The hook brings you back

The group Blues Traveler had a huge hit with a song called “Hook,” which intentionally says nothing of substance. The chorus is as follows:

“Because the hook brings you back
I ain’t tellin’ you no lie
The hook brings you back
On that you can rely”

The song is about their frustration with MTV or popular music which relies on a “hook” to grab your attention. A hook is a catchy riff, phrase or gimmick used by songwriters. The Blues Traveler song is a tongue-in-cheek criticism of the use of a “hook” while using one.

To me, this song is a metaphor for companies selling products harmful to people’s health. The “hook” is an addiction, that brings people back to buy more.

The vaping industry is repeating the successful sales model of selling smoking to kids and young adults to get them hooked. The tobacco industry knew dating back to 1964 that nicotine was addictive. So, they hid this fact as they added more nicotine. The subterfuge lasted until the mid-1990s when an insider blew the whistle. This was after eight tobacco CEOs sitting at a table in front of a Congressional Committee lied saying nicotine was not addictive. What is troubling about the vaping industry is they are selling these vapes as candy in all kinds of flavors.

An even more dramatic and traumatic sales job relates to the opioid pain killer business. These companies were not forthcoming about how addictive their product is. People have died and families have been ruined by this subterfuge. And, once again we have a heroin and worse drug addiction problem in America, as it is cheaper than the opioid product. Please strongly consider non-opioid painkillers if you have surgery or an injury, if permissible by doctor.

On a more widespread basis, food companies have asked their chemists to make their products more addictive. How? By adding more sugar to their products. The sweeter taste is more alluring and gets people to eat more and buy more. What is the harm in a little more sugar? The US is the most obese country in the world and kids are now getting adult diabetes, not just juvenile diabetes.

So, like catchy songs, these hooks are designed to sell lots of products to unsuspectingly addicted consumers. Please be mindful of when you buy to make sure you are not being reeled in.

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Melania Trump, thank you for the invitation, but no thanks

Yesterday, I received a letter from First Lady Melania Trump and the Republican National Committee asking for donations for her husband’s campaign. The letter espoused all of the good things which have occurred under the president and all the bad that would happen should he not win in 2020. Since a pre-addressed envelope was enclosed, I sent the following letter.

August 14, 2019

Republican National Committee
c/o Melania Trump
PO Box 96994
Washington, DC 20090-6994

Dear Ms. Trump,

Thank you for your service to your country. I received your invitation to support your husband’s campaign for 2020 and I must respectfully decline. As an Independent and former Republican voter, I must confess I see your husband’s presidency differently from what you noted in the letter.

While I am pleased the economic growth that was almost eight years strong has continued under his presidency, we are at least dialoguing with North Korea and a bipartisan law was passed to push prison and sentencing reform, I am concerned with several other policy positions and his overall behavior as president.

On the policy side, I am very concerned with the our building debt and the US decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Change Accord as well as unwinding several regulations that make it easier for companies to degrade our environment. I am also concerned with treating our allies and trading partners so poorly. We are retrenching from our leadership position and we are less trusted by other world leaders. That is unfortunate as we are diminishing a major strength of our country. We cannot shrink to greatness.

On the behavior side, it is frustrating that our president consistently dishonors the office he holds. Our president must be one of our better angels, not our worst. We need our president to be truthful and not denigrate and bully people who disagree with his positions. And, we must not have our president spouting racist and xenophobic comments. Country leaders from Sweden, UK, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, New Zealand , eg condemned his recent remarks.

Please encourage your husband to become the leader we need him to be. Right now, he is just a person occupying a leadership position. We need more from him than that. If he is not prepared to make such changes, I would ask the Republican Party to find a replacement candidate. I am concerned for our democracy and our planet. It frightens me to have to say these words.

Please forgive my candor. You are the best thing he has going for him, so maybe you can encourage some change. Thank you again for your service and doing your best to bring honor to the First Lady role.

Keith Wilson
Charlotte, Independent Voter

 

Unsurprising news

The Associated Press reported today the US deficit for the first ten months of the 2018-19 fiscal year has increased by 27% over last year’s ten month deficit. The $867 billion deficit is in line to pass $1 trillion for the year ending September 30, 2019.

This is not a surprise as the tax law passed in December, 2017 is projected to increase the debt by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years. That is on top of the expected increase without change of $10 trillion. And, to make matters worse two spending bills in 2018 and 2019 have increased spending, with the latter increase yet to be felt.

Expenses are up 8% and revenue is up only 3% with such a good economy. As mentioned before, we should be paying down the debt in good times, but the tax bill reduced the revenue from where it would have been.

Politicians, including this president, have an unhealthy focus on short term results. The long term impact can be blamed on future politicians, in their minds. We have a ticking time bomb, where our $22 trillion debt will be closer to $35 trillion in ten years sans change.

Some poor president and Congress will have to step up to solve this problem. And, they will unfairly get blamed.  It will take both spending cuts and tax increases to get us there. And, to show how frustrating harmful action is, a Senator from Florida yesterday said we need a tax cut to spur the economy with the pending recession – really? More debt is the answer?

We need fiscal stewardship and leadership. We are not getting it from these incumbents. And, that is a dereliction in duty.

 

Three brief environmental news stories

The following are three snippets from recent news stories on our environment. Two are focused on climate change, while the latter is focused on our global water crisis, which gets so little air time. Yet, when the World Economic Forum polls its members on the greatest long term risks facing our planet, the top two risks are the global water crisis and climate change inaction. It should be noted, climate change worsens the global water crisis, through faster evaporation of reservoirs.

California, four automakers defy Trump, agree to tighten emissions rules – by David Shepardson and Ben Klayman in Reuters on July 25, 2019

“Four major automakers said on Thursday they have reached an agreement with California on fuel efficiency rules, bypassing a Trump administration effort to strip the state of the right to fight climate change by setting its own standards.”

Note: The companies did not want the president to strip away the Bush and Obama intitated standards for improvement on fuel efficiency. Since California has the fourth largest economy, by itself, in the world, this agreement is important.

It feels like something out of a bad sci-fi movie’
A top climate scientist quit USDA, following others who say Trump has politicized science – by Helena Bottemiller Evich in Politico on August 5, 2019

“One of the nation’s leading climate change scientists is quitting the Agriculture Department in protest over the Trump administration’s efforts to bury his groundbreaking study about how rice is losing nutrients because of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Lewis Ziska, a 62-year-old plant physiologist who’s worked at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service for more than two decades, told POLITICO he was alarmed when department officials not only questioned the findings of the study — which raised serious concerns for the 600 million people who depend on rice for most of their calories — but also tried to minimize media coverage of the paper, which was published in the journal Science Advances last year.”

Note: This purging of data, suppression of reports and denigration and sidelining of climate change scientists should be raising red flags. Instead of arguing the veracity, the Trump administration is going out of its way to bury the findings of peer reviewed scientists. Why? What further troubles me is if Trump wants to “Make America Great Again,” why is he giving away a scientific expertise to other countries? I recall when President Macron of France extended an open invitation to US climate scientists.

Extreme water stress affects a quarter of the world’s population, say experts
Qatar, Israel and Lebanon top list of places with worst shortages, as climate crisis threatens more ‘day – by Emily Holden and Vidhi Doshi in The Guardian on August 6, 2019

“A quarter of the world’s population across 17 countries are living in regions of extremely high water stress, a measure of the level of competition over water resources, a new report reveals.

Experts at the World Resources Institute (WRI) warned that increasing water stress could lead to more “day zeroes” – a term that gained popularity in 2018 as Cape Town in South Africa came dangerously close to running out of water.”

Note: This is a huge problem, especially in drought prone areas like Texas here in the states. There are competing forces for water, drinking/ food preparation, bathing and washing clothes, agriculture irrigation, fracking, etc. that are exacerbated by increasing populations and climate change. There has also been poor water management in too many areas. Better piping would help, using plants that are more endemic to an area use less water, moving away from fracked natural gas, planning the sources of water to save them, addressing climate change, etc. would help.

I like using this item as it came from an unexpected source – a Duke Energy spokesperson let it slip that they factor into their models an additional 11% evaporation loss from their water reservoirs due to climate change forecasts. If climate change is a hoax, why would one of the largest utilities in America be modeling that?

These three stories highlight that we must plan and do things now, before it is too late. We lost eight years under the Bush administration and have lost about two and half years under Trump to leverage federal climate change action. Bush had a petroleum lobbyist as his White Council on the Environment and Trump has a coal lobbyist as head of the EPA. Plus, Bush’s Vice President was a former petroleum CEO and who had a heavy hand writing in the 2005 Energy Act that fracking need not be subject to the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Air Act. Why?

Why are such great pains being taken to suppress reports, data, laws and scientists? Why would not someone who claims all of this hoax not use fact-based arguments to counter? And, if that is not enough, the Trump administration prevented the authors of a multi-agency report on the risk of climate change from testifying in front of Congress to keep their testimony out of the public record.

 

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina ACA premium rate cut request

Earlier this week, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) has announced a request of a premium rate cut for the second year in a row under the Affordable Care Act. They announced a request of a 5.2% rate reduction for their 435,000 members and one of 3.3% for small businesses in the state. It would have been three years in a row, but as I mentioned in earlier blogs, the Trump decision to renege on paying insurers for absorbing co-pays and deductibles for people making less than 2 1/2 x poverty limit caused premiums to increase for all.

This shows the ACA is stabilizing for insurance carriers who have been at it a few years. It would be nice to get more carriers back in for members to have choices. Many left when the Senate, led by the GOP defunded the risk corrider payments to the tune of 89% of the adverse selection cost. These carriers left the markets with the US government owing them money.

These two efforts to dampen the ACA have gone largely unreported. But, there is one more which is critical that impacts premiums and threatens the entire ACA. The tax bill passed by the GOP led Congress eliminating an unpopular feature of the ACA, which required individual coverage. It was called the individual mandate. By obligating people to have coverage, it lessened the risk on the insurers which will keep premiums lower than they would be otherwise.

Here is what BCBSNC said in their announcement as reported by The Charlotte Observer.

“The rate of decrease requested for 2019 would have been larger, the company told the Observer in 201, if the GOP tax reform legislation signed by President Donald Trump hadn’t repealed the ACA’s individual health insurance mandate.”

Further, several GOP led-states are suing the federal government to rule the ACA unconstitutional due to the elimination of the mandate. The tax laws are complex, but it is going to end up at the Supreme Court. It is thought by experts this case is weak, but the Trump Justice Department has decided to not defend the law which helps so many. Ironically, this is happening as it stabilizes even more, the GOP lost seats because of their ham-handed efforts to repeal it and when some Democrats want Medicare-for-all.

The art of exaggeration

The following are paraphrases of actual quotes from a person known to exaggerate and even prevaricate. A famous comedian from the same area as this person noted three years ago that this was “schtick” used to improve your image.

  • I am the least racist person in the world,
  • I am a stable genius.
  • I know more about taxes than anyone in the history of taxes.
  • They love me in England.
  • My gut is smarter than an expert’s brain.
  • No one has treated Black people better than me.
  • African-American people love the job I’m doing.

These are just top of mind from a longer list of exaggerations. Often, these are said following scrutiny that he has brought om himself.

This last point is important as I have said repeatedly this person is his own worst enemy. Through exaggeration and prevarication, he is the biggest purveyor of fake news by far. Even when the news is good, he must make it better or the “best.” Things he must change are “disasters.”

Yet, exaggerating and lying is bad enough, in and of themselves, but become  far more serious when policy is set off one of the two. Here are some real examples that should concern us all.

  • He said eliminating the subsidy to insurers under the Affordable Care Act to repay them for co-pays/ deductibles they absorbed for people making less than 2 1/2 times the poverty limit would only effect their profits – this is not true, as the CBO said it would increase the US deficit by $10 billion per annum and increased premiums for all members.
  • He said the illegal immigrants were taking all the jobs and are the reason for the malaise in certain areas – this is a gross exaggeration, as the primary reason for job loss is technology gains and CEOs chasing cheaper profits by offshoring manufacturing plants.
  • He said to reporters in front of the Pakistan PM, the India PM asked him to mediate the conflict in Kashmir – this is not true and statement was made by the India PM within an hour to state “no such request was made” as well as the White House staff going silent on the issue. India is an ally and experts noted this was a slap in their face as Kashmir is hyper-sensitive.
  • He said it is OK to have trade issues with China as we are raking in tariffs from them in our treasury, a statement he has repeated multiple times, including yesterday – while tariffs are being collected, this is a lie that China is paying them; US importers are paying the tariffs and passing much of the cost to US consumers.

I could go on as there are many examples to choose – he promised a better and cheaper healthcare program than the ACA in the election, but it has yet to materialize, and he is advertising it again for 2020. What is it Mr. President?

Politicians, business people and marketers tend to exaggerate and even lie to sell their message. Yet, the people who track lying say the incumbent has lapped the field. By the way, a key message from the Mueller report is the president is not very truthful and his staff knows it. And, Mueller testified that Trump was “generally” untruthful in his responses to his questions.

Credit risk appraiser Moody’s buys a firm that assesses climate change risk

Even for those not very familiar with Moody’s, this headline speaks volumes about the impact of the risk of climate change on our country and planet. In a July 24, 2019 article in The New York Times by Christopher Flavelle called “Moody’s Buys Climate Data Firm, Signaling New Scrutiny of Climate Risks,” the company that measures credit risks for bond investors in companies, cities, counties, states and countries, has added to its expertise. Per Flavelle’s article

“Moody’s Corporation has purchased a controlling stake in a firm that measures the physical risks of climate change, the latest indication that global warming can threaten the creditworthiness of governments and companies around the world.

The rating agency bought a majority share in Four Twenty Seven, a California-based company that measures a range of hazards, including extreme rainfall, hurricanes, heat stress and sea level rise, and tracks their impact on 2,000 companies and 196 countries. In the US, the data covers 761 cities and more than 3,000 counties.

‘We are taking these risks very seriously,’ said Myriam Durand, global head of assessments at Moody’s Investor Service, who said the purchase would allow its credit analysts to be more precise in their review of climate-related risks. ‘You can’t mitigate what you don’t understand.’

Sudden shocks such as floods, wildfires, or storms can hurt businesses and send residents fleeing, taking away the tax revenue that government s use to pay debts. And, longer term threats – such as rising seas or higher temperatures – can make those places less desirable to live in, hurting property values and, in turn, the amount raised by taxes.”

To illustrate this risk, the same day I read a reprint of this article in The Charlotte Observer, the local paper ran a story on the town of Fair Bluff, NC which has been flooded twice in that past four years due to Hurricanes Matthew and Florence which lingered over their area. Sitting near the Lumber River, the citizens of Fair Bluff saw the river rise well beyond flood range. The previous flood of this magnitude occurred 90 years before. Sadly, the population and business is declining due to rebuilding costs. As a result, so is the tax revenue to provide services.

There is a huge financial impact of climate change on the lives and business of people and communities. Rebuilding a town that may continue to be in harms way adds to the risk and some people are choosing to relocate. And, It is not just small towns. Houston has had two major floods over the past five years, as well. Houston has felt on a larger scale what Fair Bluff has felt. Not only do the rains of the Hurricane sit over them, the rivers upstate overfill and flow toward the sea. This causes extra flooding.

So, Moody’s is improving their ability to assess repayment risk to bondholders. A city that has rebuilt or prepared poorly is at greater risk of flight of people, businesses and tax dollars. What should also be alarming to American citizens is while Moody’s is taking forward thinking action, the US government is stripping climate change reports from their websites and demoting, transferring or running off Ph.Ds who are expert in measuring and addressing climate change. In short, we are throwing away a technical advantage that could help the US and the world.

Repeating what Ms. Durand said above, “You can’t mitigate what you don’t understand.”  So, please ask all politicians what they plan to do about climate change including the US president. And, a question for those who still buy the hoax stuff, why is Moody’s spending all of that money on a hoax?