Jim Croce – A Voice Quieted Too Soon

As I am tired of writing about politics, I wanted to follow the inspiration of Jenni at www.newsofthetimes.wordpress.com and Lis at www.carrpartyoffive.wordpress.com and write about one of my favorite songwriters who passed away far too early. During the Grammy Awards in early 1974, Ingrid Jacobson Croce, the wife of Jim Croce walked to the dais to accept a posthumous Grammy for Jim’s last album called “I Got a Name” which he just finished recording. It was even more appropriate that she did as they actually started as a duo in the mid-1960’s in the Philadelphia area and gave up when Jim became a truck driver and welder after it became too hard to earn a living as singers. Fortunately for us he continued to write songs and look to play.

Jim Croce died in a plane crash on September 20, 1973 in Natchitoches, LA with five others including a friend and fellow songwriter, Maury Muehleisen. His career was literally just beginning to take flight, so the crash was terribly tragic and stood as a horrible metaphor. The folks who may know his music today would probably list a few of his  popular songs – “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” “Time in a Bottle,” and “I Got a Name.” These are excellent and he was just branching into other people song’s with “I Got a Name.” Yet, his body of work is fairly robust for such a short period of time. He combined a storytelling performance style, with a coffee-house voice and tremendous lyrics and music. For those of you who know his music only a little or not at all, I would suggest you check out a few other songs that were a little less famous, yet will paint a clearer picture of one of the most underappreciated artists of this generation.

“Lover’s Cross” is usually at the top of my list of Croce favorites as he finally decides to painfully leave his lover as he can no longer hang on a “lover’s cross for you.” He sings  “I’ve come to my decision and it is one of the painful kind. Well, it seems that you wanted a martyr, but that’s the one thing I just couldn’t do.”

“New York’s Not My Home” expresses the loneliness of living in New York trying to make the big time. He and Ingrid went there as they tried to make it as a duo.He laments “I lived there about a year and I never once felt at home” and “It has been so long since I have felt fine.” His singing would accentuate words and syllables in an easy flow with the music.

“Working at the Car Wash Blues” has some of the best acoustic guitar playing and lyrics about those “steadily depressing, low down mind-messing working at the car wash blues.” It is best metaphor for getting an education.

“Photographs and Memories” is a remarkable song for its short  length. His voice brings a sadness as he laments about the only thing he has left of a relationship. “All that I have are these, to remember you.”

“One Less Set of Footsteps” descriptively portrays the realization that I need to leave this relationship saying there will be “one less pair of jeans on your door” or “one less voice who’s talking” in addition to the absent footsteps “on your floor in the morning.”

“Operator” is more famous, but it is probably the best window into Croce’s ability as he tries to reach his old lover who has run away with “my best old ex-friend Ray.” Many have heard this one, but I like to listen more closely to some of the phrasing of his conversation with the operator when he says “you have been so much more than kind.”

There are many others to choose from “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” “Roller Derby Queen,” “Alabama Rain,” and “Rapid Roy” in addition to others mentioned and others not. Since I like to read and write, I am a huge fan of great lyricists, but we all need a great tune and singing style to tie it all together. I do like some simple songs and I do like blues and jazz which may have no lyrics at all. Yet, I like the combination of great lyrics and great music. I remember the line from Eddie in the movie “Eddie and the Cruisers” as he talked to the Wordman – “words and music – we need each other. Words and music.” Croce embodied words and music and he could tell the story as well as anyone.

Give Jim Croce a try or revisit your own photographs and memories and reconnect. I told Lis in a post the other day where we discussing one of Jimmy Buffett’s songs, the songs of Croce, Buffett and others were the songs I sang to my children as I rocked them to sleep or tried to stop them from crying (man, I loved that glider). I knew the words and could make a reasonable attempt to sing them. They must have worked as they went to sleep or stopped crying. I can assure you it was not the singing voice, but as Eddie said it was the “words and music.”


The GOP Needs to Finds its Way Out of the Abyss

As an Independent voter who left the GOP in 2006, the demise of the GOP has been predicted for the past few years. The best prediction I saw I cannot attribute to an individual as I don’t remember who said it – one of the problems of being an Old Fart. The key is its timing as it was said in 2009 before the mid-term elections. The comment resonated with me as it said “the mid-term election success the GOP may enjoy will unfortunately mask the underlying problems in the party.”  The point of the unknown author is the GOP had embraced the extreme conservative right too much and this embrace would come back to haunt them.

I have heard other more traditional Republicans make the same lament, the most famous being Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush on Fox News back in February and again in Washington over the summer. Jeb Bush lamented the deficit reconciliation plan that John Boehner and Barack Obama negotiated last summer was a “no brainer” yet the Tea Party congressional members voted it down as it had a modest tax increase. Now, we have this pending cliff that will hit at year-end thanks to their failure to act with stewardship.

Like Governor Bush, I would like the GOP to return to what made it a more viable party and one that was welcome at the table. We have become a more embittered and divided  nation because of the extremism that largely sits in this party, Yes, there is some on the left, but the median has clearly been moved to the right and it is not a normal distribution meaning the extremists do not fall evenly on both sides. As an Independent, I see a much heavier tilt to the right on the share of the lunatic fringe to quote a great Pink Floyd song. Our problems are very complex and need more than sound bite solutions. They need bi-partisan planning as the execution of the plan and measurement of results will last beyond anyone’s incumbency. This especially holds true on revamping our tax code, responding to our deficit and developing an eco-energy plan.

We also need to work from real data about our problems and leave the politically or industry biased data behind. This is hard because of the vast amount of money the industry and lobbyists contribute to sway legislators. Yet, we have to work hard at making sure the issues and solutions are openly discussed. I have attempted to use data based arguments the past few months doing my best to use apolitical data from outside the US. To highlight a few of these comments:

– We have to solve our deficit problem with increased taxes and reduced spending. The math will not work otherwise. We are one of the least taxed countries in the world and were so when the budget was contributing a surplus before Jeb’s brother took office.

– We have to address our eco-energy crisis due to global warming and its man-made influence. Like other countries who are way ahead of us, we must diminish the use of fossil fuels in an orchestrated way, we need to switch to cleaner coal, we must incent and embrace solar, wind and other alternative energy solutions and we must conserve energy and water. This plan must include a robust EPA not a gutted one.

– We have to emphasize education and job-retraining as being done in the community colleges. We need to include teachers and industry leaders in this process. Otherwise, we will continue to see the flight of jobs to other countries. Please remember, innovation is portable. Someone can take his or her ideas somewhere else. We need to show this is where innovation can flourish.

– We need to address our economic disparity in this country which is atrocious. We need to plan with communities on how to give more opportunity to people in poverty. We need to help them climb ladders, but we need to address that this problem exists and is painfully real. America has fallen to 10th place in social mobility in the world and for some it is non-existent. We have 46 million Americans in poverty.

– We need to address common sense gun laws. We have 20 times the gun deaths of the next 22 wealthiest countries combined and 80% of all children gun deaths of these 23 countries, including us. At a minimum, we need to reinstate the Brady Bill. Note, the Democrats are almost as scared of the NRA as the Republicans which is why the Brady Bill was let to expire.

– We need the Affordable Care Act to continue regardless of who wins the White House. It needs further improvement, but please note the status quo before the law is not sustainable or that effective with our number one global ranking in cost which buys us a 37th ranking in quality. Note, the ACA is largely a Republican idea which I find hypocritical that the GOP holds it in such contempt.

– We need to stop using the bible as a weapon and cease the bigotry from the pulpit. The next time a minister denigrates someone in the name of God or Christ, get up and leave the church. There is a reason for separation of church and state. Just because someone is a minister does not mean they cannot be full of shit.

– We need the GOP to stop making stuff up. This is one of the key reasons I left the party. Our problems are hard enough with real data. By the way, the Stimulus Plan worked and saved us from a depression creating 2.5 million jobs and 2% of GDP. Who says so – six respected, non-partisan economists. If the President did not bail out GM and Chrysler as Governor Romney suggested, we would be in large hole, especially in Ohio and Michigan. Obama is far from perfect, but he deserves some kudos here.

Let me conclude by saying I want the GOP to get back to reasonableness. It has fallen into an extreme political abyss and needs to finds it way out of this hole. The country needs collaboration to be successful. We need reasonable debate and discussion. We need a reasonable GOP at the table. Otherwise, we deserve the credit rating drop that Moody’s is holding over our head should we not address our issues. Remember, S&P dropped us last year and they were right to do so.

Fair and Balanced News

As a true independent voter who has and will vote for Democrats and Republicans, I seek to find as much truth and data in the news I watch and read. I steer clear of the more strident, politicized news sources because what they are portraying as news is more editorial or a version of a story which often times it is not the real story. As many of our issues are complex, the solutions need a deeper dive than what most news channels are willing to give. On Thursday’s “Rock Center,” Brian Williams and Ted Koppel did a story on the “Partisan Media’s Impact” on the news. I hold both Koppel and Williams in very high regard, but I did find interesting their choice to include Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter and Bill Maher as guests to espouse on their views. I think the choice to include those three invites biased points of view from the outset.

Yet, what precipitated this post were two comments made during the story. First, the acknowledgement that the more conservative bent news channel contributes $1 Billion in annual profit to its network. This profit margin perpetuates that appealing to a conservative base giving them what they want to hear makes money. This recognition forced Williams’ employer to start a similar so-called news network that does the same thing to a more liberal base. The key takeaway, if portraying editorial as news and bending the news and data a certain way make so much money, then that is what is going to be done. Koppel went on to add that the talking head shows are very inexpensive to produce, hence even more profit margin can be gleaned. Having seen first hand CNN’s research engine on a tour of its facility, getting the real story costs more.

Second, Ms. Coulter was very strident in her views that all other media are liberally biased. She even included Koppel who was interviewing her in that mix. As noted earlier Koppel is one of the best news people around, so he was floored. He said you do not know anything about where I stand on issues. She dismissed that and said he was part of the liberal news media. When he asked which news channel provided the most fair news reporting, she quickly responded “Fox News.” She even cited their catchphrase of “Fair and Balanced.”

In my view, the news channel “which must not be named” is the most biased news channel in the US. It is unabashedly filled with propaganda, disguises editorials as news and includes guest speakers and hosts who have either been in or run for office rather than people who are knowledgeable about a topic I also find their use of data to be quite loose to prove points. So, its claim to be “fair and balanced” is as untrue as many of its news stories. I do not tend to watch this news channel for these reasons, but I don’t watch its counterpoint on the liberal side either. I find they tend to sensationalize the news and focus on items that are not as news worthy as the key issues. And, while the mainstream news channels are better, especially CNN, they do not cover the news in an in-depth fashion and spend more time on sensational issues such as the game of politics.

As I noted before, the most fair and balanced news reports are “PBS Newshour” and “BBC World News America.” They are the Alvus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall to the news channel “which must not be named.” PBS Newshour has a great combination of in-depth reporting with the news of the day. And, without commercials, you walk away well-informed from their hour of news. The other two keys are very experienced and knowledgeable reporters and anchors as well as very knowledgeable guests. Typically, on any subject, they will have one, two or three SMEs (subject matter experts) that know what they are talking. And, they top it all off with David Brooks and Mark Shields, who are highly conversant and civilly discuss issues of the week.

BBC World News America is also quite good. The added value they bring is the “outside looking in perspective.” Katty Kay and her other anchors are very knowledgeable and question things from an outsider’s perspective. This is very refreshing and illuminating as America’s needs that perspective on its problems. For example, the rest of the world finds of interest our disdain for national health care, when it works reasonably well in so many countries. The rest of the world finds of interest our unhealthy embrace of guns without better gun laws. And, the rest of the world wonders why one of the major political parties in the US cannot publicly admit global warming is real and man-influenced.

When I hear people say they watch the channel “which must not be named,” for their news, I encourage them to watch the above two news reports. They will get a much deeper and holistic perspective on the news. Our problems are complex and we are owed the real story, not a biased version of the story meant to gain political points. To illustrate my seriousness of purpose, I left the GOP back in 2006 for three primary reasons:

– the GOP’s public stance on global warming;

– the GOP’s unhealthy embrace of the evangelical and gun-toting crowds; and

– the GOP’s strong propensity to make things up.

I found the news channel “which must not be named” to be one of the biggest contributors to this propensity. I found politicians who would say things, have them repeated on the news and say them again and the story would become news. This is why I use the term propaganda when describing their news. If you were fair and balanced you would dig deeper when a politician is giving you a line not parrot the line. We need news reporters, not stenographers.

When Newt Gingrich does a national TV commercial with Nancy Pelosi to say he was wrong about his earlier stance on global warming and then, when he runs for President say he was wrong to say he was wrong, the media should have been all over him. What made you change? To go on with Pelosi is a major step, so to change your mind again, seems highly political – why? Senator Jim DeMint likes Romney Care so much with its mandate, he writes a letter to President Bush encouraging him to adopt this for the country. Why did you change your opinion? And, Governor, why have you changed yours, especially when this is your greatest success? The data clearly shows we are one of the least taxed countries in the world. Why does the Tea Party say we are taxed enough when we are 10% below the global average and were 6% below the average when our budget was last balanced? I would also ask the President and Congressional leaders to tell us why Simpson-Bowles is not being considered more.

These are the kinds of questions we should be asking rather than looking for sound bytes to argue over. A substantive change in policy is important. We need news reporters to help us get to the bottom of the issues. We do not need to glean news from editorialists. I would also tell Ms. Coulter, I looked up “fair and balanced” in the dictionary – the words individually or collectively do not mean people who agree with you. If it is all the same, I will continue to watch PBS Newshour and BBC World News America. Even when I don’t agree with them or their guests, I feel I am getting a better understanding of the issues. That is fair and balanced. We folks at Hogwarts deserve to hear from Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall and not “he who must not be named” or even his liberal mirror image.

The Working Poor Needs a Place at the Table

As someone who spends a significant amount of volunteer time working with homeless families, a passion of mine is to help inform others that the homeless and impoverished people in the US are not embodied in the panhandler that people see on the street. To this day, when I tell people the majority of the homeless families we help have jobs, it boggles their minds. These are people who are doing their best to make ends meet, but through low paying jobs, diminished work hours, or a lost job by one of the heads of household, these folks lose their house or cannot pay their rent. It has only gotten worse since the economic downturn with so many people living paycheck to paycheck and with their mortgage underwater.

This issue was heightened once again on the campaign trail when a fundraising video caught Governor Romney speaking about the 47% of Americans who need to take responsibility and consider themselves victims. This is not a speech that is out of context with his beliefs and platform nor did he apologize for the words. He just said he could have more elegantly stated his comments. And, this is what is so troubling. I see commercials where our President is accused of trying to divide our country, when I see Governor Romney and his party drive wedge after wedge separating and alienating people.  As a true Independent voter who has and will vote for moderate Republicans and Democrats, I do not see the Governor as someone who will speak for or even understand Americans unlike him.

In speech after speech I hear Romney’s words about people being entrepreneurs or helping small business owners, yet I hear very little about the teacher, auto worker, lineman, teller, salesperson, etc. who just want to have a nice place to live, feed their family and try to send their kids to college. They cannot borrow from their parents to fund a business as their parents don’t have the money to lend. Who are these irresponsible victims – these 47% of Americans that total 76 million and do not pay federal income taxes? Well, about 17 million of them are senior citizens. There are another 10 million that  have various tax credits. Of the remaining 49 million, 38 million filed tax returns, but due to the lowness of wages, the exemptions and standard deductions reduced their taxable pay to $0. The remaining 11 million are the folks who are both employed and unemployed, but receive tax credits for children or because they have extremely low or no wages.

The 49 million jives with the 46 million Americans we hear that are living in poverty. So, that is a validation of the latter number. Yet, as noted above, at least 38 million of these people are working as evidenced by filing a tax return. I would not call that being irresponsible. Through lack of education, outsourced manufacturing jobs, downsizings, rightsizings, and layoffs, many in the middle class are now in this category. They are working jobs (sometimes more than one) that pay lesser wages and/ or fewer hours which generate lower pay. These jobs also do not pay enough where the employee can afford to elect health care. If this claim sounds unbelievable, I work with a lot of retail clients, and the percentage of employees who sign up for company health care is often beneath 50%. I have one client where the number is less than 20% – that means over 80% of the company’s employees do not have medical coverage through them.

These working poor need a place at the table. I have often cited the book “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America” by Barbara Ehrenreich. While this book was written following her first hand experience of working minimum or close to minimum wage jobs back in 1998, its findings and observations hold even more true today. In essence, she witnessed a group of people who worked their fannies off every day for more than eight hours a day. These folks could hardly be called irresponsible as they were doing what they had to do working one or more jobs to make ends meet. Her key conclusions were two-fold. First, these kinds of jobs perpetuate poverty. You cannot eat well, you cannot save and you are an economic slave to the hours allotted by a supervisor. Second,  it is no longer a truism in the US that you can work your way out of poverty. This last comment goes against the American Dream, but it is more true for the impoverished than it is not. For every Herman Cain, who should be proud of the life he has made for himself, there are thousands who cannot make that climb by themselves. They need opportunity and someone who can help them climb a ladder.

Using our homeless families we help as an example, out of about 200 families we helped during the last year, 84% had employment. The remaining 16% were employable, but the economy limited their hiring opportunities. These 84% are teachers, teacher assistants, nursing assistants, bus-drivers, retail and restaurant workers, etc. Their median family wage is $9.00 an hour. It should be noted, in my area, a living wage for a single person is $9.67 per hour while a living wage for a one adult family with one child is $17.68 per hour. These people are making less than is needed to support housing, utilities and food for their family. What we do is help them climb the ladder to self-sufficiency. What we have found is lack of education is key to their circumstances. So  is lack of health care. They are living beneath paycheck to paycheck, meaning the check is not covering the bills. Yet, these people work hard and should not be called irresponsible.

The issue that arose from Governor Romney’s speech are a spotlight into what he and his party believe. Again, he did not walk away from them saying he could have stated them more elegantly. These comments belittle the efforts of many to try to build a life for themselves and their children. The comments show a lack of understanding of what is happening in America and are behind policies that will actually make things worse for the many, while benefiting the few. He wants to cut taxes on the high-end which have been shown to increase the deficit. And, he wants to gut the social programs that are trying to help these folks and those in even worse places in their lives. We do need to cut spending but we need to be very thoughtful how we do it. Yet, we also need to raise revenue as well, again being very thoughtful how we do that.

While our President needs to do more, he has done several things that are helpful. The Stimulus Act did not fail – six well-thought of economists have noted it saved us from a depression and created 2.5 million jobs. Saving GM and Chrysler were huge as well. Yet, he is not getting credit for job retraining and community college support which is paying dividends to many. He is not getting credit for increasing Pell Grants and making college more available. He is not getting credit for sourcing more jobs in greener technologies and investing in cleaner coal and natural gas retrieval. His Affordable Care Act is huge and should continue as noted in earlier posts, while making it a little less complex.  And, the President is working with states to find better ways to provide welfare services, which has been used inappropriately and incorrectly as a lever against him.

Yet, we are not talking enough about the horrendous inequity in economic distribution in this country. This disparity is traceable back to the early 1980’s when the tax rates were significantly reduced and proliferated when the outsourcing wave hit which sent jobs overseas in the pursuit of cheap labor. A “Dilbert” cartoon hit home last week, when a job candidate asked the pointy haired boss what he was looking for? His answer was “someone who is willing to work 80 hours a week for low wages.”

Let me close by saying we need to discuss the people in need. They need a place at the table. It is not just the middle class, yet many of those living paycheck to paycheck are our former middle class. A society’s greatness is measured by how it takes care of its less fortunate. Yet, it goes beyond that. Quoting a local minister in a documentary called “Souls of our Neighbors,” he said we cannot fathom the untapped intellectual capital that resides in the homeless and impoverished children. They need opportunities that we all take for granted. And, if you do not believe him, the second place winner in the Intel National Science Award this spring was a homeless teenager. We need to find a place at the table. We owe it to them and we owe it our community.

What do 97% of Scientists yet only 26% of Congressional Republicans Believe?

The answer to the question in the title is global warming. I saw this factoid on the PBS Newshour tonight as they were reporting the reversal of opinion of a former climate change skeptic, Professor Richard Muller of Cal-Berkeley after he published an Op-Ed piece in late July. He had been one of the most strident skeptics, but he and his daughter, a trained mathematician, studied the available data and concluded he had been wrong before. He said in his Op-Ed piece that the data shows that global warming is occurring and it is worse than others have portrayed.

This is actually not news, except for his recent Op-Ed piece, as he declared eighteen months ago in front of a Congressional Committee that he had been wrong. This surprised greatly the GOP Congressmen who had invited him there. He published his first findings last fall which led to the recent Op-Ed piece. His voice is amplified as he was the Republican poster child for global warming skepticism for a while. In fact, his study was funded in part (I believe it was around $600,000) by the Koch Brothers, who thought he would reach the conclusion he had been espousing. Yet, he surprised even them.

What was interesting is the efforts to discredit him. The 3% of scientists who remain skeptics are a very squeaky wheel and get a lot of attention. Yet, what I find so troubling and have commented on this recently regarding Governor Romney’s convention comments and the GOP platform is what the PBS Newshour reported. 74% of Congressional Republicans do not think global warming is occurring. By my math, that means only 26% do. I find this both funny and sad.

I mentioned in the spring about the Carteret Islands that are slowly being consumed by the sea. There is an interesting documentary on this as the islanders have gone to bigger islands close by to beseech them to let their people move there. These are people who are no more educated than the average American, yet they are seeing first hand what is happening to their island and the crops they try to raise. These islanders and the people they were beseeching all speak openly of global warming. I find it terribly ironic that these average intellect people know more about global warming than 74% of Congressional Republicans as well as the GOP candidate for the Presidency, who mocked President Obama for trying to do something about the rising ocean levels.

I consider Governor Romney of better than average intelligence. So, I can only explain his stance in one way. His party is so heavily funded by the oil/ gas industry that he cannot public state his true feelings about global warming. Vincent Mudd (a terrific blogger by the way) wrote a comment about a recent post that the Department of Defense considers global warming to be one of the greatest threats they face. They are taking measures around San Diego to invest in alternative energy. What do these guys know that the GOP does not? If you get a GOP politician off the record, the reporters say they will admit privately that global warming is occurring. Yet, they cannot state this as a group. I find this to be very illuminating as the evidence is overwhelming.

As an Independent voter, I have made this statement about the “birthers.” I will vote for no candidate who still raises Obama’s birth as an issue. We don’t have time for these thoughts. I will reiterate this comment, but substitute global warming. I will vote for no candidate that does not state global warming is occurring and it is man-influenced. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration completed another study earlier in 2012 and said it is occurring, it is man-influenced and it is worse than projected. They even pointed to Governor Rick Perry’s Texas and noted the droughts in Texas are definitely influenced by man. Perry as you recall is naysayer and also wants to do away with the EPA. Yet, Galveston is slowly being encroached upon by the Gulf of Mexico. There is more than a little irony here.

Well what do I know? I am just an Old Fart who reads a little and does not believe everything he hears and not everything he reads. I do know China and Germany are way ahead of us on eco-energy planning. I do know Brazil is entirely bio-fueled with a mixture of sugar cane ethanol and gas. I do know that Denmark has an eco-energy plan that has survived at least one election. When your land is beneath sea level, global warming takes on great importance to the Danes..

I don’t know about you, but I am going to hang my hat with the 97%. I tend to think scientists know a little more about this than Congress. Please join me and challenge your candidates to tell us where they stand and what measures should we take. We need to plan now what we intend to do and how we can move away from fossil fuels at an accelerated pace. An eco-energy plan has to live beyond anyone’s term in office, as it will take a measured effort over time to change.So, it must be bipartisan. This issue scares me more than any other and if we do not get this right, we won’t have to worry about the others. Our planet will not be able to sustain us.

Two More Good News Eco-energy Stories

In an effort to keep ringing the bell when I come across the examples of positive eco-energy developments in the US, please note the following two stories I read about in the last two days. As reported in the Raleigh News and Observer on Thursday, a solar panel firm called Semprius will be opening a manufacturing facility in Henderson, NC which will employ 250 people in assembling a state of the art solar panel. These solar panels are based on a concept called Concentrated Photovoltaic or CPV panels which use lenses to focus sunlight cells increasing the amount of electricity produced. The CPV panels convert 33.9% of sunlight energy into electricity as contrasted to the typical poly silicon solar cells which convert around 24%.

The technology created by Semprius was supported by the US Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Siemens AG who now has a 16% stake in Semprius. Its major customers will be Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Siemens AG. The plant will produce solar panels that produce up to 5 to 6 megawatts of energy with plans to expand to produce 35 megawatts of energy. This is an excellent example of the history of public/ private investment in the US. It also shows the global nature of business, as Siemens, who has a huge US and NC presence, is a German firm. Siemen’s reputation is stellar and with their involvement as an investor and key user of the product worldwide will be key to its success. Germany is well ahead of the US in alternative energy and Europe will be 20% solar-powered by 2050. Yes, there have been some failures in the solar panel industry – such as Evergreen and Solyndra – but that may be as much attributable to the Chinese government investing so heavily in their industry. It also shows there are jobs to be had in the solar panel industry, both in the manufacturing and installation ends.

The second eco-energy story was reported by The Charlotte Observer today. Duke Energy reported that they have retired three older coal-powered plants in the Carolinas and its news subsidiary Progress Energy is retiring one of its older coal-powered plants and three oil-fired plants. Duke said they have shut down 587 megawatts of coal-powered plants and will shut down 1,080 more megawatts by 2015. They have been replacing these plants with cleaner coal (I cannot use the term clean coal) and natural gas-powered plants. They still have issues with retrieval of the coal and natural gas, hence the term cleaner, but are far better than the older coal-powered plants. The cleaner coal actually converts the coal to a gas that is then burned with many of its by-products captured.

I mention this as Duke is leading the way on its gradually diminishing of fossil fuel based power. This process is not dissimilar to what is being done in China. Duke has reported in 2011 that 46% of its energy comes from coal, so they are continuing to make strides. Utilities have announced they have retired 12 gigawatts of coal-fired power since 2009 and will retire 30 gigawatts more by 2015, when two federal air-pollution measures for power plants take effect. Bernstein reports that the amount retired may be closer to 54 gigawatts.

As noted in an earlier post, the US is third in the world behind China and Germany in alternative energy development. Much of this has been due to these federal pollution standards. the miles per gallon standards and what independent states of done. For example, in NC, 12.5% of a utility’s power must come from alternative energy by 2021. Yet, a great deal of the US standing is based on a confederation of smaller efforts which are focused, but replicable. With solar energy on the uptick and wind energy in 38 states, along with various biomass, tidal and river current efforts,we have much to build on. At this point, we lack the holistic long term eco-energy strategy which will tie this all together and help us move as rapidly as we can away from fossil fuels.

Yet, good news keeps occurring and we should highlight and celebrate them. These efforts give me hope that we can make a difference and that there are people thinking of better ways to build the mousetraps. I use the plural with intent, as our solutions will be a cadre of alternatives and not just one solution. Well done.

Get Off Your Duffs and Make a Deal

The newspaper this morning had the headline “Moody’s: Make deal or lose rating.” The article is referencing Moody’s, one of the leading global bond-rating organizations, who has forewarned Congress and the President that they will downgrade the US government debt to beneath an AAA rating should they not reach a deficit reduction deal and let the automatic cuts hit. This comes on the heals of Standard & Poor’s decision to do the same last summer when an impasse was reached. Note, this was following the failure to gain Congressional approval of a negotiated agreement between Speaker John Boehner and the President which had spending cuts along with a modest tax increase.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush called this negotiated agreement a “no brainer” in July of this year and used it as an example of how extreme the Republican Party has become. Yet, Boehner could not garner the votes as it had a tax increase which the Grover Norquist and Tea Party crowd have decided is a non-starter. As noted, in many earlier posts, this independent voter has repeated a data-based mantra that we must include tax increases as well as spending cuts citing data that we are one of the least taxed countries in the world and were in 2000, before the Bush tax cuts and when our budget was last balanced.

While the Republicans deserve most of the blame for this failure and heard from many about their shortcomings in Congress, the President is culpable as well. While he has done a much better job with the economy than given credit for, my two greatest beefs with him have been in not managing expectations and not embracing the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan. Yet, we need the Republicans to become better stewards of our country as well. We cannot take a lever off the table to solve the problem. We must have more tax revenue. The math will not work otherwise. And, as an Old Fart, let me say this again – any dumb ass can get elected saying he or she will cut taxes. By my count, we have too many people in positions of power acting like dumb asses.

That needs to stop now. Speaker Boehner, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell and President Obama, I must insist as a taxpayer you stop worrying about keeping your job and do your job. Speaker Boehner you said on the news last night that you don’t think you can get it done. That is unacceptable. Get it done and make a deal. If the US is downgraded because the GOP won’t consider any tax increases, then I lay most of the blame at your feet. Mr. President, I know it is more expedient for you to only raise taxes on the top end, but that is not enough. The Bush tax cuts were ill-advised then and we are still arguing over them today. Either let them expire or continue them for one year and move toward Simpson-Bowles in 2014. And, Governor Mitt Romney, we need you and the GOP platform to get real. Your idea on a tax cut is extremely lame and shows very poor stewardship. I know you don’t seem to care about the fact checkers and the Congressional Budget Office, but your proposal is deficit increasing.

I am being critical of the President, but he is at least talking about our problems with reasonable ideas. Yet, the American people need even more candor. And, from where I sit, I don’t see many good answers from Romney or the GOP. Trickle down economics does not work – if it did it would have a better name. To me, it is saying give me your money as a wealthy person and I will pea on your head. How is that for trickle down? And, if you do not agree with me, David Stockman, one of Ronald Reagan’s advisors says it did not work  and President George H.W. Bush who was Reagan’s Vice President called it “voodoo economics” during his campaign against Reagan. They both are right.

So, Congress and Mr. President you are back at work. Former Senator Alan Simpson and Former Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles have done your heavy lifting for you. Get off your duffs and make a deal. Do not wait until the election. Worry more about doing your job than keeping you job. The American people deserve this and you need to earn their respect.

Romney mocks Obama on his pledge to slow the rise of the oceans

If you tuned into the two conventions, you witnessed only a brief mention of one of the most startling distinctions between the parties and candidates. It is also the issue that worries me most as a citizen of the US and world. Global warming is here, it is man-influenced and we better be planning to do something about it.

The title of this post references the first part of a quote issued by Governor Mitt Romney in his acceptance speech. After uttering the line “Obama is pledging to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet,” he noted “my promise is to help you and your family.” I will set that aside for now, as most of the GOP positions on issues will actually be more harmful to average families than good. Yet, if we at least believe he believes what he is saying, in the context of ignoring what everyone else on the planet is seeing about global warming, are Romney and the GOP really helping “you and your family?” And, when you add gutting the EPA, it makes the question asked even more important.

On the flip side, we did hear the President mention climate change in his speech and address the increased miles per gallon (mpg) standards on new cars and moving to alternative energy, natural gas, and clean (he did use that word rather than cleaner) coal. He also mentioned keeping the air cleaner while doing this, which I interpreted as a reference to keeping the EPA sound. But, I wish he had been more direct, as he is “on the side of the angels” on this argument. Gutting the EPA is about the most ludicrous course of action imaginable.

As a former Republican who left the party in 2006 in part due to their ostrich-head-in-the-sand stance on global warming, I have been troubled by how far behind we are on this issue. Germany is ten years ahead and China is ahead of them on eco-energy planning. Germany will be 80% alternative energy powered by 2030 and we will still be getting our act together, unless we develop and execute a bi-partisan plan. We have a lot of success stories, but we seem to hide them and not celebrate our local and regional eco-energy solutions. I was stunned to learn we have wind power in 38 states, e.g.

I also am amazed by the many hypocrisies in my former party which lead me to question the veracity of Romney’s quote. His quote was meant in an economic context and was an attempt to belittle the President for trying to do the right thing to combat global warming while taking his eye off the ball – again that is a subject for other posts. Yet, a sound eco-energy strategy in light of the global warming crisis  is extremely critical and is most definitely looking out for you and your families.To do otherwise is poor stewardship and will harm the fiscal and physical health of those families.

In my mind, the GOP is more concerned about you before you are born than after you are born. After you are born, you are free to load up on automatic weapons and 5,000 rounds of ammunition, you need not worry about health care because you cannot afford it after they kill Obamacare and gut Medicaid and you need not trouble yourself with the EPA imposing air and water pollution standards on corporations because they are people, too. The fact that the Koch Brothers have about 100 pending violations imposed by the EPA and that the petro-chemical and oil/ gas Industries are the biggest polluters on the planet and have caused more illnesses and deaths than they would care to admit adds up on the side of the ledger that has “More Concerned with Profits than Your Family” as its title.

What it comes down to is the GOP cannot admit publicly what they know individually that global warming is happening and is man-influenced. The seas are rising, yet the state led GOP legislatures and its presidential candidates cannot admit that they are accelerating. In NC, the GOP led legislature would not accept an audited report that said the NC coast would see a 39 inches sea rise by the year 2100. They would only accept a report looking backwards (this is a metaphor for taking the country back) that projected only an 8 inches increase by 2100. Stephen Colbert lampooned them for literally holding back the tide with legal briefs.

There are many stark differences between the two parties and campaigns. To me this is a huge stewardship issue and the GOP is failing the test right now. I would argue by denouncing climate change, deferring eco-energy planning, accelerating fossil fuel development, and gutting the EPA is not a “promise to help you and your family.” I believe it is a promise to make money for the funders of the GOP effort. I guess I am naive to think we should look out for our people, but to hear a GOP convention crowd stand and applaud for comments like these is offensive and not in the best interests of our citizens.

I don’t want to leave people with the impression Obama is doing a huge amount in this regard. He is doing some good things, but he needs to lead us to doing more. He needs to make this a very visible issue. We need an eco-energy plan that will survive his term. But, even with his not doing enough, to vote in the R&R team would truly take us backwards and we would lose even more time on global warming planning and the EPA would lose its ability to govern the polluters. So, on this issue, it is a stark contrast between the move forward or backwards. And, we cannot afford to move backwards on this as we are late in the game already.

In this real life drama, Clinton disarms Clint

Last night, I watched Former President Bill Clinton give one of the best speeches I have ever seen. It actually exceeded my and people’s expectations, as his purpose was to highlight why President Barack Obama deserves a second term. With his track record of experience, command of information and flair for the dramatic, he demonstrated that we are much better off than in January, 2009 under President Obama, but are still on the journey of recovery. Yet, he also did something much more. He made the current Republican Party and its Tea Party bent look small. More on this later.

The night before, Julian Castro, the very successful Mayor of San Antonio, also gave a heartfelt and pertinent speech. During it he quoted his grandmother who taught him a valuable lesson. To paraphrase, who you walk with is who you are. I mention this as last week the most memorable and talked about speech at the GOP Convention was that of an actor whom we all adore, Clint Eastwood. We are not talking about Senator Marco Rubio’s wonderful speech or those of the other speakers. And, we certainly are not talking about the speech of Former President George W. Bush or his father Former President George H.W. Bush – they were not invited. More on this later.

No, we are still talking about Clint who talked off script and used an empty chair as a prop representing a conversation with President Obama. He was entertaining, but was his speaking the most important use of getting your message out? Many pundits and broadcasters have said no. There was some motive to the madness, but there is both  an irony and several metaphors here to highlight. First the irony.

The Huffington Post did an excellent piece noting that Clint did a moving Super Bowl commercial at the end of halftime for Chrysler – the theme was it is only “Halftime in America.” His commercial was a follow-up on the theme of “imported from Detroit” that Chrysler had also been using. Chrysler survived because of the leadership of the Fiat CEO who now runs them, Sergio Marchionne, an Italian Canadian who solicited, negotiated and used stimulus funds of $6 Billion to modernize the plants and build on the quality improvements his workers knew they needed to do.  Marchionne said in a “60 Minutes” interview replayed on Sunday that he thinks a lot of American workers, yet when he started he noted “There is nothing worse for a leader than to see fear in people’s eyes.” He added, “It’s been a long, rocky road, but the fear is gone.” Well, in this spaghetti western, Sergio and the American workers are the heroes. Chrysler made  $183 million in profit in 2011, which would have been even more except for one thing. They paid the US government back six years earlier than obligated for the loan with interest. GM has a similar success story as well and between the two, their suppliers and people who support the industry over 1.1 million jobs were saved and 250,000 new jobs have been created.

So, Clint’s famous commercial was the direct result of that “failed stimulus” the GOP likes to talk about. It was made possible by the tremendous actions of Chrysler (and GM), but also due to Josey Wales like bravery of that “empty chair” he was chatting with. President Obama went against the grain and GOP scrutiny to bail out the auto industry, which his presidential opponent did not support. Yet, to go one step further, he was told he could only save one – GM or Chrysler and it was recommended that he should focus on GM. President Obama said we must save them both to preserve our auto industry and protect many American jobs. Again, his presidential opponent publicly advocated in a Wall Street Journal article to let them go bankrupt.

This brings me to the metaphors and my earlier point. The first metaphor is when your argument is built on a foundation of big hairy audacious lies as is the GOP platform (see earlier posts), it is easier to have an actor talk to an empty chair that won’t argue with him. The second metaphor is the empty chair actually is more representative of the Republican ideas. As an Independent voter, I am not seeing many good ideas come from this party right now and Governor Romney has to hide from his greatest success as a public official, the Massachusetts Health Care Reform, which is working well.

The other point is who you walk with is who you are. Neither of the living GOP Presidents were invited to speak at the Republican Convention. In fact, the sitting GOP President was not invited to attend the convention in 2008. These actions speak volumes. They define many things, but to me, they define the smallness of the Republican Party. They define a lack of collaboration even within their own party much less others. They define what the GOP has become – a party of narrow-minded extreme conservatives where moderate is an evil word. Bill Clinton sees this and in his speech he showed how small the GOP and Tea Party have become. He spoke of the historical and current practice of cooperation as the way business is done. He also spoke of his cooperation as Governor, as President and as head of his global foundation with Republicans like Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. He even applauded an investment made by the last GOP President for helping impoverished people in Africa. Yet, the GOP won’t even cooperate with the Bushes.

As a business person and volunteer, I have spent my adult life trying to build bridges of collaboration to serve my clients and those in need. One of my mantras is “We are better than I can be alone.”  In this real life drama, Clinton took Clint’s guns away and sent him packing. I love Clint and my wife will tell you I will always stop and watch one of his movies when channel surfing. When she asks how many times have I watched this movie, I will reply “not enough.” Yet, to the GOP, Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan, this is not a movie. The Pale Rider is not going to be able to kill your opponent for you. And, if he were, he would probably be fighting for the Democratic side because Clint’s roles tended to fight for the disenfranchised against the establishment. In “The Pale Rider,” you would be the establishment.

Doctors for America – Patients Over Politics

As a tax paying North Carolina citizen, I dropped in on the CarolinaFest at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. The city should be very proud of the excitement and true diversity that was in attendance in vast numbers. I felt pride in America seeing people of all shapes, sizes and colors and seeing so many young people interested in what is going on. The best few minutes I spent was chatting with Dr. Becky, a dermatologist from Vermont. She was at a booth on Tryon Street (Charlotte’s main street) with the banner of the group she represented called “Doctors for America” with the key message of “Patients over Politics.”  From the material and what I gleaned from my conversation with Dr. Becky, they are an affiliation of 15,000 physicians and medical students who are advocating for the continuation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but sharpening the focus on patients not politics.

Their mission which can be found on http://www.drsforamerica.org is as follows:

“Doctors for America is a grassroots movement of 15,000 physicians and medical students who are working together to improve the health of the nation and to ensure that everyone has access to high-quality, affordable health care.”

Their passion matches my own in trying to perpetuate the continuation of ACA regardless of who wins the White House. I have noted earlier that to repeal this law would be a disservice to Americans. It is complex and needs further refinements, but to throw it out would be akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water. I am going to recite from one of their handouts as this is the voice of doctors and medical students rather than my own:

“Get the Facts: Busting the Top 10 Myths on the Affordable Care Act

MYTH #1″ It’s too complicated to understand any of it.
FACT: The basics are simple: 32 million more Americans will be insured. The worst insurance company abuses will end. We will start improving quality and controlling cost for everyone. FACT: HealthCare.gov explains the law and how it will be rolled out.

MYTH #2: It hasn’t helped anyone.
FACT: Insurance now covers: 1) Children with pre-existing conditions, 2) 3.1 million young adults through age 26, who can now stay on their parents’ plans, 3) Adults with pre-existing conditions can now sign up for high-risk plans. FACT: No more insurance company caps on how much they will spend on your health care.

MYTH #3: We can’t afford it.

FACT: We can’t afford not to have it. By promoting access to the right care, at the right place, at the right time, the ACA was designed to save money while keeping people healthier.

MYTH #4: It hurts Medicare and seniors.

FACT: Seniors get help affording prescription drugs. FACT: Seniors get annual check-ups with no copays. FACT: It invests in making Medicare work better for the long run for seniors and doctors, while cracking down on fraud.

MYTH #5: It’s increasing premiums and costs for families.

FACT: Private employer-based premiums were skyrocketing before the law, and it will help change that. FACT: Insurance companies now have to explain why they are raising rates on a public website. FACT: If insurance companies don’t spend enough of your premium dollars on health care, they are now required to send you a rebate at the end of the year.

MYTH #6: It’s hurting small businesses.

FACT: Many small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are now getting tax credits of up to 35% of health insurance premiums. Beginning in 2014, many small businesses will be eligible for tax credits up to 50% of insurance premiums.

MYTH #7: It’s unconstitutional.

FACT: The US Supreme Court ruled ACA is constitutional.

MYTH #8: It’s all about insurance and not about health.
FACT: It creates a national Prevention Fund – long overdue investment in improving health and preventing chronic disease. Communities across the country are already using grant money to help people live healthier lives. FACT: It invest in training more doctors, nurses, and other health professionals.

MYTH #9: It’s all about insurance and not about cost.

FACT: The Medicare and Medicaid Center for Innovation is promoting new models, innovations, and research across the country to start improving care while decreasing costs. FACT: The law invests in improving quality and coordination of care.

MYTH #10: It’s a government takeover of health care.

FACT: The ACA is a partnership between the government and businesses, communities, hospitals, doctors, and patients. It strengthens the private insurance market while protecting people and their health.

FACT: The more we know, the better the health and health care for our families and our country!”

I wanted to use the words of the doctors to tell the story. The only changes to the quote is the use of acronyms on occasion (ACA for Affordable Care Act, e.g.) for brevity. My rationale is there is so much misinformation and, I hate to say this, disinformation out there that Americans deserve to hear and see the real story. I go back to the fact ACA is largely a Republican idea and one that was set in motion by the GOP Presidential candidate in Massachusetts to me make the candidate and party extremely hypocritical. If Romney was to take the White House, repealing this imperfect, but transformative law would harm the very Americans who need it most. This is a way to strengthen the middle class and help those in poverty, many of whom are there because of lack of health care. People with insurance need to walk in the shoes of people without or who are under-insured. It is a very different experience and is a shame it occurs in a country like ours.

And, with a health care quality position of 38th in the world according to the World Health Organization with the highest cost , I don’t see why there is so much criticism over this, as the status quo before ACA started phasing in was unsustainable. The only rationale I can find is doing the opposite of what the Doctors for America advocate which is putting patients over politics. The GOP is putting politics first over patients. The fact a Democratic President refined a largely Republican idea as a compromise for a national health care system unnerves GOPers to no end. If you don’t believe this, why did Senator Jim DeMint, Mr. Tea Party, write a letter to President George Bush in 2007 advocating the Massachusetts plan highlighting the use of the mandate for coverage, which Romney took a lot of heat over when he did it. Now, the Senator seems to forget that he did this. Yet, in 2007, Senator DeMint did not say it, he did not text it, he did not tweet it or even send an email – he wrote a letter. That is the best example of hypocrisy I can recount – maybe I should write a letter about it. It is almost as bad as Newt changing his mind after changing his mind on global warming, which is recorded in a TV commercial with Nancy Pelosi, but I digress.

If there is any take away from this, please encourage people to check out this website  to learn more. Seeing information condensed into a readable form by doctors is far better than listening to a politician or a campaign commercial which is at best a half-truth.

Again, the website is http://www.drsforamerca.org.