It’s the end of America as we know it…And I feel fine! (Part Two)

I had a hard time coming up with the Title for yesterday’s blog right up until the REM song that came on Pandora, got me quickly to the “Publish” button in WordPress. Sometime later, as I thought about the title, and the song, I realized that I may have not written the correct blog for that title. Well, this is the correct blog.

Before I owned my own business I worked as a direct employee for a few different engineering companies. I was constantly frustrated with continual threat of impending layoffs, not enough work or too much work, and a steady diet of poor decisions by others that were affecting my own professional reputation and ability to do my job successfully.

One day, I distinctly remember stopping in at a bar after work with a colleague. We were surprised to find our department’s VP with another department’s VP at a table by the door as we walked in. My friend and I both looked at each other half hoping we did not get caught slipping out of work at 4:45pm and half wondering if the VP’s even had a clue who the two low level guys from sector 8 were. To my semi-surprise they did recognize us and even asked us to join them. We sat down, ordered a drink, and began to have an eye opening conversation with a couple of guys that probably were a drink or two beyond control of what they should have been saying, and to whom. As I polished off my first beer, I distinctly remember realizing that in addition to drinking the mug of beer, I had also just made more progress in 25 minutes toward advancement in my company than I had the entire four years busting my butt in that grey cubicle! I thought about how cool it was that with my new friends, I would finally get some recognition for what I have been doing all this time. By the end of the third beer I was starting to feel a little nauseous, but it wasn’t from the beer.  I was realizing what it really took to get ahead in “good old boys” world of corporate America. My friend decided to stay and have a fourth beer, but I decided instead to leave that bar… and quit my job. I did, and a decade later, that has been the best career decision, I ever made.

At first, things went very well. It was early in 2000 and the economy hadn’t started to tank. I had enough contacts in the industry and a good enough reputation that my phone immediately started ringing with offers from other companies to go work for them. I decided I could support them all instead of just one of them. And so just like that, my consulting business was off and running.  I incorporated a year or so later and started occasionally hiring subcontractors to complete larger projects as my small business grew along with my income.

I started off in my home with the plan of growing into a larger company with maybe a few employees or more. However, I soon realized that my talents and even interests were definitely not in running a large business or being a personnel manager. I prefer the engineering design tasks and not sitting around a conference table hammering out a budget. Anyway, I was clearing six figures and still got to sneak out for a weekday afternoon round of golf every now and then. I didn’t have to tell a sole or answer to anyone. Life and career were good!

Then, the housing bubble collapsed, the stock market crashed, and the recession ensued. I think everybody remembers well enough how that whole thing went down.  In fact, my company’s business reports pretty much follow the exact same lines I see on graphs of the economy overall during that time and really even today. Business hit a low point a few years ago. For the first time in my entire life, I had to sit down and make a decision about which of our bills I was going to skip payment on this month. I am sure I am not the only one reading this who knows how bad that sucks. Luckily, like I touched on before, we had good credit, so I transferred a couple of high rate cards to low intro APR card and we managed to weather the storm with only a few late fees, and no hit on our credit, barely.

Like for the country as a whole, the recovery for my business has been way too slow. Even today, although steadily employed and even though signs say things are improving, the hourly rate that I am able to command for my services is approximately 40% less than it was not long ago, as is my income. I guess I should be furious at Obama. The industry that I work in certainly is. There is no doubt that the world of corporate aviation has been turned upside down as have the lives of a heck of a lot of us that work in the industry. It certainly did not help when the entire group of bank CEO’s showed up at congress to beg for money each arriving in an individual private jet. They still got paid and Obama and the Democrats pounced. Just like that, the life of an average-Joe corporate jet engineer changed in a political instant.

I had to get creative, I shifted my business focus away from jets and picked up some work in the general aviation and helicopter markets although they pay quite a bit less. We also adjusted or budget. I brown bag it a little more often, we have kept the same vehicles, and old countertops, and unfortunately we have had to cut out a scuba diving vacation or two. I also often find that my mid-week round of golf is at the muni with a coupon if I can find one. Tough changes and cuts to make for sure, but to be honest even describing this makes me feel a bit uncomfortable and selfish.

Where Obama-care is the rallying cry for most, “User-Fees” are the rallying cry for the angry righties in my world.  You see, under Obama, the government proposed a $100 fee, per flight, for all corporate jets. Because, as we know, the government is broke, this was an effort to help offset the cost to airports, air traffic control, and the impact to the environment when you have a relative few people zooming circles around the rest of us packed liked sardines in a 747. Makes sense I think, but the CEO’s and giant companies don’t seem to be as comfortable sacrificing as my wife and I. As you can imagine, asking millionaires and billionaires to pay a little more has caused quite the commotion. So, just exactly like the healthcare industry that has been in trouble long before anyone signed Obama-care, User-Fees were the ammunition that my industry used to rally the foot soldiers into believing that Obama and his crippling new tax were going to shut down the entire industry. My email inbox and professional publications wanted to make it very clear that the slowdown of my industry has nothing to do with the economy, nothing to do with the wars, nothing to do with the stock market, and nothing to do with the incredibly deep recession the entire country found itself smack in the middle of. Nope, for us it was these $100 User-Fees. And every mechanic in my industry that got laid off became very familiar with the term as well as Obama’s part in it. Like Obama-care this hasn’t even gone in to effect but the shear threat of it was enough to feed the hungry fear monster. I guess I should be outraged as well right? Obama and these taxes are killing those that could be creating jobs for me. Nice try.

User-Fees, like Obama-care, have absolutely nothing to do with the overall issues we are facing. Once again, the numbers simply do not add up. These words are just the sword being used. You see, I am a critical thinker. I am not saying that a $100/flight user fee is not going to have some impact on the bottom line for more than a few companies. I am sure it will. Sorry if I don’t drop on my hands and knees and cry, “oh the humanity!”, but at the same time I am also certain that more and more private jets at major airports do affect the bottom line of the government run air traffic control system as well. Why shouldn’t they be asked to pay more tax as they ask more from the government? I guess maybe unlike others, I have also spent a bit too much time watching $15 million dollar business jets burn $100 worth of jet fuel just idling on the taxi-way while the mini-bar is restocked.

So I guess maybe this is why I am so sensitive about all of the whining and complaining I see on social media from people that have wealth many could only imagine.  My family has taken a pretty substantial hit in the income department in recent years. But for some reason, instead of crying about how my six figure income is no longer even close to six figures, I decided instead to write a series of blogs about just how damn lucky I really am to have any figures at all, and I meant every word I wrote.

I probably am too harsh on my friends and the whiners in this country. Yes, it is frustrating when your work and the economy suffer, and yes, making sacrifices in life is not always easy. Neither is seeing your candidate loose. Trust me, I know very well what 2004 felt like.

I believe that a lot of what we are actually seeing is back lash from the fact that for the first time in the history of this country, white men are finding themselves not quite as high on the old totem poll as they once were. White men in the country have a pretty long history of getting what they want at any cost. Just ask the Native Americans. In recent years we have also not been asked to sacrifice nearly as much as minorities, women, and certainly not as much as the rest of the world as the economy dips around us. At least not the men of my generation. The voting numbers in the last two elections have pointed out a pretty interesting shift. I think way more than anything, the social media rhetoric, the all-out, full-force cries about the death of America, and the finger pointing actually point to one simple explanation. White men are losing their power in this country, and they are freaking out about it in one pretty furious, big baby fit.

I think everybody loves the idea of democracy. “One vote one person” is exactly how it should be, but for quite a few in this country, it seems the love affair with democracy may have hit a roadblock. The once almighty and all powerful are finding themselves a slight minority. What is best for the majority of the country, for the first time, may not be what is best for Mr. Pearly White. Previously, when a recession hit, or layoff numbers shot up, for the most part, Mr. White experienced only a minor inconvenience while others, with a little less collective power took it a little harder in the rear. Since, I am part of that new minority, I guess I should be upset or scared too. I am not. Like I said in my title, it is the end of America as we know it…and I do feel fine. You see, I have found that life does not work very well when I don’t feel fine and when I think in narrow self-focused terms. If my country or a majority of people in it are suffering, who am I to believe that I should not suffer along with her taking the lumps I have coming?

To be honest, I am not real certain what the next decade has in store for us and I would not be entirely surprised if things do get even worse. It certainly doesn’t help to shiver in fear, or cry about how unfair things are. Take a look around you. When has life ever been fair?

If ten years from now, my wife and I find ourselves living in a van, down by the river, I will feel fine then too. Instead of yelling out the window about how my situation is someone else’s fault, I will be writing a note about just how lucky I am to have that van, my wife, compassion, love, and my clear and present mind. I will mean every word I write, and on that day, as I am today, I will be the wealthiest man in the world.

It’s the End of America as We Know it…And I Feel Fine!

A day after the election, the doomsday nuts are out in full force, more than I would have even guessed. On Facebook today here are just a few of my personal favorites:

  1. “America will never be the same. We are so screwed”
  2. “I’m convinced that America as we’ve know her died tonight”
  3. “America is officially dead and will never be strong again.”
  4. “America died last night. And my grandchildren will never know how great we once were.”
  5. “Guess I better plan on going back to being an “employee” of someone rather than running my own business. Depressing!!”

The first four were cracking me up, but I think #5 is the most telling. Sure he was kidding but still, in response to about how business is today, the answer in another post was “Our business is fine and going strong.” As an entrepreneur that also has a business that has been “fine” and “going strong” under Obama’s first term, I think this perfectly highlights the unbelievable high level that the rhetoric has reached. Given the sheer numbers actually out of work and suffering in the recession, I simply cannot imagine being so crass. I think the biggest irony is that every one of those came from self-proclaimed Christians. What would Jesus think? I think he might tell them they are being a little self-absorbed and then leave to help the poor and to spread the message of love and compassion.

As usual, and I guess not surprising, is that Obama-care and welfare in general is still the resounding rallying cry of the right. I am always surprised that this bill has generated this amount of focus and public attention. Yes, you can debate the relative worth, but when you hear the rhetoric about how it will bankrupt the country, and end life as we know it, you have to scratch your head because the numbers simply do not add up. That is usually when I flip on Fox News and realize, oh, I forgot about them.

As a self-employed entrepreneur, I have been purchasing my own health insurance on the open market for the last 10 years or more.  The amount that I have paid monthly into the system over that time is tremendous. I went to the doctor one time a few years ago to have a boil lanced but I did not come close to exceeding my deductible for that year. I did get some form of health care from a guy that helped me devise an exercise program to help me with the genetic lower back disorder I inherited. None of that was covered by my insurance and I paid it all out of pocket. The surgery that I am working hard to try not have in the future will be covered 100% and I am sure they could happily be slicing and dicing me in under a week, no questions asked. I guess I should be happy that I am protected by the greatest health-care system in the World. My back is a little nervous about that though.

I also pay for a yearly blood test out of pocket and I am in perfect health, except for my back. I am meticulous about exercise, diet and wellness and my wife and I have both taken advantages of alternative care and wellness services so that we can stay as healthy as we can, as long as we can. Again, all out of pocket and not covered by insurance.

So, what I would like, is for someone to explain to me why exactly I should be outraged about Obama-care? When you consider just how much money I have forked out for health-care in the past ten years for medical care I did not receive, why exactly should I be more outraged about having to pay for a surgery to save the life of a poor lady that got hit by a car, than I am about having to pay for a surgery to make it physically impossible for a wealthy fat lady to eat five Whoppers? And when you consider that I already am paying for the care of the uninsured poor lady on the back end with my ever increasing insurance dollars, and that the lady, that was already too poor to buy insurance, is now going through an expensive public bankruptcy process, the outrage becomes even more of a critical thinking mystery. Unless I guess, you are hoping the uninsured just don’t bother going to the hospital to save themselves. In that case you are correct, the current system probably does save a few dollars. I guess that is better than socialism?

In a world where most people get their health insurance through their employer as a benefit, I think it is difficult for them to understand how much they each already are paying for socialized health-care for, pretty much every single citizen less the few that Obama-care picks up in an effort to curb the cost we already pay for the uninsured. If people had insurance expenses taken out of their paycheck like I do instead of off the top as a company “benefit”, I think the obvious path toward a public option would face little opposition.

Only in a public option framework can we then move toward a more reasonable and productive system where health-care providers are not compensated by the number of procedures or drugs they sell, but instead by the number of procedures or drugs they help their patients avoid. They wouldn’t be penalized for treating ill patients but there would be an incentive for patient wellness where there simply is not in the current system. And if as a patient in a public system, I have an option to meet wellness goals to lower my tax that might work well for me too. In fact, the incentive is actually the opposite for for-profit health-care providers. With a little new motivation, I have a strong feeling that quite a few health-care providers will start finding surprising new ways to motivate their patients, and quite a few of those “last resort” bariatric surgeries might not be needed; and neither will a good number of the dollars I currently spend paying for them. In a for-profit entrepreneurial reality, those bariatric surgeries are an absolute gold mine. That is just one example. Please feel free to do your own critical thinking on other scenarios.

Is this line of reasoning that difficult to accept on a critical thinking level? What exactly am I missing? And sorry, your answer cannot be “Obama-care is Socialism” or “Obama-care is killing America”, although I do realize that limits your options.