these astronomically expensive building permits? It’s just who you think it is! It’s the tenants who live in these buildings.

College students all over the U.S. are graduating with more and more student debt, and the cost of repaying that debt keeps rising. Every American should be very concerned about this. If a college education becomes just a privilege of the rich, as it was in Colonial times, we are in serious trouble as a nation. An industrialized society that does not value higher education is doomed to poverty and becoming a third rate and third world nation.


Have you ever seen a Hapifork? I think I would find this product very, very annoying. This rechargeable electronic dinner fork is designed to improve your eating habits. If the fork’s sensors feel that you are eating too much food or that you are eating your food too quickly, the fork will vibrate to show its disapproval of your eating habits. The fork is also Bluetooth-enabled, and when you connect your Hapifork to your computer, pad device, or smartphone; the fork will report on such things as how many bites you ate per minute and how long you took between bites. The fork will reprimand you and give you eating advice for your future meals. The fork can also be programmed to report to your parents how and much food you are eating and quickly you are eating it. As I said, I think I would find this product very, very annoying. Hapifork sells for $62 at Amazon. I like to write about useless kitchen devices, but please, don’t give me one of these things!