This chart claims that the number of regions with only one Obamacare provider is about to soar. (Click for report)

This chart claims that the number of regions with only one Obamacare provider is about to soar. (Click for report)

 

The Affordable Care Act is having (another) existential moment.  This one will be supercharged by a presidential election, which is a shame, because improving America’s health care insurance system is a really complicated project — sloganeering has no place. But the atmosphere around the topic so poisoned that it’s hard to have productive conversation about it.  Let’s try anyway.  If you feel yourself ready to yell “socialism” or “conservatives only care about rich people,” or even, “repeal Obamacare and I don’t care what we replace it with,” then please click elsewhere.

What I want, instead, is to hear first-person accounts of how the Affordable Care Act has helped or hurt you directly. Did you apply?  Did you get a subsidy? Did your premiums go up or down? Did your coverage get better or worse?  The reality for Obamacare is that is has helped some people and hurt others, and the real issue is: Is it doing more good than harm?  I’d like to try to push that ball forward a bit.  (So please, no third-party ‘I heard this’ stories or plain old rants).

Today’s existential moment involves large health insurance companies pulling out of the exchanges, saying they are losing too much money to offer Obamacare plans. UnitedHealth, for example, has said it will pull out of  31 states. Things are so bad that a recent study released by consultancy Avalere claims many Americans looking to buy on a state exchange will be left with a single health plan option by next year.  (See chart and link above.) People whimsically (fatalistically) have compared the situation to cable monopolies.  That’s not funny; it’s deadly serious.

The Avalere report, as almost anything you read about Obamacare, tells only one part of the story, and I’ll get to that in a minute. But first, it’s hard to deny this problem with the system:

Americans are now required to buy health insurance, but no one is required to sell it to them. And right as insurers say they are taking their ball and going home, the fine for failing to obtain insurance is about to soar — from $325 in the 2015 tax year to $695, or 2.5 percent of income, in 2016, whichever is higher. (We knew that last year, but most people won’t ‘feel’ the fee until they pay their 2016 taxes).

Washington, we have a problem.

But here’s some things to know.  First, Avalere claims that after all the retreats are announced, one-third of the U.S. will have only one plan option.  That’s probably an exaggeration. The report fails to account for insurers moving into exchanges, and there are some.  It also claims that one third of ‘ratings areas’ will have only one offering; that’s very different that one-third of Americans, which is how some news organizations have framed this.  Ratings areas are like area codes or zip codes. It’s likely exchanges in less populous areas will be the ones with the problems generating competition, meaning quite a few less than one-third of Americans will have only one Obamacare option. (Here’s a solid Bloomberg story about this.)

Also, it’s really important to know that — of course — insurance companies wield immense power over how this shakes out.  How much? Aenta threatened to pull out of exchanges if the Justice Department moved to block its mega-merger with Humana.  Justice did, so Aetna did.  So are they gaming Obamacare? Wouldn’t they be neglecting shareholders if they didn’t?

Health insurance companies do have a real problem here.   Sick people are signing up and healthy people are paying the fines.  So, it’s believable that the firms are losing money.  Why would they want to keep offering money-losing plans? Here’s a balanced look at the problem. But basically, the mechanism put in place to balance out losses (the ‘Risk Adjustment Program”) isn’t working very well.

So here’s something else I’m worried about.

The oldest trick in the insurance business is to lowball a premium offer to acquire customers and simply raise prices and take coverage away over time. Consumers are bad at changing providers. They hate searching around, they hate change, they are naturally lazy. (Economists call this “switching costs.”). For example: You really should get price quotes from auto insurance firms every year, or at minimum every two years, to make sure you aren’t getting ripped off. How many of you do that? Now, when you may or may not lose your family doctor, how much less likely are you to shop around and put real price pressure on your health insurance company?

While everyone is concerned about insurance companies dropping out, I’m more concerned with that issue providing cover for insurers to dramatically raise prices on their millions of new, green customers. This fear goes beyond the exchanges, of course. Plenty of folks who buy their own insurance directly from the providers rather than off the exchanges (which you should do unless you qualify for a subsidy).

There is a conspiracy theory that this is all by design, that the failure of the exchanges as insurance companies pull out will inevitably be “fixed” by the public option all the reformers wanted in the first place. Might be more than a theory. If insurance companies don’t want to offer a plan in an area, the government will.  And then, once there’s a government plan…well, it will ultimately be available everywhere.

First things first. I’ll be very interested to see what happens when insurance companies start sending out renewal notices this fall…right around election day.  Rate increases are going to make people really mad.  The question is: Who will they be mad at?

Now, your turn.  What has been your direct experience with the Affordable Care Act?  Are you better off, or worse off?

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When the Cubs last won the World Series, the spoils paid for this theater. Realy.

When the Cubs last won the World Series, the spoils paid for this theater. Realy.

What do you do when you are a Midwestern town of about 12,000 people and your main employer pulls out, taking 10,000 jobs with it?

You circle the wagons, call home the kids, embrace change, and trade in 20th Century industries for 21st Century industries. And hope for good luck.

If you drive anywhere in America off the interstates that connect the large cities, you’ll find hundreds of small towns struggling with an uncertain future. At best, small factories are slowly converted into loft apartments; at worst, they stand as empty shells. The towns with a thriving college or government offices have some good jobs. Some survive on tourism. But nearly all of them live in fear that their one big employer could dry up and blow away.

Wilmington, Ohio faced this seemingly apocalyptic reality eight years ago, right as America was waking up to its new economic reality. About an hour outside Cincinnati, Wilmington became the poster child for a declining America and the ravages of the Great Recession — its main employer vaporized, nearly overnight.

The story of Wilmington is the story of small-town America today.

German-owned shipping company DHL had set up shop at a World War II era air strip in town, with a grand plan to compete with FedEx and UPS in the U.S. shipping market. The jobs were simple — often part-time package sorting — but paid well, and critically, offered European-level benefits. Some area farmers would work 20 hours per week at the airport, securing health benefits and work their land the rest of the time.

(This story first appeared on Credit.com. Read it there.)

But in November 2008, at the height of the recession, DHL gave up and pulled out. Folks wondered if Wilmington would survive. Its plight became a national story. TV personality Glenn Beck even hosted a TV show from there. Donations and good will poured in; but neither do much to get an economy going again.

For real help, Wilmington and the surrounding Cling County called on its youth. Two Peace Corps “veterans” led the charge – they were barely old enough to drink, but they were optimistic enough (naive enough?) to take over the town’s chamber of commerce and come up with a rescue plan.

A Green Evolution

Taylor Stuckert was 23 at the time, and was just back from Bolivia, after the Peace Corps had evacuated him from there due to the unrest in the region. Mark Rembert, 24, had accepted a Peace Corps post and was set to go to Ecuador. At the last minute, he decided to move home instead and applied his training to Wilmington. The dynamic duo set out to use their Peace Corp skills to help save the flicker of light that was their home town and formed a group called “Energize Clinton County.” Soon, Rembert ran the Chamber of Commerce, while Stuckert got involved in the county planning commission.

I first met them in 2012, four years after the bad news arrived and TV cameras left. Their challenge had sunk in. At the time, things had stabilized, but Wilmington’s charming downtown was all but vacant. A struggling coffee shop here, an antique store there. But the energy of the 20-somethings who had returned home to help Rembert and Stuckert was contagious, and I had a feeling good news would arrive. I promised myself I would return to see it.

I kept that promise this month, as part of my annual road trip across America. Over late night-beers and an early brunch at the General Denver Hotel on Main Street, I got my wish.

Here’s the all-too-short version of this story: The old DHL airport is now roaring to life again, but with a high-tech twist. In March, Amazon announced that it was flying planes in and out of the air park as part of its sort-of-secret package delivery “airline.” Right now it’s only creating a fraction of the traffic that DHL planes did, but there’s the potential for much more.

The journey from DHL takeoff to Amazon arrival was hardly without turbulence, however, and Amazon hardly solves all the region’s problems. Still, it represents a remarkable turnaround for a region that was all but left for dead by some.

“We are starting to see things moving in the right direction,” Rembert said, who only recently gave up his spot as Chamber of Commerce president to finish his Ph.D. He still works at Energize Clinton County. “But if you look at the number of jobs today compared to prior to the recession, we are still way down.”

A History Worth Saving

Like many small places in America, Wilmington has a huge personality that gives it an out-sized influence on the rest of the country, and a history that rivals a big east coast city. Its glorious old-time downtown Murphy Theatre was built with money made by native Charles Webb Murphy from a sale of the Chicago Cubs to the Wrigley Family, right after the last time the Cubs won the World Series. There’s a Wilmington-Washington D.C. pipeline, too — Sam Stratman, professor at Wilmington College, worked for Republican Congressman Henry Hyde during the Clinton era, which once made Stratman the “spokesman” for the Clinton impeachment hearings. Stratman, like many who grew up here, is now back to help set Wilmington aright again.

The General Denver hotel is the town’s Cheers, where folks meet to debate the future of the country, or the county, or how to pay for this year’s county budget shortfall. Over eggs and ribs, I met farmer Jon Branstrator. His farmland has been in family hands since 1823. Now, he grows berries, asparagus and pumpkins. When the peach crop was ruined by frost this year, he quickly planted cucumbers — a neat metaphor for Wilmington’s situation.

“This is a great little town, and it’s worth saving,” he said.

Saving it began with Rembert and Stuckert setting up an organization called “Energize Clinton County” and working to have the area declared a Green Enterprise Zone, to capitalize on momentum around environmentally-friendly industries. It also put the area in a position to compete for federal grant funds. Meanwhile, local officials started working to help smaller firms grow, so the area would never again be so dependent on one industry.

“A lot of them were doing well but were overshadowed because DHL was such a dominant presence,” Rembert said. “We were overlooking firms with 300 to 600 workers.”

Smaller manufacturers are doing much better now, he said — particularly pharmaceutical-makers, who have flocked to the area in part thanks to low labor costs and high quality of living.

“We are seeing work force participation come back,” he said. “There are positive signs across the board.”

Still, the DHL shadow hangs over the city.

“The story of DHL haunts us today,” he said. “Those were very unique jobs — part time, with full benefits. Low skill. They were jobs you could work and live in Wilmington and have a decent quality of life. Now we have employers who are saying we want you to work seven days a week, and the wages and benefits not the same, and the skill set is higher.”

Problems for Older Workers

Things are harder still for older, former DHL workers who didn’t pick up skills that translate into 21st Century jobs. That’s one reason Amazon is welcome in the region; it would provide some of those sorting-style jobs that former DHL workers can excel at. On the other hand, those jobs clearly have a limited shelf life, and will immediately be threatened by automation that pushes wages lower.

That makes the Seattle firm — like any large employer — a double-edged sword.

“Part of me says we have a workforce suited for one industry, so maybe we should say how do we bring that industry back? But having one dominant industry can be risky,” Rembert said. “I’m not sure we want to go back through that again.

That’s why Rembert is hard at work trying to prevent calamity from the next, inevitable, recession. His Ph.D. is designed around the problem of “regional resilience” during economic downturns.

Right now, in addition to encouraging more Green industries like solar energy, Rembert and crew are also focused on encouraging tech entrepreneurship. His recent pet project is working to open a “maker space” in Wilmington that will bring together manufacturing industry veterans, 3D printing experts and others to help investors quick-start prototype development.

Much work remains, however. Over late night beers, a group of Wilmington leaders concede that their biggest fear for the future is NIMBYism (Not in My Back Yard), augmented by the megaphone of social media. There are already complaints about air traffic noise, of course. But that’s just the beginning.

Here’s an example of their frustration: bike trail development is a popular way to attract young, affluent tourism dollars to a region, and planners are hard at work trying to complete a trail that would connect Wilmington to its big-city neighbor, Cincinnati. But each time a public hearing on the project is held, critics accuse government officials of “stealing” the land for the trail (it’s already public land), and rumors that spread on social media have to be beaten back.

One way or another, there’s no beating back the future. The question remains: Will small towns like Wilmington be able to make the adjustments, or will they become entirely dependent on their local college for good jobs and culture?

Every four years, clever political observers say, “As Ohio goes, so goes the nation.” And here, I’m proud to say I’ve written a feature-length piece about a place in Ohio and not mentioned the presidential election until now. But forget politics. It’s worth paying attention to Wilmington’s plight because it’s certainly reasonable to think as Wilmington goes, so will small-town America.

I’ll be back again soon; hopefully in less than four years.

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DCNS Web site

DCNS Web site

Get used to another term in world of computer hacking: “economic warfare.”

A French firm building multi-billion-dollar submarines for Australia and several other nations says it was the victim of economic warfare after some of its schematics for similar subs being built for India were released online, allegedly by hackers.   The data was published by Australian media

The firm, DCNS, is currently bidding for military contracts in Poland and Norway. For the India gig, it had beaten out German and Japanese firms.

An embarrassing data leak would obviously hurt the French firm’s bid for more deals — in addition to perhaps imperiling the security of its current projects.

“DCNS has been made aware of articles published in the Australian press related to the leakage of sensitive data about Indian Scorpene,” the firm said on its website. “This serious matter is thoroughly investigated by the proper French national authorities for Defense Security. This investigation will determine the exact nature of the leaked documents, the potential damages to DCNS customers as well as the responsibilities for this leakage.”

Right now, there’s only speculation about how much the allegedly stolen data might impact the security of the ships when they arrive in India — and the security of similar DCNS ships in Malaysia and Chile.

But DCNS immediately suggested that rivals might be to blame for the leak.

“Competition is getting tougher and tougher, and all means can be used in this context,” a company spokesperson said to Reuters. “There is India, Australia and other prospects, and other countries could raise legitimate questions over DCNS. It’s part of the tools in economic warfare.”

It’s clearly too early to know, however, if simple corporate espionage is to blame — or there might be some military advantage to be gained from publication of the documents.  Given that the alleged hackers send the data to a media outlet, it’s also possible their motivation was political.

The incident does highlight the asymmetrical nature of digital “warfare,” however.  A billion-dollar project involving thousands of employees can be derailed by a single person with a digital file and a the e-mail address of a journalist.

“If this was economic warfare as speculated, we can expect more attacks like this on a global scale,” said Scott Gordon, COO at file security firm FinalCode. “Hacktivists are motivated by reputational, economic and political gains from capitalizing on businesses’ and countries’ inability to secure sensitive, critical documents— tipping the scale in favor of other contenders in future military action and contracting situations.”

It also shows how hard it is to keep data under wraps when multiple third-party contractors have to share information in large projects.

“Sharing files, such as the 22,000-plus pages of blueprints and technical details on DCNS’s Scorpene submarines, is a necessary collaboration between government, contractor and manufacturing entities,” Gordon said. “But the exposure of these Indian naval secrets illustrates how lax file protection has opened a door to new data loss risks—and how even confidential military information can be exfiltrated and exposed by a weak link in the supply chain.”

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HousingWire.com image. Click for site.

HousingWire.com image. Click for site.

If young families in New England can’t find a starter home to buy, she might be partly to blame. As a small-time real estate investor, she swoops in and buys would-be starter homes before families can and turns them into rentals. She says she feels badly about it … but she also feels she has to do it, for her own security, and because tax laws nudge her that way. As a single mother, she and her son live in a condo while she bets long on land, and being a landlord is the only path she sees to financial security.

“It is a dog-eat-dog world out there,” she told me.

At Credit.com, we’ve chronicled the disappearance of the inexpensive starter home, and the frustration that’s causing first-time homebuyers around the country. Smaller, cheaper, older single-family homes — and homes in foreclosure — are being snapped up by investors and turned into rentals around the country. According to RealtyTrac, about one-third of all three-bedroom homes purchased in the past year weren’t bought by people who live in them. They were mostly bought to be turned into rentals.

That’s made life harder for families just starting out, and some believe making America a land of renters instead of owners threatens the very fabric of what makes a community.

(This story first appeared on Credit.com. Read it there.)

So who’s doing the buying? Recently, I got some unexpected insight in the form of reader feedback.

Regarding your starter home article, I found it lacking,” the reader wrote. “Sure, there may be fewer starter homes available, but why? You seem to blame institutional investors gobbling them up. But why are they doing that?“

You probably guessed that in the next paragraph, she answered her own question.

“Small-time investors are gobbling them up one by one. I live in a condo with my son. But I own a three-bedroom starter home as a rental — I bought it because it was a good deal, in a good school system,” she said.

So I called the woman to hear her side of the story. She agreed to talk with me on condition of anonymity, lest that interfere with tenant relations.

Her main point: Sure, some landlords gobbling up small single-family homes are big corporations looking to squeeze out quarterly profits in this newly lucrative part of the housing market. But not all of them. Some are small-time, hustling homebuyers trying to make money and save for retirement the old-fashioned way: owning land.

“I’m just trying to take care of myself and my family,” said the landlord. “Employers don’t take care of people anymore. My father has three pensions, and my parents used to say to me in the ’80s, ‘Get a job with a pension.’ Well, there weren’t many then, and there aren’t any now.”

There aren’t many good answers to retirement savings, either. Savings accounts and CDs offer paltry interest rates. Stock market investments come with serious risks. But this New England landlord, who began buying properties about 15 years ago, found if she could suss out the right deal, rent payments could cover the loan payments she makes.

“I do feel bad, somewhat, that I usurped a starter home potentially from a young family,” she said. “There is some ambivalence … The one I feel bad about is my most recent one, which I had under contract three days after the sign went up and one day after it hit the MLS … It is in a cute neighborhood only two blocks [from] a terrific elementary school.”  

She has bought and sold 14 properties. She’s doing well but hardly rolling in cash. By the time repairs and other surprises pencil out, she insists on being in the black with every property – but not much in the black. When she closed on her first rental in 2002, she cleared about $100 in the black every month. Now, that property generates $700 per month. Her others range from $400 to $1,000 per month.

But she figures her future is fairly secure. As a very rough calculation, were all her mortgages paid off, she’d be generating about $16,500 in monthly income. And that figure is probably conservative.

“Cash flow tends to increase over the years — rents tend to increase faster than property taxes and other expenses,” she said.

An Edge on First-Time Home Buyers

Why do small investors like her have a leg up on first-time buyers? That’s easy. The woman described the transaction she completed just a couple of weeks ago to acquire a new single-family home.

As a “strong buyer” who could promise a quick, hassle-free closing, her offer easily beat out families looking to buy the same home. The bank knows her and her financial situation; she knows properties well enough that she feels comfortable waiving inspections if she needs. The implications of that aren’t lost on her.

“I said to the seller, I wouldn’t pick it apart in the inspection. I already had my financing in place. There’s no way a first-time home buyer would be comfortable, or advised, to do that,” she said. “I don’t know what to say. I guess it’s a bit dog eat dog.”

Why did she feel like she had to buy the property? The landlord says that federal and state tax laws encourage people who own property to buy more property. If she sold a property, she’d have to pay capital gains taxes … unless she used the proceeds to buy another property. Ironically, she can’t use profits from a property sale to pay off her debt, for example, without facing a big tax bill. So instead, she and her small-time investor friends are starting to hoard property.

”I really would have liked to sell an investment property — or two or three — and use the profit to pay off student loans, invest for my son’s college, pay off other debt, renovate my 30-year-old kitchen in which the cabinets are literally falling apart, or most of all, pay cash for a single-family house to live in. But I can’t, due to the tax laws,” she said. “Tax laws are designed to keep investors invested. If I do a 1031 exchange and reinvest, I don’t pay the taxes and just ‘park’ my money in another building, that generates some cash flow.”

The landlord began paying attention to the housing market in her late 20s after struggling to find a satisfying career. The germ of an idea for buying properties came from a bit of observation-driven jealousy.

“It occurred to me one day as I saw my landlord walking around my apartment … that he did not have to hold down a real job,” she said. “And then it occurred to me that I was, bit by it, buying that place for him.”

She didn’t act on the feeling until her late 30s, however.

“The real catalyst was when I became self-employed. I was single, 38, [with] no real retirement savings, and I realized I’ve got no backup other than my brains. Luckily, I like real estate and I like old houses.” She also had a law degree and could handle the details of real estate transactions on her own.

When a friend called to ask for legal help with a real estate transaction, she bought the property and rented it right away. She was hooked.

The Costs of Being a Landlord

“People think landlords are just rich and they provide housing for free,” she said. “Tenants have no idea how much things cost … things like taxes, repairs … They don’t realize when they say, ‘Hey, can you send someone over, the oven’s not working,’ I’m looking at a bill of $95 just for the guy to show up, and at least another $50 for time and materials on top of that. A broken screen, minimum $25; re-sanding floors, $2,000; changing locks, $150.”

For one of the “starter” homes she owns, she had to spend heavily before she got her first rent check.

“I put about $14,000 into renovations. Not the fun stuff like a new kitchen but the ugly stuff, like new wiring and fixing a roof and a wall, and fixing the porch and the windows,” she said. “I had budgeted about $6,000, but then the state electrical inspector — because it’s now a rental, and is subject to safety ordinances — required the house to be completely rewired — a shock to me and to the electrician who had inspected the house for me.”

And while repair costs eat into the monthly income her properties generate, she knows the real estate creates a far more secure future for herself and her son.

“A lot of people expect someone to take care of them. A company, a spouse,” she said. “Becoming a landlord got me out of the ‘work at a job and hope and pray that what the employers pay is enough to live on and save for retirement and maybe take a vacation,’” she said. “I am profoundly grateful for the opportunities I have had and the wealth I have built. I just wanted you to know a bit of what might really be going on … as I see the issue with my small-time real estate investor friends … they can’t stop buying or they will get taxed so much that it is unworkable.”

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The Do Not Call list isn't protecting my cell phone, or yours

The Do Not Call list isn’t protecting my cell phone, or yours

If you’re like me, you’re afraid to answer your cell phone. And that’s a bad thing for a reporter.

It wasn’t always this way.  For years, my cell phone number seemed to be out of the public domain, and even businesses that had it were pretty respectful of my need to keep the line free.  But starting a couple of years ago, the spam-like calls began. Initially, they were mostly Microsoft tech support scam calls, or maybe IRS scam calls (I actually welcome those, but I’m weird).

Then, about 18 months ago, the avalanche began.  Five, 10, 20 calls a day. From all over.  Often, gadget-tricked into appearing as if they came from my area code so I might be duped into answering.    Spoofing.

You know the drill.  And so, my cell phone has basically become a voice mail collection system.  I don’t take calls from strangers. And yes, I’ve lost a story or two because of this. And I’ll bet you’ve lost a client or two, or maybe even a friend, over these horrible robocalls.

Finally, it appears *something* is being done about it.

The FCC held a hearing today and announced a Robocall Strike Force of big-name tech firms that have committed to finding a solution.  Apple. Microsoft. Google. AT&T.  Some heavy hitters.

According to Reuters, the group will experiment with place “Caller ID verification standards that would help block calls from spoofed phone numbers and to consider a “Do Not Originate” list.

The group will report back to the FCC in 60 days, according to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. In a statement, he said robocalls are a “scourge” and are dominating complaints to the FCC.

He’s right. The Do Not Call list is the msot popular thing the federal government has done since….well, maybe ever.  Hopefully, this industry group can provide a private solution.  But if not, here’s hoping the FCC and other federal agencies are ready to step in and take drastic action because…I want my phone back.

Here is the text of the chairman’s comments:

Good morning, and thank you to all of you who have volunteered your time to spend the next 60 days buckled down on this very important issue.

It is significant that we have not just carriers, not just gateway providers, but also equipment and service providers here at this table, because this is a challenge that is going to require everybody’s commitment.

Thank you to my colleagues on the Commission for joining us today.

I particularly want to thank Randall Stephenson for stepping up to lead this effort.

Americans are fed up.

Robocalls are a scourge. It’s the number one complaint that we hear from consumers at the Commission. We receive more than 200,000 complaints a year.

Americans are right to be fed up with robocalls.

They are an invasion of privacy, and this scourge is rife with fraud and identity theft.

The problem is that the bad guys are beating the good guys with technology right now.

Voice over Internet Protocol calls from scammers in foreign countries rely on networks that aren’t ready to deal with them.

The ability to spoof a legitimate phone number is a downside to a digital environment.

Let me reiterate that this isn’t just a network problem. This is a community problem.

This has to do with those who build and operate networks, those who build and operate equipment, those who build and operate services. And that’s why it’s significant that you’re all collectively here at this table.

The profit motive has driven bad guys to technological innovation that exploits consumers by exploiting networks

It’s not as if good guys standing idly by. But we need more urgency.

Let’s get to  work on real solutions for robocalls.

You’ve got a group that’s going to be working on the tools to allow third parties to develop call filtering options. That starts with open APIs, but let’s give folks the opportunity to get creative and find solutions.

There must also be cross-carrier joint efforts to detect and stop the bad guys. Maybe it’s a “Do Not Originate” list. Maybe you’ll come up with something better.

But this is something that has to be multi-carrier, cross-carrier, and a community solution.

The Commission is committed to being an effective partner. Tell us what regulators need to do to help you achieve your goals.

We’ve already said that there’s nothing in the rules that prohibits carriers from offering call-blocking, but it we need to do more, tell us where we need to do more.

Let me make one last observation.

As in any pressing challenge like this, perfect is the enemy of the good. The nature of software, as you all know, is start and continually improve. Let’s have that philosophy here. Let’s not sit around and wait for the ultimate solution. Let’s start solving the issues immediately. And let’s improve it tomorrow. And then make it even better the day after tomorrow.

Thanks again to all of you for your willingness to come together to attack the robocall epidemic. You set an aggressive schedule. We’re grateful for that. We look forward to the results in 60 days.

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Click above to read the entire list of Olympic lessons at Grow.com

Click above to read the entire list of Olympic lessons at Grow.com

Watching athletes stand on the podium, sniffling as their national anthem plays, it’s easy to get swept up in the romance of winning a gold medal.  It’s also easy to forget that television has the bad habit of compressing time for viewers.  Michael Phelps makes winning gold medals look easy.  His races last only a minute or two while you watch, but what you don’t see are the all the years of early mornings, late nights, and self-sacrifice that lead to these heady moments.

It’s tempting to think, “He’s lucky.”

It’s not unlike the feelings generated by that annoying friend almost everyone has who retires early and spends their days golfing, or traveling, or learning to paint — even though she wasn’t an executive or a start-up CEO.

“She’s so lucky,” you might think.

But that would be a mistake. And a missed learning opportunity. The folks at Grow asked me to write about things people can learn about finances by watching the Olympics, and here’s a taste of what I had to say:

There’s a lot you can learn about setting goals and “winning” from watching the Olympics during the next two weeks.  We begin with the most import lesson of all:

  1. Winning a gold medal takes only a moment. Preparing for that moment takes a lifetime.

Some Olympic competitions last only a few seconds. An athlete’s’ whole sports life is compressed into a single hurl of a javelin, or a vault, or a shot. That “moment of truth” may very well be the athlete’s only chance at sports glory.   This makes for amazing television drama.  But that’s all it is: TV drama.  In real life, the athletes have to eat, sleep, and drink their sport for 10-20 years.  Behind a 9-second 100 meter dash are hundreds of early mornings where the athlete refused to hit the snooze button, and instead hit the day running. Each day is a moment of truth.  Each morning, a well-trained athlete wakes up faced with a question: “Do I want to go back to sleep, or do I want to win a gold medal some day?” Picking tomorrows goal over today’s snooze, day after day after day, is the key to success.

Going for financial “gold” requires this same kind of thinking.  Day after day, monthly budget after monthly budget, you have to stay disciplined at stick to your goals. Your moment of truth comes each time you consider splurging on new clothes and busting your budget. Do you want today’s shiny object or tomorrow’s financial goal? Answering that question correctly, time and again, is one of the keys to financial success.

Read the rest of this story at Grow.com’s website. 

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