Dear Congressman

Here’s the short email I just sent to my senators and congressman regarding the “fiscal cliff” and the larger budget deficit and national debt issue. All three of them are Republicans.

The election has come and gone and as your constituent, I want to make sure you’ve clearly heard the message: It is time for the Republicans and Democrats to compromise when it comes to addressing our country’s debt and budget deficit.

This means that revenue increases (including both reforming the tax code to close loopholes and deductions as well as increases in tax rates) are necessary in addition to spending cuts. Every reputable economist agrees on this.

I understand that the Republican Party wants to steadfastly hold to its values, but you were sent to Washington to govern, not to stonewall. Please start behaving like adults and work with the Democrats instead of acting like spoiled children who throw temper tantrums if they don’t get their way.

Many thanks. 

Honestly, it doesn’t seem to me that the country is well-served by either the Republicans or Democrats insisting on a “my way or the highway” approach to this issue. (Or any other issue, for that matter.) To tackle such a large issue, there is going to have to be give and take. All of us will have to sacrifice some of what we want in order to achieve a larger goal that we all agree is important: getting our fiscal house in order.

As near as I can tell, the idea that both parties need to compromise is a commonsense position that the vast majority of Americans agree with, no?

Senators Call for Bipartisan Budget Decisions

I read an interesting NY Times article yesterday about the efforts by Senators Mark Warner of Virginia and Saxy Chambliss of Georgia to create a bipartisan conversation about the nation’s budget deficit.  This as Congress makes a grand show of nipping at the budget’s heels by cutting things like Head Start early education for children.


While I may be a cock-eyed optimist and a tad naive, I think most Americans can handle straight talk.  They are willing to make sacrifices if things are explained to them clearly and without a lot of added fright.  I’d like my Senators to join in this bipartisan approach, so took the time to send them the following email:

Dear Senator:

I’d like to encourage you to join with Senators Chambliss and Warner in their effort to hold an honest, bipartisan dialogue about our national deficit. 

The current talk in Congress focuses on cutting discretionary spending, which only makes up 12% of our budget.  Much of it goes to important programs, but even if we cut it all, we still would have a long way to go to fix the deficit.

I’d like you to be a part of an honest discussion that acknowledges that cuts in spending will have to include defense, healthcare, and social security costs.  I’d also like you to acknowledge that revenue increases will also be a necessary part of the solution.

Please stop playing politics with our nation’s future.  Join Senators Chambliss and Warner and others who will rise above politics and find a bipartisan solution to repair our nation’s finances.

Thank you.

That’s the action I’m taking.  What action will you take?  How do you think the deficit should be approached? 

In other news, I’m heading out this morning on an overnight border run to Singapore (previous entry).  Figured that the flight is the same price if I stay overnight, I’ll have time for dinner with friends, and I don’t have to get up so early to catch my flight.  Except that I went to bed early and managed to have the garbage collectors wake me up at 4:30 as they rattled the bins on the street.  Thankfully, this trip will include lunch at Din Tai Fung with two other Xangans.


Ministry of Labour Epilogue

P1140794 The day after my two-day fiasco with the Ministry of Labour (and side trips to the Department of Business Development and my lawyers’ office), I learned that another expat in a similar situation went to extend his work permit by 90 days. 

The result: the MOL clerk insisted that he needed to do a 1-year extension instead and gave him a week to pull together all of the financial reporting that is required for the 1-year extension. 

This, even though his last 1-year extension was less than a year ago!

We discussed.  My theory is that the MOL is being instructed to crack down on foreign work permits in order to save more jobs for Thais in these tough economic times.

The flip side of this theory, of course, is that they are trying to drive away foreign investment!

Above: From my “Interesting Sights in the Big Mango” series, here’s a picture of a man napping in the back of a pickup truck loaded with veggies, on his way to a market in the late afternoon traffic on Rama IV Road.


Me and the Thai Bureaucrats

In the past two days I’ve spent about eight hours engaging the Thai Ministry of Labour and other bureaucrats in order to learn how to get a 90-day extension to my work permit. Previously, I’ve just gone to a law firm and paid them about 2000 baht (US$58) to do this work for me. Over time, I wondered whether I could learn to do the renewal myself and save money. After the past two days, I’m not sure the “savings” are worth it.

Some background first:

In order to live and work in Thailand, you need both a non-resident visa as well as a work permit. The visa is issued overseas from a Thai embassy or consulate and is good for one year. However, you are required to physically leave the country every 90 days. Ostensibly this is so Immigration can run a criminal check on you when you come back in, to make sure your record is clean. In reality, there’s no reason you need to leave the country to do this. It is just a ploy to inject more money into the tourism and travel sectors.

On top of the visa, you have to get a work permit. It is also applied for at the Ministry of Labour once a year but it can only be valid for as long as your visa is valid. Since I can only get a 90-day entry with my visa, my work permit is only valid for 90 days at a time. So after returning from a “visa run” I have to get my work permit extended to match my new 90-day stamp in my passport.

Confused yet?

My friend Stuart is in a similar situation as me and he’s been going to the Ministry of Labour and extending his work permit himself for some time. He agreed to go with me and walk me through the steps, so we set off yesterday afternoon. The MOL’s website doesn’t contain a list of requirements but a little searching online gave me a simple list: copies of my company’s articles of incorporation, copies of my passport and all the pages in my work permit book, and the completed application form.

We arrived at the MOL, picked up the application form, which is in Thai and English, and I filled it out. Some parts are confusing (in both languages). For example, I am asked to fill out the name and address of my employer on one line, then am asked to fill out the company name and address two lines below that. These would be the same information in most cases. Additionally, there was a second form that Stuart hadn’t seen before.

Arriving at the counter, the lady went through the paperwork, discarded a third of the sheets in the articles of incorporation (“no need”), then pointed to the form which Stuart had never seen. “This has to be in Thai.” Even though the instructions are in both Thai and English and there’s no indication of what language was required. This new form requested some financial data from my company, which I didn’t have memorized.

I returned home from the MOL and spent the evening reviewing the forms with Tawn, making sure they were both completed correctly in Thai.

This morning I switched partners and brought Kobfa along, figuring that a native Thai might be helpful. When I went up to the counter at the MOL (different lady this time), she asked whether I wanted a one-year or 90-day work permit extension. After reviewing the work permit book she determined that I was only eligible for the 90-day as it had to match my current visa expiration date. For a 90-day extension that extra application form with which Stuart was unfamiliar, wasn’t necessary. Would have been nice to know yesterday…

She then looked through the articles of incorporation and discarded several more sheets. “Not necessary, not necessary…” Then she came to two documents in the articles of incorporation. “Wait a minute,” she said, “these documents from the Department of Business Development were prepared 16 months ago. You can’t use documents that are more than six months old.” She explained we had to go to the DBD and get new copies.

Leaving the MOL, I decided we had best go to the law firm I used in the past and seek some clarification: they have been renewing my work permit every 90 days for the past 16 months, since I started my company. It that’s the case, then these 16-month old documents had been more than 6 months old for the last 10 months! How were they getting the work permit renewed? Or were they getting updated documents and not giving them to me afterwards?

The law firm was surprisingly helpful, considering that I wanted information that would enable me not to use their services in the future. The young man who is the work permit contact explained what the DBD was and gave us a number for them. He didn’t, however, really answer my questions about how they had managed to get me a work permit in the past.

Kobfa and I headed to the DBD, which thankfully had an office not too far away. This was something I would never have been able to navigate on my own and I’m in debt for his help. Everything was in Thai only. While I read and write Thai, government language is not my strength. The process for getting updated copies of the documents was surprisingly easy, though, complicated only by the fact that we arrived at 11:50 and the office closes for lunch at 12:00.

After retrieving the completed documents at the DBD after lunch we took a taxi back to the MOL. The lady with whom we had dealt in the morning asked if we had all the other documents we had given her (and she had taken) that morning. No, we replied, she still had them. She pointed to a row of baskets in the working area behind her, each basket given a different date of the month, and indicated that we should go back there and retrieve them. We were both a little confused: we were supposed to go back into the clerks’ working area and rummage through a bunch of applications? Yep. So I sorted through a stack of work permit extension applications (and personal data) until I found mine.

After another thirty minutes of bureaucratic back and forth – go to this window, no not complete yet, take it to that window, go to the cashier then come back, etc. – we finally walked out with my 90-day work permit extension. Which means that sometime in the next 90 days I’ll have to do this all again, except for the trip to the DBD, which shouldn’t need to be done until the end of September.

Whew! And who said living in paradise was easy?