A Quick Tidbit – Good News

The AP reported today that unemployment has fallen from August to September in 95% of 372 metropolitan areas. That is on top of the news reported earlier this month that overall unemployment has fallen to 7.8%. From today’s AP news report:

– 355 cities out of 372 (95%) saw improvement from August to September;

– 11 saw increased unemployment; and

– 6 cities remain unchanged.

The news report also noted the positives year over year for the following cities:

  • Las Vegas unemployment is now 11.5% versus 14% a year ago
  • Miami unemployment is now 8.4% down from 10.4% a year ago
  • Milwaukee is down to 6.9% from 7.6% over the past year
  • Cleveland is down to 6.5% from 7.5% over the past year

These data points continue to support the slow and steady progress we have made over the past 30 months. People, pundits and politicians keep looking for silver bullets, but recoveries from housing led recessions typically follow the pattern we have been seeing. The stock market recovers first, the jobs slowly come back, the housing market climbs back and the remaining jobs fill out. As noted in an earlier post, housing recessions, on average, take six years to recover from per a study of 18 historical recessions around the world. If we started the recession in 2008, adding six years would take us through the end of next year, on average, to fully recover.

Of course, we have many other variables in our way – Europe’s debt crisis and China’s fall from a very heady growth. Yet, with that said, we have witnessed the slow progress toward ending our troubles. Again, non-partisan economists give due credit to the President’s stimulus package and the saving of the US auto industry. Absent those two things, it would have been a tougher pill to swallow.

I saw this news as very encouraging and hope you do as well.

The Rich and the Rest of Us – Some Potential Solutions

Ten days ago, I introduced the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us – A Poverty Manifesto” by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West as a must read. This book speaks to the issues facing our country as we have become more delineated into two economic classes, the rich and the rest of us. I noted I have used the phrase the “Haves” and the “Have-Nots” with the same purpose. In my earlier post, I highlighted from their book, “The Ten Lies About Poverty That America Can No Longer Afford.” I received well thought out feed back from a number of commenters, but I want to particularly thank Momma E. for her very detailed thoughts along with that of many others.

Also, there was good discussion about the comment made in the book that manufacturing is never coming back to the US. While I echo the disagreement with that comment in its strictest terms, I interpreted it to mean that manufacturing will likely not regain its pre-1980’s order magnitude. I do agree that manufacturing is returning to these shores, especially due to being closer to innovation and leadership, as well as becoming more cost-effective due to labor and shipping costs, yet I think it is viewed under a global construct and manufacturing will continue to be spread around the globe. Since we could devote an entire series of post on this topic, let me state we need to find ways to make it easier and more productive to manufacture things here. If we do that, we will see a greater shift of jobs back to the US than has been the case which will help this issue under discussion.

The authors noted twelve poverty changing ideas from their studies, which I will note below. I will add some commentary based on my experience and will shed a few additional thoughts at the end.

From Poverty to Prosperity – 12 Poverty Changing Ideas

1. Fundamental Fairness – This terms means jobs with living-wage salaries and an economic system that lets people live above the poverty line, so they no longer have to rely on welfare, food stamps, e.g. A living wage for a one adult, one child household is about $17.50 in my area (it varies by geography) and is about $9.60 for a single adult. Minimum wage jobs perpetuate poverty. We must pay people more at the bottom end and lessen the severity of these near-slave labor jobs.

2. Women and Children First – We must invest in workplace day care and Head Start programs, so moms don’t have to choose between working and caring for their children. An earlier blog noted that children in poverty have heard 32 million fewer words by the time they get to kindergarten than other kids. This will help break a chain of poverty in that family. I tutor kids in poverty on occasion. They need coaching and time. I saw a video called “Souls of our Neighbors” where a minister noted who knows the untapped intellectual capital that resides in these kids.

3. The Jobs, Jobs and More Jobs Plan – In addition to greasing the skids to make it easier to return or keep jobs here, we must retrain our low skilled workers and direct them to community based infrastructure projects or with local employers who have sorely needed job groups. Personally, I have seen Goodwill Industries get a lot of traction with retraining people in poverty in green construction jobs as well as call center and teller jobs partnering with local banks. And, the community college system is doing marvelous things throughout our country, yet we need to invest more in this regard.

4. Home is Where the Heart Is – Homelessness is a national tragedy. We need low density public housing and housing rehabilitation. The low density is an idea to spread the affordable housing throughout the community and along with market rate housing. From my perspective, I want this paired with social worker case management with reasonable numbers of clients per social worker (such as 16 to 1 not 50 to 1). And, we must find ways to keep people in their houses. Eviction and foreclosures don’t serve anyone well, so we need to look for ways to adjust mortgages or change the terms with people renting their old house. Vacant houses are more than eyesores, so let’s try not to have them.

5. Universal Food Delivery System – We need to end hunger and food insecurity. The authors promote small regional farms and urban farming which also promote jobs in growing, harvesting and distributing food. The lack of fresh food is a major issue in impoverished areas. If we can combat that with more orchestrated food delivery then it will help on multiple fronts.

6. Prison and Mass Incarceration – The authors note incarcerating minorities bankrupts the country and creates permanently second class citizens. They advocate a major overhaul to our “prison industrial complex” as well as the lost war on drugs.

7. Privatization versus Public Investment – The authors note the privatization of once publicly staffed and funded community enterprises is not necessarily a good thing given the profit-driven motivation of corporations. In particular they see the need for public financing of hospitals, prisons, and education. At a bare minimum, they advocate the transparency on all transfers of major public assets to private investors.

8. The Fundamental Fairness Lobby – We must no longer let the think tanks and lobbyists bankrolled by “Haves” to summarily determine the fate of the “Have-Nots.” The poor need better representation to combat the efforts of 13,000 lobbyists. Citizens United will only make things worse.

9. Equitable Progressive Tax Codes – Per the authors, it is time to end tax breaks and concessions for rich corporations that outsource jobs and hide profits in secret offshore accounts. The rich should pay their fair share. I believe we need to revamp the entire tax system, so that we get back to a more progressive tax code which generate more revenue. We cannot fund what is needed with our current taxes and loopholes to forego them.

10. Recession Restitution Act – The authors want the US government to come down harder on those who caused the great recession. I agree. Some of the bad players in our mess have not been held accountable. The Consumer Protection Bureau has punished some credit card companies since its creation and some fines have been levied, but folks from Lehman, Bear Stearns, etc. need to be put on trial for egregious acts.

11. Health Care Assurance – Nearly 45,000 people die each year because of lack of health insurance. We must continue down the path of the Affordable Care Act or something tangible to replace it. From my work with homeless people, lack of healthcare insurance is a huge factor in people losing their house after a healthcare tragedy hits. Personal bankruptcies have risen significantly due to the lack of healthcare or poor healthcare insurance. I have strongly advocated the continuation of the ACA with additional tweaking. It will garner more coverage for the uninsured and is already paying dividends.

12. White House Conference on the Eradication of Poverty – This is a must to heighten the awareness of the issue and bring tangible solutions to bear. And, it has to end up with more than the creation of a shelf document.

The authors note that some of these ideas may be too radical. Yet, in my work with homeless families and people in poverty, I witness people with minimum or close to minimum wage jobs trying to make ends meet, I witness people living paycheck to paycheck who had to forego healthcare coverage as it was too expensive, I witness people who have been incarcerated finding it extra tough to gain employment, I witness people who must buy unhealthy fast food as it is cheaper (or even forego meals between jobs), I witness people who don’t have the same network that others have to navigate their world.

I also see people who do not have advocates. In a post last week in www.newsofthetimes.wordpress.com, the Bruce Hornsby song “That’s Just the Way it Is” was highlighted. In the song is the line spat out by someone who has not walked in the shoes of another to “get a job.” Yes, we all need jobs and we should help people find them. I love to help people network, especially young adult children of people I know. A professional friend or acquaintance will connect me to his or her child to help. That is what is missing here – someone to connect these people in need to help.

I am a big believer in empowering people and helping them climb the ladder. We cannot push them up the ladder. Some are on the bottom rung and need more help. Some are on rung three and need less help, but still are in need. Yet, they have to do it. They have to climb it. We have a huge problem in America right now that is not talked about enough. We have too many people in poverty that need help in climbing the ladders. It is incumbent on all of us to help our fellow citizens. It gets down to economics – the more people who are vibrant, tax paying citizens, the larger the ROI relative to the cost of paying for people in poverty.

In an earlier post, one of my frequent commenters, Mrs. Neutron said I would like to see the definition of what makes a great country. She was lamenting that we have people who have strong opinions that differ from her view. I agree with this need for clarity. My firm belief is a society’s greatness is measured in terms of how it takes care of its less fortunate. One of my favorite movie moments is in “Cinderella Man” when the fighter Jimmy Braddock stands in the welfare line to pay back the money that was given to him when he and his family was down on their luck during the depression.

The Christian bible tells us “there but by the grace of God go I.” If you do not believe this then you should have been with me the day we were giving a tour of a homeless family shelter to a prospective board member who worked at a major bank. The person turned the corner and saw a fellow employee who was living in the shelter. It took a few seconds to dawn on her that her fellow employee was homeless and living in a shelter. Let me reiterate this comment – the homeless families we (the agency I volunteer with) help are employed. They need better paying employment with healthcare coverage.

We must help our less fortunate and Tavis Smiley and Cornel West have done a great service in highlighting this problem and potential solutions. If you do no more than the following it will help move us forward. Spread the word that we have a problem that we need to solve. If you can, get involved in some way to help – through your church, synagogue, mosque, temple, employer team, etc. Some groups will take individual volunteers – find out how you best can help. It may be tutoring or mentoring. It may be helping develop community gardens. Follow your passions. Trust me, the psychic income of helping is very rewarding, the people in need will be able to climb the ladder to self-sufficiency and our society will be improved.

Eighty major company CEOs tell DC to deal with deficit now

Thank goodness! A loud voice of reason has stated the obvious. Congress, we must act now. As reported by Marcy Gordon of the Associated Press, CEOs from companies like Aetna, Dow,  Honeywell, JP Morgan Chase, Merck, Microsoft,Time Warner Cable and Verizon,e.g. have come together behind an advocacy group called “Fix the Debt”  stating we must deal with this issue while we still can as the failure to act is “dampening business hiring and investment and stifling the fragile economic recovery.”

Dave Cote, chairman and CEO of Honeywell said in a statement, “What it really comes down to is if we still have the political will to be a great country.” The CEOs said the solution requires a combination of higher taxes and reduced government spending including entitlement programs such as Medicaid and Medicare. They also seek federal investment in infrastructure and math/ science education. The group endorses the proposals of a special bipartisan commission that called for about $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. It did not specifically reference Simpson-Bowles, but the concept to increase revenue and cut spending is similar.

Many of my fellow bloggers have been a broken record on this subject. We see the US as one of the least taxed countries in the world, ranking 32nd out of 34 countries in tax revenue/ GDP per the Paris based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD also shows we are 10% below the average of the tax/ GDP ratio for the 34 countries and were 5% below the average in 2000, when our budget last had a surplus. The fact eighty CEOs have said we must have tax revenue increases as well as spending cuts is supported by this OECD data.

Yet, it also flies directly in the face of Governor Romney’s 20% tax reduction proposal, the one he and Paul Ryan refuse to explain. It also flies directly in the face of the Tea Party led GOP congress and Grover Norquist’s no tax increase pledge. As I mentioned in my last post, Jeb Bush called the failure to act on the deal struck last summer by Speaker Boehner and President Obama (as it included tax increases) was voting down a “no brainer” proposal. The CEOs would agree with this assessment by the former Florida governor. I would add Obama has only discussed tax increases on the top of the house, but that is not enough. We need more tax revenue than that. At least, he is presenting a proposal that includes tax increases, to some extent, which is unlike his opponent.

I go back to Governor Romney’s assertion that “I know how to fix this.” From what I have seen and what these CEOs have stated very clearly, we would disagree with that assertion. For some reason, the American public is buying this fallacious self-testimonial. It is not ironic at the “other presidential candidates” debate, they spoke of raising taxes and cutting spending. It has to be both, otherwise, the math will not work. Instead of listening to the GOP and Governor Romney and telling the President you are not going far enough, I would listen to the CEOs, Simpson and Bowles. They seem to get it. The guy who says he does, who says I can fix this, does not appear to understand the problem, so how can we trust him to find the solution.

I hope Congress and the President will listen to these CEOs. I hope the American public does as well and understands that we cannot cut taxes and balance this budget. And, I hope people understand more fully what Governor Romney is proposing. He and Ryan cannot explain it as it won’t work.

Why I voted for a Republican Governor Candidate and a Democrat President

When people see me it is not unusual for them to categorize me as a Republican given my age, race and profession. Having been both a Republican and Democrat, I am now a true independent voter which gives me the liberty to be less influenced by partisan party politics. As context for this post, I vote for both Republicans and Democrats, having voted in 2008 for Senators Richard Burr (GOP)  and Kay Hagan (Dem) and the same governor and presidential candidates that I voted for last week. I like John McCain as he is very similar to President Obama with both being more moderate in their parties, yet I gave the edge to the President in 2008 even before McCain’s less than judicious pick of a VP candidate.

Let me start with the NC governor race, then I will finish with the Presidential race.

Pat McCrory – Republican Governor Choice

McCrory is a moderate Republican having served as the mayor of NC’s largest city of Charlotte for 14 years. Winning seven elections has to say something positive about his service as mayor. One of the things I like most about what he did, he pulled out one of those long-range planning studies that cities often do and noted a few items that he championed and did. He successfully got through a transit tax (over his party’s objection) which led to the development of the first light rail line. The second light rail line has now been approved and funded and will start being built in the near future. A major city needs mass transit – it is that simple – and light rail is much more affordable to develop. The other item will sound small, but it actually is directionally strong. He advocated that all new neighborhoods have a sidewalk built by the developer at least on one side of the street. This enhances Charlotte’s image and being a city of trees, makes it a better place to live.

These are only two of the reasons, but as mayor he collaborated for the significant part with a heavy Democrat City Council to attract business and facilitate changes to the city. Charlotte exhibited a huge amount of growth under his tutelage. He is not perfect and has a thin skin on occasion, yet he served Charlotte well. His opponent, Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton is also a fine public steward with good ideas. If Dalton were to win, we would be in good hands as well. Yet, my nod goes to McCrory. Now, it is up to him not to go extreme conservative like his party has gone, but I do not think he will.

Barack Obama – Democrat President Choice

Here is where being an Independent matters most, as you can look to real data and real stories behind the candidates. The Republicans will disagree strongly, but Obama can run on his economic record, as well as many other things he has done. He has been far from perfect, but he has done a better job than given credit for by the GOP and even others who have tended to believe some of the rhetoric. I would invite you to visit www.vincentmudd.wordpress.com to check out his view of Obama’s performance on 18 different measures. Obama has kept us from a depression with the stimulus package, which did not “fail” per the Republicans, so says JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Moody’s, the Congressional Budget Office and a couple of other non-partisan economists. Romney likes to cite people who are partisan funded.

Obama followed the initial work by President Bush to bail out the US auto industry saving GM and Chrysler along with about one million jobs at these companies and in their suppliers. They both have paid us back with interest. I would add that it would have been very different under Romney who advocated at the time in an Op-Ed piece to let them go through the bankruptcy courts. The outcome would have looked very different for the companies and their employees.

The GOP likes to lump all of the jobs lost under the recession that occurred and were occurring after the financial crisis and recession. Jobs were lost for several months after Obama took office, but that is hardly fair to put those in his lap. If measured from the first budget he was responsible for in October 2009 to today, there has been significant job growth under his watch, due to the stimulus, emphasis on job training and gradually improving economy. He has not done a good job of managing expectations, though. Most housing based recessions take on average six years to recover from and that would place our recovery in 2013 based on the average recession. So, we have made slow, but steady progress, but that should have been conveyed from the outset.

And, my GOP friends do not highlight this, but the stock market has largely recovered since the fall of 2008 right before he took office. I would encourage you to pull out your 401(k) statement from year-end 2008 and compare it to today, if you do not believe me. As an investor, I am very happy with this result.

Where he could have done better is on the deficit. I would have embraced Simpson-Bowles as a working draft. I find fault with him but especially Congress for their failure to act. Speaker John Boehner and Obama had a deal worked out last summer which called for spending cuts with some revenue increase. Former Florida GOP Governor Jeb Bush said this was as close to a no-brainer that you could get for the GOP, yet our GOP led Congress voted it down as it had revenue increases. This is where I find huge fault with the GOP platform and Governor Romney. We cannot solve our deficit issues without  tax increases and spending cuts. Romney’s proposal will increase the deficit, which is annoying since he is the one saying he knows how to fix this.

Under Obama, our image abroad has measurably improved with our allies in Great Britain, France, Germany and Japan, e.g. per a Pew Research study over the summer. This is important as we are a key part, but only one part, of the global economy. In fact, per this study, these allies overwhelmingly favor the election of Obama over Romney. That should be very telling to many. This is of even greater importance due to global warming showing its teeth more and more, as well as other crises around the globe, where we need concerted action.

Finally, Obama should be given great credit for getting the Affordable Care Act passed. We have 46 million Americans uninsured and we need to continue to let Obamacare be implemented. It is not perfect and needs further change, yet we are seeing dividends with the earlier features. The fact this is a variation of what was done in Massachusetts boggles the mind, since Romney is arguing against his greatest success as governor.

I don’t see many sound ideas from the GOP platform and Governor Romney. I am very concerned by the stance on global warming and the desire to double down on fossil fuels, when we should moving in a more concerted way with alternative energy. With wind energy in 38 states and solar energy continuing to take hold in 15 – 20 megawatts sites powering towns and manufacturing plants, this is where we need to invest more.

I am also concerned that the party overlooks the poverty we have in our country. We have to be very mindful of what we cut, as we cut spending. The 47 percent that Romney refers to in that infamous speech, which is in keeping with other comments,  includes people who are working but don’t make enough money, as well as veterans and retirees. We need to help people with better paying jobs and I personally do not see a trickle down approach working for those people. Romney likes to talk about our disappearing middle class under Obama, but the trend dates back to when Ronald Reagan took office and implemented the first trickle down approach. It did not work then and it won’t work now. And, I don’t even need to mention not treating the LGBT community like everyone else in the country under the GOP platform.

But, what do I know? I am just an Old Fart. Yet, I am an Independent one.  I would encourage you to think about the above before you vote. I believe the President has earned a second term and NC would benefit from Pat McCrory, our GOP candidate. How about that – voting for a Democrat and Republican? This is a great country.

The Rich and the Rest of Us – A Must Read

From the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us – A Poverty Manifesto” by Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, I gleaned the following quote which provides some context for a huge challenge that workers, in general, but especially uneducated workers face in the job marketplace.

“American business is about maximizing shareholder value,” said Allen Sinai, chief economist at the research firm Decision Economics. “You basically don’t want workers. You hire less, and you try to find capital equipment to replace them.”

I wanted to begin my discussion on this timely and impactful book with this business context. The first sentence is the primary motivation for business existence. Absent that goal, there is no need to be in business, unless you have a charitable bent. The next two sentences are important, as businesses have always tried to do more with less. The key problem these statements run up against is we are more than machines and we need to deploy our skills and hard work for a greater good, which in turn will let us live decent lives. Plus, innovation occurs when people meet opportunity, so our ability to leap to new products and services hinges upon human involvement.

This book is a must read as it talks about how that used to be the America that many knew, yet it is not the America of today for many. We live in two Americas – I have used the phrase “the haves and have-nots.” Smiley and West use the title to tell the story in a more pronounced way – “the rich and the rest of us.” In essence, it is difficult for the those who have what they need (the rich) to understand the needs of those who do not (the rest of us). They will point to how the income disparity has gotten worse over time and can be traced in large part to the post-1970s period beginning with signficant changes to tax rates on the upper class. This problem evolved over time, has been exacerbated by the recession and cannot easily be fixed.

To try to summarize this book is difficult, so I thought I would use their conclusion section and paraphrase their words.

Ten Lies About Poverty that America Can No Longer Afford

1. Poverty is a character flaw. False. Poverty is the lack of money – period. The 150 million Americans in or near poverty are the result of unemployment, war, the recession, corporate greed and income inequality.

2. American manufacturing is going to bounce back. False. Per Steve Jobs, those jobs are gone and are not coming back. China is not about to give up its claim to “the world’s top manufacturer.” I think there will be some manufacturing that comes back, but we will never get close to where it was.

3. The Great Recession has ended. Not really. Most of the new jobs created since the economic recovery began have been low-wage occupations. Since the book was published, there has been continued, slow improvement month by month on jobs, but their point is valid.

4. Minorities receive the majority of governmental entitlements. False. Nearly half of all Americans live in a household that received some type of government benefit. Seventy percent of food stamp recipients are white.

5. No one goes hungry in America. False. 50 million Americans go to bed hungry and have no idea where their next meal will come from.

6. America takes care of its veterans. False. 67,000 veterans are homeless and another 1.5 million are considered at risk due to poverty, lack of support networks, or dismal or substandard living conditions.

7. Government handouts created the nation’s deficit. False. The dominant factors were Bush-era tax cuts, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the trade deficit, the mortgage crisis, and the great recession.. Discretionary spending is roughly 15% of the nation’s budget.

8. America’s wealthiest pay more taxes because they earn more. Partially true. The wealthiest wage earners pay about 21.5% in taxes relative to their personal income, but not on capital gains earnings. Under the Bush-era tax cuts, the wealthy pay on average 5.5% on capital gains from assets. This is a key reason Governor Romney’s tax rate is so low.

9. Medicaid takes care of our seniors’ health-care needs. Partially true. Health-care costs for those between 55 – 64 are twice those for those between 35 – 44. Rising health-care costs are the major contributor to bankruptcy among the elderly.

10. Poverty does not exist in the suburbs. False. The number of poor people living in the suburbs rose 24% from about 14 million to 18 million between 2006 and 2010. The number of poor in urban areas rose by only 20% during this time.

The book also speaks of 12 poverty changing ideas. I will save these for the next post, as my first thrust was to get the message out. I want these “Ten Lies” to resonate and ferment in people’s minds. With the work I try to do with homeless families and my wife does with the hungry, we witness these issues routinely. I found their statistics and data points to be very compelling, but the story can be told without the data. I would encourage you to get the book. For such a complex topic it is a quick read. Yet, it is one where I have dog-eared many pages and continue to refer to as I did for this post.

This is an important topic for America and is one that does not get talked about enough. We are too content to focus on the middle class, yet the middle class decline unfortunately has increased the numbers near or in poverty.  Several of my fellow bloggers have been highlighting these issues of late, so please check them out. There is an excellent piece at www.newsofthetimes.wordpress.com entitled “Is income inequality the tide that will sink all boats” which is a must read. Another blogger, www.hughcurtler.wordpress.com has written several pieces in the past few months as well.Thanks for reading this first post on “The Rich and the Rest of Us” and would welcome your comments or other blog must reads on the topic.

The Five Faces of Mitt (on Obamacare)

In her most famous role, Joanne Woodward starred in the 1957 movie classic, “The Three Faces of Eve” based on a true story of a woman with a multiple personality disorder. The role as Eve won Ms. Woodward the Academy Award for Best Actress. I gravitated toward this movie as I was thinking about the five different positions that Governor Romney, or Mitt since the movie uses Eve’s first name, has had on Obamacare, four of which he has held since early September. Let me set aside the first position before he began his recent campaign for President and come back to it later.

I use this as an example, as our friend Mitt has not been very consistent in his positions, Obamacare being one of them. This has made him very chameleon-like and the vision of the etch-a-sketch as his defining tool is an appropriate image. With respect to Obamacare, let’s go back in time to post-campaign launch through early September. Many campaign commercials have been aired which said very clearly – Day One: Repeal Obamacare. Position #2

Scroll forward to early September. Recognizing that Obamacare was gaining some traction and he was behind, Mitt decided to alter this stance. During an interview, he said there are parts of Obamacare that people like and he likes, so he would not repeal all of Obamacare. Position #3. He noted in particular leaving the elimination of the pre-existing condition exclusion which would prevent insurance companies from denying coverage. He also noted continuing the young adults on their parent plans, even if they were not in college.

He apparently was told by his staff that keeping those provisions would require him to keep the mandate for coverage, otherwise the process would break down. The good risks would avoid insurance and the worse risks would sign up which would put the insurance companies in a bad situation. So, Mitt reversed his Position #3 and went back to the repeal of Obamacare. Position #4.

This position lasted until the night of the first debate, so about four weeks. During the debate, he said he liked the model of Obamacare that he did in Massachusetts. It worked well. Yet, he would leave it to the states to decide to implement Obamacare or a variation on a state by state basis. Position #5. This is one reason the President may have been tentative, as he was trying to figure out which face of Eve was standing across from him.

Yet, let’s set all those multiple personalities aside and come back to the most important Position #1. As I have noted in earlier posts, as governor of Massachusetts, Mitt went to great pains to get an earlier version of Obamacare passed in his state. It is working very well according to many sources, including the current governor and Mitt. He traveled the state emphasizing the need for the mandate of being covered. He said this was an important part of the model and people needed to show personal responsibility. To his credit, he got it through.

The irony here is Obamacare and its earlier version in Mass. are largely a GOP idea. The President used it as a compromise to get people covered, which is the main goal with 46 million uninsured. Mitt’s version actually resonated with Senator Jim DeMint so much, DeMint advocated in a letter to then President Bush that we do this for the whole country. DeMint particularly liked the mandate as did some other GOP senators. These endorsements continued until 2009. Yet, the President, to his credit and after the failure of many before him, got the Affordable Care Act passed. It is not perfect, but it is paying dividends (please refer to www.drsforamerica.org for a summary). Cost increases have been tempered, people have received checks from insurance companies who made too much profit, 3 million more young adults are covered, preventive care treatment has gone up and the doughnut hole for senior drugs has gone away. Also the pre-existing condition exclusion and lifetime benefit limits are gone.

Yet, Mitt has decided to run against the Affordable Care Act, joining with the GOP to call it “job-killing Obamacare.” I would add that many who would benefit from Obamacare are in that 47% that Mitt does not care about. To state the obvious, Mitt is running against his greatest achievement as governor. Why? Because the opposing party passed his idea. They made it their own adding many of the above features, yet at its heart, it is the GOP idea which dates back to the late 1980’s.

These total five positions, in all. Yet, there are other policies on which he has altered his stance. I go back to that first debate where many say he won hands down. To me, words matter. Yes, he was the more assertive of the two, yet I found him to be very Machiavellian in what he said. In my mind, his words did not measure up to his assertiveness. Given the above example as one of several, my wife summed it up best. “I just don’t believe a word that man says.” Fact check on that.

I come back to the following. His and the GOP platform are built on a weak foundation. Earlier I said they are based on a foundation of big, hairy audacious lies. Reviewing the GOP stances, whether we are talking about global warming, tax policy, healthcare, gun laws, gay rights, helping our middle class (forget the impoverished as they don’t matter at all), I do not see a lot of well thought ideas. He can be as assertive as he wants, but it does not alter that fact. Our President is far from perfect, but  based on real, non-partisan data, he has done a better job as steward of our economy than he is given credit for. This former Republican, Independent voter will be voting for the President. Mitt will not be getting my vote except for an Oscar in the updated version of “Five Faces of Mitt.” He has been masterful in his many personalities. Even Joanne would be envious of his acting ability.

Some good news for our journey

Since we seem to highlight all of the troubles in our world, especially in the height of a political campaign, the good news stories sometimes get overshadowed or are downplayed, which I find amusing in its own right. So, here are few that caught my eye over the past few days. I will organize them around a few overarching themes.

US Economy

We have seen the unemployment rate dip for the first time below 8% to 7.8% in a long while. This issue has been downplayed by people from an opposing political view, which I view as the second team rooting for the first team to not play well, so they can get into the game. Some have even called foul on the numbers. As I mentioned in a comment on someone else’s blog when non-partisan bureaucrats agree with your point of view, they are non-partisan, yet when they don’t they are biased. The unemployment decline is part of an overall trend over the past many months of a slow recovery.

Yet, to note a couple of other data points I saw today, courtesy of the Associated Press the 2011-12 deficit fell by $207 Billion as reported by the Treasury Department for the latest fiscal year close. It is still high at over $1 Trillion and we must deal with it, but the reason for the fall was encouraging – tax revenue rose by 6.4% as more people got jobs and received income. Corporations also contributed more tax revenue than in the 2010-11 fiscal year. That is more good evidence of our recovery out of the abyss.

Housing has also continued to improve, but I wanted to highlight two other stories in the paper today. The Charlotte Observer reported both Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase had record profit third quarters largely due to the refinancing of mortgages. Banks usually recover first and are a leading economic indicator. Just this year, the Wells stock price is up 24% and the JPMC stock price is up 25%. Bank of America is up 64%, but they had more problems to deal with as their price had fallen further. The overall stock market per the S&P 500 is up 13.6%, with the Dow up 9%. My blog friend Vincent Mudd at www.vincentmudd.wordpress.com shows how much the stock market has climbed over the past four years along with some other measures. These are very positive signs, especially with stock market performance like bank performance usually leading recoveries before for significant job growth.

Alternative Energy

Yesterday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the set aside of 285,000 acres in the western US for the purpose of creating 17 new solar energy zones.  These zones are primarily in six states – California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. These zones are for large-scale solar power plants. I reported earlier that similar activity is being undertaken around the globe and country. It was reported earlier this week in NC that Apple, Google and others are leading a push for solar powering of their new electricity intense data centers. Several 15 – 20 MegaWatt sites are sprouting all over the place. I noted in an earlier post that the state of the art photovoltaic solar panel is being made in Durham, NC by Semprius which is owned largely by Siemens, a German company. This panel is a significant improvement over previous panels and helping to lower the cost of solar energy.

In some undertold news, wind energy is now being produced in 38 states. I like to say this as some who represent the fossil fuel lobbying efforts portray these industries as futuristic. They are here and are working. And, they are creating jobs. Germany is ten years ahead of us and, while I love Siemens, it is not ironic that they are the largest owner of Semprius based here in the states. I would add if you are looking to invest in US-based alternative energy, note that GE is one of the largest makers of wind turbines. And, none other than Warren Buffett and T. Boone Pickens are big investors in solar and wind energy.

Global Society

The shooting of Malala Yousufzai, the 14-year-old educational activist in Pakistan is a terrible tragedy. The Taliban has sworn if she does not perish, she will again be a target. Her alleged crime was speaking out in favor of educating girls. Yet, what I had hoped would happen seems to be happening. Regular Pakistanis and leaders are denouncing the Taliban for this uncalled for violence. Yesterday, Islamic clerics have condemned the shooting. This may the lightning rod the world has been waiting for.

Islamic extremism can only be solved by the rest of the Islamists. They have to say enough is enough. This is not easy when your life and lives of your family are impacted by standing up against the worst kind of thugs. The bright spot we have not highlighted enough in Libya after the embassy bombings of last month is the group condemnation of the bombing by a growing number of Libyans. This is what it will take. The leadership has to follow suit or these countries will be destined to hold themselves back. One has to only look to Turkey to see how passionate religion can co-exist with secular governance. Turkey is thriving.

This is one brave little girl and I hope she survives. To do what she did at age 11 is stunning. I hope this terrible incident will change the course of history. The reaction by the saner people in Pakistan seems to indicate it might.

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That is all I had for now. We should celebrate the steps forward as we do tend to highlight the fall backs. As imperfect people in an imperfect world, we do tend to make our mistakes. So, please join me in spreading the good news.

What I want for my birthday

On the eve of my last day as a 53-year-old fart, I have reflected on a few wishes for my birthday. I realize I may not be granted all or any of these wishes, but since another year is passing, I am at least afforded the privilege of making a list. So, please indulge this old fart, at least, for a few minutes.

  • I wish that every American can watch the first fifteen minutes of the October 9 episode of “The Daily Show.” Jon Stewart has summed up my feelings on the upcoming Presidential election as only he can. As usual, it is equal parts funny and true. If they watched this, my unstated wish would come true.
  • I wish that every Pakistani will use the attempted Taliban assassination of a 14-year-old girl named Malala Yousufuzi as a rallying cry that we will tolerate no more the violence and bigotry of the Taliban and make their country great on the shoulders of young girls and boys like Malala who is only guilty of advocating for education for girls.
  • I wish all Americans would heed the global warming crisis for what it is and join with the rest of the world to do something about it. I repeat, my greatest fear of a Republican Presidency is our damaging our planet more than we have with double downing on fossil fuel expansion.
  • I wish the Republican leaders would realize what their party has become and silence the vociferous extremists that have caused it to be such a Reactionary party, a term which does not have a favorable meaning. America needs and deserves to have its GOP be a party that should be at the table, not one where you worry about where it will go next.
  • I wish America would realize it has a significant poverty problem here and we need to do something about it. Education, health care and better paying jobs are a part of this mission. We also need an asset based community model to improve neighborhoods, schools, etc.
  • I wish LGBTs have every right that every other American enjoys. It is past due and we need to listen to our children on the tolerance needed to move us forward.
  • I wish when a bigoted minister starts preaching a message of exclusion and hate, one which Jesus would not appreciate, the congregation would rise and walk out on him.
  • I wish leaders who beat on their chest about fighting a war take the issue as seriously and soberly as possible before they send Americans to die. And, if we do send Americans to die, I want to have every option exhausted beforehand. We owe it to them and their families.
  • I wish we would return to more common sensical gun laws and realize we dwarf the rest of the world in children gun deaths.
  • I wish that people turn off propaganda disguised as news and look for the truth, not someone’s version of the truth. I also wish people invited to speak as subject matter experts are, in fact, subject matter experts.
  • I wish we would start talking about real problems in the US and world and not the stuff we tend to talk about instead. I mentioned a few of them in my last post.

I could go on, but that is enough wishes for now. Since these are wishes that most likely cannot be granted, let me at least wish for something close by. I wish my children grow up healthy, curious and joyous. My wife and I are blessed with three wonders among wonders. I hope that I can be the best parent I can be to guide, counsel, nurture and love them. I wish my wife and I can walk at sunset along the shores holding hands and kicking up the pools of water well into the future. We have been at it for 27 years and I hope we can at least double that time together.

Thank you readers and fellow bloggers for joining me on this journey. I value my new friendships with people whose words inspire me and make me think. What more can an old fart ask? You are the best. Keep on keepin on.

Global macro trends we need to discuss more

As I was watching “Real Time with Bill Maher” Friday, he had as his last arriving guest, Bill McKibben, one of the planet’s foremost authorities on global warming. Not to shine spotlights, but the rest of the panel was a progressive leaning actress and two conservative talk show hosts, one on the radio and one of CNN, one a former congressman and one an attorney by trade. What I found as indicative of discussion in our country, we had two people arguing GOP talking points with a true expert. I kept thinking they need to be asking him questions about his concerns and what he thinks. When one said that he agreed with the Exxon Mobil CEO that we can just move the farmland to warmer places, McKibben retorted, “so we should just replace Iowa?”

My purpose in this post is not to only focus on the impact of global warming, but to highlight we need to have more informed discussions about the big-ticket, macro trends. We need to do so with better data and recognition for what scientists are saying and not using industry lobbyist talking points which at best are subjective. These are major concerns for the people on this planet, but also in the US. We cannot ignore these problems as we are now being impacted and we are contributing to a progression down a slippery slope.

Please note there are more trends than those mentioned here, but let me highlight four in no particular order:

1) Sustainable Population Growth

2) Aging Population

3) Water, the New Oil

4) Global Warming and our Toxic Chemical Crockpot

Sustainable Population Growth

In an earlier post, I mentioned a study conducted in Great Britain which asked the question, how many people can the Earth sustain? The key conclusion of the study was it greatly depended on consumption rates. If people on average consumed resources like one of the poorer countries in Africa, the Earth could sustain just about 15 billion people. Please know I am rounding the numbers from memory. However, if we consumed like the average North American, the planet could only sustain about 2 billion people. We are about 7 billion people as of this writing.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, if fertility stayed the same, we would be looking at over 11 billion in 2050. If it increases and people consume at a higher clip, then we would be in a heap of hurt. So, what can we do about it? Per the UN Population Fund, they suggest several things, but let me highlight a few year:

– we have to have greater awareness over this issue and concerted planning by major governmental, societal and business leaders.

– we have to increase the availability, awareness and use of contraception.

– we need to have better overall family planning and increased awareness of the correlation between poverty and larger family size.

– we have to improve access to child healthcare and overall healthcare.

– we have to be mindful of our resources and know they are not infinite in supply.

– we have to find better ways to grow food, manage water and sewage (more on water below).

– we need better data for measuring intervention outcomes and assessing needs.

Aging Population

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development partnered with global human capital consultant Mercer in 2010 to conduct a study of major issues facing countries. One of the more significant macro trends that was a premonition into the economic travails in Europe is our aging population. Why is that important? As a society ages, the ratio of retirees to active worker increases. This becomes a huge problem when more of the unfunded liabilities of an entity are out the door than can be covered by active worker funding. These are the reasons France increased its normal retirement age and why Greece has to follow suit.

Our average age has increased here in the US, but there are countries that are far worse than we are. Yet, it is and will become a greater problem here. The other key concern is the majority of healthcare expenses occur in the last two years of a person’s life. As we age, it puts more pressure on the cost of delivery of medical care. This becomes exacerbated by an overweight population as we have here in the US, which causes even more cost pressure due to unhealthy lifestyles. At some point, you have to pay the fiddler.

So, we have to take better care of ourselves and we have to make adjustments to medical care benefit coverages. We need more people included in medical coverages which is the reason some form of Obamacare needs to continue. Yet, we also need to come to grips that changes are needed to Medicare and Social Security. We also need to encourage greater savings. Before the recession, the US was one of the worst at saving. This has only been heightened by the recession where people had to dip into their savings and forego future savings.

Water, the New Oil

This has been a concern of mine which became more paramount after reading Steven Solomon’s book “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization.” This is the best history book I have ever read about how civilizations rose and fell because of their ability to manage water for use, transport and sewage. This last point may sound very mundane, but washing away sewage has been a huge challenge in major metro population areas such as Rome, London and New York and in impoverished areas.

Yet, the book is more than a history lesson. It shows how dear water has become even in some of the richest places on the planet. Oil rich Saudi Arabia has a major catastrophe in the foreseeable future due to the significant decline in their aquifers. China had a major problem when they built a dam that impacted the water supply to others to such an extent they had to cease energy production until they figured out a better solution. And, we are seeing it in the US as well. We have always had droughts, but they are greater in number and severity and per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have worsened because of global warming.

Any food, water, sewage and energy production exercise has to figure water usage in its calculations. This is probably my biggest concern with fracking, e.g. Fracking takes 4 to 6 million gallons of water per fracking well that cannot go back into the water supply. And, if you do not think this is a problem, the frackers and farmers were fighting over water in Kansas this summer during the droughts. On the sewage side,  Bill Gates is running a global contest for the purpose of developing a scalable, waterless toilet that can be used in impoverished, arid areas. Dysentery and cholera are in abundance in these areas as the raw sewage goes directly into the water supply. Since water is so dear, we need to use it less for sewage. I would add in Orange County, CA they are using multiple filter devices (and I mean multiple) to reuse sewage water as drinking water. They have been doing this for a couple of years now.

We need to have concerted effort around the needs and uses of water and plan accordingly. I believe that a robust eco-energy plan has to factor in the use of water in all energy, water, food and sewage planning.

Global Warming and our Toxic Chemical Crockpot

The impact of global warming is being witnessed on a daily basis. It is no longer a futuristic event. Like the birthers, the deniers should not have a place at the adult table. Yet, we need all reasonable parties to have a voice in what we do next as we develop holistic eco-energy plans. I have said this multiple times, but Germany is ten years ahead of the US and plans to be 80% alternative energy powered by 2030. By my count, that is in 18 years. We need multiple parties at the table as we have to make a concerted effort to divorce ourselves from fossil fuels and not double down on them. We know we cannot quit cold turkey, but we better get moving. Any plan has to endure beyond the terms of political incumbents, so it cannot be shelved when a new political party comes into power.

The part that does not get enough attention is the toxic chemical crockpot that is simmering. As the planet turns the heat up on the crockpot, a relatively misunderstood and vastly underestimated problem will become increasingly worse. Like a broken record, the best books on this subject are written by Dr. Sandra Steingraber – “Living Downstream” and “Raising Elijah.” As a biologist, ecologist, cancer survivor and mother, she is garnering bi-partisan support about these issues. The problem is her voice is drowned out by the petro-chemical industry who is leading a cause to defang the EPA. The Koch Brothers make their money here, e.g, and they are the most significant contributors to the Tea Party success. They also have about 100 pending violations in front of the EPA.

The dilemma is with people moving around it is harder to prove causality of illnesses with toxic chemical creation, disposal or use. This has been the industry’s principal defense and they can throw vast sums of money to confuse and diffuse their opponents’ efforts. Yet, they toxic chemical are present and they do impact people living in various areas for more than a few years. Migrant farm workers exposed to pesticides have much greater cancers, lung and mental health issues. The increase in autism and premature births can be traceable to larger traces of toxic chemicals in the environment. And, as Dr. Steingraber has noted, a very relevant factor in family history is not considered in medical diagnosis as much as it should be – where the family grew up can actually be more important than the genes. Her case in point, her family (siblings, cousins nearby, etc.) had a significant number of cancers, including multiple cases of bladder cancer which is what she had. The key to all of this story – Dr. Steingraber was adopted. Note, bladder cancer is a bellweather cancer. If someone gets it in your family especially at a relatively young age, it is likely environmentally caused.

Dealing more effectively with toxic chemicals also has to be a key part of addressing a holistic eco-energy solution. And, let me shout this from the rooftops one more time – doing away or gutting the EPA is the most irresponsible recommendation that could be made, which is precisely what is being recommended by one of our major political parties in the US. And, I have highlighted the word irresponsible with purpose as a true independent voter and business person. For someone to frame an argument against this by calling anyone a “tree hugger” is poor form and stewardship. Creating the EPA may actually be GOP President Richard Nixon’s greatest contribution as president.

If you agree with me, please help get the word out on these issues. These are local problems, these are state problems, these are US problems and these are global problems. We have to solve them in a concerted way and build upon a confederation of good ideas being done all around the country. With wind energy in 38 states, someone is doing something right. Let’s build on that.

To be honest, both disappointed me

Unlike my friend Hugh, I watched the Presidential debate, but wish I hadn’t because I could not sleep afterwards. I agree that Governor Romney came across better based on his assertiveness and the President was unusually timid, but I was disappointed in both candidates for various similar and different reasons. Style is important, but words matter, which is the reason for my insomnia. Let me summarize my thoughts by what I see as the similarities and differences.

The similarities

As a true independent voter who will and has vote(d) for candidates from both parties, my main frustration is both candidates and parties are misleading the American people about solving the deficit. We must have an adult conversation about raising taxes on everyone, not just the upper income earners under the Obama plan. This is in concert with reducing spending. Otherwise, the math will not work. To my GOP friends, Romney can be as assertive as he wants, but his tax plan will increase the deficit, so says non-partisan economists, not the economists on his payroll. Plus, more on this later, but he did a big 180 on his position during the debate, so if you read what he said, you would walk away with a different impression.

Obama at least is talking about raising some taxes, but it is not enough. I am a huge supporter of Simpson-Bowles as a starting point and he is giving lip service to it. Please note, Congressman Ryan voted Simpson-Bowles down, so he should not be telling anyone what a great budget steward he is. And, Romney said he had his own plan, which non-partisan economist say will increase the deficit. Folks, we must raise taxes and cut spending. Both parties need to get real and stop misleading the American public. As a reminder, we are one of the least taxed countries in the world, so says the Paris based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The differences

Please know there is no such thing as a perfect candidate or president. Neither are nor will be. Yet, here is where my other frustrations lie, in general about the campaign, and specifically to the debate. Governor Romney, bless his heart, is a moderate leader for an extreme party. Because of this and due to some faulty premises underlying the GOP platform he has changed his opinion on several occasions. During the debate he made some more adjustments to make himself sound more believable to us independent voters. I mentioned the first one above where he moved away from reducing taxes on the upper income earners to jump-start the economy to making enough adjustments to come up to a deficit neutral budget. This was at the same time he was doing subtraction by addition saying he is going to reduce the deficit, by increasing military spending, adding back the mysterious Medicare cutback and eliminating Obamacare which the Congressional Budget Office (again one of those non-partisan economists) said will increase the deficit.

He also flipped on his regulation stance where he said not all regulations are bad and said there are parts of Dodd-Frank that should remain. This was likely news to his GOP followers. More on this later, but the President missed a huge opportunity to talk about the refunds that his Consumer Protection Bureau under Dodd-Frank have obtained for consumers totalling over $500 million for fraud and aggressive telemarketing  by three credit card companies – American Express, Discover and Capital One – in the last three months. Romney also talked about how he supported education, although his stance has been to make cuts in education and he has spoken on several occasions about doing this.

Finally, he continues to be all over the place on the Affordable Care Act trying to define a sensible talking position against something that he created for Massachusetts that is patterned after a GOP idea that Senator Jim DeMint supported as late as 2007 for the whole country. Just two weeks ago he said he would continue parts of the ACA and then reversed that position. That Etch-a-sketch is getting a workout. I find it funny that the resolution to our federal budget woes under Romney is to push things like healthcare reform to the states who don’t have any money either, plus we lose some economies of scale.

My frustration with our imperfect President is he missed many opportunities to hold Romney’s feet to the fire. The President did do a mea culpa on several fronts and noted we should be doing better, but he did not aggressively defend himself. He could have done better. Yet, this will also shock GOP voters – the President can actually run on his record. I would encourage you to read the blog of www.vincentmudd.wordpress.com which looks at 18 measures of whether we are better off than four years ago. His conclusion is we are with most of the measures showing improvement. And, even Vincent’s measurements short change the President as do the GOP talking points, as many of the recession job losses turned up in the first few months of his presidency and those are directly traceable to the financial crisis started before he took office.

Yet, his record shows the following with respect to the economy:

  • the stimulus did not fail – it saved us from a depression, added 200 basis points to the GDP and added 2.5 million jobs, so says six non-partisan economists like Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, the CBO and others.
  • the US auto industry and about one million jobs were saved and the US was paid back for the loans with interest.
  • Dodd-Frank is not perfect, but it helps govern banks that continue to show poor stewardship. There is bad banking news on a weekly basis. Plus, as noted earlier, the Consumer Protection Bureau is doing precisely what it needs to do to rein in aggressive and fraudulent practices.
  • more people got Pell Grants and the community colleges have been training even more people.
  • the Affordable Care Act has allowed 3 million adult children to remain on their parents’ healthcare plans and preventive check-ups are now more available and preexisting conditions and lifetime limits are eliminated.

Finally, the President is at least aware that we have a global warming problem and is doing something about it. This above all things is reason not to vote for Romney because we are already ten years behind Germany on eco-energy planning and we cannot fall further behind. We must have a bi-partisan eco-energy plan that lasts the term of the next president.

Let me close with these statements as a true independent voter. I live in North Carolina. As a citizen of NC, I will be voting for Republican Pat McCrory for Governor as he is a moderate and collaborative leader and former mayor of Charlotte for fourteen years. I will also be voting for Democrat Barack Obama for President for the reasons noted above and for my disappointment in the GOP party platform. I will also be voting for Democrat Jennifer Roberts over he GOP challenger for Congress. She is former Board Chair of the Mecklenburg County Commissioners and is also a proven collaborative leader, while her opponent is a walking conflict of interest.

I am weary of the rhetoric and mistruths and am ready to vote. Yes, the President is not perfect, but he has done a better job than the GOP has given him credit for. He has actually earned your vote, but in our day and age of truthiness, you have to look past the carnival hawkers to see the real truth.