Need for light rail and a little history lesson on collusion – a reprise from 2012

The following was written in 2012, but it provides a history lesson of why we need to dig deeper to understand sources of information. There is a reason collusion is such an ugly term. It should be noted cities are sharing ideas to make traffic flow more easily to lessen congestion and smog.

With the needs for better traffic planning in larger cities to alleviate congestion, diminish smog and let people move more freely, there has been a growing push for light rail lines. These lines are electrified trains that run adjacent and across traffic at crossing lights. They have tended to be more economical to build and run than the major subway and elevated train lines serving our largest cities. With the environmental concerns over global warming and the need for less fossil fuel usage, you would think these developments would be a slam dunk.

Unfortunately, projects like these are fighting uphill battles as part of the budget cuts and cost estimates. Unlike an operational budget issue, these capital projects are building assets that would benefit the communities and address the issues noted above. There is no doubt we need the best cost estimates possible to make these things happen and we should blend federal, state and local money to do so, but we should not be making this so hard. For some reason, the conservative right has latched onto this issue and for the reasons noted above have been more adamant against their development. The skeptic in me thinks there is more to this than just the budget issues, as we want to continue our focus on driving rather than riding. To me, a vibrant transit system is needed for a cosmopolitan area. Otherwise, we are just creating a congested, environmental problem.

What is interesting to me is a significant number of cities in the US had electric rail systems before they were destroyed and replaced by buses and cars in the 1930’s and 40’s. What is disturbing is how this came about. I would like to say this was done with good stewardship, but the unfortunate reason is several companies with a vested interest in the outcome, colluded to monopolize the bus industry and replace the destroyed electric rail or trolley system with their buses and cars. In 1949, after the fact, GM, Firestone Tires, Standard Oil of CA, Phillips Petroleum and Mack Trucks were found guilty of “conspiring to monopolize” the bus industry and using buses and cars to replace the electric trolley system that companies they owned had bought up. This conviction was upheld in appeal.

Wikipedia has a good summary of how these companies went about it. Search on “General Motors Conspiracy” and you can pull it up.  In fact, GM set in motion this plan to “motorize” the mass transit system dating back to 1922. And, if you look at the names of the fellow conspirators, you will note that two are oil/ gas companies, one is a tire company, one is a maker of buses and one is a maker of cars and trucks. These motorized road vehicles companies and fuel companies conspired to destroy an electric, rail based system that relieved congestion and smog. Even if their motives were altruistic, this would not seem like good transit planning.

Why do I mention all of this now? Two reasons. First, I want people to know why it is important to look beneath the source of information and data on any issue, but especially those which include oil and gas. There is too much money at stake and, as noted above, stranger things have happened. Just today, it was announced the President is supporting fracking to my chagrin, but is wanting the chemicals used by the oil/ gas developers to be disclosed. Yet, the industry lobbyists have battled down this ruling to be they only need to disclose this after the fact. So, they will be permitted to frack and only disclose the toxic chemicals that could leak into the water supply afterwards. To be candid, we need to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as we can. The best way to do that is to drive less with those oil/ gas-powered vehicles. Electric rail systems are a key part of that strategy.

Second, I mention this as conservatives are asking for fewer regulations and the elimination of some agencies. I worked in business and can say with certainty – businesses need to be regulated – it is that simple. If we don’t they will take advantage of situations to maximize short-term profit. The collusion verdict noted above was too late. Industries pay lobbyists a great deal to take the teeth out of regulation. The EPA has been fighting an uphill battle for years. We actually need the EPA to do more, not less. And, nowadays industries need only contribute to campaigns to share their viewpoints and push their desired outcomes. It costs too much money to run for office. This makes the lobbyists work easier.

In closing, I would ask that we all try to understand the stories beneath the news. When we see people against ideas that seem to be for the greater good, we should ask  ourselves why and look into it. Otherwise, we will miss the more elegant solutions and may avoid finding out who is more interested in an outcome than others. Not everyone is altruistic.

Pay me now or pay me later

Seeing what is transpiring in Texas with the lack of advance planning, it reminds me of painful history lessons. There is an age old problem in governing and public service. When things hit the fan, it is often due to problems that were not fixed due to budgets and were left to linger.

Politicians are good at blaming others and asking how can you let that happen? They tend to overlook their role in the process. Here are a few real life examples:

When some one in a social worker’s care has a horrible episode, the fact the social worker is serving 160 people versus the best practice 16 to one does not get enough consideration as a root cause. Think about it, due to budget cuts, one social worker is serving 10X the number of people which is ideal. That is drive by social work, not counseling.

When a train wrecks on an old trestle bridge, the fact the bridge has never been fixed and is only patched up does not get enough consideration as a root cause. When the next train derails, read the fall out from politicians and dig beneath the finger pointing at the actual causes, not who did what.

When Katrina devastated New Orleans, people forget the Army Corp of Engineers said the levees could not stand a direct hurricane hit a few years before. Nothing was done about it and the levees failed. We should also remember the Houston area has flooded twice with one-hundred year hurricanes that were four years apart.

And, In Texas, the vulnerability of their independent electricity system is a festering problem. So, when the system is overwhelmed like it has been with the icy storms, it fails.

Avoiding disasters by planning is a rare commodity in governance. No one wants to pay for it. Plus, so-called leaders do not get sufficient credit for pre-planning like they should. They get more credit for fixing a problem later after the fall out, if they ever get around to it.

As we speak, we have thousands of car and train bridges in need of repair, we have antiquated electrical grids, we have poor water piping (think Flint), etc. When the Olympics was not awarded to Chicago a few years ago, it was due to our aging infrastructure, even then.

A good example of pre-planning occurred in my home city of Charlotte. The city built an Intermodal distribution facility which was placed on the property of the international airport. Easily accessible to this facility are train and truck distribution centers and highways for trucks. They took advantage of shipping in/ out by plane, train and truck.

This is the kind of planning that is needed with infrastructure improvements. The fixes have to be holistic in evaluating the problems and hopefully make the process better in the end.

The Precautionary Principle – revisiting a relevant post from 2012

We are at a crossroads in our country and on our planet. We must all become better stewards with the environment and address these issues today and in the future. The business side of energy retrieval and production along side the development of mass-produced products made out of or enhanced by petro-chemicals have placed our planet in a precarious position. For the longest time, these industries have been able to delay addressing issues citing the data is not conclusive or shows causality. Proof or true causality oftentimes takes thirty years or more. In the interim, the data can show a high correlation that an activity is leading to a problem. For those who did not take statistics, correlation means things rise and fall together.

In the US, we place the burden of proof on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and like agencies who govern other areas of commerce. Other countries have a variation of the EPA.  In some countries that burden resides with the developer to show that something is not toxic or harmful to others. Several scientists and concerned citizens got together at Wingspread in Canada to discuss these issues. One of the tenets of that meeting can be summed up by a statement made by Bradford Hill, a medical statistician and inventor of the randomized clinical trial, back in 1965:

“All scientific work is incomplete – whether it be observational or experimental. All scientific work is liable to be upset or modified by advancing knowledge. That does not confer upon us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have or postpone the action that it appears to demand at a given time.”

In short, we should not wait to do something later if the evidence is telling us something is amiss now. With toxic chemicals, for example, if you wait to fully prove something is bad, the damage is already done. Especially when you are dealing with children who are still developing and breathe in more than adults.

The group at Wingspread developed the following Precautionary Principle

“When an activity raises threat of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context, the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.”

“The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action,” noted Dr. Sandra Steingraber in her book “Living Downstream – An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment.” In this book and her second book called “Raising Elijah” she notes industry has tended to stiff arm science to continue to conduct practices that are harmful to the environment and people. The democratic process she references is hard to conduct, when so much money is at stake.

If I have not scared you enough, I am reading a book now called “Water – The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization” by Steven Solomon. If you like history, you will love this book. I have not finished it, so I don’t know the ultimate punch line. Yet, through history it has been shown that great civilizations have risen and fallen by their ability to manage the water and sewage supply. The data he has shown thus far is very compelling. Water is our dearest resource next to air. Without either, we cannot survive on this planet. If we do not protect what is happening to either we are destined to fail as country, planet and people.

I use fracking as a good case in point. The data is highly correlated that fracking leads to toxins in the water and air of the surrounding area. Yet, I believe and have said this in letters to the editor and to politicians, set that aside for now. Fracking takes a huge amount of water out of the water supply and it cannot go back as it is poisoned with the fracking chemicals. We can ill-afford to waste our water on this environmentally destroying  retrieval process. Water is very dear and the droughts and fights over water supply will continue to show this. The developers say the same things they have said for years on other issues – you cannot prove there is a causal relationship between fracking and the toxins. Yet, we can prove you are taking a lot of drinking, bathing and sewage water away from people. And, the data is very compelling on the toxins as well.

This brings us back to the Precautionary Principle. We should reverse the equation. OK, Mr. Developer, since you want to make a ton of money and pay off people to frack beneath their land, YOU prove that fracking is NOT toxic to people or environment before you dig one hole. You prove that this is the best use of our dear water supply. And, you keep testing after you start digging. I have known many developers in my day and the last thing they want to do is hold off on doing something. They want to make their money and leave the problems for someone else. If we reverse the equation, they will have to do more homework beforehand and throughout. That is a good thing.

The dilemma we face as a planet is there is a lot of money to be had in developing energy and chemical products from fossil fuels. As a result, the industry supports a lot of politicians with a lot of money and lobbying efforts. Yet, we must diminish our reliance on fossil fuels, we must understand the impact of petro-chemicals on our environment and people and we must put the burden of proof that an activity is not harmful on the purveyor of that activity beforehand and throughout. In the meantime, if anyone says we should do away with the EPA, for you, me and our children, tell them that is the dumbest idea you have ever heard and would be poor stewardship of our planet. Please help advocate the Precautionary Principle as well.

Commercial electric vehicle company opens microfactory near Charlotte in Rock Hill, SC

Per WCNC, a television news station in Charlotte, a report called “Electric vehicle microfactory promises to bring 240 jobs to Rock Hill” was aired. Rock Hill is part of the Charlotte Metro area just across the border in South Carolina. Here are the salient points per a MSN write-up of the piece:

Arrival, a company that produces electric vehicles around the world, announced Tuesday its plans to build a ‘microfactory’ in York County. The factory is part of a $46 million investment in the region and is Arrival’s first American microfactory. The company expects to bring 240 new jobs to the Rock Hill area. 

Arrival, which was found in London in 2015, creates zero-emission vehicles for commercial transportation. The South Carolina facility will utilize a new cell-based assembly method to produce vehicles, rather than the traditional assembly line. This will give Arrival the flexibility to produce any vehicle in its portfolio at the factory, according to a press release from the company.”

This is just more evidence of where future growth will occur. It is good to see our area embracing new technologies to make zero emission vehicles. The train (or in this case, the bus) toward renewable energy has left the station. Communities that are embracing this will see more growth and better cost models going forward, as well as help the environment.

This is is not an outlier story. Solar energy jobs have averaged annual double digit growth and dwarf coal energy jobs. Wind energy is also growing in the US, especially in the plain states with Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma combined getting more than 1/3 of their electricity from wind energy. And, Tesla has branched into electric delivery trucks on top of their cars.

These news stories should be more widely communicated to show the path forward is being taken by states, cities and companies.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/autos/news/electric-vehicle-microfactory-promises-to-bring-240-jobs-to-rock-hill/ar-BB19ZdCG?ocid=msedgdhp

Saturday sense and sensibilities

It is going to be another hot one today, maybe too hot for “Saturday in the Park,” which was my first title. Instead, allow me to borrow from Jane Austen to summarizing a few sense and sensibilities.

The president has denied calling fallen soldiers “losers and suckers,” even though it has been corroborated by four news agencies, including Fox News. A few additional reasons to believe the comments were made are his on-the-record comments about Senator John McCain only being a hero because he was captured, plus calling him a “loser” and not wanting to lower flags to half-staff when he died. He took on a Gold Star family who had the temerity to criticize him. And, his favorite name calling word for critics is “losers.” Apparently, he has used such expressions on more than one occasion, saying soldiers who fought in Vietnam were “suckers” per a Fox News report. I guess he is forgetting that “draft” thing and how he avoided going.

PBS Newshour had an excellent report on the Australia, UK and Switzerland response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They have each handled it better than the US, with the UK having to wait some on its Prime Minister’s initial cavalier attitude to change (until he was infected). The keys are telling folks the truth, leaders not doubting the science, and central management of the problem. Having national healthcare, helped as it took the issue off the table who will pay for things. Sadly, the US crossed 187,000 COVID-19 deaths yesterday. Trump gets good marks for funding the vaccine research and this new simplified testing release, but overall his mishandling and misinformation has contributed to our poor results. Too many Americans do not take this seriously enough, starting with the president.

On the good news side, 1.4 million people went back to work in August, lowering the unemployment rate to 8.4%. Economists are pleased, but cautious as the number includes 238,000 temporary Census workers and the numbers are expected to fall off again. One economist from Grant Thornton noted, the unemployment rate is actually closer to 10%. And, many economists worry about that cavalier COVID-19 attitude above, where some think reopening things means returning to normal. It does not.

Finally, we saw two visits to Kenosha by the presidential candidates. One stood in front of a burnt building, while the other visited with the victim, his family and community. The latter sat down with members of the community and listened. As Jonathan Capeheart and David Brooks said in the weekly review on PBS Newshour, one candidate’s visit was political, while the other was presidential. The presidential one was done by the one who is not president. Brooks noted it is good that Biden is condemning violence and looting saying they are not protesting. That needs to be said, as protecting people, their homes and their businesses is important, as well. It is not an either/ or paradigm as the president points out. We need better and fair policing that supports all in the community.

Fool’s errand

Over 152,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19. The US has 4.3% of the global population, but 23% of the COVID-19 deaths and 26% of the global cases. Yet, those facts seem to not sink into the minds of supporters of the president.

The president resorted to misinformation on COVID-19, his modus operandi, when briefed on the pandemic risk back in January. This person who wants to be liked and viewed as great leader, chose not to lead in fighting the pandemic, choosing instead to call it a hoax and naysay it. And, it continues to this day – both the misinformation and the pandemic. Fixing the problem is secondary to fixing the blame.

Conservative pundit David Brooks has offered two pertinent quotes over the term of the incumbent president. First, he noted “The Trump White House is equal parts chaos and incompetence.” Second, he said “Trump lacks a sense of decency or empathy.” Adding in attorney and fixer Michael Cohen’s comment under oath, “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con-artist and he is a cheat,” and it paints a picture that is troubling about any person in leadership. Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the United States of America and our planet.

As for sycophants who carry water for the person defined above, I do not wish COVID-19 on anyone. But, it is not a surprise, when people flouting mask wearing and social distancing get infected. Herman Cain and Bill Montgomery, two conservative leaders, have died because of COVID-19, with Cain maybe picking it up at a Tulsa pep rally for Trump (where several staff members tested positive). Congressman Louie Gohmert has also contracted it and in so doing has galvanized criticism by Congressional staff for their bosses to take the virus seriously. They are being exposed because their bosses must carry water for the president and heretobefore have not acted cautiously.

Taking the president at his word is a fool’s errand. Now, many Americans are in danger and a many have died needlessly. Putting one’s life at risk for such a corrupt and deceitful person is beyond unwise. It is a fool’s errand.

Planning and more planning to reopen schools (then plan some more)

Listening to a well-rounded discussion on NPR on going back to school makes one realize the need to plan. Buses, class sizes, cleaning, masking, outside vs. inside schooling, etc. All with a back drop of limited budgets. If this is the path forward, we should not be planning today, what should have been done months ago. The continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic should not have been a surprise with the caution-to-the-wind re-openings fueled by the president and some impatient governors. So, planning ahead should have started before the past few weeks.

NPR also played several vignettes from interviews with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. She led off several comments with “As everyone knows…” Actually that is a false introduction, as everyone does not know. It is a ploy to make the listener cede her point. Here are a few things to consider, which are not being so considered, in this binary discussion of to re-open or not.

– Schools include teachers, administrators, staff, bus drivers, etc. who are not children. Some are even in their fifties. They will be at risk as will be the folks they come in contact with.

– Kids may be less susceptible to dying, but they can still get COVID-19 and can become carriers. They have parents and grandparents and come in contact with other adults and children as will these folks.

– Kids can be harmed by COVID-19. A rising senior who had COVID-19 says walking to the bathroom even now that she has recovered leaves her out of breath. So, she is frightened by coping with walking the halls of the school. She could not even read her own story on a local NPR show, as she did not have the wind capacity, so a reporter read her narrative.

I know parents and kids want to go back to school. We all want our economy back to normal. But, we let misinformation create false hope. Misinformation has and still gives people a false sense of security. Masks, social distancing, hand-cleaning, less hand-to-face contact, etc. are keys regardless of the path we choose. What we lose sight of is the exponential risk of contact.

So, we need to plan for all variables. We need to allow for the safest path forward. That may be delay for some. That may be online schooling for others. That may include small class sizes with outdoor learning. Whatever it is, the path will not be a normal one for quite some time. And, if any politician tells you differently, then they are not shooting straight with you. So, we must look out for each other. Is that too much to ask?

A few thoughts from the 1st Homeland Security Director

Former Pennsylvania Republican Governor Tom Ridge was asked by President George W. Bush to be the first Director of Homeland Security. Witnessing the president’s sending in unrequested and unmarked federal agents to Portland and Chicago, Ridge had some comments worth noting.

Here a few exceprts from an editorial analysis called “Trump’s Portland crackdown is controversial. The man spearheading it might be doing so illegally” by Aaron Blake of The Washington Post. The editorial can be accessed below.

“In Portland, Washington and other U.S. cities shaken by protests in recent months, the Trump administration has leaned on the considerable authority and assets of the Department of Homeland Security — an agency formed to prevent another Sept. 11, 2001, attack — to spearhead the federal response.

Images of militarized Border Patrol agents clubbing protesters and stuffing them into unmarked vehicles have alarmed civil liberties advocates and administration critics, and the displays of government power echo tactics long associated with authoritarian rule.
Legal analysts say that while the department has broad authority to enforce federal laws, officers’ actions — especially in Portland, Ore. — seemed to be pushing the boundaries and pulling DHS into a domestic policing role.

Tom Ridge, who served as the first Homeland Security secretary under George W. Bush, said Tuesday that DHS ‘was not established to be the president’s personal militia,’ and added, ‘It would be a cold day in hell before I would consent to a unilateral, uninvited intervention into one of my cities.’ Former DHS official Paul Rosenzweig called the operation, which has come to be known as Operation Legend, ‘lawful but awful.’

On PBS Newshour the other night, Ridge was interviewed. He noted several key points – he worked in “partnership” with the cities and states to solve problems after they were “invited in to help.” He also noted what happened in Portland was a “reality show” exercise to garner votes. That action will not solve anything, as it was not designed to.

On Fox News, Judge Andrew Napolitano noted in Portland, actions of federal agents are unlawful, unconstitutional and harmful. To unpack this, he noted the federal agents are permitted to protect federal assets and travel to and from the asset. They are not permitted to do what local police does and arrest people without probable cause or warrant. And, they cannot wear clothing that does not identify who are they are and what they represent. A person being accosted has to know who is so doing.

Getting back to the issue at hand, civil protest is more than fine in our country. Yet, people who have taken a violent approach to protest are diluting their message and, are feeding into a narrative that allows a corrupt president to break the law and squelch them. Let me say this clearly – both the violent protestors and the president are in the wrong. Civil protest does not make the news like the violent ones, so the violent ones are overreported and the civil ones are underreported.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/07/22/trumps-actions-portland-are-controversial-man-spearheading-them-might-be-doing-so-illegally/

President claims others are lying

The following letter was forwarded to my local newspaper yesterday. I hope they print it. Please feel free to adapt and use.
****************

I find amusing the headline “President says everyone else is lying.” This headline involves a president and his sycophants attempting to blame others for his misinformation and mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic which continues to this day. Per an ABC/ ISPOs poll, 67% of Americans disapprove of his handling of the pandemic. Until he focuses on helping Americans instead of how it makes him look, he will continue to misinform us and more Americans will get sick and die. Pandemics do not care about optics.

Two quotes from a nice and effective public servant

The Charlotte Observer reported today that Boyd Cauble, a long time aide to many mayors of both parties passed away. Three things stand out about Cauble – he did not bring attention to himself, he was very effective working with officials in Raleigh and DC, and was a genuinely nice guy.

More than several of Charlotte’s major accomplishments can be traced to Cauble’s tireless advocacy. Rather than list such milestones, let me focus on two bookend quotes from Cauble from the article penned by Jim Morrill.

Morrill writes “Boyd Cauble lived by a simple credo: ‘Just be nice to people – you’ll be amazed what will happen.'”

When Cauble retired from the City, in an Observer article called “The City’s most influential guy you have never heard of,” he said at the time:

“‘I am a firm believer that if you don’t care who gets credit, you’ll gey a whole lot of things accomplished.'”

I encourage you to read these two quotes and contrast them to today’s partisan win/ lose debates that are a poor substitute for governance. All politicians (and business people or any team) from top to bottom could learn from these words.

Mayors from both parties lauded Cauble’s efforts. Vi Lyles, Charlotte’s current mayor and long time City leader, said “He helped bulld Charlotte.'”