An old shell on the beach

The Guardian reported today that an interesting shell has been discovered on the beach. A twenty-six minute documentary film produced by Shell Oil Company in 1991 has been rediscovered. This prescient film was made for educational purpose for students discussing the key concerns over climate change.

In the film, Shell scientists speak about sea level rise, flooding, drought and forest fires due to climate change. The reporters for The Guardian note the film is highly relevant today and was made twenty-five years ago.

The article also notes the lack of business ethics of Shell that led them to double down on fracking and off-shore drilling since that time. This is not dissimilar to the activities of Exxon-Mobil who is under investigation for securities fraud in misrepresenting the impact of climate change on their business to shareholders. Like Shell, Exxon-Mobil has been aware of their impact on climate change for quite awhile.

The past actions of these two fossil-fuel companies are extremely relevant. They both have known the concerns of climate change for many years. Their knowledge flies directly in the face of the arguments of climate change deniers. And, with respect to Exxon-Mobil, if it is proven that they misled shareholders, that is a crime whether it was intentional of not.

A key reason I left the Republican Party in 2006 is their failure to admit and speak to one of the greatest threats to our planet in climate change. The World Economic Forum cites the failure to address climate change as the second greatest risk (following our global water crisis) over the next ten years.  Doubling down on fossil fuels as advocated by our President is extremely poor stewardship.

A quick tally

While I am all for giving our new President a chance, early indications are not very promising. Hopefully, he will learn from these lessons. If not, we will see more of his advisors apologizing for their boss, explaining he did not mean that or just offering their different opinion.

A quick tally will reveal the following record:

– He rolled out a travel ban without vetting it with Congress or leaders of departments who would oversee it. Not only was it ruled unconstitutional, it revealed chaos and incompetence, neither good traits.
– He has picked fights with Mexico, Iran, Australia, Germany, China, Sweden, France and the EU. Many of these are unforced errors.
– He has foolishly picked fights with the media and his intelligence departments.
– He has decided to invent problems with his tweets and lost precious time with his staff chasing their own tail. These are almost entirely unforced errors.
– He had to fire (or accept the resignation of) a key advisor in Michael Flynn and watch one of his cabinet nominees remove himself from consideration due to a few problematic actions that should have been discovered beforehand.

I do like a few of the cabinet members (McMaster, Mattis and Kelly, Tillerson), while a couple are poor choices (Sessions, Pruitt, DeVos, Perry)  and Bannon is just a god-awful pick in my opinion. It should be noted that Pence, Mattis, Tillerson, and Kelly each have tried to assuage world leaders that their boss really did not mean what he said and have actually openly disagreed with his pre- and post-election rhetoric.

He has been busy with executive orders that don’t do a whole lot, other than let him beat on his chest. I don’t mind reviewing regulations, which we should do routinely, but arbitrary guidelines are more symbolic. And, I like that he has met with business leaders about jobs, but his good actions are being dwarfed by these other things, not to mention his Russia problem, which may be his Waterloo.

So, my quick tally of what has transpired gives me pause. I feel in five short weeks, the world is a less safe place because of this President. And, that is not a comfortable feeling, I am hopeful the saner heads will prevail on his decision-making and tempernent.

Rewarding inefficiency

As a former consultant, I have witnessed too often how some are rewarded for their inefficiency. For those who have never worked for a consulting firm, the management goal is to bill all time to a client. So, pressure is applied to record all time spent working on that client, then pressure is placed on the account manager to bill the time charges in the system.

The dilemma begins when you are working on a set  budget for a project and the agreed upon maximum amount cannot be billed, unless you speak with the client first about why additional work is needed. With those further removed from the budgeting/ billing process, they are told to record time, whether they are inefficient or not. As they are measured on billable hours, people who are inefficient are actually rewarded for their inefficiency.

So, Joe is inefficient on his work and has 1,800 billable hours for a year. Susan is efficient and works well within budgets and has 1,500 hours. Joe will get more rewards for his work, even though the company had to write off 300 of his hours that exceeded budgets with clients. I should note this is not an uncommon dilemma. What Joe fails to realize is future project managers may say we cannot use Joe as we always have a write off. So, this may right itself long term, but in a matrix managed world, Joe does not report to the account and project managers, so he will be judged by his supervisors.

Why am I thinking of this? Our President is getting kudos from his followers for doing what he said he would do. The problem is much of what he said he would do may not be the best course of action. While I applaud looking at infrastructure and looking strategically at how we can increase domestic jobs, measures like building a wall or introducing a travel ban will do very little to accomplish making us safer and dealing strategically with immigration. Neither will ignoring the far greater terrorist threat in our country of anti-government and other domestic hate groups that are already here.

I have written earlier these tactics are more like a gorilla beating on his chest than they are about solving real problems. Data centric analysis should drive what we should do, rather than the campaign rhetoric of a man who is not known for his desire to perform due diligence. So, let’s not reward inefficiency. Let’s focus on doing smart things that can help our country. Building a wall and banning travel are inefficient.

 

 

 

Small pieces of big movies

With the forthcoming Academy Awards, it might be fun to select small funny pieces or vignettes from movies that had some level of acclaim.

Annie Hall: Two small scenes that must be paired stand out. In an earlier scene Woody Allen’s character is speaking with Annie Hall’s brother. The brother notes that sometimes when he is driving at night, he briefly considers veering into an oncoming set of headlights to end it all. A few scenes later the expression on Allen’s face is priceless as guess who is driving them to the airport at night?

Forrest Gump: Two priceless scenes stand out. One is when Bubba finishes telling Forrest the many ways to cook shrimp. They are using toothbrushes to clean bathroom tile and Bubba’s says “Well, that’s about it.” Forrest pauses and then goes back to scrubbing. The other is when Lieutenant Dan shows up at the Bayou and Forrest just leaps into the water, while the now pilotless boat is still running.

Casablanca: There are countless scenes in this most quoted movie of all time. One that I love is just after Inspector Renault is forced to close “Rick’s” because he is shocked there is gambling going on, the pit boss hands the Inspector his winnings. The other is when Rick tells the Nazi Major Strasser that he came to Casablanca for the waters. When the Major replies there are no waters here, Rick says “So, I was misinformed,” with a very wry grin.

Jaws: The running gag line echoed by Roy Scheider, the land preferring lawman, is “We gotta get a bigger boat.” The other eerily funny scene is when the grizzled sea captain played by Robert Shaw got the attention of a talkative town council by slowly scraping his finger nails on a chalkboard. Yikes. Another funny scene is on the boat, after much drinking, the guys are comparing scars. At the end, Richard Dreyfus’ character points at his heart and notes the name of the girl who first broke it.

Rocky: A couple of character names for the pets gives me a chuckle. The bulldog was called “Butkus” in homage to the tough linebacker for the Chicago Bears. The two pet turtles of Rocky were humorously named “Cuff” and “Link.” As Rocky heads to the ring to fight Apollo Creed, he is wearing a robe with advertising on the back. When his manager asks him what he gets out of the deal, Rocky said he gets to keep the robe. “Shrewd,” the manager replies.

Gone with the Wind: A humorous set up occurs when Scarlett is about to get a visit from Rhett Butler in Atlanta and does not want to reveal she is on hard times. So, she has a dress made from the draperies. By itself, this is a humorous scene when the audience recognizes what she is wearing. But the funniest parody of this scene is courtesy of comedienne Carol Burnett, when she comes down the stairs with a dress made out of the drapes, including the curtain rod.

Please share with me your memorable scenes from award-winning movies. They can be funny, impactful, romantic, sensual or sensuous. Tell me who you think will take home best picture.

The wind is at our backs now, with red states leading the way

While our President is not a fan of wind energy (having unsuccessfully sued the Scottish government to stop an offshore development) and has made some climate change is a hoax comments, rather quietly, renewable energy continues to move up the charts. Solar energy is going like gangbusters with double-digit growth in production and jobs, but wind energy has surpassed hydro energy as the largest form of renewable energy in the US. What is interesting, most of the growth in wind energy is occurring rather quietly in mostly red states.

From an American Energy News article last week:

Texas has more than 20 MW of installed wind capacity, or nearly a quarter of the market. Iowa is the second-biggest wind state, and Oklahoma overtook California for third place at the end of 2016.

 The first offshore wind project in the United States also came online in the fourth quarter, the 30 MW Block Island wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island.

More than 10,000 MW of wind is under construction in the United States, about half of which is in Texas. New Mexico’s wind industry is growing rapidly, with 1,300 MW under construction. Once completed, those projects will double the size of New Mexico’s installed wind capacity.”

Per Reuters from an article this week, in 2016, Texas has 12.8% of its energy produced by wind energy, something our new energy secretary and former Texas governor has been fairly silent about. And, as noted above it will continue to grow.

And, from an article from the US Energy Information and Administration last October:

In 2015, 11 states generated at least 10% of their total electricity from wind. As recently as 2010, only three states had at least a 10% wind share. Iowa had the largest wind generation share, at 31.3%, and South Dakota (25.5%) and Kansas (23.9%) had wind generation shares higher than 20%. Two additional states, Texas and New Mexico, are on track to surpass a 10% wind generation share in 2016, based on data through July. Wind generation in Texas, the highest wind electricity-producing state, made up 24% of the national total wind generation and 9.9% of Texas’s total electricity generation in 2015.

At the national level, wind’s share of total U.S. electricity generation has risen every year since 2001. Wind facilities produced 190,927 gigawatthours (GWh) of electricity in 2015, accounting for 4.7% of net U.S. electric power generation. This level represents a doubling of wind’s generation share since 2010, when the share was 2.3%. Based on monthly data through July, wind has provided 5.6% of U.S. generation in 2016.”

Both of these quoted articles can be linked to below. As I have said several times, while the President can slow the progress down, the train has left the station on renewable energy due to reduced production pricing coupled with much less maintenance, acquisition, transport and litigation costs.

This is the news that needs to be shouted from the roof tops. And, the benefactors of this progress will not just be our children and grandchildren, it will impact us all now.

 

http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=28512

http://theamericanenergynews.com/energy-news/wind-surpasses-hydro-largest-us-renewable-energy-source

Tell me again how you care about us?

Many have confused our President’s campaign rhetoric of speaking to a disenfranchised audience with his actually protecting their interests. When you look beneath the bullying of companies which are more pomp than circumstance, he is doing an interesting low profile job of screwing over Americans.

What do I mean by this? Here are a few examples:

– He wants the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unwound or made less effective. The CFPB has been hugely successful at punishing banks, credit card companies and other lenders for aggressive and fraudulent marketing. Over 90% of the fines go to the jilted customers. They have fined WellsFargo, American Express, Bank of America, e.g.

– Within hours of his inaugural speech to protect us Americans, he signed an order that reversed a mortgage premium reduction for homeowners that were required to buy mortgage insurance – this would have benefited over a million people who could not afford a lot down on their home.

– He wants to repeal the ACA which largely helps people making less than 4 times the poverty level. These folks will likely lose access to insurance on a guaranteed issue and renewability basis along with a premium subsidy. Access without either would be detrimental.

– Selecting an EPA cabinet leader who detests the EPA will create burdens on poorer Americans as they bear the brunt of environmental problems living closer to coal ash sites, supplied water by older pipes, and subject to more air and water pollution. We must protect our environment for all Americans, but we should be mindful of the strength and pace of job growth in the renewable energy industry.

– And, as a lightning rod, he tells people to buy American when the ball caps in the audience are mostly made in China, Vietnam and Bangladesh as are most of his and his daughter’s products. Do as I say, not as I do seems to apply.

There are other examples. The inanity of his words distract us from the agony of his pen and history. Pay attention to his actions. That is where the proof will lie. I do hope he does some good things, but we need to keep him as honest as we can.

Just a thought

Where do you get your information? I ask this because our President seems to get his information from less than reliable sources and then criticizes more legitimate sources for disagreeing with him.

Here are a few questions to ask of your sources:

– if a source of information screams at his audience while his head is turning a very scary shade of red, he might not be a good source of information.
– if a source of information has such a raspy voice from shouting at the wind and name calls everyone who he deems appropriate, then he might not be a good source of information.
– if you get your information from Facebook or Twitter, you need to look carefully at sources cited and use the Twitter feed for headlines only to cause you to dig further on more legitimate sources.
– if you are getting your information from a source that must advertise they are fair and balanced to make up for their bias and inconsistent veracity, then you might want to consider another source for validation.
– if you are getting your information from the current President, stop because he is an unreliable source and has been most of his life.

I encourage you to check multiple sources. I am often asked where I get my information. Several places – PBS Newshour, BBC World News America, NPR, Reuters, and The Guardian. I read articles from my browser feed which come from The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New York Times, Newsweek, Time, etc. And, my local paper, The Charlotte Observee is a good source for local and state news.

A good sign a news source is reputable is they print errata or correct portions of stories that prove to be inaccurate. Admitting mistakes is a sign of intelligence.

I would also ask people who say inane things about their sources. Our President cites a couple of sources that are known for making things up or creating conspiracies. He even put one on the White House. And, he has actually appeared on one where the host is on record that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged, as an example of his lack of veracity.

Before someone claims fake news, he needs to make sure the things he is saying are legitimate whether it is about his electoral college landslide, voter fraud or unemployment or crime rates.

Being safer is harder when we lose focus

Our new President used fear as one of his key marketing messages to get elected. Let’s face it, fear sells especially to an uninformed audience. He feels obligated to act on those selling points as a show of force – build that wall, limit travel and focus on Islamic terrorists. It is not unlike a gorilla beating on his chest before a fight. They are largely symbolic than effective.

The dilemma is not only are these efforts not going to make us safer, they will actually have the opposite effect. Conservative columnist David Brooks said not only was the travel ban rolled out with equal parts chaos and incompetence, the ban will accomplish nothing except make us look poor in the eyes of the world and be used against us by terrorists. The best defense against extremists is a welcoming and flourishing diverse society.

The same is true with the heightened focus using the words “Islamic Terrorists” at the expense of funding of other terrorism fighting within our borders. Per an editorial in The Charlotte Observer called “In war on terror: look closer to home,” the following quote struck me.

“Charles Kruzman, who teaches sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University, say that 74% of the law enforcement agencies surveyed listed anti-government extremism as one of the top three terror threats in their jurisdictions – compared with only 39% who felt the same about Al Qaeda and like groups. And, with good reason: an average of nine American Muslims per year have been involved in terror plots since 9/11, in contrast to the 337 per year by right-wing extremists.”

There are over 1,000 domestic terrorist groups in the US that range from right-wing extremists to anti-government to white supremacists groups. Yet, the President feels we should focus less on this problem preferring to use the funding to fight a much lesser problem. To me, this is the direct influence of Steve Bannon who catered his Breitbart website to alt-right extremists.

Finally, building a wall between us and Mexico is symbolic more than it will be effective. The cost will likely be higher than the recent Homeland Security estimate, as that does not include land acquisition and cost overruns tend to occur. Plus, the annual maintenance is not factored in. Yet, illegal immigrants are largely here and the flow of immigrants has slowed. The ones that are here are accretive to the economy buying goods and paying taxes. If the President thinks building a wall will solve a problem, knock yourself out.

So, our President is focusing on three things that will do little to make us safer. Yet, these bumper sticker solutions were boasted about on the campaign trail, so he feels he must beat on his chest and say look what I have done. Since our money is dear with almost $20 trillion in debt, we could be spending that money more wisely in my view actually using a data driven analysis on where it would be most helpful to make us safer. The problem it is hard to put data driven analysis on a bumper sticker, or Tweet.

Bigotry is a lousy money-maker

I have written before how coexisting and capitalism are not at odds with each other, in spite of the attempts of some through bumper stickers to show you should pick one or the other. History has shown, it is far more economical to coexist. Why? More customers. And, more customers means more jobs.

In my home state of North Carolina, we have forgotten this equation. In early 2016, our General Assembly rammed through a discriminatory law called HB2 in a special session taking just ten hours. I recognize fully the transgender bathroom portion of the law gets most of the press, but the piece which has caused the most consternation in the eyes of businesses looking at our state and ruling bodies of the NBA, NCAA and ACC, is the elimination of LGBTQ people as a protected class who should not be discriminated against.

The transgender portion was sold on fear without much data to support its issues. So, it is hard to back away from something its supporters made people scared of. But, let’s set that part aside and focus on the LGBTQ part. While there are proponents of HB2 who will argue the bathroom law should remain, the denial of protection to LGBTQ folks is flat out unconstitutional.

The proponents of the law said it is only the cities that are impacted by this law due to larger populations of LGBTQ people. Legislators in rural NC say what does it matter if Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro don’t get sporting events or new businesses? The economic dilemma for the rural parts of the state is this concept of revenue sharing. A portion of sales taxes from larger cities are distributed throughout the state to help finance smaller investments and pay for services.

The less money in the big cities means less money for the state. And, our entire state has damaged its reputation not just around the country, but around the world. I have read that some members of the General Assembly say they had no idea there would be such a backlash. The answer to these legislators is you did not take the time to know passing the law in ten hours.

I firmly believe HB2 should be fully repealed. Its treatment of transgender people using a sledgehammer approach to legislation is unjust. There could have been a more surgical answer. So, short of a full repeal, let me offer a compromise.

  • eliminate the LGBTQ discrimination feature in its entirety before you are made to by the courts. This feature is unconstitutional. Period.
  • eliminate the feature on restricting a city from having a higher minimum wage; cities who have larger economic competition and cost of living should have the right to allow a higher minimum wage than the national one. This feature needs to be vetted more than it was by itself.
  • change the transgender portion of the law to do the following; if a person has a formal document indicating a gender different from his or her birth certificate, he or she should legally have the right to use the bathroom he or she identifies with.

Again, I believe the whole law should be repealed. Yet, this compromise should help the state move forward before these business decisions not to move, expand or hold events here are more recognizable in our economic growth. The scary part, as shared by Chamber of Commerce recruiters, is we have no idea how many organizations did not consider North Carolina.

Jesus told us to treat others like he we want to be treated. It is the right thing to do as well as the economical thing to do. Bigotry is not much of a money-maker.

 

Homeland Security approaches John Oliver’s Wall Cost Estimate

In previous posts, I have commented on the news analysis used in John Oliver’s comedy show called “Last Week Tonight.” Amid the comedy, there are detailed news stories about pay-day lending, supplemental drugs, court system abuse of low-income offenders, voting fraud, etc. During interviews, he has been recognized by at least two legitimate news sources, CBS News and PBS Newshour, for his team’s veracity.

Last year, well before the election, Oliver had a news/ comedy piece on our then campaigner, Donald Trump, about Trump’s estimates of his escalating price tag on his infamous wall. In various clips, Trump said $2 Billion, then he would increase it to $4 Billion then to $7 or $8 Billion, etc. I think Trump topped out around $12 Billion.

Oliver asked a construction engineer to come up with an estimate. Based on broad assumptions (height, materials, etc.), the engineer estimated $25 to $30 Billion. The engineer also added you have to factor in the cost of ongoing maintenance, which is not inconsequential.

Yesterday, Reuters published a story where Homeland Security estimates the cost of the wall. Here are the two lead paragraphs from Reuters:

“President Donald Trump’s ‘wall’ along the U.S.-Mexico border would be a series of fences and walls that would cost as much as $21.6 billion, and take more than three years to construct, based on a U.S. Department of Homeland Security internal report seen by Reuters on Thursday.

The report’s estimated price-tag is much higher than a $12-billion figure cited by Trump in his campaign and estimates as high as $15 billion from Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.”

There are two key takeaways here. Our now President likes to toss figures and data around like they are candy and offers them up without back-up. He just presumes people will take him at his word. In this case, a man who is a real-estate developer significantly underestimated the cost of building something.

The other takeaway is Oliver’s team should be commended for the underlying journalism in his comedy show. I have written before his team has far more credibility than some actual news sources who do not want to take the time to get it right or are so biased they take a politician at his word. So, the next time our President makes fun of Oliver, my suggestion would be to look more closely at Oliver’s position as he likely did more homework.