The circus is not going away

While Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey will be ceasing their circus tours ending an era, we have an even bigger circus going on in the White House. It is the new greatest show on earth, but unfortunately that is not a good thing.

Former Republican Congressman, Senator and Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen was being interviewed by the BBC earlier this week. A question was asked regarding the President’s lack of veracity with the truth. The correspondent said the world is noticing and leaders are coming to the conclusion that they cannot trust Donald Trump.

Cohen said it is more than that, as not only is it the lack of trust in Trump, he represents America, so it is our trust that is at risk. He added “the world is watching our circus.” He added when President Kennedy approached French President De Gaulle for his support in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy offered to show him pictures of the missiles. De Gaulle said he did not need to as he trusted America. Cohen did not sense Trump and America would get that level of trust.

Even Trump’s hand-picked people (Messrs. Mattis, McMaster, Kelly, Tillerson and Pence) are having to apologize for his remarks, assuage our allies and openly disagree with the President. One NATO leader asked “who speaks for America?” When our leader lies about the smallest of things to nurture his large ego and has problems with the truth on larger issues, it requires others to fill in the gaps.

Yet, this should not be a surprise as Trump has always had trouble with the truth per six authors who wrote his biographies and his best seller. It was no different during the campaign when fact checking organizations said he lied 70% of the time, by far more than any other presidential candidate since 2007 when their measuring started. This same percentage is holding steady in his Presidency per these same fact checkers.

While I am in the camp of giving him a chance, he has not been able to achieve even my low bar of expectations. A key reason is he cannot stop lying. Even during his lone speech that got accolades, he lied at least eight times. And, when caught in a lie, he doubles and triples down on the lies enlisting his staff to get the coarsest sand paper to smooth out his stories. They say he is not lying, you misunderstood him, he was speaking jokingly or did not mean to use that specific term, e.g.

Yet, when something major happens, both Americans and our allies have to be able to trust the President. Right now, the answer is they will be less inclined to do so. I have shared before I don’t believe a word the man says. If he says it, the odds are in my favor it is not true. As just one example, he said he has never met a Russian businessman who bought his house and had his plane on the same tarmac as Trump’s on two separate occasions – I don’t believe him. Now, I a may be wrong to think that, but his track record would say I’m right.

And, that is sad. We do not need a circus in the White House. We need a leader. We need someone to tell us the truth.

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A windy day at sea

On Monday, I read an article written by Bloomberg called “Costs for generating wind power at sea drop.”  The gist of the article written by Jessica Shankleman and Brian Parkin is the cost of building a wind facility offshore is now less than building a new nuclear power plant and getting closer to the cost of building a coal power plant.

It should be noted this is the cost of building and does not factor in the present value costs of retrieval, transportation, environmental degradation, distribution, maintenance, litigation and health-related costs, which make coal energy less palatable than wind energy. Just maintaining coal ash many years during and after the life of a coal-fired plant is something utilities would love to avoid, as it is the gift that keeps on giving, in a negative way.

Per the article, “Across Europe, the price of building an offshore wind farm has fallen 46% in the last five years – 22% last year alone.” The average building cost is $126 per MWH versus $155 for nuclear and $88 for coal. Yet, Henrik Poulsen, the CEO of a Danish utility, noted “If you have a sufficiently large site with the right wind speeds, then I do believe you can build offshore wind at least the same price as new build coal in many places around the world.”

Heretofore, the significant growth in wind energy has been in our plains states, with Texas leading the way. Iowa gets a third of its energy from wind energy. Yet, the US is expected to build offshore wind in a significant way in the future. Our goal is “install 86 GW of turbines at sea by 2050. That’s six times the 14 GW of capacity now in place worldwide, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.”

Wind energy has overtaken hydro-energy as the leading renewable source in the US. Like solar, it is taking off in installation and job growth. And, with the significant efforts from folks like Tesla owner Elon Musk on large-scale battery storage, it will grow even more. As we speak, Musk is helping out Australia with a power outage problem with a goal of setting up a battery storage facility in 100 days or it is free.

This is the progress that needs to be discussed as it is exciting, environmentally needed and job-creating. Investing in an increasingly obsolete energy is throwing money away.

 

 

Erecting barriers does not make the world safer

Our new President has been in office less than two months and the world is a less safe place than it was before his tenure. So, is the United States, which is the opposite result of his stated goal.

Erecting barriers, both physically and verbally, perpetuates a we/ they culture. Demonizing groups of people and specific individuals causes disenfranchisement. Banning folks creates segregation and less integration of thoughts, cultures and ideas. Tolerating and fueling bigotry promotes narrow-minded thinking and less collaboration. And, a jingoistic national bent derails international commerce and security.

But, this is not just a US phenomenon. Like-minded folks in other countries are demonizing people who look and worship differently than they do. I recognize fully there are concerns and conflicts with influx of refugees. Yet, demonizing folks does not help resolve the issues. The resulting nationalistic thinking makes collaboration and trade more difficult, as well as finding ways to resolve problems.

Breaking down barriers makes us safer. The more commerce we do across borders, the more indebted we are to each other’s success. The more commerce and common goals makes us more secure. The greatest threat to terrorists is multi-cultural success and freedoms.

And, as I wrote recently, coexisting leads to more profits. So, we should reduce barriers not erect them. We should challenge bigotry and exclusion. We should ask the same of our leaders.

Wordsmithing and storytelling

“He went to Paris, looking for answers to questions that bothered him so.

He was impressive, young and aggressive, saving the world on his own.

But, warm summer breezes and French wines and cheeses, put his ambition at bay,

And, summers and winters, they scattered like splinters and four or five years slipped away.”

This is the opening stanza to my favorite Jimmy Buffett song, whose title is in the first line “He went to Paris.”  The wordsmithing and storytelling of this song is so engaging and I love how easily Buffett sings it to let the story unfold.

Another song I adore is written by Kenny Loggins  as a tribute to his brother Colin and his first child called “Danny’s Song.” It was made popular by Anne Murray, but I enjoy the Loggins and Messina version a little more. The last stanza defines my wife which is a key reason for my enjoyment.

“Love a girl who holds the world in a paper-cup.

Drink it up, love her and she’ll bring you luck.

And, if you find she helps your mind, you better take her home.

Don’t you live alone, try to earn what lover’s own.”

Words and music. I enjoy a nice instrumental, but to me the words matter, especially when they tell a story.

A final taste is courtesy of Jim Croce in a less known song called “Lover’s Cross.” Here is the opening stanza.

“They said it was bound to happen.

It was just a matter of time.

Well, I have come to my decision

And, it is one of those painful kind.

Well, it seems that you wanted a martyr,

And, that is the one thing I just couldn’t do,

Cause, baby I can’t hang upon a lover’s cross for you.”

These three songs are from a small number I can sing word for word. You will laugh, but I would sing them to my kids as I rocked them to sleep, as I grew quickly tired of nursery rhymes. Gordon Lightfoot, David Gates and The Beatles also lend themselves well to such a mission.

The lyrics I typed are from memory, so there is a chance they are not exactly correct. What are some of your favorites where the lyrics come easily to you?

 

Voting on something important not knowing the cost is malfeasance

Allow me to come right to the point. Voting on a repeal and replacement healthcare law without it being measured by the CBO for its financial impact is malfeasance. My old party has waited seven years for this, they can at least know what it costs, who is helped and harmed by it and its impact on the debt. Trying to ram something this complicated through is about as poor stewardship as can be found.

This especially true with at least two hospital groups and two doctor groups coming out against it, not to mention the largest lobbying group for retired persons, the AARP. This is especially true with the numbers of people impacted, in particular, the lower paid and older people. As a retired benefit actuary, consultant and manager, I am also troubled by the naysaying of the imperfect ACA in the first place.

The ACA is not in death spiral so says the American Academy of Actuaries. It could be improved, but it is not a disaster as spouted by Messrs. Trump, Ryan and McConnell. It frustrates me that a law that is working pretty good expanding coverage, is being beaten on to support a change that appears to be ill-conceived. It also frustrates me we are not using data driven analysis to decide what to do.

Medicaid expansion is a “no brainer” said Ohio Governor John Kasich, the most reasonable Presidential candidate in my view. This is also the view of The Commonwealth Fund, Economic Policy Institute, RAND Corporation, Kaiser Family Foundation and a study by George Washington University. We have data to contrast the results in the 19 states that did not expand to those of 31 states that did. What I have read is the states that did are seeing fewer personal bankruptcies than before and improved hospital accounts receivable rates.

But, a huge factor should be the following. The ACA administration is already built. As a former benefits manager and consultant, I have witnessed far too many mistakes in administration by reputable insurers and state and federal governments. While the ACA exchange roll out fits this bill, it has now stabilized and is working. My strong advice is to improve the ACA and not throw the baby out with the bath water. To be frank, there is so much in fighting in the Republican Party, that may be the only course of action achievable.

Jason Chaffetz says let them eat cake

As reported in “The Hill” yesterday, “Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on Tuesday said Americans may have to choose between purchasing a new iPhone or paying for health insurance.

‘You know what, Americans have choices. And they’ve got to make a choice, the House Oversight Committee chairman told CNN Newsday one day after the House GOP unveiled its plan to replace Obamacare.

‘And so maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should invest in their own healthcare.'”

Let me remind the Representative of what he is advocating and who is getting harmed by this change. In essence, this replacement plan takes away expanded Medicaid which harms people making less than 138% of the poverty level. It also will put further cost pressure on other lower paid individuals and older people.

These folks may have to choose between eating and healthcare. They may have to choose between rent and healthcare. So, as you think of Chaffetz’ comments, please be reminded of Marie Antoinette who is said to have uttered the line “let them eat cake,” when told the poor did not have flour to make bread.

To me, this is prima facie evidence of a group of legislators who have little understanding of the havoc they are about to wreak with their proposed replacement plan, many of whom just do not care. Let me climb to a hill top and shout these words, “do not repeal the ACA, make it better.”

 

 

 

Trump has screwed the pooch and has yet to realize it

During the movie and book “The Right Stuff” about astronauts and test pilots, when a pilot made a fatal error, it was often said “he screwed the pooch.” Unfortunately, the key word in the sentence is fatal. Although he won’t die from this, our President has just screwed the pooch with respect to his presidency. It will take several to many months for this to play out, but his presidency is toast. He will be impeached or resign.

Why do I say such a thing? Actually, I am borrowing from E.J.Dionne’s column noting the President has painted himself into a corner. After his furious internal  response to Jeff Sessions’ recusing himself from a Russian involvement investigation and after his childish attempts to show Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer meeting with Putin years ago on the record, he took it upon himself to send a series of tweets accusing the former President of something he could not and would not do.

Trump ham-handedly said Obama had his office wiretapped before the election, without citing proof. Not only has Obama denied this, but so has James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence and James Comey, the Director of the FBI. Comey was said to be indignant over Trump’s claiming his people broke the law. These two would know if wiretapping went on and they denied it. Now, why would both of them deny something that could be easily proven in an investigation?

But, here is the corner Trump is now in. Senator Lindsey Graham will investigate this. If there, in fact, was a wiretap, a judge would have ordered it and would have had probable cause. That is not good for Mr. President. If it was not, then the President just showed horrible judgment and has accused the former President of something he did not do, plus he alienated further his intelligence community.

Yet, now Graham can open the can worms as he said he would and also investigate the Russian links. I hope that would include a subpoena of his tax records, because per conservative columnist David Brooks, Trump is likely beholden to someone for loans after his bankruptcies dried up normal channels of funding. And, unlike most other Republicans in Congress, Graham remembers he pledged an oath to uphold the constitution of the United States, not the Republican Party.

I have seen a lot of things in my time, but what I witness about the Russian involvement story, is this White House and people who supported Trump’s candidacy are doing a lot of lying, denial, apology for denial, and media bashing. I have felt for many months the American people deserve to get to the bottom of this dating back to late July when I first heard about Russian hacking. We are owed an explanation.

As a related aside, my wife and I watched Carter Page, one of Trump’s folks interviewed by PBS Newshour two weeks ago. He denied meeting with the Russians and was quite adamant about it. We looked at each other and said “he is lying.” Guess what? He admitted to lying last week. So, did Flynn and Sessions, no matter how much perfume he places on his explanation.

Trump has screwed the pooch because he cannot stay out of his own way. What is ironic is his fascination with pseudo news sites Fox News and Breitbart will be his undoing, as they are the source of his likely erroneous claim. I would be hard pressed to see Comey and Clapper lying over such an issue. I am not hard pressed to envision Trump lying about anything.