Coal ash in the bottom of a lake

In an article yesterday in The Charlotte Observer by Sara Coello called “Researchers detect coal ash beneath five NC lakes, including a Charlotte water source” a troubling study result indicates that coal ash has been invasive over time. It is the gift that keeps on giving long after its use and not in a good way.

Here are the first few paragraphs from the article, with a link to the full piece below:

“Scientists have detected coal ash in sediment at the bottom of five North Carolina lakes, evidence that it can reach bodies of water in previously unknown ways. Sediments beneath Mountain Island Lake, a drinking water source in and near Charlotte, was one spot where ash was detected. The study did not conclude that the waste is a risk to people or wildlife, but recommends more research.

Experts had thought that coal ash polluted ground and surface waters primarily by leaking from pits and ponds where power companies traditionally stashed it. Duke Energy is excavating 80 millions tons of coal ash across the state to reduce that threat, with 5.4 million tons once stored close to Mountain Island Lake already removed.

But researchers from Duke and Appalachian State universities found that airborne ash particles fell directly into lake waters over the past 40 to 70 years, especially before pollution controls were installed. And that ash particles that dropped to the ground also washed into the lakes, especially during extreme weather.

‘We thought that the majority of the coal ash is restricted to coal ash ponds and landfills,’ said Avner Vengosh, a professor at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. ‘Now we see it’s already in the open environment.’”

One of the many costs of burning coal that is usually underestimated is the long-term impact of trying to keep coal ash corralled long after the coal has been burned. The Dan River spill from a few years back was from coal ash from a closed down plant. This is why we must continue to move (and have moved away from) coal burning to create electricity. The tail on its maintenance is very long and costly.

This is also why I have long been critical of leaders from coal mining states. They have known this for years and instead of helping workers to transition to newer cleaner energy solutions, they clinged to the past. The last time I looked the sun shines, the water flows and the wind blows in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

US Solar jobs dwarf coal jobs today, but that is not news and was highly predictable several years ago. Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens said about ten years ago on “60 Minutes” the future of energy in the US is with wind energy. Natural gas will buy time, but the wind blows across the plains and offshore.

Solar and wind energy are now on par with or better than fossil fuel production costs. But, when you factor in all of the other costs related to acquisition, transport, healthcare, maintenance and litigation, eg. the costs for renewables beat the pants off coal and even natural gas. And, when a wind mill offshore “spills” the only thing that happens is a splash.

Read more at: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article266613326.html#storylink=cpy

Financial suggestions from an old fart (a reprise)

Recognizing there are many places for financial advice, as an old fart, I thought I would offer some specific examples on ways to save money. Some of these are in reaction to various conversations I have had with my children, nieces and nephews, but regardless of age, it does not hurt to validate your thinking from time to time. Please take these for what they are worth, examples of lessons learned, pitfalls avoided and plans executed when I was prescient enough to listen to someone else beforehand. NOTE: I am not a financial advisor, so please do not interpret this as coming from such.

  • Don’t have too many credit cards. I have one debit and two credit cards – you will pile up too much debt otherwise and expose yourself to identity theft with too many. Pay down your largest interest rate first and close it out. Don’t just cut up the card, cancel it as identity theft can still occur – trust me on this.
  • If you are working and have access to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, for God’s sake use it. If there is a match, find a way to contribute up to the maximum match percentage. You will retire from some place and the cash provides cushion if you are laid off (company’s do that and it has happened to people who are better at their jobs than you are). You are throwing money away otherwise.
  • Do not play the lottery. I repeat, do not play the lottery. You might as well throw the money out the window. Lotteries are a regressive tax – it means people who can least afford to pay taxes, contribute to the lottery. Use the money instead in the 401(k) or 403(b) plan.
  • Avoid online fantasy team and sports betting. You are playing against an audience using multi-variable regression tools for their predictions. A very small percentage of people win the bulk of the money, with everyone else in the red. If you do play, set a small budget.
  • Avoid payday lending. In the bible, usury is a sin. In Dante’s Inferno, there is a level of Hell for payday lenders of the day. These guys are a step away from legbreakers. You will go into a death spiral of debt if you succumb.
  • If you can’t get a job, try volunteering for a charity group. The networking is good as people will see your energies on showcase in a good way. Plus, the psychic income is rich. By working, you will avoid depressive thoughts and can use your energy in a positive way. Some non-profits may be able to figure out a way to get you some income. Plus, you can see ways to tap services if needed.
  • If you have some money to invest – think dividend paying stocks with low P/E (price to earnings) ratios. Take the price per share of the stock and divide it by the earnings per share. If 20 or under, it may be worth the effort. These companies may also have Dividend or Customer Purchase plans you can access online. This means you buy the stock without a sales charge driectly from the company.
  • You do not need to own the newest gadget or thing. Companies do this to get you to buy something. I am not impressed by who owns what. Most people are not. If people are more impressed by your gadgets than you, then you may want to hang around a different crowd.
  • Be smart with your fast food purchases. Do not buy the drinks there as the margins are huge on liquid. Get out of your car and go inside. You are wasting a ton of gas waiting in line and it may be faster if the line outside is long. Read the calorie chart – the Affordable Care Act is requiring disclosure. This will help you be less of a train wreck later on. And, please do not supersize as you will become what you eat – supersized.
  • Better yet, eat more meals at home and yes, eat the leftovers. The savings are huge. I will never die of food poisoning in my own house, so I usually have to be quick with the leftovers before my wife tosses them.
  • Avoid eye level purchases in stores, especially if you are woman. Not to be sexist, but the highest margin items in a grocery store are at the eye level of a 5’5″ woman. Also avoid out-of-place stuff at the end of an aisle or by the cashier. The stuff by the cashier is lethal. While we are at it, do not go inside a convenience store when you pump gas unless it is to use the restroom. Their margins are huge inside on purchases.
  • Reduce water usage by not running water while you shave, brush your teeth, etc. Also, get a lower flush toilet or put a small enclosed container of rocks in the tank as this will reduce the water usage. Use the energy saver setting on dishwashers.
  • Shut off electrical devices overnight. This will save energy plus it will slow the deterioration of modems, routers, computers, etc. And, it will reduce a fire hazard.
  • Go generic on all prescriptions (some generics are the same pill). Use the store brand ibuprofen, decongestants, etc. as they work just as well. Not all pills are the same as one of my sons breaks out in a rash with one generic, but the brand is fine, so use trial and error.
  • Get a second and third opinion on surgeries or diagnosis. Especially, back surgeries. Sometime surgeries can do more harm than good. If you need one, make sure you get all the answers to your questions and have exhausted other options.
  • Walk to errands. Take a couple of shopping bags and walk to the store. You will be healthier, plus you will buy less because you cannot carry it all back.
  • Don’t drink so much. I don’t drink anymore, but have drunk enough for a lifetime before I quit fifteen years ago. You would be amazed at how much you save, plus the better health pays dividends. My last straw was a friend who died at age 59 because of alcoholism. I can tell most people drink more than they tell people. So, find ways to cut it back. Trust me, I know.

That is all I have for now. I hope this was useful. I am sorry about the preaching on the last item, but that is a big-ticket savings item. I welcome other ideas as I want to learn how to save more as well. Please provide additional suggestions below.

Price elasticity and inelasticity

These are some interesting words, but what do they mean? They have several related definitions in economics, but in one context, price elasticity means prices are more readily changed by the seller. Price inelasticity means the opposite, prices are changed less easily.*

In our current inflationary economy, much of it has been fueled by supply shortages due to the pandemic and tariffs, as well as some other factors (gas prices go up every summer because of industry maintenance and increased demand, eg.). But, some people have noted there are a few sellers, retailers, etc. who seemingly have raised prices beyond what is needed.

Using the above terms, price setting by sellers tends to be more upward elastic. Sellers will more easily change the price upward when the market supply drops, more so than the market would dictate. This adds to the inflationary push. Yet, when the market supply catches up, the sellers are slower to adjust prices down, hence the term price inelasticity can be used.

In its worst form, the upward price elasticity is sometimes referred to as gouging. A hurricane knocks out all the power, so stores raise the price of bags of ice and bottled water. Retailers in an inflationary market would be foolish to gouge people, yet there are some who have added to their margins on the backs of customers. On the flip side, there will be those that milk the higher prices as the prices should fall, to get every last drop of extra margin.

People should remember who these retailers are. Some have been so blatant in price increases they find their names in news stories. So, my strong advice is to vote with your feet and shop elsewhere. My wife and I use a term that a seller is “proud of their services and products” when we see consistently higher prices. If they do this, people better be getting some darn good service or much higher in quality goods.

Two final pieces of advice. First, alter your demand. If gas prices are higher, drive less and walk more. Bundle your errands more, as well, to reduce travel costs. Second, if you have not tried generic or store products, now is the time. It is funny, people have grown accustomed to using generic prescription medicine as the brand costs are so high, but are reluctant to do so on store brands of food, trash bags, over the counter medicines, etc.  There is no better time to try the lesser priced products than in an inflationary market.

Shoppers tend to know when prices are too far out of line. The best thing they can do is to tell the store manager he or she is forcing the shopper to look elsewhere. No words will be more chilling to a manager than that. Then follow through.

*Note: I am not an economist, so please do not presume the above is any more than from  someone who had economic classes in college, much of which I have forgotten.

Twenty-five seconds showers

Regardless of whether elected officials want to talk about this, we have a global water crisis that has been building for some time. Here in the states, it manifests itself in three ways: more severe droughts in drier areas, evaporating and depleting water sources, and too many lead pipes still being used to provide water to cities.

And, this is before climate change has made the situation worse. I have cited before a statistic from a Duke Energy report that said climate change will cause evaporation from their water sources by 11% more than before. The folks out in the western part of the US are seeing major river sources at risk with so many competing users and states. The same is true in other parts of the world such as Cape Town, South Africa and in Chile, eg.

So, there are many things we must do combat these problems. The first one is to get elected officials to stop their discussions around exaggerated and contrived topics and to start discussing real problems. Politicians are often too late to the game as they get little credit for actually thinking ahead to avoid a problem getting worse. That is unfortunate, as that is precisely what we need them to do.

The possible solutions are many, but none may be a panacea. With climate change, our water crisis can be boiled down to one sentence – too much sea water and too little fresh water. So, one solution would be to convert sea water into potable water. It is expensive and earlier attempts do not taste as well, but that may be the best option for us. This is more evident in places like Miami and surrounding areas where the Biscayne aquifer is protected by porous limestone which will not hold back encroaching sea water. But, I have not heard either of the two senators or governor mention this.

One approach that would help a great deal is to use less water to generate power. What gets talked about so little in renewable energy is many of the approaches do not need water. Solar energy with photovoltaic panels and wind energy do not need water. Fossil fuel and nuclear energy must use water to boil into steam and turn the turbines. Granted the water gets release after its used back into the source, but a portion evaporates each time. And, fracking to retrieve natural gas takes a huge amount of water that cannot be reused.

Another partial solution is cut down on usage, hence the title of this post. The twenty-five seconds showers come from those who served in the Navy on a ship. That is how much fresh water a sailor had to bathe. So, the sailor would rinse off for five seconds. Stop the water and bathe with soap. Then, turn the water back on and rinse off for twenty seconds. 25 seconds. I know most folks shower much longer than that, but just think of the impact if everyone just halved their shower time, even more so if they decreased it to something measurable in seconds.

The above is a good metaphor for cutting usage of fresh water along many lines. We need to plant more indigenous plants that grow better in an area. There is a reason alfalfa and wheat are grown in the midwest – they grow in the wild. We could also use more rain barrels for watering or build gardens and water gathering devices on the roof of buildings. And, there plumbing approaches that reuse shower water to flush toilets, etc. Finally, some locations have had success in significantly filtering sewage water into fresh drinking water.

Then, there is that lead pipe thing. Which is its own animal. Unless we want to keep on poisoning people, we need to do something about changing the pipes. The Flint, Michigan pipe issue is not an anomaly. I read where Chicago is having issues as well, but these places are only the tip of the icebergs.

I kept this piece short with intention. It deserves greater scrutiny and discussion, but we need to discuss them rather than some of the things that we do discuss. I feel like our elected officials are a bunch of Nero’s fiddling away. But, in this case, we don’t have the water to put out the fire.

Tuesday tidbits (in mid-September, 2022)

Being in an alliterative state of mind, here are a few Tuesday tidbits for tasting. In no particular order:

  • I read where Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson is having trouble with his reelection campaign, as well he should. Apparently, independents like myself have soured on the guy, and he is in a toss-up with Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes. To be frank, many Republicans did not want Johnson to run again (his age), but for a different reason than I have. He is such an overt supporter of the former president, many Republicans on committees he chaired have openly disagreed with his inane assertions.
  • I continue to read some folks are voting Republican for economic reasons, but they should look at historical data. Here is an easy example to find – under which White Houses have more jobs been created, Democrat or Republicans (note there have been 13 terms apiece)? The answer is under Democrats, and it is not even close. Even Democrats tend to miss this question. The economy and stock market have done better as well. Those who say the last former president did great with the economy, should note that he inherited an economy in its 91st consecutive month of economic growth, a more than doubled stock market and six consecutive years of 2+ million per annum job growth. Note Obama inherited a recession from George W. Bush.
  • I should note that presidents and legislators get too much credit and blame for the economy. They do provide some headwinds and tailwinds, but the economy is bigger than their jobs. The inflation we are seeing today has a lot to do with an inadequate supply chain. If you remember your economic graphs, when supply is low, prices go up. The pandemic hurt a great deal. To me, the tariffs imposed by the previous president and continued under the current one have upset our supply chains, where businesses had to find other sources of goods that they likely continued. I would add the Russian invasion of Ukraine has fueled fossil fuel price increases along with the continued disruption of a poorly planned and executed Brexit which has an echo effect.
  • I should also caution my British friends they are in for an even rockier road with new Prime Minister Liz Truss’ infatuation with trickle-down economics, which has been proven in five studies to have failed. The state of Kansas recently had a huge failure with this theory and almost went bankrupt before it was overturned. Per Mother Jones, “After years of budgetary ruin, Kansas’ experiment in trickle-down economics is finally coming to a close. Late Tuesday night, the state Legislature voted overwhelmingly to override a veto from Gov. Sam Brownback and increase a slew of taxes in the state.” Trickle-down economics is not the best of names, but it is better than what it was called in the late 1890s – the “Horse and sparrow theory,” meaning what you feed the horse (the wealthy) is excreted to feed the sparrows (everyone else).

Oil companies’ internal documents confirm gaslighting the public

An article in The Guardian yesterday by Oliver Milman called “Criticism intensifies after big oil admits ‘gaslighting’ public over green aims” does not paint the fossil fuel industry in a good light. Here are a few paragraphs, but I encourage you to link the article below.

“Criticism in the US of the oil industry’s obfuscation over the climate crisis is intensifying after internal documents showed companies attempted to distance themselves from agreed climate goals, admitted ‘gaslighting’ the public over purported efforts to go green, and even wished critical activists be infested by bedbugs.

The communications were unveiled as part of a congressional hearing held in Washington DC, where an investigation into the role of fossil fuels in driving the climate crisis produced documents obtained from the oil giants ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and BP…

The new documents are ‘the latest evidence that oil giants keep lying about their commitments to help solve the climate crisis and should never be trusted by policymakers,’ said Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity.

‘If there is one thing consistent about the oil and gas majors’ position on climate, it’s their utter inability to tell the truth,’ Wiles added.

Ro Khanna, co-chair of the committee, said the new documents are ‘explosive’ and show a ‘culture of intense disrespect’ to climate activists. The oil giants’ ‘climate pledges rely on unproven technology, accounting gimmicks and misleading language to hide the reality,’ he added. ‘Big oil executives are laughing at the people trying to protect our planet while they knowingly work to destroy it.'”

These revelations are not surprising but are alarming. It should be noted shareholders of Exxon Mobil voted to require management to inform them on the progress toward fighting climate change, the vote occurring the day before the former president pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Change Accord. The proof though is in the pudding. To me it is a culture of window dressing – making it look like management is doing something but really not as much as it seems.

Yet, for those who simply cannot believe Big Oil would do this, let me remind that eight CEOs of the tobacco industry sat in a panel in front of a Congressional Committee and lied to a direct question. The lie they covered up is they all knew nicotine was addictive dating back thirty years. Let me remind that per the movie “Dark Waters,” Dupont knew that making Teflon was harmful to people, including their own workers, and hid that fact. And, after losing a data-centric arbitration case, they reneged on paying restitution to people. They then lost successive lawsuits to individuals for multiple millions of dollars before settling all the cases.

It amazes me that leadership of these (and other) organizations are so protective of their brand, they avoid doing the right thing. They would rather hide it and hope their secret is never discovered. In the end, they are more harmful to their brand than coming out and admitting the truth. Compare what these companies did to what Johnson and Johnson did when someone was poisoning Tylenol capsules in the grocery stores. They admitted their own failure and acted quickly to make protective seals, setting off a larger trend in industry.

Gaslighting is not a flattering word. When we see these feel good commercials on TV put forth by the oil companies, we need to take them with a large grain of salt. They may just what it seems – window dressing.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/sep/17/oil-companies-exxonmobil-chevron-shell-bp-climate-crisis

Bankers used to be trustworthy, but threw their reputation out the window – a reprise

In 2014, I wrote the following post which was predicated on yet another huge fine of a large bank for inappropriate activities in selling products. Just yesterday, per The Charlotte Observer in an article called “Bank settles with feds over claims it ‘misused’ 401(k),” Wells Fargo was fined $145 million (after earlier fines for unethical and some illegal practices) for cheating its own employees and retirees with higher stock transaction fees in the company 401(k). This latest fine was forthcoming from the Department of Labor as they govern employer sponsored 401(k) plans. It should be noted the bank settled the case without admitting guilt.

*****************

Last week, Bank of America was the latest bank to be penalized for fraudulent or aggressive marketing practices. They have had so many fines for malfeasance or aggressive marketing practices that it is hard to keep track of their sins. The latest penalty fined Bank of America $783 million for selling credit card consumers products and services they did not request. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which was newly created a couple of years ago by the Dodd-Frank Act under the tutelage of now Senator Elizabeth Warren, said the $738 million of that fine is used to restore money to those customers who were fraudulently sold these products.

In its first two fiscal years of operations ending June 30, 2013, the CFPB has fined banks and financial entities $942 million of which the significant majority goes to the consumers who were harmed or defrauded. The banks and financial institutions that were penalized include, but are not limited to American Express, Capital One, Discover, and JP Morgan Chase. While the significant majority of the penalty goes to the consumers, the remainder, which is usually less than 10% of the overall fine, goes into a Civil Penalty Fund, which has the following purpose as stated in the CFPB 2013 Annual Report:

“Under the Act, funds in the Civil Penalty Fund may be used for payments to the victims of activities for which civil penalties have been imposed under the Federal consumer financial laws. To the extent that such victims cannot be located or such payments are otherwise not practicable, the Bureau may use funds in the Civil Penalty Fund for the purpose of consumer education and financial literacy programs.”

What is interesting to me is why certain politicians are against this agency? I want them to tell me why an agency designed to protect the average Joe’s and Josephine’s is a bad thing. To state the obvious, these politicians tend to be Republican and tend to be supported by bankers. Senator Richard Shelby, who Chaired the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee from 2003 – 07 is one of the key critics of the CFPB. (Sidebar – under president Donald Trump, Mick Mulvaney was appointed to lead the CFPB to hobble it).

This is one area where people who don’t want regulation need to explain how we would be better without it. Would it be OK for bankers to have full license to sell their customers services they do not need? Is it OK for banks to screw people over? I find most people confuse unwieldy bureaucracy with regulation. We need the latter, but need to guard against the former. I also find people who don’t want to be regulated tend to be those who need to be regulated more. The fossil fuel industry comes to mind, but that would be a large digression.

Having worked in Human Resources within a bank back in the 1990s, what I have witnessed is being a banker used to be one of the most trusted professions. Now, it ranks much lower in trust.  And, they only have themselves to blame. Truth be told, bankers used to be trustworthy, but threw their reputation out the window.

The slippery slope began in earnest with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in the late 1990s. This act had been put in place at the time of the Great Depression and was designed to assure that banks would be banks and not investment banks, security traders or insurance companies. With the feeling everyone learned their lesson and cooler heads would prevail, the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act reopened the can of worms. The real reason for the repeal was banks wanted the fee income that usually came with those products and services. Yet, to add another metaphor, the can of worms became a Pandora’s Box.

What transpired after that repeal is banks pushing the envelope more and cross selling products and services to unsuspecting customers. Two marketing trends emerged. “Bundling” and “Tying.” Bundling represents the concept if you do more business with us, we will give you better terms. By itself, that is not necessarily a bad practice. Yet, when married with tying, it becomes unethical and illegal. Banks started tying business marketing together, so that you had to business with them in one area to get a better deal on another service which was more vital to the buyer. Usually these offers were not made in writing, as some tying can be illegal.

But, the larger trend that occurred is a selling push to reward employees for selling you services you may or may not need. The unscrupulous ones would push the hardest and do things that now get the attention of the CFPB. One of the key reasons the mortgage crisis hit is the better mortgage market dried up and banks had all of these mortgage bankers with nothing to do.

With the push out of the second Bush White House that home ownership was good, the higher risk mortgage market became the target. It was at this time you saw mortgage-in-a-box retail stores competing against banks to sell mortgages to people who did not understand fully what was being sold to them. Variable mortgages and the dreaded Pic-a-payment mortgages that brought Wachovia down after their acquisition of Golden West, were being sold to people who were in over the heads, both economically and educationally. People should have been asking more questions, but trusted the men and women in nice suits that told them they could afford the American Dream. They failed to mention or fully explain terms like “negative amortization” and “variable mortgages” especially what transpires when the rate goes up by 200 basis points.

So, bankers used to be trustworthy, but they threw it out the window. They earned these new stripes. You have to be the navigator of your customer service experience, in general, but especially with a bank. You have to ask questions about why you are being asked to do something. You need to ask why you need another credit card. You need to ask why is the salesperson pushing so hard on this issue. If you don’t, you may need the help of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

With that said, I know many fine people who work for banks. They do their best to serve their customers. Yet, the higher-ups are pushing for sales and align incentives with that push. As a result, even well-meaning people will push the envelope even more. I have been a business for over 34 years and a truism I have learned is you make more money serving the needs of your client long term. You may make more money on occasion by pushing that envelope, but you may do so at the expense of a long term relationship which might come to an end.

For full disclosure, I am a shareholder (sidebar – I am no longer a shareholder of BofA) and customer of both Bank of America and Wells Fargo. These fines disappoint me. I want them to be accountable to their customers, employees and shareholders. But, they also need to be accountable to their regulators. They owe it to all of us.

Rural Virginia pivots from coal to green jobs

An article by Nina Lakhani in The Guardian this weekend called “‘This is the future’: rural Virginia pivots from coal to green jobs,” is a must read, especially for those who still want to cling to a declining industry. The article can be linked to below. Here are a few salient paragraphs that will give you the gist.

“When Mason Taylor enrolled at the local vocational school with dreams of becoming an electrician like his dad, it was assumed that the ninth-grader would eventually end up moving away from Wise county, Virginia, to find a decent job.

Now 19, Taylor just bought a truck after a summer apprenticing with a crew of electricians installing rooftop solar systems at public schools in the county. He was among a dozen or so rookies paid $17 an hour, plus tools and a travel stipend, as part of the state’s first solar energy youth apprenticeship scheme.

The region’s long-awaited energy and economic transition will be substantially boosted by America’s first climate legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

It’s far from a panacea, but Joe Biden’s legislation provides $369bn for the transition to electric vehicles and renewable energy – a historic investment that scientists estimate will reduce greenhouse gases by 40% below 2005 levels by 2030 and ​​create an estimated 1.5m new jobs.

Decent well-paid jobs are desperately needed. In Virginia, coal production has declined by 70% since its peak in 1990, and much of what’s left is semi-automated. Those old jobs are largely gone and are not coming back.

The IRA provides ring-fenced money for training, innovation and manufacturing, as well as an array of tax breaks and other financial incentives to help consumers and businesses transition away from fossil fuels. And Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat senator from West Virginia played a pivotal role in watering down – and then reviving – the legislation, directing billions of dollars to the economic revival of depressed coal towns.

‘It’s a game changer for rural and coal communities,’ said Autumn Long, a project manager for solar financing and manufacturing workforce development at the non-profit Appalachian Voices. ‘Renewables are a way to honour the region’s energy-producing legacy and be part of the 21st-century global energy transition. The IRA is a turning point.‘”

In my view, these efforts are about ten years overdue. I have been writing for several years now of the demise in coal jobs in our country as contrasted to the uptick in solar and wind jobs. If I knew of the demise, the elected officials in these coal states have had to have known. This would include the Senate Minority leader who hails from Kentucky, one of those coal states. The sun has always shined and the wind has always blown in those states.

Yet, they did nothing. They were paid campaign funds by coal manufacturers to do nothing and perpetuate the status quo. Whether people like him or not, the only 2016 presidential candidate who told coal miners the truth – in person – was Senator Bernie Sanders, who said your jobs are going away, but here is what I plan to do about it.

Now, at long last, more is being done about it. Solar and wind energy are now on par or better in production costs with coal energy. And, when you factor in the environmental, maintenance, trucking, and litigation costs, the two renewables beat the pants off coal. It makes little sense to build a new coal plant which will become obsolete before it is finished.

So, this new law is good news and we should give credit to this Congress and President for getting it done. It is better late than never, but let’s hope it is not too late.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/sep/08/rural-virginia-pivots-from-coal-solar-green-jobs

Nickel and Dimed in America – a tribute to Barbara Ehrenreich (may she RIP)

Yesterday, I learned that Barbara Ehrenreich passed away at the age of 81. From the Associated Press,

“Barbara Ehrenreich, the author, activist and self-described ‘myth buster’ who in such notable works as ‘Nickel and Dimed’ and ‘Bait and Switch’ challenged conventional thinking about class, religion and the very idea of an American dream, has died at age 81…A prolific author who regularly turned out books and newspaper and magazine articles, Ehrenreich honed an accessible prose style that brought her a wide readership for otherwise unsettling and unsentimental ideas. She disdained individualism, organized religion, unregulated economics and what Norman Vincent Peale famously called ‘the power of positive thinking.’”

I wrote the following post nine years ago about the need to increase the minimum wage. Fortunately, many states and cities did this very thing to get folks closer to a living wage.

**************************

The walkout this week by restaurant workers to protest poor wages is indicative of a major problem we have in this country. We have a poverty problem in this country with far too many people living in poverty or paycheck to paycheck. As I have noted in earlier posts, the disparity between the “haves” and “have-nots” has grown wider at the same time our socio-economic class mobility has greatly diminished. Where we are born and to whom we are born are now greater indicators of success than they used to be. To compound the problem, those who are in the upper income echelons are having a more difficult time appreciating the challenges faced by those who are not. More on this later.

In Barbara Ehrenreich’s book “Nickel and Dimed (in America),” she chronicled her efforts and those of her co-workers, in trying to live on minimum or near-minimum wage jobs. Her conclusion is these jobs perpetuate poverty. She notes a variety of factors which include not being able to afford healthcare, not being able to save, poor food habits as fast food was the cheapest and most convenient food, being a slave to the work schedulers, being tied to mass transportation schedules due to gas prices, and having to work more than one job. She also noted in the restaurant jobs, people having to work when they are sick, because they needed the pay. Getting by was the best you could hope for. Getting ahead was quite difficult as you were treated like a commodity. I would add this contention is supported by Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley’s book “The Rich and the Rest of Us.” A summary of the key findings in the book can be gleaned from the attached post.  https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/10/20/the-rich-and-the-rest-of-us-a-must-read/

Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. In some places, the state or local minimum wage is higher (Illinois, California have $8.00; Arizona is $7.47 and the city of San Francisco is $9.79, e.g.). Yet, a living wage is higher in these locations. A living wage varies by geography and is based on the cost of living to provide shelter, food, healthcare and basic necessities. Attached is a link to a MIT website that will allow you to see the calculation of living wage by area. http://livingwage.mit.edu/.

Per this MIT website, in my home county in North Carolina, a living wage is now $10.02 for a single adult and $19.68 for a one parent, one child family. In other higher cost of living areas, the living wage can be a few dollars more. As of this writing, President Obama has proposed an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00. While not enough, the increase is a tangible step forward. Per a Gallup Poll in March 2013, this proposal is supported by 70% of Americans. The result is even higher for women, Democrats, moderates, non-whites, adults who earn less than $24,000 per annum, and young adults. 2/3 of Americans who are seniors, Independents, and earners between $24,000 and $60,000 support the change. It is only beneath 67% for men, Republicans conservatives,and upper middle class earners and above.

Those who decry this change cite that we will end up with fewer jobs as a result. I have seen data on both sides of this argument. To me, there is a huge cost of turnover in retail and restaurant jobs due to lost productivity of the staff, but also of the department and store manager. The manager has to spend more time back-filling a job or making sure people are on the floor, than focusing on customer service and selling merchandise. Any measure a retail company can do to reduce this churn shows up in better productivity. Per the attached link, Costco seems to believe this, as they pay their people far more than the minimum and are doing quite well. http://money.cnn.com/2013/08/06/news/economy/costco-fast-food-strikes/index.html.

We have a problem in this country, which will only get worse, if we do not remedy it. This is a key reason I have been a staunch supporter of Obamacare. While imperfect, it does speak to the healthcare insurance needs of those who are now uninsured. And, many of those who cannot afford insurance are working in retail and restaurants. Yet, we must pay people better. Will it cause the number of jobs to go down? My guess is for some employers it might, but for many it won’t. In my consulting work with retail and restaurant employers, I have observed the employers who treat their employees as commodities will never have the productivity and customer service of those who treat their employees as key in their ability to sell products and serve customers. These latter companies work back from how can we serve the customer better.

And, when you hear someone who is doing more than fine financially state that increasing the minimum wage is a poor investment of money, please respond the better off people are, the less they will depend on those so-called hand-outs the well off seem to hate. I do not like to use the term hand-outs, as helping people survive in tough times is an appropriate investment of resources, yet for an audience that tends to use this term freely, it is an argument that might resonate. Plus, the more we all have to spend, the better off the economy will be. Let’s increase the minimum wage. It is time.

****************************

Thank you Barbara Ehrenreich – you made us think and sit-up and take notice.

Failing to shoot straight with network viewers

In an article in Business Insider by John Dorman called “Ex-Fox News editor Chris Stirewalt says network viewers would’ve been more prepared for a Trump loss in 2020 if they’d been given ‘a more accurate’ view of the race: book,” the title of the piece tells the reader what happens when pseudo news networks do not shoot straight with its viewers. The same can happen on the more progressive sources, which is ample reason why we should focus on getting our news from more reputable sources.

Here is the gist of the article, with a link available below. Let’s start with summation at the beginning:

  • “Chris Stirewalt in his forthcoming book wrote of coverage lapses he noticed during his time at Fox News.
  • In the book, “Broken News,” Stirewalt was critical of how the 2020 election was covered by the network.
  • Stirewalt was part of Fox’s decision desk, which in 2020 called Arizona for Biden before other major news outlets.

Former Fox News political editor Chris Stirewalt in his forthcoming book said viewers would have been more prepared for former President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election had they been given a ‘more accurate’ assessment of the race through the network’s coverage.

In the book, ‘Broken News: Why the Media Rage Machine Divides America and How to Fight Back,’ Stirewalt — who was fired from Fox in January 2021 — said that over his 11 years at the network, he increasingly saw coverage that didn’t fully capture what viewers needed to hear.

Stirewalt said that such coverage became commonplace during Trump’s White House tenure, and pointed to the ‘rage’ that he encountered after the Fox News decision desk called the pivotal state of Arizona for now-President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.

‘Amid the geyser of anger in the wake of the Arizona call, Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican of North Dakota, called for my firing and accused me of a cover-up,’ Stirewalt wrote.

He continued: ‘Covering up what, exactly? We didn’t have any ballots to count and we didn’t have any electoral votes to award. Had viewers been given a more accurate understanding of the race over time, Trump’s loss would have been seen as a likely outcome. Instead of understanding his narrow win in 2016 as the shocking upset that it was, viewers were told to assume that polls don’t apply (unless they were good for Trump) and that forecasters like me were going to be wrong again.'”

One of the misconceptions that is played upon by news networks is polls are not accurate citing what happened in 2016. Of course, polls are only a prediction, so we must start from that premise. Yet, what too many fail to do is look only at the median likelihood and not the range of what could happen. Using the 2016 election as an example, Hillary Clinton led Donald Trump in the polls ten days before with a full standard deviation of outcomes showing she was likely to win.

After the infamous James Comey announcement about possible emails on Clinton’s aide computer at home which was also used by the aide’s husband who resigned his seat for sexual misconduct, the polls’ lead shrank so that the median expectation was still in Clinton’s favor, but a Trump win was now easily within one standard deviation meaning it could happen. All it took was to get a solid number of Clinton voters to stay home or vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party.

I was not surprised by the Trump win in 2016 nor was I surprised by his loss in 2020. I was disappointed in the former and quite relieved in the latter. I was also not surprised by Trump making a stink about the election results as he had been preparing to do so for at least six months hiring so many attorneys and belittling the mail-in process, while hobbling the mail governance. I wrote a post about this in September 2020 and Senator Bernie Sanders told talk show viewers with eerie accuracy what Trump would do on election night a month before it happened. What has consistently surprised me is sycophants who do not have the spine to tell the former president repeatedly and loudly he lost so get over it.

Our country was divided before the 2016 election, but is now more so because of the last seven years of Donald Trump as a candidate, president and former president. His greatest skill is marketing getting people to fear the other and think he is the solution. So, he took advantage of this divide and pitted folks against each other, which he does as a manager as well. This is why this strategy works in marketing, but is a horrible management approach. This was the conclusion of business analysts who covered the Trump organization well before 2016 – great marketer, poor manager.

News networks must remember that first word and give us the truth. And, when they offer opinion, I would prefer it to be broadcast in a banner below the talking head – the above is the opinion of the speaker and it should not be considered as news. This should occur whether the network is Fox News, MSNBC or Sinclair Broadcasting who requires its many local TV news stations to air the same opinion at the end of each show. And, if you get your news from a QAnon, InfoWars, or social media, stop. These are not news sources. The first two are propaganda and the latter is opinion

What I have shared with Congresspeople, Senators, and pseudo news people dozens of times is you owe us the truth. Readers and watchers believe what you say, so you need to be the best steward of that trust as possible. When I see these folks lie on purpose, it is very frustrating as they know they are lying and choose to do so anyway. That is Machiavellian. It matters not if the liar is a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian or Green Party candidate. What is even worse is when they know you know they are lying. That is just inane.