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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.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Shit, or get off the pot

When I was growing up my Dad used to say that a lot.  When I was a kid I thought it meant he wanted me to hurry up.  To get my ass in gear, etc.

He probably did.

Now that I'm a little older, 50, I'm starting to think that maybe...just maybe he also meant something else.  Make a decision.  Make a choice and live with the consequences of that choice; but make a choice and move forward.

For the last several months I've been playing around with the idea of starting my own independent insurance agency.   I would be the only salesman, all the responsibility of that company would fall on me.  My success or failure would rest squarely on my shoulders.

I've putted around and have not really pushed or made any true effort to succeed.  In fact, I have only made two presentations so far and have no sales for either presentation.  The first person was really not that interested, you could tell by their total lack of interest in what I was offering them...and the sad thing is that their family was pushing them to do it.  The second presentation was a disaster on my part...I wasn't prepared as I should have been...and that showed.  They even asked me how long I've sold insurance.  I have a third one coming up...and this one I will be ready for.

The thing is that I've been in customer service and sales all my life in one form or another.  I've worked for banks for twelve years, I've worked in insurance the last two and a half years.  I spent two glorious years with the IRS (and that was a job I should have never have lost #regrets).  The thing is I've sold everything from magazines to checking accounts to home loans.  Selling someone a small five or 10 thousand dollar policy to cover their final expenses should be child's play.

Everything I've done though has been over the phone.  I've never made a face to face sale. 

I've been so good at my jobs in customer service and sales that I've worked as a trainer and even as a supervisor.  I've managed my own distribution business for nearly eleven years now.   Although I just deliver, my partner handles the contract side of things and we just hired our sixth employee.

I'm an introvert...I do better over the phone and the internet, where my personality can shine through.  Just don't ask me to speak or talk or interact with you in public. 

Going this route, this independent sales route scares the hell out of me.  Of course, I know that I'm only doing it part time.  I want to protect Sue and myself from what coming.  I can see retirement hanging like a big black cloud on the horizon.  For her and I to do what we want to do (travel) then I'm going to need to be in a better position.  Independent sales, with its residual income, is the way to go.

Her pay is not going to increase much...and my job does not offer me advancement or much reason to stay.  Although I will stay there for now, for I am ugly but not stupid. 

To quote my father:  "Shit, or get off the pot."

Right now is the time.   I've some money saved up, about fifteen thousand, that will be used for advertising and buying leads.  God forbid if I lost my job that would carry us for three to five months till things really started rolling.  Nothing creates sales like fear of losing everything.

Shit or get off the pot.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

After thoughts on the election

This post originally appeared on my other Blog - Scooter Revolution - all the way back on Nov. 11, 2016.

I thought I should post it here as well.  I've not edited it in any away and I think I will be returning to this blog a bit more in the future.

I debated about posting something political.

I actually created a separate blog for political posts but gave it up after a short time simply because it became apparent to me that my chosen candidate, Bernie Sanders, was not going to be nominated.  Like many, I felt disappointed but I predicted a close election...however like many I expected Hillary Clinton to win.

Although in hindsight the same issues that I had with Clinton from the very beginning were the ones that doomed her in the end.  I'm not going to repeat what the pundits are saying because they got it all wrong...I'm giving my personal opinions on why she failed.

1)  The White House is not a prize to be given from father to son or from husband to wife. - The American people still remember what happened the last time that happened.  Well no pundits will admit to that part of the puzzle, I think Americans feel that their government is being controlled by only a small group of people (and it is).  When the public is feeling frustrated with many issues concerning our government, having someone nominated who seems to think the White House was her birthright was a bad idea.

2)  The Democratic Party was out of touch with it's own people. - The DNC email leaks showed a clear preference for Hillary Clinton.  Which lead to cries of voter fraud and "rigged" elections (remember that word for it's important).   When she accepted the nomination she should have clearly apologized for that, calling out the DNC leadership and reached out to the various Sanders supporters during the convention. Instead of doing that she was left facing a mass exit of delegates during the convention.  A group that voted for her in the end (most of them) or stayed home election day (some of them).  Or voted for Jill Stein and the Greens (like I did).  

When Sanders won states in the rust belt and Midwest he did so because his economic message was resonating.  Interestingly enough, his anti Trade speeches and Trump's anti Trade speeches were not that different. 

The DNC did not pick up on this.   Or other concerns that Sanders showed the American people were concerned about.  What little she did learn from the Sanders campaign she seemed she didn't believe.  This lead to an enthusiasm gap.  

3)  Hillary was running a conventional campaign during an unconventional time and against an unconventional candidate. - Against a more conventional Republican opponent, like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio she would have been able to point at her experience and successes.  She could have said basically "Are you better off than you were 8 years ago?" and got a resounding yes.  Because, like it or not, the Republicans really don't have a platform themselves.  They are in the process of redefining themselves and are having a small civil war in the party.

Hillary could have played against that weakness.  Trump was playing the fool and the media.  Knowing that everything he said would be picked up....your on the news more for saying something stupid than for policy.  If you break it down, Trump got more people talking about him than Hillary ever did.

Well some of it was clearly disturbing and often bordered on out and out racism.  He clearly got is message apart that the "swamp" needed drained...and that Hillary and her ilk were the cause of it. 

4)  Trump is a master of language.  No really! - or "it's not what you say but how you say it." - Let's take a look at the word "rigged."

Strictly defined it means to assemble or adjust.  The problem is that most of the media thought when Trump was saying the election was "rigged" they defined it as "voter fraud."  Which is not what Trump was saying.  He was basically saying "Those in power don't care about you."  or more specifically "Hillary Clinton doesn't care about you."

Given the email scandal, the issues of her trustworthiness, the various scandals real or imagined, the fact that she often seemed cold and calculating...the American people heard that definition.  Not the "voter fraud".  They heard that the powerful had "rigged" the election.  They were not going to put up with that.

He played off the fears, the anger, and yes...even the racism and hate in America.  He also attracted the intellectual, the gay, the mixed raced and yes even some Latino votes.  You don't get 59,937,338 people to vote for you if your only playing the racism card.  You get that many votes by using language that drives your points home.   Salespeople do it all the time...if your listening you will hear they are selling the need for you to have product X, and not the product itself.

5)  Don't believe the hype - The polls all showed Hillary winning.  So what happened?  How could the polls be so wrong.  Since is actually the second election in a row where polls have lead us astray.  So the question is why?

That I don't have an answer for, other than I think that pollsters are looking at the wrong sets of data.  That they are making assumptions that the data didn't bare out.

I've seen more Trump signs than Clinton signs as I rode about before the election.   I saw more anti-Clinton memes and posts on Facebook than I saw anti Trump memes...and most of those were posted by liberals.  Sometimes a pollster needs to get out and actually be in the field pounding on doors.

So What Happens Next?
A) The Democratic Party may be damaged beyond repair.   
I know that seems drastic but let me explain:  They alienated a large chunk of their future voting block with younger, more liberal leaning kids.  The old unions and northern states are no longer solidly blue due to aging demographics and the failure of the party to capture the rural white vote (which went solidly for Trump).
They lost the Senate, House, the White House and the courts.   The move to the Center Right that started with Bill Clinton will probably end with Hillary Clinton.  Not that the left of the party is looking that great.  Sanders is currently 75.  Elizabeth Warren is 67 and will be 71 in 2020, plus she lost much of her credibility in supporting Clinton.  
If the party is to move forward it needs to get back to it's roots and that is the poor working man.  While there may be one or two leaders waiting in the wings, there is no one particular name that stands out. 
B)  The Republican Party can't celebrate yet.
They are still fractured and Trump is a business man first and foremost.  He is not beholden to any political agenda other than his own.  He's already stated he will not touch Social Security or Medicare (something the Republicans have threatened to cut in the past).  He's more of an isolationist than having a strong military, again this goes against the Republican grain.  
He's more likely to work with the minority to get stuff done, that means compromise which the Tea Party wing of the party has stood against.  Many in the party railed against him both in the primaries and in the general that he is President the small civil war has calmed for a bit, but may flair up again.
Many in the Republican party were standing against Trump or flat out refused to endorse him, Trump may or may not be willing to push a particular agenda.  
so what should we do?
The damage is done.  2016 will go down in history as a watershed year for a lot of reasons.  All we can do is take a "wait and see" approach to things and hope for the best.  Personally I think that Trump is starting to feel the weight of the world about him...and is just as surprised as the rest of us.
In the end if he surrounds himself with staff that tell him what a "Great President" is and what a "Great President" does....he may surprise us yet.   He has so far.