MasterPo says: This blog is about topics and issues that are of importance to me. I am not one of the countless blogging lemmings that are tripping over each other scurrying down the hill and off the cliff of blogging oblivion trying to write the greatest blog on the latest topic de'jour. Your comments are welcome.

May 28, 2009

Who Cries For The Rich?

The 80's were labeled "The Decade of Greed" (though I strongly disagree!).

The 90's were labeled "The Decade of Compassion" (which I also strongly disagree!).

So the first 10 years of the 21st century could be labeled as the "War on Wealth" decade.

Various politicians and pundits, with the gleeful help of the media at large, have been beating the same drum for years about how unfair it is "the rich" (which as of this year President Obama as defined as a person or business with a gross income of $250,000 or more) aren't paying enough taxes.

I'm not going to jump on the same band wagon as other writers and talk about how that thinking is oh soooooo wrong. You can search else where for those details.

But I will comment on an equally urgent wrong that is sliding in under the proverbial radar:

Who is going to advocate for "the rich"?

"The rich" are an easy target. There are no lobbyists, no PACs or grass roots organizations that rally to support "the rich". The media rarely shows "the rich" in good light (which is even funnier since most of the people on TV themselves are firmly entrenched in income brackets of "the rich"!). And the print media doesn't do any better.

There is only so much wealth in a nation. Don't fall for the tired old thinking that "the rich" will always find a way to be "the rich" no matter what taxes are levied on them so it doesn't matter.

Put out of your mind images of Donald Trump, Paris Hilton, Madonna, the Hollywood hacks etc. That's mostly glitz and glamour. The real wealthy, the real "rich" – those making over $250,000 – don't live anything like that! They probably do have some things more than you (and me) but they don't have private jets, 100 foot yachts, lobster dinners 3 times a week, etc.

And more concernedly, when we become a society that eagerly taxes "the rich" to give to the lesser (as we are rapidly becoming now) do you think those receiving the rich's money are going to vote for candidates that promise to lower taxes on "the rich"? Do you think they will vote to end the government programs and handouts paid for by taxing "the rich"?

Hell no!!

So who will stand up for "the rich"?

Ps - I never had a job working for a poor person.

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May 25, 2009

Rules of Engagement (or, How to Fight Fair?)

If I live to be 100 this is something I fear I will never learn or understand: How to fight "fair". Or, to put it another way, the rules of being an asshole.

We've all seen it happen in work (and life). Someone will blow up in anger. They will yell, scream, profane, say some incredibly hurtful and insulting things, even throw stuff around. And – Nothing happens. No punishment for acting unprofessional.

Back when I started my so-called working career there was at least the pretense of professionalism when it came to such conflict:

You never yelled at someone openly – take them into a closed office.
You never yelled at someone on a conference call or at a group meeting.
You never used 4 letter words in the open (behind closed doors only).

And you certainly word never say such things in an email or memo! (if only for legal reasons too)
To be sure, some fields/industries always had this open combat-like atmosphere. Usually very high pressure, high stacks, potentially high paying jobs like sales. But for more backoffice and non-commissioned/big bonus jobs there at least was the pretense of trying to keep a civil image.

I don't know where or when but it all changed. Now yelling, screaming, cursing, etc is SOP in many offices. Some say it's the "South Park" society we live in. Aren't we supposed to at least try to act professional?

But, more to the point of this article, over the years it has become clear to me there are "rules" of how to fight. Boundaries and lines that you can and cannot cross when acting like a dick to your co-workers (and people in general).

What are these boundaries and lines? I have no idea!

Over my working career spanning 25+ years I have had managers, co-workers, customers (you kind of expect it from them), and even vendors and consultants say some of the DARNDEST and most OUTRAGEOUS things to me! And then I'm told it's MY fault. Talk about blame the victim!!

Or, when I have made a complaint about being treated in such a manner I'm told things like:

"Well, you have to understand that Joe is under a lot of stress with this project."
"John is having some problems at home too."
"That's the way Bob is."
"Susan comes from this-that background where that's how you get things done."

What the hell are these crap excuses?!

Who doesn't have stress or problems in life. And if that's the way Bob is, tell him to change! So if I was an asshole too would you say "That's just the way MasterPo is?"

Meanwhile, if I so much as raise my voice about a whisper or give a one-two word email response I'm called on the floor for being argumentative, unprofessional, crude/rude, and basically all that is bad in the world.

I don't get it.

Did I miss a memo that listed the rules?
Did I miss a presentation where these rules were gone over?

Can someone send me the notes for this?

ps- I know the cartoon doesn't really play into the article but I like it.

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May 22, 2009

Trade-off or Settling? (or, A Question of Maturity?)

"I don't think I have to settle right now."

Those are words told to me by my ex-college girlfriend way many years ago when I was pressing her for what she thought of our relationship. As you can imagine, that comment though small said volumes (which is why, among other reasons, she isn't my wife today).

She was a real piece of work. I suppose every man needs to have had someone like her in his life to appreciate the better way things are (should be). But her point with that comment was she felt at that time that committing to me was less than what she wanted out of life. I treated her like gold (all her friends and family told her so), cared very much about her, never said or did anything to hurt her, wanted to be what she wanted me to be (which I know now was a mistake to try to do), etc.

But she wanted promises. Guarantees. Certainty.

She wanted me to promise I would one day very soon(!) be rich. That I would quickly have a high and prestigious upper management/executive job with a 6-figure salary, bonus, perks, 3 weeks off (at least) and only work 9-to-5 five days a week. Even as young and dumb as I was then I knew this was a fantasy. Not that I wouldn't be happy with such a life either but it isn't reality. And if she really meant it she was in for a rude surprise.

As devoted readers of mine here on this blog and my messages on forums well know, I believe you have to take someone at their word when they say they want this or that. Maybe they are expressing more a wish or hope than an actual item list of requirements. But how is one to know? If you ignore what someone says they want to get or want to do and later it turns out to be exactly that way you have no one to blame but yourself. Blindness is a two-way street.
But back to the topic of this article.

What she considered "settling" a more mature person recognizes as reality vs. idealism. Yes, you may want 10 things out of a situation but not all can be absolute 100% must-haves. It's not reasonable or realistic. Some things on that list can be marked as must-have but the more you mark the lesser your chances of finding a situation (or a person) that meets them all. A mature person knows what is absolutely important to them and what is flexible.

She called it settling. I call it being realistic and mature. Then again, she always did think very highly of herself.

There is no right or wrong answer. Each person has to analyze the individual situation and decide at that time what direction to take.

I guess he decision wasn't in my direction. Probably for the better for me too in the longer run.

Ps- So what ever became of her? Funny you should ask that.

According to public records on the net, she graduated grad school (teaching school) a year after we broke up. Soon there after her father died. He was a young man. Didn't say what the cause of death was. He didn't have any serious health issues I knew of but he always was highly stressed.

Could have been a stroke or heart attack. Or accident. Either way, I was very sadden. He and I got along great. When she and I finally broke up he was more upset than she was! (so was I)
Shortly there after she and her mother moved to Florida where her mother's parents live (they are retired). It also appears that her brother and his wife moved down to Florida as well (so much for them all being hard-core Long Island and New York City folk!).

About 2 years after moving down she married a man who seems to be some kind of telecommunications/electronics engineer. Seems very smart, appears to have published several articles in various engineering journals and presented at various technical symposiums.

They moved into a house on the mid-Atlantic side of Florida near the coast and had 2 children (I think boys). I don't know what kind of work she is/was doing. Couldn't find any record of her having a Florida teaching license or being listed on any Florida school roster.

10 years later they got divorced!

Looks like it was a very nasty divorce too. I would expect no less from her. Cobra venom is like sugar compared to her. She got the house and custody of the kids as far as I can see. Still fighting with the ex-hubby over visitation.

So as of now she is a mid-40's middle aged divorcee with two pre-teen kids.

I don't normally take pleasure in the demise of someone's relationship and hopes.

Funny how she ended up so far from what she always told me she wanted out of life.

Maybe maturity is knowing when to settle?

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May 20, 2009

Fish or cut bait? That's the question.

In this context I don't mean it literally but rather the indecision aspect. Specifically, with the precious little free time there seems to be these days (where on Earth did it all go and when????) do you go someplace you've been before and know has fish? Or, do you take the time to try someplace new, spend the time to learn how to fish it, and maybe discover a good spot?

We all want to catch fish and good fish at that. But sometimes you have to bite the bullet and give up some catching in order to prospect for greener pastures. It's a very tough call.

I did some freshwater prospecting this spring and am glad for it. But it also meant that I didn't fish my usual bay creeks this spring and I missed that. Still, I do think it was worth it to expand my experiences and knowledge about the fishing opportunities on Long Island (and more of the access bullshit – see my prior post on access).

Then again, fishing the same place for year after year can get you a level of expertise that you can't get bouncing all around. And with the cost of gas travel to more remote locations is hurting more.
Still, you can't be a successful backyard angler all the time.

So go out there and try something new!

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May 17, 2009

Money Doesn't Matter? Tell Me Another One!

I love speaking to or messaging with people who say “Money doesn’t matter to me.”


Anyone who says money is unimportant to them is either a liar or a fool, or both!

As the song goes: Money makes the world go ‘round. You need money to live in a modern (and even not-so-modern) society. You need to pay for housing, food, medicine, clothing, utilities and so on. And, least anyone forget, it’s a nice thing to have something put away for emergencies too.

Similarly, I love people who say “I love my work and the money doesn’t matter to me.”

What a load of crap!

It’s good to like what you do for a living. Believe me, having to doing things you hate to bring home a paycheck is hell. Been there, done that. But liking what you do is a bonus. Whether you like it or not (the work that is) you need that paycheck.

Think about this:

If the work was all that mattered why would people like teachers and nurses strike? After all, isn’t educating children or helping the sick far more important than money?

Have you ever known any to turn down a raise or bonus or pay increase that came with a promotion? I thought the pleasure of the work was all that mattered?

A common response from occupations like teachers and nurses is “We only want what’s fair”. (I’m not picking on these two occupation specifically) Really? If money doesn’t matter to you than what does it matter if you are paid $10/hr or $100/hr? I thought it was all about the work.

The fact is very often people who claim money is unimportant to them or the work is all that matters are some of the most money-grubbing, greedy and tight-waded people walking the Earth. But they don’t want to either admit it to themselves or are too embarrassed to be honest with the world. Can’t blame them absolutely. The society we live in today (at least American society) demonizes “the rich” and glorifies the poor. (I’d like to see a “poor” person hire you after you’ve been layed-off!)
There is a difference between something constantly striving for a better income and sell-your-mother-for-a-dollar attitude. The former is ambition, the latter blindness. But drawing the line, recognizing the difference is far from easy.

In truth, some people do make the conscious choice to scale back their lives in terms of work, career and earnings in exchange for things like more time to pursue interests, spend time with family, travel etc. That’s fine with me, so long as they fully grasp the risks of purposely not trying to make as much as they can. Maybe not today but tomorrow they will need that extra money and won’t have it.

If someone wants to purposely scale back their life I won’t stop them. But please don’t come crying later that someone else has more than you and they can afford this or that while you can’t.

You made your choice – live with it!

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May 13, 2009

If It's Meant To Be….( or God Helps Those Who Help Themselves!)

This isn't a religion or faith article. I haven't gone pious. But I has been my observation in life that a great many people follow a life philosophy that says quote "If it's meant to be it will be, if it doesn't happen then it wasn't meant to be in the first place."

Fatalistic? Faithalistic? Practical?

There is some truth and reality to the concept that sometimes no matter how hard you try it just doesn't happen for you. Whatever "it" is. In fact, sometimes it's argued that you may be trying too hard and need to ease back a little. Relationships are a common source for this.

But if you don't try then you certainly won't succeed at whatever you are attempting. Even with great effort you still may not succeed but if you don't try you definitely won't!

Imagine someone says they dream of one day climbing to the top of Mount Everest. Great goal! Now I ask them what are they doing to move that forward? Are they engaged in a physical training program? A mountain climbing training program? Do they know all the equipment they will need to bring? Have they looked into a guide service? Travel arrangements? Inoculations and travel papers needed? If they have at least done some of this then I'd say they are trying to some extent at least.

But if they say no but it's still their dream then to me they are just day dreaming. Nothing wrong with that per se. But don't hold it against the world when you don't get to Everest! Day dreaming won't do it for you.

Same with a relationship. When I was young and single I met many whose attitude was "If it's meant to be it will be" when it came to dating and a relationship. I also agree to an extent. I too have suffered the pains of meeting someone who you think at the time is the person of your dreams but no matter what you try it doesn't work out. The only recourse is to say they really weren't the person you thought them to be. But, what did you do to try to make it happen? A relationship takes time and effort. In school it's easier because you may share classes and events with someone you're interested in and so you have a ready excuse to be with them to some extent already. But when you're done with school a relationship takes time. You're working, you have other interests, family obligations, the unknown, etc. It takes time to be with someone, to get to really know them (speed dating is lust at best, bullshit at the most!) although the latter is a skill sorely lacking in many social settings anyway but that's for another time. My point is that if I'm going to put in the time and effort to meet with someone I expect a similar level of effort on their part.

And that is the crux of my aversion to this whole "If it's meant to be" crap.

Very few things just happen!

It takes an active role on your part to try to make it happen. I say "try" because there is no guarantee. But the only guarantee is if you don't try it definitely will not happen.

As another old saying goes: "People don't plan to fail, they just fail to plan."

Plan – and carry through!

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May 11, 2009

Obama: Applying a 1930's Solution in the 21st Century

Our newly anointed Messiah – I mean inaugurated President - B. Hussein Obama's plan for rebuilding our nations roads, bridges and other interstate infrastructure as the means of getting the economy back on the up & up won't work. At least not to the greater extent that it is claimed to be targeted for.

Don't get me wrong. It's a very good idea to maintain, build or rebuild our national infrastructure. But that's why each state has it's own budget for roads and bridges. That's why each state imposes it's own tax on gasoline as well as tolls and car registrations and other hidden taxes. All that money is supposed to be used already for maintaining the roads and bridges!!

So where did it all go? (Hint: Spent on social welfare and pork programs – anything but the roads and bridges it was meant for!)

But more specifically, rebuilding roads/bridges etc. is a 1930's plan being thrown at a 21st century economy. In the 1920's, 30's and 40's the majority of lower and middle class people worked in the blue collar manufacturing and skilled labor fields (like metal workers, welders, electricians, plumbers etc). That's fine because manufacturing and blue collar skilled work was the mainstay of the American economy back then.

But not today!

For 20 years at least American manufacturing and skilled blue collar work as sharply declined and it isn't coming back. Today, the American economy is based on technology, information, and services (in which I'm including retail for the sake of this discussion).

As such, people who lost good paying jobs in technology, information and services simply are not the type of people who are going to benefit and get jobs from a new highway or bridge project.
For example, a laid-off 45 year old CPA with 20+ years of accounting experience is very unlikely to apply for a job as a construction worker at base union pay scale. Neither is a network engineer, computer programmer, financial analyst, lawyer (no jokes please), software project manager, etc etc etc. These people need high paying white collar professional jobs! And those can only come from a growing economy and hands-off government that produces an environment where people are willing to start (or expand) these kinds of businesses.

And before you say "That CPA will take a construction job is that's the only way to get a pay check!", I agree. But think of it! What does that do to the economy when you have highly educated/trained and experienced professionals who are near their top earning years in their professions suddenly tossed down to the bottom of the ladder again? Do you think that CPA will be able to make his mortgage payments on junior union scale? Do you think he's going to buy a new car? Go on a vacation? Have renovations to his house? Pay the college bill for his kids? And generally spend all the money he otherwise would which itself stimulates the economy.

No. He won't be able to. A job is not a job!

So while I agree our roads and bridges need work, this is faaaaaar from the forward out-of-the-box thinking I expect from our Messiah.

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May 8, 2009

Alternate Energy Requires Alternate Thought

Alternate/alternative energy is the buzz of the year. Perhaps the decade.

I'm all for it!

Yes, that's right. You read it correctly. I have no problem with wind or solar, especially with individuals applying that technology to power their homes.

But…..(you had to know that was coming)

It's all well and good to say that if everyone put up a wind mill or placed solar panels on their house we'd save X-amount of generated energy. But that doesn't help when non-alternative thinking prevails. Or the realities of the situation.

For example, wind power requires you to put up a tall tower. That might be fine in someplace like Nebraska. But most cities and communities have zoning laws that prevent the tall (usually 20 feet at least) towers needed for wind power. And they rarely give out variances. After all, what town wants their scenic beauty landscape dotted with electric wind mills? Case in point is Block Island, Rhode Island. The controversy over wind power vs. the electric utility (some of the highest rates in the country!) has been going on for years! Doesn't do much good to have viable wind power if my local own won't let me put up a tower (not to mention I don't think your neighbors would be too happy with that eye soar or the SWOOSH-SWOOSH of the blades 24/7).

For solar, I'll use the example of someone I work with. A woman in my office had solar installed on her house and raves about it! In the summer she boastfully puts copies of her electric bill on her office door showing she only paid $6, $10, $12 etc all summer long. That's great for her. But you also have to know her situation.

First, she lives in a very small house. It doesn't use much electricity to begin with. Second, she isn't married and has no kids. That means when she isn't home there's also a bare minimum of electric being used. And third, related to the second, she has a very active life, both work and social. So she just isn't home often to use much electricity. By comparison, I wonder what the electric bill for a medium sized house on Long Island (say 2,500-3000 sq. feet) with a family of 4 or 5 would be with a full solar array?

I'm not knocking the new technology. It has great potential. Someday.

But unless the rules and think of daily life change, and realistic projections are used for usage and savings, it's still just vaporware.

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May 5, 2009

Results of the Great Credit Card Experiment (or Maximizing Freebies?)

A couple of years ago I applied for a Costco American Express card. This version of Amex gives me a percentage rebate for things charged that ends up being a rebate voucher for purchases at Costco. Certain purchases acquire more rebate than others. At this time I get a 3% rebate for dining out and gas purchases, 2% for travel related purchases (plane tickets, hotel, car rental etc), and 1% for everything else.

It seemed like a good idea because 1) My family shops a lot at Costco, and, 2) As of writing this Costco does not accept Visa or MasterCard for payment at the store; Only Amex, Debit or cash. So it looked like a win-win scenario.

And it was to an extent. I charged some things on my Amex during the year and the following year I would get a rebate voucher for Costco. Generally the rebate was in the $200-$300 range. That helped buy a few items each year (since Costco sells in bulk it's very easy to ring up several hundred dollars each time you go there!).

Then I read an article on a financial blog about get the most rewards from your credit card. The author said he charges everything he possibly can to his card to get the max (in his case airline miles). He charges not only basics like groceries and gas but his utility bills, insurance, subscriptions, memberships etc etc. But, so as not to get stuck with a high credit card bill at the end of the statement period, he opened a high yield savings account and everyday he adds up how much he charged and transfers that total from his checking account to this savings account. That way, he explained, he earned a bit of interest on the money temporarily. But more over, when the bill comes it's already been "pre-paid" by having this pot of money on the side waiting for it.
Therefore, in the end he gets the maximum amount of rewards from his card, has the money on hand to pay the bill off so he doesn't run up a big balance, and earned a touch of interest to boot.

Sounded very logical and practical to me.

I thought I'd give it a try.

So in the beginning of 2008 began charging all I could on my Amex and each day setting aside cash from my checking account that I otherwise would have used to pay for these purchases. I continued this all year long and just recently received my 2008 rebate voucher.

The results of this experiment: Mixed.

On the plus side my rebate check was the largest I have received yet with the card, approx $150 more than prior years. That will buy a few more steaks for the BBQ this summer! And the rebate is tax-free so I essentially can buy several hundred dollars worth of products with found tax-free funds.

That's sweet!

On the negative side it was a lot of work every day (more or less) adding up my purchases and transferring the funds to cover them. Then needing to keep track of what purchases had been pre-paid and which ones were not (can't cover all purchases, some have to paid out of the pay check directly). And the billing cycle of my Amex isn't as clear cut as for my MasterCard so it was harder to time purchases to get into the next cycle and thus not get hit with a big bill.

Overall I'd say the experiment was worth a try but not as grand a payoff as I had hoped for given all the effort to manage it throughout the year. I'm still following this strategy, albeit at a much more scaled down pace (a lot having to do with the overall economy and future outlook as well).

Would I recommend this strategy? Yes but with caution. It's very easy to over charge and get stuck with a bigger bill than you have covered already. This strategy is probably better suited to someone who travels a lot for work and can expense many of the charges that way insuring the funds to cover them.

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