A few green thoughts for a green day

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here are a few green thoughts for the day. Green will take a few different meanings herein.

– Let’s give a big shout out to the kids around the world who went on strike from school to bring awareness to the need for more action on climate change. I am certain they will receive push back from the fossil fuel funded crowd, but these kids care about the future and present of our planet.

– Let’s give a shout out to the twenty kids suing the US Federal government for insufficient action on planning the demise of fossil fuel in response to what they already know about climate change. As this unheard of case progresses, the lead attorney told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that their information is very solid and comes from the files of the US government.

– Let’s give a shout out to Germany and places like Georgetown, TX, Greensburg, KS and Burlington, VT. Coal energy now lags renewable energy in Germany as they are on their way to eliminating coal use in twenty years. As for the three US cities, they are 100% renewable energy powered.  The CPA Mayor of Georgetown said the renewable energy model selected is more cost-effective than the fossil fuel model – so it is saving greenbacks as well.

– Let me state my being green with envy as China is investing a trillion US dollars in building trade corridors with dozens of countries around the world. This is occurring at the same time the US is retrenching from its global leadership role, leaving global multilateral agreements, denigrating allies and spending money to build a wall for an overstated problem. The symbolism is stark – China is building bridges, we want to build walls. The US is enabling an ascendant China.

– Let me close with a shout out to people with chutzpah to set forth a Green New Deal. While not perfect, it is an idea worth discussing to fashion a plan going forward.   Ignoring a problem does not constitute a plan.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. May the road rise to meet you.

 

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The ice is going to break

The title is a crucial line from a movie called “The Dead Zone,” based on the Stephen King novel. I use this line as a metaphor for ignoring real problems. Let me explain the context. The movie stars Christopher Walkien as Johnny, who because of a car accident, could see the future after touching someone. But, if the future was less clear, a dead zone as he described it, he could alter the outcome.

A boy he was tutoring was supposed to practice ice hockey on a frozen pond with his demanding father as the team’s coach. But, when Johnny touched him, Johnny saw the ice breaking. His father said that was crazy, even though both men knew the father did a background check before hiring the tutor. Johnny slammed his cane on a chess board and said “the ice is going to break!” The son stayed home, but the father went ahead with practice and four kids drowned as the ice broke.

So, Mr. President, members of Congress and various state legislators, let me state obvious problems with this metaphor in mind.

– We have a global water crisis including in the US with the World Economic Forum identifying it as a top long term risk. Farmers are having to fight harder to protect their diminishing water rights. It will be made even worse by climate change.  And, the problem is exacerbated with the significant water loss in fracking and lead pipes tainting some of the dear water.

– That climate change thing is a problem in its own right. Our federal government and several state government need to pitch in more and help. The President backing out of the Paris Climate Change Accord is as poor a decision as could have been made, especially when it came the day after ExxonMobil shareholders voted to order management to inform them on what they are doing about climate change.

– I learned today our EPA is turning a blind eye to asbestos. Since Brazil stopped production of this toxic product, we now are importing asbestos from Russia. As a metaphor for this President, each bag of toxic asbestos imported from Russia has Donald Trump’s picture on it. A toxic material imported by a toxic man from another toxic man.

– Although, debt is not an environmental concern, our so-called leaders are ignoring this huge and growing problem. As interest cost grows to a greater part of our budget, it will hinder our ability to do other things. We must spend less and increase revenue both. The math will not otherwise work,

The ice is going to break. We must heed the warnings now. If we don’t, we may be the ones who drown.

Rural hospitals closing at an alarming rate

Rural hospitals in trouble is not a new topic, but the significant increase in closings and risk of such is finally getting some attention. The issue for years has been the large percentage of a rural hospital’s budget that went unpaid due to patient debt and indigent care. In some hospitals, the percentage of these two items is more than 1/2 of the budget.

Per a February, 2019 article in Modern Healthcare called “Nearly a quarter of rural hospitals are on the brink of closing” by Alex Kacik: “Twenty-one percent of rural hospitals are at high risk of closing, according to Navigant’s analysis of CMS data on 2,045 rural hospitals. That equates to 430 hospitals across 43 states that employ about 150,000 people and generate about $21.2 billion in total patient revenue a year.

Hospitals are often the economic drivers of rural communities. Per capita income falls 4% and the unemployment rate rises 1.6 percentage points when a hospital closes, a related study found. Ninety-seven rural hospitals have closed since 2010, according to the University of North Carolina Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.

They also broke the impact down by state, revealing that half of Alabama’s rural hospitals are in financial distress, the highest percentage in the country. At least 36% of the hospitals in Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Maine and Mississippi are in financial jeopardy.”

Most of the states in trouble chose not to expand Medicaid, but there are some who did or are now doing so. Per several studies by The Commonwealth Fund, RAND Corporation, Economic Policy Institute and George Washington University, expanding Medicaid would help patients, state economies and rural hospitals. Why? It would allow these hospitals to get paid and paid closer to the time of service reducing accounts receivables. Getting paid has an echo effect on employees and consumers.

This issue was brought home by two Republicans pleading with their party to acquiesce in states like North and South Carolina that did not expand Medicaid. GOP Governor John Kasich of Ohio, who ran for President, said Medicaid expansion is a “no brainer” and would add over $13 billion to Ohio over several years. Yet, the most dramatic plea was from Adam O’Neal, a GOP Mayor of a North Carolina town called Belhaven.

After failing to get the GOP majority in Raleigh to help save his town’s Vidant Pungo Hospital that served 20,000 people, he walked 273 miles to Washington, DC over 14 days. “You can’t let rural hospitals close across the country. People die,” O’Neal, told Modern Healthcare in 2014. Unfortunately, Vidant Pungo closed later that year (note a non-ER clinic opened in 2016).

You can add my pleas for help back then (and now). Folks, this stuff is real. I do not care if your tribe is blue, red, purple are chartreuse, hospital closings impact people’s lives and people’s livelihoods. Closings also hurt their community’s economy. My strong advice is for legislators to stop political posturing and do something. I do not care who wins or loses a political game. Stop focusing on keeping your job and do your job. You could start by expanding Medicaid, joining the other 36 states.

A new word for an old problem

Wages in the US for the common worker have been stagnant for going on forty years. This disenfranchisement did not happen over just the last ten years. It is the culmination of various events and actions and not due solely to one or two causes or solvable by bumper sticker solutions. Yet, we have a new word for a major cause courtesy of the Economic Policy Institute – monopsony.

In essence, monopsony is the sister of monopoly. It is an employer who has so much clout in a region or area, it can suppress wages to its workforce. It can also move jobs away more readily be it through off-shoring, outsourcing, downsizing or relocation. This movement of jobs adds to an employer’s ability to manage wage increases. In essence, the word monopsony highlights the goal and ability of employers to chase cheap labor.

Per the EPI, much of the wage stagnation after 1970 has occurred at the low-end of the wage spectrum. An economist noted on a talk show to get an idea of what has happened, stand up and put both arms out in front of you parallel to the ground. The left one represents the bottom 90% and the right one the top 10%. Move the left one up at an angle by one inch, then move the right one up by twenty inches. That disparity illustrates what has transpired over these forty years in wage differential.

I have written before the efforts by the current President to create fear of immigration and trade deficits as the reasons for disenfranchisement in various areas over look the main two drivers – chasing cheap labor and technology improvements. Immigration is actually accretive to the economy, even illegal immigration as there are many jobs that Americans have said they don’t want.

But, if the President wants to solve an illegal immigration problem, he should begin with punishing employers who hire these workers. I have noted before about a textile company who went bankrupt and closed its doors. When career counseling people said in an auditorium full of workers that you had to have a Social Security Number to get access to benefits, 1/3 of the audience got up and left. The construction, agricultural and restaurant industries would have severe issues if these immigration wells dried up.

Yet, the two main drivers of wage stagnation and good paying jobs do not get talked about – chasing cheap labor and technology gains. An unnamed CFO said in the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us,” an employer would get by with no employees if it could. So, robotic machinery has been displacing workers for many years. And, now it is becoming even more efficient and affordable. We do much more manufacturing in the US today than in 1980, but with much fewer workers.

Yet, with these tools and possible actions available to an employer who has a monopsony in an area, good paying jobs are fewer in number. Mind you, high-tech manufacturing and similar jobs exist, but they are not in the same number with so much competition for wages. I make this last point as the disenfranchisement is real and not made up. To his credit, Trump went out and visited these areas. But, what they did not realize, he was selling on fear, over-simplifying the causes and highlighting the wrong major ones.

The disenfranchisement in the western world has a visual called the “elephant curve,” with a side view of an elephant with his trunk raised. The body of elephant is wage growth for the emerging and burgeoning international markets. The raised trunk reveals the rapid wage growth for the top 10% in the western world. The trough between the raised trunk and body, reveals the stagnation in wages in the western world.

So, immigration and global trade have an impact, but the key drivers are chasing cheap labor and technology. And, the last one will grow even faster than before. Yet, chasing cheap labor will continue to be a driver as well. It is the culmination of pounding on unions to weaken their voice. It is the active fight to keep minimum wages down over time. It is making tax changes dating back to the 1980s (and last December) that are more advantageous to the top 10%, giving them a chance to invest in technology and places to house cheaper labor. It is threatening to move jobs to gain wage limits.

Since the housing recession in 2008 and early 2009, we have seen unemployment decline and stay down. Wages have gone up some, but not near enough to track other increases in costs. We need to be discussing retraining impacted workers building off some success stories around the country. We need to renovate and repurpose deteriorated assets to create new jobs. We need to invest more in our infrastructure and jobs of the future. We need to stabilize the ability for employees, whose hours are limited, to get affordable healthcare, since employers hire more part-time and contractual employees to restrict them from joining their healthcare plans.

The disenfranchised employees and areas need a real voice who will speak to real causes, not over-stated ones. Monopsony is a hard word to say and is a hard word on these people. They deserve better than what they have been hearing.

 

 

Environmental Punishment Agency

In spite of all of the damage being done to the United States and its relationships with allies, I have feared from the outset the damage the US President would do to the environment and our planet.

The word “Protection” no longer applies to defining the mission of the EPA. The “P” has been replaced by “Punishment.” Between the President and two industry favoring EPA directors (not to mention a transition plan climate change denier), the environment is becoming a bigger pool to pee in.

It started out with the attack on scientists who study and developed world-class data and reports on climate change. Access to these reports were removed from the government webpages and many scientists were reassigned to non-science positions which they had to take or were fired. Why? If your position is so grounded, why must you remove the other side’s arguments?

On top of rolling back numerous regulations that governed industry, several major changes also occurred:

– the compliance with the Clean Power Plan has been eliminated.

– the US is one of three countries to not support the Paris Climate Change Accord.

– the Clean Waters Act was greatly changed from a regulatory standpoint, unwinding changes made by Obama and both Bushes.

– And, this week, coal companies have greater license to let mercury and other pollutants escape (after they already made changes to comply with the 2011 requirement). The reason is the value of lives and dollar savings due to just the mercury change were less than the cost (yet that is subterfuge as the savings of lives and dollars due to other pollutants dwarfs the cost). I won’t even dignify the comment of the value of life being lost.

The legacy of this President will haunt our country and planet for a long time. Good actions are being taken in spite of this President’s efforts, but so much more could be done. I would encourage all voters, but especially young ones, to challenge all politicians about their environmental stance. This must be the issue of 2019 or we will lose momentum. To me, this is beyond horrible stewardship. It is malfeasance.

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Note to Readers: Check out Gronda’s post on the influence of ALEC on the US effort to deregulate the EPA.

Dark Monies From ALEC Associated Corporations Is Root Cause Of De-Regulation Of EPA Rules

 

Toys for us and others

This will be the first Christmas in a long while without retailer Toys R Us, who went out of business. Or, as my youngest son aptly called it when he was a younger, “Toys for us.” The “Toy Story” movies register the impact of the store on our lives.

Toys are no longer for kids and sometimes disguise themselves as what they are – useful products. A mobile phone is far more than a phone, but the “wanna new phone” marketing that occurs is estimated to cost a user $75,000 over a lifetime. Do you have to have the latest and greatest new phone? Just think, if you skip a few new phone upgrades, you reduce that number a great deal.

But, while our younger generation is accused of a more materialistic mindset, I must confess how proud I am of kids who are making statements on the need to address better gun governance and action to combat climate change. Yesterday, in Australia, tens of thousands of kids age 5 to 18 boycotted school to protest en masse for more action on climate change. While their President and lead environmental person said these kids should stay in school to learn something, I think these two men need to learn a few things.

Earlier this year, we saw kids make a huge difference in Florida when the state legislature passed a few gun governance bills in the wake of the Parkland shooting. Could the legislature have done more? Yes, but the kids forced them to act. The kids live in fear and are not burdened with lobbyist dollars and threats as are the legislators.

Toys are important as a distraction and even to make our devices more utile. Yet, these kids stepped up and made their voice heard. Given what they are protesting, it would behoove the legislators to listen. “They ain’t playing.”

Two Americans win Nobel Economics prize on Climate Change work

Per an article this morning in Reuters, “Americans William Nordhaus and Paul Romer, pioneers in adapting economic theory to take better account of environmental issues and technological progress, shared the 2018 Nobel Economics Prize on Monday.”

Romer, with New York University, and Nordhaus, with Yale, developed models on the economic impact of dealing with climate change. Reuters cited the Nobel Academy in Stockholm, “‘Their findings have significantly broadened the scope of economic analysis by constructing models that explain how the market economy interacts with nature and knowledge.'”

This news is important as Americans still provide global leadership inspite of the dearth of leadership in the White House and EPA. America is moving forward on renewable energy, but our efforts are in spite of the absence and antagonistic actions of federal leadership. Arguably, more than any other issue, voters must ask their candidates where the stand on climate change actions and protecting the environment.

It is interesting that this came today as the headline article in The Charlotte Observer is “NC Leaders share concern about climate change.” These are 60 business, advocacy, former government and university leaders who have been brought together to speak to various problems. 45 of them responded to the question of climate change and, of the 45, only two naysayed climate change – one called it a hoax, while the other said it is real, but the jury is out on man’s influence. Think about that – 43 out of 45 define the problem and offer solutions.

Per these leaders, ideas include ceasing building on lands prone to flooding. NC has had two 500 year floods in two years, the same with Houston, Texas. Miami may be inescapably lost to continued flooding due to rising seas and porous limestone. The term we must understand as well is “sunny day flooding,” which happens more and more throughout the year.

These Nobel prize winners note we have to address the problem now while the costs are more manageable and can be sustained. The best teachers are the Dutch, as they have managed sea water encroachment for years. But, the impact also includes more and intense forest fires and the faster depletion of already dear water sources.

We have major problems occurring that Washington is not talking about and, in some cases, is making it worse. We must address climate change and invest more in  renewable energy, consider better coastal and flood plain building and consider a carbon tax. We must address fresh water loss that is hastened by climate change that is affecting farmers and other Americans. And, we must address pollution by companies and the growing mountain of plastic.

There are economic models that call to mind the old Fram oil filter commercial – you can pay me now or pay me later. Now, is far cheaper. Ask your politicians more questions and vote accordingly. If they do not admit there are problems, do not vote for them.