Monday, July 29, 2013

Before You Go

Grief counselor Cheri Milton speaks the power of gratitude. In her presentation before Madison South Rotary, Milton discussed why she chose to write, Before You Go: Lessons for a better life from those facing death.

"I never imagined how much they would give back to me," she said of her interactions with terminal patients.

Milton spoke of a patient named "Joyce" who suffered from ALS. Even though this horrific disease systematically stole Joyce's ability to eat, speak, or move in any substantial way, she remained steadfast in her determination to be grateful for what she did have. "At least I can see my grand-kids when they come home from school. At least my hair still looks nice."

Milton said this kind of determination was inspirational beyond measure, and she began changing things in her own life because of it. "How grateful am I?" Milton pondered. "I try to be grateful for the things we take for granted," Milton said.

Another terminal patient named "Harold" still had unopened Christmas presents under his artificial tree four years after his wife died. He told Milton he hadn't gotten around to opening the gifts she had given him for her last Christmas. Whatever the actual reason, Milton says this patient inspired her to stop procrastinating when it came to certain goals. "What am I waiting for? she asked. As a result, Milton says she forgave a friend, took a foreign vacation and started singing again for the first time since college.

We don't need death at our door to make positive changes in our lives. The patients in Before You Go certainly teach us that much.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Navigating Stormy Financial Waters


Every investment carries risk, but Rotarian Kevin Pachucki says the wrong financial advisor could cost you much more. If you're not careful, he warns, an investor can get eaten alive by the very person he or she goes to for help.
    Kevin recommends asking a potential advisor, "Are you willing to sign off as a fiduciary?" That, according to Kevin, essentially puts in writing that the advisor will work in your best interest, a higher standard than the more typical "suitable" standard.
     Kevin, who has worked as a financial advisor for both Smith Barney and Robert W. Baird handling accounts from $400-$40 million, says he personally has witnessed brokers and advisors who've acted unethically. The result was a fatter return for the advisors and big costs for the investors.
     To avoid getting ripped off by an advisor, Kevin suggests asking pointed questions:
·       How are you paid? (If it's by the insurance company, there may be a conflict of interest).
·       Are you paid less if you don't hit a commission target?
·       How are you licensed?
    In addition, he says run for the hills if there's any mention of a "secret investment tip," the necessity to invest "today" or instructions to "just write the check to me."
     Kevin currently works in sales, but foresees a day when he will return to the financial industry as an educator.
     For more information about Kevin Pachucki, see his
LinkedIn profile.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rat Pack Confidential

Rarely have I searched for and discovered a book that would deliver exactly what I had hoped for. Such is Rat Pack Confidential by Shawn Levy. He covers the music, the personas, the mystery, as well as the very ugly side of this unequal partnership, including horrific racism endured by the Pack's lone African American. These five entertainers clearly suffered from various forms of addiction, especially sexual ones, which cost them all dearly.

In 328 pages, Levy masterfully and frankly, tells the story of the entertainment giants of the 1960s and beyond. The Rat Pack consisted of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. , Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. The latter two being bit players. Sinatra and his boys invented and ruled Las Vegas for years, and traversed successfully into TV and movies, as well.

But the story only begins there. Gangsters, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Mia Farrow and scores of other huge names were also tangled in this web spun by Sinatra, the indisputable lead rat. His star was so bright he could get jobs or favors for anybody whom he accepted into his orbit. And plenty flew close to Frank in hopes of winning his favor, which only helped fuel his megalomania.

Much of Levy's book focuses on Sinatra's astounding talent as well as his boorish, vindictive behavior. That's what I loved about this book. It isn't a rah-rah, these guys-are-perfect salute in the least bit, but it does give them their due by honestly and lovingly detailing their amazing accomplishments as entertainers. They packed night clubs from coast to coast and offered a brand of artistry not before seen.

Sinatra was so closely tied in with the mob and their gambling interests that it really does make you wonder whether there was more to the JFK assassination than Lee Harvey Oswald. Sinatra got close to actor Peter Lawford because of his connection to the Kennedy family (Lawford married Pat Kennedy, JFK's sister). Levy portrays Lawford as the guy who essentially acted as a pimp and set up JFK with countless mistresses, including Monroe, who Levy portrays as a sad, abused sex object. Her death was in part due to the Rat Pack's proclivities, Levy argues. Lawford was also the one who orchestrated Monroe's breathy public birthday song to the president and was the last person to speak with her over the phone before she died of a drug overdose.

In addition to the sex and scandal, add political corruption. Levy tells the tale of mob boss Sam Giancana handing over a bag with a million dollars cash to the Kennedy campaign. But Bobby Kennedy wasn't at all happy about his brother's connection to Sinatra and by association, mob figures. Levy leaves it to the reader's imagination to conclude that JFK did not offer appropriate appreciation for the mob money once he reached the White House.

Sexually speaking, these adored and handsome entertainers appeared to have all of the women they could possibly want, despite their marriage vows. Peter Lawford is described as the most prolific philanderer, sometimes having sex with three or four women in a night! Experiencing this lifestyle through Levy's book made me wonder about the male propensity for self-destruction when granted such seemingly unlimited access to the most beautiful women. The Pack was incapable of controlling themselves, insatiable really, yet it usually took years before their wives suffered enough humiliation to divorce them.

The reign of Elvis Presley and rock music was the beginning of the end for the Rat Pack, though Martin and Sinatra performed regularly late into their lives, sometimes together. Sinatra in particular careened off into never-never land when his power and influence began to fade. He was subject to instantaneous tantrums, physical violence, threats and the crudest language imaginable.

Martin lost interest in everything and put in very little effort when he performed. Finally, he just quit and became even more anti-social than he normally had been.

Rat Pack Confidential does a marvelous job of describing the motivations of these men and their extraordinary experiences. Yet in reading this account one can both feel the warmth and excitement of the spotlight as well as the searing heat of the flames, as they are consumed. No matter how hard you try not to watch, you're drawn to the slow and total wreck of the most elegant sports cars ever assembled.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Aging Well

We plan for school, work and retirement, but what about successful aging? Ann Albert, of the Madison-based non-profit SAIL (Supporting Active Independent Lives), says the goal should be to "enjoy life as we age." But to do that, she says we need to plan for it.

"Balance does not get better as we age," Albert reminds us, so perhaps it's a good idea to hire somebody to clean the leaves out of the gutter once we hit our mid to late 60s. That could be an effective way of preserving one's independence because falls in the elderly frequently (40%) result in a nursing home stay. These are issues many families must confront, as the population is aging rapidly. In 17 years, one out of five U.S. citizens will be age 65 or older, according to the federal government.

Preparing for retirement years may include issues you hadn't considered, such as bathroom remodeling. Albert recommends a raised toilet and towel bars that double as sturdy grab bars. And generally speaking, she says it's important to keep up on house repairs so the risk of accidents doesn't rise along with one's age.

Doing our best to remain independent at home is a worthy goal, but sometimes it's necessary to get help through assisted living arrangements. Albert says some older people become isolated living at home and become depressed, sometimes turning to alcohol to relieve their sadness. That's when the social environment of assisted living can make a big difference. It is also a good option for those who have trouble cooking and cleaning, taking their medication at the appropriate times and safely driving.

SAIL is a membership organization which helps seniors navigate all of these predicaments. Albert says being aware of what resources are available to keep you safe at home is one of SAIL's biggest strengths.

For more information see SAIL.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Money in Politics

Let's revisit the Maine trip from one year ago, since the only thing Wisconsin lawmakers could agree on was to double the amount of contributions that could be made.     

 ...of the Money, by the Money, for the Money
     Small State Offers Big Idea for Campaign Funding
by Steve Busalacchi

    Augusta, Maine
          (Madison) April 30, 2012--Staggering. It's the only way to characterize the volume of political money flowing into Wisconsin, as the state prepares for spring recall elections. Republican Governor Scott Walker has collected more than $25 million in contributions to defend himself. The Democratic Party's fundraising machine is churning along as well, though at a slower pace.
     Contrast Wisconsin's record-shattering donation situation to that of Maine, where eighty percent of state candidates accept spending limits after voluntarily taking public financing.
     "Two dollars a person was worth it if we could make a dent in getting the big money out of politics," says Alison Smith, Director of
Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, reflecting on the cost of public financing in her state.
     Maine is certainly an anomaly, as the amount of money in American politics seems to explode with every election cycle. But does it have to be that way? Imagine a system where money is not at the center of every race. Rather than constantly fundraising and airing TV spots, candidates could spend their time talking to voters about the issues. They wouldn't feel beholden to big individual donors as they weigh heavy decisions, either. Without the pressure to raise massive sums of cash, the pool of political talent might just increase, too, as more citizens consider public service.

Maine's Way
      "I wouldn't have run for public office without the clean election program," says Ed Youngblood, a former Republican State Senator from Brewer, ME. He ran successfully in 2000 as a "clean" candidate, and was re-elected to a second term.
     "The sales pitch was that I wouldn't have to go out and raise money," recalls Youngblood was approached by banking colleagues who urged him to run, even though he says the thought of campaigning for office had never entered his mind. Youngblood is again running for the State Senate, as a "clean" candidate.
     Like Youngblood, former Democratic lawmaker John Brautigam, who lives near Portland, ME, also ran a publicly-financed campaign. In his 2004 race for the State Assembly, attorney Brautigam says his opponent "spent more than anybody else in the state." Although Brautigam adhered to strict spending limits, he won the election by 55 votes after a recount.        
      "I had adequate funds to get my message out," explains Brautigam. "There's a saturation point at which people don't want any more mailers," he explained.
     Under Maine's public financing system, Brautigam needed just fifty five-dollar contributions to qualify for public financing, while Youngblood needed to convince 175 citizens in his Senate district to contribute five dollars. Having both accomplished that, they received a finite taxpayer-funded budget for the campaign, and were not able to accept any more contributions, including while they served in office.
     "I had no obligation to anybody other than my constituents," says Brautigam. Republican Youngblood also felt the clean election law liberated him from interest groups. "It made it very easy for me because the lobbyists are in the hallways every day."

No free lunch
     But there is a cost to Maine's public financing program, which Republican State Representative Andre Cushing estimates is about $2 million per year. He claims it's a raw deal for Maine taxpayers.
     "They are the helpless victims in the back of the roller coaster," says Representative Cushing. He maintains that it's too easy in Maine to qualify to run for office and too easy to get access to taxpayer money to finance your campaign. Besides, he says, "money is flowing outside of the clean election system that will influence the race outside of the candidate's control." If the law's goal was to decrease money in politics, Cushing says it's a "dismal failure."
     Alison Smith, of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, agrees that independent spending remains a huge problem, but she blames that on court rulings that allow unlimited campaign contributions; not on the Clean Election law. Smith is more concerned about direct contributions to candidates, which she believes have a more corrupting influence.
     "These investments are business decisions," says Smith. "They are not electoral decisions." And Smith says citizens know very well that these wealthy contributors expect something in return for their generosity. "The deck is stacked. The game is rigged. And [citizens] are getting the short end of the stick every time," says Smith.
     The citizens initiated this voluntary public financing system via a binding referendum. Fear of the corrupting influence of money in politics led to the law.
     It passed in 1996, and has been going strong ever since, despite lawsuits and other forms of opposition. Representative Cushing was a successful plaintiff in a suit which forced the state to stop providing matching funds to "clean" candidates when traditionally-funded candidates continued to raise money above certain thresholds.

Death of Wisconsin program
     Wisconsin taxpayers pay nothing to finance elections because the entire 33-year-old program was eliminated in the last state budget on June 26, 2011. Remember that check-off on the state income tax? Well, it's history. Last year, the Governor proposed funding changes that would have crippled the public financing program, so the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee took Walker's idea to the next logical step and put the program out of its misery, altogether. When Governor Walker signed his first state budget, the program and the language that created it, disappeared.
       In doing so, the Government Accountability Board estimated that about a million dollars from the languishing Fund would be transferred to the state's general fund, thereby officially mothballing the program. According to a national report, Wisconsin's Watergate-era law was considered among the best in the country when it first was established.   
     Upon its demise, the remaining public financing money was used to implement the new voter-ID law, which critics charge addresses a problem that doesn't exist because there's no evidence of mass voter fraud in Wisconsin.

Cost of campaigns
     Without any other funding options, Wisconsin candidates rely on
individual and organizational donors. The majority of that funding comes from rich individuals and interest groups. Governor Walker's fundraising report is a case in point. The Walker campaign reported, for example, that Foster Fries of Jackson, WY, cut a check for $100,000. William Hanley of Palm Beach, FL, gave $50,000. And a self-described "housewife" from Dallas, TX, chipped in $25,000.
     A home builder from Texas has given Governor Walker
$500,000. Three other individuals have given his campaign $250,000 each. The irony is that none of these big contributors can vote for Governor Walker because they don't live in Wisconsin.
     In Wisconsin, contribution limits were off so candidates could collect as much money as possible before the recall election date was set. Normally, there's a $10,000 limit on individual campaign contributions.
     Even so, money in politics continues to soar and the U.S. Supreme Court has not helped matters. In 2010, it ruled that corporations are "persons," and as such, enjoy free speech rights. In this case, that translates to unlimited spending on federal candidates.

Candidate spending falls
     While Maine still must contend with large contributions from independent groups that can spend on behalf of candidates—but not at their direction—it has successfully muted the campaign spending of individual state candidates. What Maine has achieved seems to attack the very issue that
Common Cause is concerned about. The non-profit and non-partisan advocacy organization worries about who pays for campaigns, what they get in return, and how that affects public policy.
     It's the latter, where Maine has seen a difference, according to Alison Smith, of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. In 1997, when a proposed ban came up on a fire retardant known as deca, Smith says the chemical industry "fought it tooth and nail," but came up short, nonetheless. Eight of ten lawmakers in the Maine Legislature were elected as "clean" candidates. And since public support strongly favored the ban, Smith says that's how they voted. "The Speaker of the House told me they never could have passed a ban on deca without clean elections," recalls Smith.

Policy influence
     In the Badger State, the
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reports that the liquor, beer and wine industry has contributed more than two and a half million dollars to legislators over the past 10 years—one of the largest campaign contributors in the state. Although the Centers for Disease Control just named Wisconsin the number one binge drinking state in the nation, the Wisconsin Legislature refuses to raise the beer tax to fund programs aimed at reducing the carnage related to alcohol abuse. The most recent proposal that was shot down would have imposed a six and a half cents per gallon tax. But that was not acceptable, and the beer tax remains unchanged after 43 years. Could campaign contributions to key lawmakers have anything to do with that?
     When you accept big money, a former Democratic legislator from Freeport, ME, says, "it's hard to be unbiased. It's human nature." Beth Edmonds, a library director, served two terms in the Maine Senate, first as a traditionally-funded candidate in 1998 and then as a "clean" candidate two years later who soon became Senate President. Having experienced both funding worlds, Edmonds says she even noticed a change in her own behavior toward constituents.
     "Just out of politeness, if you see a $100 contributor, you say, hello and ask what brings them to the Capitol. The little old lady who can't pay her fuel bill doesn't get the same attention," she says.
     Fundraising to beat off a recall attempt is obviously a top priority for Governor Walker, having amassed an impressive war chest in a relatively short amount of time. In fact, on January 17 when Walker opponents delivered what they say are more than one million recall petitions, Governor Walker was in New York City for a fundraiser hosted by troubled financial giant A-I-G.
     Last fall, not even the most massive and enduring Capitol protests right outside the Governor's office could distract him from the influence of big donors. In the middle of this unprecedented state crisis that triggered the recall effort, Governor Walker
took a call from a presumed, big league donor, while tens of thousands marched outside of his east wing office. Governor Walker chatted at length with a person whom he thought was New York oil billionaire David Koch. Koch industries, long hostile toward unions, is Governor Walker's second largest contributor, according to Common Cause-Wisconsin. Walker was really talking to a prankster named Ian Murphy.

Moving forward
     If Wisconsin were to embark on a citizen-based attempt to re-establish a public financing system that actually works, where would it start? Unlike Maine, the citizens of Wisconsin cannot just pass a binding referendum and change campaign finance laws. Voters could initiate and pass an advisory referendum, but it would still be up to Wisconsin's state legislature to enact a law.
     Maine's Ed Youngblood says the biggest hurdle to creating an effective public financing system is not resistance from either major political party per se, so much as it is incumbents, generally. "The minority party is especially interested," says Youngblood. Sitting lawmakers don't tend to like a system like Maine's because it becomes much easier for a potential opponents to mount a campaign. And that's not in an incumbent's best interest.
     The other big hurdle is the financing. Taxpayers need to pay for these "clean" candidates, and politicians today are loathe to raise taxes for anything, especially when the economy is in the tank. Nationally, conservatives even sign pledges never to raise taxes under any circumstances.
     Maine is a geographically small state and elections do not hinge on TV advertising to get a candidate's message out. In fact, there are only two TV stations in the whole state. This means elections there do not require huge budgets. In Maine, taxpayers have spent only sixteen million dollars funding clean elections since the law took effect in 1996. But for bigger states like Wisconsin, more public financing money would have to become available for those clean candidates to compete against traditionally financed opponents.
     Advocates of clean elections in Maine say there is no reason why a similar public financing program wouldn't work for Wisconsin and other states. Arizona, Vermont and Connecticut already have comparable public financing efforts in effect.
     But the Midwest should be well-suited for a viable public financing program, given Wisconsin's reputation for relatively clean politics. Plus, the Badger State traditionally has had a lot of ticket-splitting voters, meaning independent thinkers abound.
     Jonathan Wayne, who directs the
Maine Ethics Commission, says the size of the state shouldn't have much to do with whether public financing of elections can be implemented, either. Wayne, who oversees Maine's program and monitors how the taxpayers' money is spent during elections, says public financing has the same effect wherever it is used. "It reduces the role of money in political campaigns and the role of contributors and their interest in issues," says Wayne.
     Last May, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign announced an innovative public financing plan called
Ending WealthFare, for getting big money out of state politics.

     •Designate $10 per state taxpayer per year from the general fund to the Wisconsin Clean Election Fund

     • A tax credit for small contributions

     • Sharply lower spending limits

     • Greater disclosure of campaign spending and the source of the money

    • Corporations and associations must notify shareholders of campaign donations and get a majority vote to OK them

     If a public financing program were re-established, it would still take a sustained public education effort to see that citizens continue to understand its importance. Even in Maine, where the Clean Election program has been in place since 1996, supporters are in a constant state of defense, against critics, lawsuits and funding cuts.
     "There's no rest for reformers," says Alison Smith. Former Maine legislator Beth Edmonds agrees. Although there remains widespread public support for the law in Maine, she says voters there still need to be constantly informed about why the clean elections system is valuable.
     "We need to keep reminding people what the law allows, encourages and discourages," she says. "You're saving money hand over fist," says Edmonds, because getting big money out of politics pays big dividends in terms of a more democratic government.
     Perhaps Wisconsin's public financing law languished because there was no coordinated effort to inform voters of its worth. Taxpayers all saw the check-off on the state income tax form, but how many really understood the program?
     A recent report from the legislative fiscal bureau states that in 2009, 96% of Wisconsin voters chose not to voluntarily donate three dollars to the public financing system via the check-off. Consequently, hardly any Wisconsin candidates agreed to take public financing and its spending limits because there wasn't enough funding available to make it practical for them to go that route.
     What's happening in Wisconsin instead, according to the report, is "...contribution data shows that a relatively small number of individuals, committees, and businesses are providing the funding for these races."
     A prophetic 2008
report from the California-based Center for Government Studies, an organization that promotes fairness in government policy-making, looked specifically at Wisconsin's public financing law, and concluded that it was "failing." The report said public funding has been frozen, candidates do not accept the dwindling monies that remain and the candidates' spending limits are unrealistic. Without major changes, the 45-page report accurately predicted that Wisconsin's public financing system was doomed.

Citizens must lead
     Ultimately, any change in how Wisconsin elects its leaders will have to come from the same source as Maine—from voters themselves. A majority of Maine citizens voted to rely on five-dollar contributions to create a better, more accountable way to elect their leaders. In more populous Wisconsin, perhaps the ante would be ten or fifteen dollars each if the Badger State developed its own version of a workable public financing system.
     "Almost every paper in the state recognized that this was one where the people had to lead," says Alison Smith, of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, noting that citizens alone are responsible for electing their leaders.      
     "What could be better for American democracy than for citizens to get off the couch and have a stake in their elected official, rather than Monsanto or big pharma?" asked Smith.

Steve Busalacchi is a Madison-based writer whose trip to Maine and subsequent reporting were sponsored by a Wisconsin citizen concerned about the growing influence of money in politics.
          Listen to Steve's podcast report, and hear directly from these sources.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The GREAT Divergence by Timothy Noah

Journalist Timothy Noah offers an insight about economists that I hadn't considered before: They aren't as skilled at predicting the future as they are at examining the past.

What Noah does in his book, The Great Divergence, is gather the evidence from economists about what has happened to income trends in the U.S. over the past 30 years. The facts paint a truly ugly picture. The gap between the rich and poor is growing to the point that the U.S. has greater income inequality than Kenya or Yemen.

Noah argues that the notion that a hard-working, low-income American can simply work hard and move up the income ladder to super rich is just a myth. "The most striking finding about upward mobility in contemporary America concerns the relationship between who your parents are and how much money you can expect to make," writes Noah. "Parentage is a greater determinant of a man's future earnings than it is of his height or weight."

Noah demonstrates how corporate earnings and productivity have exploded over the past three decades while wages have remained stagnant. The pie got bigger but workers got pretty much the same slice. When he graphed wages alongside union membership, they had essentially the same trajectory. Love them or hate them, Noah says the evidence makes clear that unions do a good job of maintaining decent wages. Of course, union strength has declined tremendously and he argues, that is one important reason for why workers have not gained income ground in 30 years.

The extremely well off, on the other hand, have made stratospheric strides, piling on unimaginable wealth.

For readers who believe this is a destructive trend, Noah offers a number of proposed solutions, some of which will be viewed as partisan. The goal should not be to eliminate income disparities, but to reduce them, argues Noah. Here are a few suggestions:

Tax the rich
"A more progressive tax system would increase the government's impact on income distribution, which was (and remains) substantial." Tax rates for the wealthiest Americans remain relatively low by historical standards, to the point where billionaires like Warren Buffett pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.

Create Government jobs
Noah finds that there were fewer federal employees in 2010 (4.4 million) compared to 1962 (5.4 million), while the population expanded by 70%. He suggests a corps of workers be created not to build roads and bridges but to repair and maintain them. He says directly employing workers would be much more cost effective than what was attempted with the 2009 Stimulus Bill.

Import skilled labor
Open the foreign floodgates for lawyers, physicians and others with valuable skills.  He suggests that if the WalMart model of importing cheap foreign-made goods to hold down prices for consumers is valid, it is equally valid for hospitals and universities who want to hire cost-effective talent.

Price controls for Universities and Colleges
The cost of college has doubled over the past 30 years, and to get it under control, he proposes limits that can be imposed, though he admits to to not knowing exactly how to do this. But education is such a vital service and one that offers the greatest hope for upward mobility, Noah believes we have to find a way to make it more affordable.

Elect Democratic Presidents

Look at the evidence since 1948 and Democratic presidents have "presided over income gains that diminish as you move up the income scale, while Republican administrations have presided over incomes gains that diminish as you move down the income scale."

Timothy Noah offers some controversial suggestions but ones that are rooted in evidence; not ideology. If we want to see the gap between the rich and poor narrow, we will have to do something to make it happen.

"The worst thing we could do to the Great Divergence is get used to it," he concludes.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

An Excuse to Leave

It's much easier to maintain a client relationship than to win over a new one. It's a lesson many still must learn.

I switched insurance agents for the first time in ten or so years, mostly because of a series of minor, but annoying incidents. During one of January's snowstorms, a guy slid into our Acura and nearly totaled it. My agent's office and AM FAM headquarters had a different take on how I was supposed to proceed. I wasn't impressed.

When I called to follow up with the person at my agent's office (you rarely got the same person), she answered my questions sufficiently but acted put out for having to do it. She was now in the marketing department and not dealing directly with clients. I guess it wasn't necessary to inform us of that. I was disappointed because this person is very knowledgeable and had been helpful in the past.

Finally, I submitted requested accident before-and-after photos in long downloads to the agent's website and asked that they confirm that everything arrived as necessary. No response. I find this especially annoying because then I have to remember to follow up with them! I called about a month later over something else and inquired about the accident photos.

"Yeah, we got them," was the agent's monotone reply with no response when I asked why they didn't let me know that earlier. He was probably having a busy day, but his tone was somewhat condescending and unfriendly.

All of this made me realize what I don't like about how this agent's office is run. I was never assigned one person who knows me and my situation. Plus, the agency is based in Milwaukee. I don't even remember how I got linked with an office 90 miles away from my house!

That's when I decided it was the perfect time to switch horses and seek a local agent. A short request on Facebook and two friends from Rotary suggested the same local Am Fam agent. I e-mailed her the next day, got a quick response via email and two phone calls the following day!

I think I found somebody who understands what service means.