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Sunday, February 18, 2018

What makes this one different?

I'm not going to name him.   As we are all aware now, several days ago a mentally disturbed individual walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and opened fire with a AR-15 rifle.  

It's a Sunday now, 17 people died and this shooting currently ranks 3rd or 4th in the history of school shootings as the most deadly.  I state currently because sadly, unless things change, their will be another.

My heart goes out to the families of course.  I have listened to the same old debate about "Now is not the time to discuss gun control."  I have heard the same old arguments about how it's our society that is somehow at fault.  Or the parents.  Things like this follow the same old tried and true pattern.   A tragedy happens, the politicians offer "Thoughts and Prayers", and then it drops. 

This one seems different.   Maybe it is.  

We had kids in the hall shooting video's.  We had live tweets.  Some have criticized them for this, stating, not wrongly, that they have tried to find a place to hide.  That these actions put them at greater risk.

What we have is a first hand account of horror.  Of young lives being taken.  Some of these video's were graphic, hard to watch....and you should watch them.  You should be shook up, shocked, angry, scared and wondering how this can happen.  And happen again....and happen again.

So what makes this shooting different.   Perhaps it was the mother screaming at Trump.  Maybe it was the kids themselves standing together and saying "This ends here."  Maybe its the times we live in, where anger seems to be at the forefront.  

Maybe because we live in a age where everyone is connected.   Republican politicians said the wrong things at the wrong time, following that script we all know so well.   Before they could say "Thoughts and Prayers" they were being attacked by the children that survived the attack.  Being asked very publically why they were not being better protected.

At this time on March 24 they are talking about a March on Washington to demand change.  

This "change in the weather" does not seem to be organized by any group, their seems to be no organization behind it.  Just a bunch of pissed off kids who frankly have had enough.   It's about time too.

A cartoon that was savagely mocked
Even those on Facebook, whose lives seem fixated on one or two things, seem to understand their is a difference.   A stupid cartoon created and posted by a group called "Defending our second" went viral for all the wrong reasons.  Instead of making their point the group found itself on the defensive as many pointed out the budget for better defending the school had to come from somewhere, the issues of arming teachers (mostly safety) and that teachers often had to pay for their student's school supplies.   "Where," they mocked "would you get money for a Glock?"  It actually caused the site to go dark and when it came back up, the cartoon was removed. 

When you have young girls and boys who just lost friends, family and teachers calling you to task after a tragedy, it has a chilling effect on those that want to defend the right to bear certain types of arms.

The gun used was also the problem.  The AR-15 is a military style weapon whose only purpose is to kill as many people as it can in the shortest time frame.  It's been used in Orlando, Vegas and a dozen more places...and now Parkland. 

Frankly the right doesn't seem to know what to do here.  They are used to being on the defensive when it comes to this sort of thing.  Just not this style of attack, lead by children!  When a group of men in China attacked a train station, the right try to state that "People kill people, not guns."   Only to be met with "Imagine how many would have died if they had AR-15's?"
It seems that the children of this tragedy are changing the narrative.  That's not a bad thing.   Again it's a little change but something I've noticed.   Many posts are now going with the hashtag #massacreprevention instead of the old faithful #guncontrol.   It's a unique wording and speaks volumes about the change in narrative on the left.  

All through Twitter and Facebook, I saw the following.   Again, I'm not sure where it started but the sentiment seems to be ringing very, very true. 

The children of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School led the charge.  Posting and tweeting and calling out the highest leaders of the state of Florida.   These kids are naming names and their anger might be enough to start a fire.

I  just hope they actually do bring about some sort of lasting and positive change.  I'm sure a few politicians on the right are going to change their tune.  You will see that in the next two weeks if the intensity of this anger keeps up.   To a politician, the pool numbers mean everything, and Donald Trump's egotism and issues have only exasperated a complex and sensitive issue for them.  

Their is at least one Republican donor who has changed his tune already, and he is a good sized player in the state of Florida at least.  Al Hoffman is a critic of President Trump and a backer of the "Traditional Republican" party, having raised money and contributed to the Bush family.  His name does carry some weight and if he can persuade others to his way of thinking, expect some quiet and painful movement.

That however is part of the small civil war that has been going on within the Republican Party since 2012 and will continue for the foreseeable future.  It's also a battle that Donald Trump is currently winning (sort of, it's complicated) and really should be discussed somewhere in the future. 

Personally I think this time is different.   I think this time we will not follow the same old script.  This time I hope I'm wrong when I say this.

I don't expect anything to change.   

How that will affect things come November?   I can honestly say I don't know.  


Monday, January 1, 2018

It's not about a damn cake

I've been away from this site for a long time.  Other sites as well.  I'm still interested in Politics but the interesting stuff to me is the "legal", the "grey" and the logic and history behind a particular movement or philosophy.

I have a minor in Philosophy but that's another the recent "Gay Wedding Cake" got me thinking.   This really isn't a battle "religious freedom" or "First Amendment" rights.  What this really is a question of control.

How much control can a state have, in this case Colorado, over the lives of its citizens?  In a nutshell, Colorado has an ordinance which clearly states that a business can not violate the rights of a protected class of citizens.   Thus the bakery would have to serve Blacks, Hispanics, Gays, etc.   It's a law that is designed to prevent the worst of human behavior from becoming manifest.

On the other side of the fence, can a religious person refuse to serve someone if they disagree with that lifestyle?  Is that law in direct violation to the first amendment?

It's an interesting argument and much more nuanced than my short and probably inaccurate explanation.  It's also not the point of this article.  With that being said, I do think the Baker will lose.

  1. The Bible has been used historically to suppress a class of people.  That does not mean that their is no God, nor does it mean that the Baker in this case is wrong in his belief.   However their are many rules in the Bible that are simply not followed today.  Leviticus 15:19-33 comes to mind for example.  Would that Baker refuse to make a cake for a "unclean" woman if he knew?  Or would he ignore that rule?  Can a religious person pick and choose what he believes?
  2.  I hate to use the Slippery Slope argument, after all it is to easy to fall into that trap, but in this case it does apply.   If you allow discrimination based on one religious view, others will follow.  This last point was actually brought up by the justice's themselves.   "Where do you draw the line?"  When does the individual rights end and he/she becomes part of society?  Would the same rules apply to the jeweler?  The chef?  The doctor?
  3. The Baker in this case is arguing that his cakes are artistic expressions.   While I grant that many wedding cakes are artistic and that he may indeed be an's a big leap to argue that his cakes are thus "endorsing" the concept of gay marriage.  
We can not yell "Fire" in a crowded room because it could cause a panic and result in physical injury as the people try to escape from a non existent threat.  We all accept this fact.  The safety of the whole is more important than the rights of the one to have the right to yell "Fire."

In a way the baker is stating that not only does he have this right, but that he has the right to yell "fire" only in rooms that he disagrees with. 

I'll be very surprised if the court sides with the baker.   The separation of Church and State in this country is sacrosanct.  The courts have a long history of supporting that separation.  With the exception of the Hobby Lobby case, the courts have protected the majority against the minority.  The fact that the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores is not being discussed more in this case indicates to me that the lawyers involved don't believe it's relative. 

It will be a close decision because even our courts are political these days.  The court is, thankfully, still filled with people that put the law above politics.  So expect a 5 - 4 defeat for the baker, and a win for the American people as a whole.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Crossing the Rubicon

On Tuesday, October 10, 2017, I cross the Rubicon.

I don't believe that I'm related to Julius Caesar.  No Roman Centurion blood runs through these veins.  Yet there has always been a striving, a desire to do more, to be better.  To build, if I may be so bold, an empire.

Thus I've job jumped a bit in my life, more that I care to admit but for 7 and a half years I worked as an Engineering Technician.  Building roads, stadiums, even a kiddie coaster at Carowinds Theme park in Charlotte.  It took me a long time to get used to that job.  In fact, I hated it at first till I was let in on a little secret. 

It wasn't hard work at all.

In fact, I got paid the same per test if I did three tests or 1 test.  Since the State of North Carolina required things to meet specs the first time (other wise the job would have to be redone on the contractor's dime), they really didn't need me. 

I could go to the movies, eat an hour and a half lunch.  Hell, drink beer and take a nap and as long as the work met specs...the state (and my bosses) didn't give a damn.  Hell, they join us at lunch and even at the movies. 

The problem was that I didn't have an engineering degree, and without that I was limited.  Plus, the contractors would often push hard into the night.  So I have overtime by Thursday mornings most weeks.  I was young, newly married and wanting more.

I left that job.

Then it was into Sales for PNC Bank for over 10 years.  A job I loved and was slowly but surely moving up the ladder.  In fact, a buddy of mine was hired at the same time and is celebrating his 20th year at the company.  He's a Vice President now.  He has the same degree as me.

I learned a lot there, worked hard and got a very nice compensation package.  Till the crash, then that was it...I was out the door and not voluntary. 

Since then I've floated here and there.  Trying hard to put my life back.  To build it back up.  I came to Florida on a whim because I could not stand one more Pennsylvania winter nor could I find a job that suited my skills.

Two weeks in Florida and I'm a manager and meet the man that would become my good friend and business partner on other projects.  We basically became the company that went out of business about a year after I moved to Florida.  We are still going strong...although the business we're in, magazine distribution and supply, is dying a slow and prolonged death.  What used to be weekly work for us has become monthly.

I found a job with 3M and quickly worked my way up.  Soon I was applying for, and not getting the position of trainer.   Yet I soon found myself working as a trainer.  Going to Jacksonville to supervise a secondary site often.  All I needed was to keep my mouth shut about something...and I didn't.  It was not a good parting.

Again though, I found myself a supervisory spot at an Insurance company with their call center, at the time it seemed like a good opportunity but after 3 years I find myself making the same amount of cash I did last year and few, if any chances to change or be moved up or down.  In fact, I was passed over for a unqualified individual who promptly left the company six weeks later.  The position went unfilled...and remains unfilled.

So...crossing the Rubicon. 

More to follow in part 2. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

What to do...what to do.

I currently work three jobs.  Sort of.

It's a long story.

I have my regular job where I sit in a office five days a week, working on the phone and helping people with insurance, helping other agents, working with people's budgets and lives to find them the best policy.

Then their is my "second" job, where I am an independent Insurance Agent.  Free from the companies I work with and concentrating on a completely different field.  Sometimes I do OK, that is when I actually want to work with someone to find them a policy.   As of late, I just don't have the time or energy to pursue it the way I should.   Although we all know that is an excuse.  To be successful you don't break the chain.  You work on it for a few hours every single day. 

My third job is actually something that Sue currently handles for the most part.  I've been an independent distributor of papers and magazines for years.   Well it's not been huge money, it has paid for vacations and trips as well as supplemented my investments over the years.

Which brings me to now.  Right now.

Well, actually two weeks from today roughly.  They still need to complete some checks on me. 

I've been given the rare opportunity to take on contract work for the US government.  I would still be working in my chosen field but would also have to dust off my experience's in other fields that I've worked in the past.  The job would require me to travel, it might require me to be away for weeks...or even a time.

The pay, while generally speaking isn't bad, isn't great either.  It pays more per hour than I make currently but again, it's contract work.  It may be weeks, or months, between contracts.   I'm not sure if I could keep my regular 9 - 5 job or not.  Or any 9-5 job if the government wants me to travel to Texas, or California, or Rhode Island for a unknown amount of time. 

I know I could do my other two jobs and make a good living, but I'm not sure if I could maintain that.  I'm lazy and it's always easier for me to not do what I know needs to be done.

Frankly it's times like this that I wish I had a God that I pray to.  Sadly the Flying Spaghetti Monster simply tells me to eat pasta, drink Rum and walk about saying "AARRR!" a lot.

Another option is simply to look for another job that pays more than I currently make. 

Don't misunderstand me.   I'm very happy.  I am not in a huge amount of debt.  I'm not carrying a large credit card debt and we have about 7 months of our total household budget saved up and earning a better than average interest rate.  In other words, I'm not doing bad.  But I'm not where I need to be looking down the road 20 or 30 years into the future.

Anything that can move that dial to the positive is not a bad thing.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Back from the dead

I have some reservation about resurrecting this from the dead.

Generally speaking, I work in a conservative field full of conservative minded people.  I've sat across from regular people that have different political views, different religious views from me and listened to them spout off the most crazy and vile things about someone that is different then them.  Being a progressive liberal and a non-religious person, sometimes I have to bite my tongue.

I've sat there and smiled and generally tried to steer the conversation back on to the topic at hand.  That's the nature of the game.  Sometimes we have to be a mirror, sometimes we can respectfully agree to disagree...but generally any financial professional wants to avoid any religious or political talk.

We frankly, don't want to take sides in any political or ideological fight. 

Interestingly enough however, every financial person I know cares deeply about politics and where the country is going.  WE disagree of course, but we are numbers people.  We deal in facts and that means we are pretty respectful of each other.  After all, it does affect our bottom line.  The Fed raises rates?  How much and is that a good or bad thing?  The Koreans are threatening us with war?  Well what else is new?  Let's move forward with the meeting for next Tuesday.

That's the nature of the game.

That being said; my colleagues and I have watched the health care debate with interest.  Some truly believe that we should "repeal and replce" the Affordable Care Act (ACA or "Omabacare") All though very few like any of the current Republican plans. 

Others are more realistic.  We are stuck with a plan that was a mess from day one.  We just have to make the best of it.

Who gets the blame for the mess however?  The politicians certainly made a lot of mistakes with it but that's the nature of politics, compromise.  You get something that sort of works and has some glaring weaknesses.  In theory everyone "wins."  Everyone "loses."

The problem with the ACA is that the only real winner was the insurance companies, and politicians.

When the courts made expansion of Medicare optional (which it was not in the original plan - a good thing by the way), many Republican held states decided not to expend their programs (for reasons that were a combination of the practical and political).  Sadly this failure to expand Medicare help to create part of the problem with the current plan.  It's a simple fact that poorer people (for reasons I won't go into here) are sicker than "wealthier" people.  That means that it costs more for an insurance company to treat someone  In fact, the state of  Alabama currently only has Blue Cross Blue Shield participating in the exchange in 2017, and it’s spending $1.20 for every $1 it collects in premiums—an unsustainable ratio. 

Interestingly enough, their were 32 states that allowed plans that were non ACA compliment to continue to be sold in their states.   What the insurance companies did was legal, but of questionable ethics.  They raised the rates when the people who had these so called "Grandfathered plans" got sick. Which in turn meant those people moved into the ACA plans.   It's more costly to treat someone that is sick of course.  

This is just two of the many reasons why many states and counties have only one or two choices when it comes to insurance.  That's why you hear that the system is "blowing up."  That is also why states like Kansas expended Medicare and Alabama is now considering expanding Medicare, something they resisted in the past.

While the cost-sharing reductions where originally put in place to provide the insurance companies with some guaranteed payment, their were budgetary and political issues with those as well.  It was meant to be a carrot, but there was no stick involved.  One way to prevent loss, such as what is happening in Alabama, is to spread that loss over several different areas.  If you want to continue to earn those guaranteed payments, then you better cover people in Alabama as well.  That regulation never went into place, so we have insurance companies making more than ever before.  They are getting paid their regular premiums, then the guaranteed payments as well.  All while being allowed to minimize risk, such as not providing coverage in a high risk area such as Alabama.  Of course, the companies won't tell you that.

You can't blame the companies, they are only working in their best interest and those of their stockholders.  You could blame shortsighted politicians on both sides but again, they are supposedly working in the best interest of those who elected them (which frankly I doubt).

Generally speaking those of us in the insurance field figured that the newest efforts to "replace and repeal" would fail.  So much so that a lot of agents in the field didn't pay that much attention to the story that has been dominating the press as of late.

The ACA is far from perfect and the general feeling again is that we will see band aids and small minor fixes to the current plan, until it resembles something like the much debated "Medicare for all."  No, not the one that Bernie Sanders keeps talking about.  It will be more like today's Medicare program where the Govt picks up most of the tab, then private insurance fills in the holes and gaps with regulated plans.

It works well and has a high approval rating.  In fact, the feeling is that some sort of "Universal Health Care" is not only on the horizon, but is inevitable.  We just worry about what form it will take thanks to our fearless leaders on both sides of the political spectrum.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Shades of Grey

Despite everything that I've done - educator, banker, engineering technician, insurance, published writer - I only have one college degree.

I picked up some engineering classes.  I've managed to get my insurance license as well as a few other certifications here and there.  I tell people sometimes that I have a Masters because honestly I feel like I do.  I am something like 12 credit hours shy of a degree in Biology as well. 

My degree in education taught me two things and two things only.  The first was how to research.  If I don't know something I'll find out about in a matter of minutes or hours, depending on hard the subject at hand is.  The second goes hand in hand with that research.  It taught me how to think.  How to question?  How to debate.

It's served me well over time.

So when I hear a story about the lack of education among a certain religious group, in this case the Jehovah Witness group.  I want to scream at my radio.

Not only do they pressure their youth not to go to college, but also to drop out of high school.  It seems to me that any faith that can't handle the pressure of being questioned is no faith at all.

One of their leaders, Tony Morris, actually comes out and clearly states that even associating with those of another faith can make you question your own.  "If we are in continued association with those who do not believe the same, it can erode our thinking and convictions… It is one thing to work on a job with others, and quite another matter to immerse oneself in an institution of “learning.”


The problem of course is that we don't live in a vacuum.  You can't stay static.  The world simply will not allow it.  Especially today were we live in 60 second news cycles, are replacing our eyes with our phones and are being exposed to things like Hinduism, Islam and people of different colors, faiths, and cultural backgrounds on a more day to day basis.

The old days of the perfect 1950's family are long gone.     Frankly we have to stop yearning for them.

Back to the topic at hand.  Jehovah's Witness believers have the lowest education out of all believers.  No surprise when you consider that quote above.

As such they are often the lowest paid workers in the United States.  Now in their defense I do understand that they believe that the Judgment day could be as early as next Tuesday.  Why prepare for the future when you have no future.  Seems rather dark and disturbing to me.

I started thinking about education in general and the Western Religions.  Islam had a fantastic history of encouraging education and the sciences in general.  Frankly don't let the morons of ISIS or other groups fool you.  They still encourage education and science.

When your speaking to your Indonesian doctor or your engineer from  Bangladesh, chances are that he or she is a Muslim.  Indeed, according to a 2010 study, something like 23% of the world practices Islam to some extent.

I'll do the math for the Jehovah's Witness's in the group.  That is nearly 1 in every 4 people on earth.

Judaism has a long history of supporting education.  So does Catholicism.  In fact, the Catholic definition of a miracle is something that science can not explain.

All these faiths have grown and changed over time.  Sometimes because of history, sometimes because of changes in the society, sometimes because you just can't explain something without reexamine something core to your belief.

I suppose that is what scares more fundamentalist sects (like the morons in ISIS or the Witnesses).  Because if you are able to question God, then you have to look within your self and find your own failings.  You have to face up to the fact that maybe God did create the Homosexual.  Maybe God, in fact, is planning something other than your narrow world view.

It's a shade of Grey.   It's in that grey area that really cool stuff happens.  It's called growth, it's called learning.  I'll take a shade of grey over something black or white any day of the week.

I know that education can't solve all questions.  Your faith though has to be tested now and again, if it's not then it's not a true faith.  It's just a lie you tell yourself.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

For Rowen - the door to door poet

I'm not sure what it is that attracts me to this story.  I heard about on BBC news hour, then one quick little Google search later I found him.  Rowen the door to door poet.

I wish I could put my finger and what I find so interesting about this story.  Poetry, you see, is not really my thing.  If I read something, anything at all anymore it's generally non-fiction.  I used to be an avid reader, but with the demands of my new job (more on that in a bit) and life in gets harder and harder to find time to read!

Maybe that's why I am so enamored with the idea of a "door to door" poet.  We all have stories to tell, we all have art within us.  Maybe, just maybe I've not been feeding the creative side in me enough.

Since the first of February I've been dedicating myself to my new business.  It's not that easy to start one up, considering that I was going to make a go of it in a tough field.   Insurance is not easy.  No one really thinks about it till they need it...and by that time it's often to late.

To make matters even more interesting is the field that I decided to concentrate on.  Final Expense.   Death of course is going to happen to us all...even Rowen the Door to Door poet.  However this means that I'm generally working with older people and that are on limited budgets and whose health is not the best.

Insurance for them is going to be pricey, they may not qualify and you have to knock on a lot of doors.  It's also about stories.

I like to tell the story of the old man that I wrote a policy for years ago.  He discovered he had stage for cancer and only had a few months to live.  He calls me on the phone and says "Rob, can you help me here."
In my story he ends up using a rider to take his family - his kids and grand kids - on a all expenses paid trip to Disney world.

"He called it is parting gift." I tell my potential clients.

Only that story is not true.  Does it matter?   Should it?

Stories matter.

 Of course all this is going on at the same time my old job is picking up.  Sue has done a great job in running our small newspaper distribution service.  We picked up a local paper called the Laker and are serving the local Dade City/Zephyrhills area with it.   Total distribution of 9000 papers.  Our yearly income from that job alone doubles what we made last year total.   We don't handle the home distribution side, but the business side which means we don't distribute all 9000 papers, but it's still a large number and a  big win for us.

It eats into our time as a couple.  It is part of our story.

When I was laying in bed this morning thinking about the story of the poet, about how a high school friend of mine has just published her first novel, how I would have to run about today trying to deliver a different paper...what I was going to write about.  What I was going to say.

I get it's the story that interests me.   It's the story that matters.  Isn't that why I used to blog about my motorcycle?  Isn't that what I'm doing right this moment?  Telling a story?  Working things out in my head?

You know what...I'm glad I do this.  Even if no one may ever read it or comment.  Sometimes you just need to say "I'm here, and this is my story."

Make your story wonderful.