Friday follies, post-Groundhog Day edition

TGIF. Of course, when you’re retired, Friday’s do not hold the same meaning. But, let’s celebrate anyway. Here are a few follies for this Friday.

I read today Donald Trump was a huge Brexit proponent but is now blaming Brexit for his Scottish golf courses losing money to the tune of 3.7 million pounds. He should have realized this beforehand as the EU facilitated easy travel to play his courses. But, that would have required more rational thinking as a business person. Someone should have explained it to him. Of course, the banks tried to tell all Britons about the dilutive impact of Brexit, but too few believed them. This is not a surprise, except to Boris, Nigel, Donald and crowd.

Speaking of making it difficult to transact commerce, when said golf course owner placed tariffs on everyone as US president, he failed to understand history that tariffs don’t work, as they punish the wrong people – the customers and those who serve them. When it costs more money to buy something or replenish inventory to sell, buyers find a different path forward. For example, when the US made it difficult to do business with our buyers and sellers, people went elsewhere. So, it disrupted markets that had taken years to build. As an example, tractor sales in the US declined, while they increased in Brazil. Why? China was getting more food harvest from Brazil than before due to retaliatory tariffs.

One thing that Republican House leadership should have realized when they put some of their extreme members on Committees, is they elevated the platform of these folks. A key thing the House leaders failed to learn about Trump and are failing to realize now, is the past inane comments are only part of what they need to worry about. The future inane comments or the undiscovered past ones are the ones that should keep them up at night. But, the known past ones are fair game, as well. AOC noted in response to GOP criticism of Democrats about Jews that it is hard to take that comment seriously when the GOP put a woman on a committee who has commented on Jewish space lasers as a source of problems.

What troubles me about these committee assignments of the more extreme members of the House is it is one thing to have a gerrymandered district being represented by someone unqualified to do so given their bent toward inane and denigrating comments, but when they are placed on committees, they are representing us all. That is harmful to our country. Whether it is the Republican or Democrat party, they must police their own, otherwise it harms the party and country. Republicans like to pick on AOC, Ihlan Omar Nancy Pelosi, eg, but they are not on the same level like some of the extreme folks representing the Republican party. I can disagree with AOC, Pelosi and Omar and still respect their opinions. I cannot say the same for more than a few extreme folks in the House.

The sad part about these follies is they all are true. We are the ones who have to suffer the fools and foolish behavior. We need to stop following fools’ errands. We deserve better governance than we are getting. We deserve civil and truthful discourse.

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Big Friendly Giants and seas of solar panels

My wife and I flew up to visit our youngest son and drive back the car he had been driving as he got a new one. On the fifteen-hour journey back, it was wonderful to see all the sights of the coast and mountains once we moved inland. Along the journey, we also took delight in seeing a number of windmill and solar farms.

We have always found the windmills to be elegant giants that are usually staggered in hilly terrain in large single digit of double-digit numbers. It is fun to count them as they go off into the distance. I feel like I am watching a higher tech version of “The BFG,” short for “Big Friendly Giant.”

Yet, clearly what we see more of is the solar farms. These photovoltaic panels number in the hundreds and thousands as they cover a field like a sea of solar panels. Solar energy jobs have been growing annually at double digit rates for years as the prices have come down. And, what is good for customers, but scary for utilities and fossil fuel companies, the solar farms need not be large enterprises to power some communities and neighborhoods.

What I have always liked about renewable energy, is these two approaches need not require any of our dear water to operate. With a global water crisis rivaling and made worse by climate change, not using water is a very good thing.

With the law signed last year, we will get to see more offshore and onshore wind energy. That is terrific. For those folks in our plains states, the sight of windmills is more customary with that windy part of the country. Texas still produces the most wind energy in the country and states like Iowa, Nebraska, and Oklahoma are seeing more than 1/3 of their electricity produced by wind.

And, yet the supporters of the fossil fuel industry have tried to pretend like it is not happening. What I find interesting is in oil rich Texas, a reason wind energy is so prolific is very quietly, the state legislature permitted the wiring to these rural locations to harness the electricity from wind energy. For those who still raise issues, please note that on a “60 Minutes” episode about ten years ago, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, said that natural gas will buy us time, but the future of electricity in the US is wind energy. I would add solar as well.

The future is now.

I encourage you to reach out to your elected officials

This may not do as much good as it needs to or we would hope it would, but we need to let elected officials know we are paying attention. A couple of key themes:

  • we need you to more consistently tell us the truth and value those who do, not those who don’t – sadly, the names of those who don’t are well known;
  • we need you to make more fact-based decisions rather than what funders, spin doctors and opinion hosts may tell you and others – it is hard enough to govern when you use facts, but nigh impossible when you don’t;
  • we need you to recognize both major parties do not have all the good ideas and both have some bad ones – one party has a bag of ideas with too many holes in it and the bad ideas are rushing out, a key reason they are letting more extreme opinions drive the bus;
  • we need you to work toward solving real problems not ones spin doctors said will cause wedge issues and garner votes;
  • we need you to work together in a civil manner using that Jesus message whenever possible that was so important it was called golden;
  • we need you to recognize winning and losing an argument is secondary to getting the best solution; and
  • we need you to recognize you work for us, the citizens of the country, state, county or city – use your time wisely toward that end and be accountable.

As parents, we learned long ago that who your kids play and associate with matter. It is a key reason we always wanted their friends to be welcome at our house. We got to meet them. So, elected officials need to know who they value and spend time with matter. Do you want to be known for hanging around someone who acts like a bully, denigrates people and is untruthful, or do you want to be known for hanging around someone who is a truthteller and seeks to hold people accountable? It is your choice, but we are watching.

I bruise you, you bruise me, we both bruise too easily (an encore post)

The following is an encore of an earlier post that still remains relevant.

After breaking up with Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel sang a beautiful song written by Jimmy Webb, who wrote several of Glen Campbell’s hits (“Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”), The 5th Dimension’s “Beautiful Balloon,” and “MacArthur Park,” which was a huge hit in the 1970s as sung by the actor Richard Harris (who was the first Dumbledore for Harry Potter fans).

The song is called “All I Know.” The first stanza is as follows:

I bruise you, you bruise me

We both bruise too easily

Too easily to let it show

I love you and that is all I know

This song is intended as a love song between two people who often fight and have hurt feelings as a result. But, I would like to use this stanza as a metaphor for relationships between all of us in civil society that have gone awry.

We are too easily bruising each others’ feelings. We are also taking offense too easily, when we should not or should listen to hear rather listen to react. I was highly disappointed with the tenor of the most recently concluded political convention, when hateful remarks were the norm and not the exception. I am hoping that the one next week will be the antithesis.

As an independent voter, I don’t care if someone is conservative on a viewpoint or liberal. What I found is many people have a mixture of opinions. To this point, Ivanka Trump told the GOP audience she is an independent voter. And, she like me joins many unaffiliated Americans.

Yet, what I do not like is the lack of civil discourse and use of information which is not steeped in facts. This is modus operandi for too many politicians and opinion hosts and it is quite obvious to me who they are. The latter is a key reason I religiously check the two fact checking organizations summaries. But, let me set that aside for now and get back to the civil discourse.

I do not agree with everything the politicians or parties support. My disagreement may be material or it may be in emphasis. For example, President Obama has done a commendable job, but I am disappointed that he did not move forward on the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee’s report, he tends to like the use of drones where we need more governance, while he has moved the ball forward on climate change he is too fond of fracking, and he did not collaborate more with a highly uncollaborative and obstinate Congress, e.g.

What I can tell you is neither party has all of the solutions and sometimes are not asking the right questions. Neither party should be smug that their way is the only way or even the right way, especially with funding that fuels their opinions. Again, I don’t mind a conservative or liberal view, but let’s work off the right data and do so civilly, respecting each other’s opinions. And, let’s work with real solutions and not what easily fits on a bumper sticker. Bumper stickers are not policy, they are advertisements.

The debt is a huge problem. Climate change is a huge problem. Water resources are a huge problem. Poor gun governance is a huge problem. Poverty is a huge problem as is the declining middle class. Civil rights for all citizens, especially those most disenfranchised, are lacking in too many places. Infrastructure needs are paramount and fixing them will create jobs. Terrorism is important, but combatting it must be holistic and involve all of us.

Building actual and proverbial walls are not the answers. We must reach out to each other and solve these problems as the diverse Americans we are. No American is more American than the next. And, no less, either. So, let’s civilly discuss the issues in fact-based manner and demand our politicians do the same. If they cannot, then they should step down. I am really tired of those who feel they must name-call and shout opposition down.

Fishing for better news this Friday

Why do Catholics tend to eat a lot of fish on Friday? What is also interesting the grade schools seemed to copycat this serving fish as well even if they are not Catholic schools. Maybe it is due to the famous loaves and fishes story where Jesus fed a huge crowd with the bread and fish in boy’s basket. Using this theme, I am hoping Jesus can pull out some better news this Friday for that proverbial basket.

The future of America may be many things, but one thing is for sure, we will continue to live in a country where daily gun shootings are the norm and the mass shootings become more frequent than weekly. And, while some watered-down gun governance legislation was finally passed this past summer, we still live in a wild-west environment. The sad fact is the significant majority of Americans want some commonsense changes, including gun owners. Let’s start there. If the gun industry does not like, so be it. They truly have had their chance to offer reasonable changes, yet decided fighting any change was the better tactic.

This same example could be used with the fossil-fuel industry. A recent study revealed an old story that needs more airplay. Companies like Exxon have scientific data and reports in their files dating back about forty plus years defining climate change as a major problem. Another study revealed the industry has done more window dressing change than actually make change to address climate change. Like the gun industry, instead of offering reasonable and knowledgeable changes, they hired PR people to naysay climate change. They determined that blocking change was a better tactic than helping make thoughtful change.

We should have remembered the lesson we finally learned after thirty plus years about tobacco. For over thirty years, the industry has known nicotine was addictive which is why they used it in their products. Just before a whistleblower let the cat out of the bag, I watched eight tobacco CEOs sitting at a table facing a Congressional committee. When asked directly if nicotine was addictive, in a row, all eight said “no.” They all lied. And, they all knew. Within a few years, the industry was penalized with huge fine in the neighborhood of a billion dollars for their cover-up, which was not near enough. They deserved the fine.

And, what I find interesting is the PR firm that helped the tobacco industry lie and cover-up was hired by the fossil fuel industry to help them naysay climate change. My guess is they were trying to buy more time to make huge profits.

So, Jesus, you may need a bigger basket of truth and good stories to overcome these folks. There is a lot of money to be made in dangerous habits. We need someone to point that out. Of course, the PR people will paint You in a poor light as a defense tactic, but You are likely used to it.

A nonpartisan and knowledgeable voice on US debt and deficit concerns

From the desk of Maya MacGuineas of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. I will offer no additional comment as it speaks for itself.

“Today, the Treasury Department announced that it has begun engaging in a set of accounting tools known as “extraordinary measures” to avoid breaching the nation’s $31.38 trillion statutory debt limit. Those measures are expected to delay that breach until at least early June and possibly later.

The following is a statement from Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:

Without qualification, the debt limit must be increased or suspended, and it should be done so as quickly as possible. Ideally, we would return to the practice of lifting the debt ceiling without relying on extraordinary measures – which have become all too ordinary – and refrain from making the increase anything close to a last-minute showdown.

The debt ceiling is too important to turn into a game of chicken, and default should never be suggested by those with a fiduciary responsibility to govern the nation. Politicians who are rightly worried about the nation’s unsustainable borrowing path should take a hard stance against new borrowing and oppose legislation that would add to the debt while offering specific solutions to control the debt already on the books, rather than threatening not to pay the bills on borrowing that has already been incurred.

The debt ceiling does offer the opportunity for all lawmakers to pause, assess the fiscal situation of the nation, and take action as necessary. And it is necessary. The debt as a share of GDP is at near record levels. We are on track to begin adding $2 trillion per year to the debt by the end of the decade. Interest payments are the fastest growing part of the budget and are projected to start costing $1 trillion annually in only a few years. The Social Security and Medicare Hospital Insurance trust funds are headed toward insolvency. And last year alone, Congress and the President passed bipartisan legislation that added nearly $2 trillion to the projected national debt. This is an urgent problem that is not getting the attention it needs.

An ideal solution would be for Congress to lift the debt ceiling as soon as possible and at the same time put in place measures to improve our fiscal trajectory. This could include specific policies or processes such as a fiscal commission.

Attaching fiscal reforms to the debt limit was common practice in the past when both policies and processes to improve fiscal responsibility were included as part of a deal. More recently, in a jaw-dropping act of fiscal irresponsibility, politicians in both parties pivoted to support debt ceiling increases along with legislation that made the debt worse. Under President Trump, the debt ceiling was lifted three times with bipartisan support and included legislation that added in total a stunning $2.1 trillion in new borrowing to the debt.

Congress should return to the past model of a debt ceiling increase, legislation to improve the fiscal situation, and a broad based understanding that the debt ceiling must be increased in a calm and timely manner. We must not threaten default. The cost is simply too high.“

That debt limit and the real problem

The last time the Republicans shut down the government over the debt limit was led by Senator Ted Cruz. With other nations pleading with the US not to default on its debt, ten female Senators of both parties came together in the last 24 hours before we defaulted and came to an agreement. They told Cruz and his cronies to get out of the pool, it is time for an adult swim. Countries lend money to the US because we pay it back. Reneging on debt is NOT a conservative ideal.

Being concerned with debt is important, but where to be concerned about it is in revenue/ spending ledger. Per the nonpartisan Committee on a Responsible Federal Budget, we need revenue (tax) increases and spending cuts both as the math will not otherwise work. This was the conclusion of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee as well. While Democrats have tended to be better about dealing with the debt than Republicans, I felt when Obama shelved the Simpson-Bowles report it was a great disservice.

The hypocrisy that should be made clear is if Senator Cruz was so concerned about the debt and was willing to stop the government, why did he vote to reduce taxes in December 2017 to increase the debt by just under $2 trillion? This was a Republican law that largely reduced taxes for the wealthy and corporations, raising it on the middle class and throwing some bones at the lower economic class. And, it should be noted it was only passed, since the donors to the party said you need to do something for us or we will reconsider next year’s donations. I wish I were making this up.

Yes, the debt is a problem and we need to deal with it. Dealing with it with the credit limit looks like something major is being done, but until we adjust what we collect and spend every day, then it is all for nothing. By the way, the bill that just passed the House which is dead in the water in the Senate to reduce funding to the IRS has been estimated by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to increase the debt by over $100 billion. It seems, policing tax filings is problematic for wealthy donors. It should be noted that the Trump Organization was penalized for tax fraud just following the week the dead-end bill was passed and its CFO was sentenced to a stay in a jail.

And, to be crystal clear, do not let any politician or opinion host tell you that we can solve our debt problem with only tax increases or spending cuts. We need both. The math will not work if we don’t do both. Full stop. But, don’t take my word for it. Please check out the website for the Committee on a Responsible Federal Budget and read.

A little dignity

An article called “One Woman Is Holding Politicians Accountable for Nasty Speech. It’s Changing Politics” by Amanda Ripley appeared in Politico this morning. It goes into detail about Tammy Pyfer, who is a Special-Education teacher and Republican appointee in Utah aiming to help us have more dignified discussions. The article is worth the read as is linking to the Dignity Index website.

The following is one of the opening paragraphs, but please take the time to click on the link below:

“Are you frustrated by the hate and negativity in our country’s political and public discourse?” the post asked. ‘You’re not alone.’ A new tool called the Dignity Index was now on the case. It was designed to score politicians’ rhetoric on an eight-point scale based on how dignified or contemptuous it was. Voters would find the scores on the Dignity Index’s website, or, more likely, through media coverage, much like they might come across candidates’ NRA or Planned Parenthood scorecards.”

We must have more civil discourse in our everyday discussions. We are owed civil discourse and serious discussions by serious minded elected officials. If our politicians won’t lead the way, we need to show them the way. For those who continue to do the opposite of what is needed, they need to be asked to leave and certainly should not be given added voice by being on committees.

It is more than OK to have different opinions, but let’s do our best to gravitate to the facts and truth and do so in a civil manner. If we continue to participate in tribal chest beating, the only people who come out ahead are the people who use these distractions to get what they want. These are the funders who roil the waters of discord to obfuscate their desire for limited oversight over what they are doing.

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2023/01/20/tami-pyfer-dignify-politics-00078409

No delusions – poor governance in action

In case you had any delusions that the new majority in the US House would offer up good governance, please note:

– Returning Congress representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar have been seated on Committees by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, after being removed in the last Congress for their inflammatory and inane remarks. When I think of Greene and Gosar, the words reasonable and collaborative are not top of mind.

– New Congressman George Santos, the one with the highly fabricated resume, will be seated on two Committees by Speaker McCarthy. Instead of advocating for his being censured or even removed, Santos gets two Committee assignments. I guess the Speaker holds lying in higher regard than most people. Either that or he needed his vote to remain Speaker and will put up with anything.

– Numerous bills have been proposed to restrict voting. As an independent voter, the greater problem in America is not enough people voting. So, these bills are the opposite of what is needed, in my simple view. It is highly disappointing that people have been led to believe that there is a huge voter fraud problem. There is not. Yet Republicans seized on this issue because the former president has too shallow an ego to admit he lost and they must have cheated him.

I have stayed away from a key policy difference which is how to go about reducing first our deficit and debt. Once again, the Republicans have pretended to care about the deficit when not in the White House by trying to alter our credit limit not our pocketbook cash flow. The expenditures have already been made, so we need more money and less outflow. The last time our debt limit was held hostage by Senator Ted Cruz, he would later go on to vote for a tax reduction to increase the debt by about $2 trillion, so he obviously did not care that much about it.

I have called the Speaker again to share my disappointment with the three committee assignments. We need serious-minded people to discuss our issues and possible solutions in a serious manner. These three folks have not shown an ability to do that. As for the voting restrictions, if you have to manage turn out to win, then maybe it is your message.

A solution to US debt – listen to Maya MacGuineas

I have long said anyone can promote a tax cut. Actually, in the right crowd I may use a couple of more descriptive words to define how easy it is. In truth, it is not hard to sell. Same goes with beating on the IRS. No one likes the IRS (or your country’s version of it), but it performs a necessary service. Our government cannot function without revenue. So, tax cuts and being critical of the IRS appears to be, but is not necessarily good governance. Often it is just the opposite.

With our US debt the way it is fast approaching $30 trillion and building toward more than $40 trillion, some poor president is going to run on raising taxes and cutting expenses and last only one term if he or she delivers on that needed promise. Think of what happened to the Greece president who put them in an austerity program to avoid them going belly-up a few years ago.

If that happened in the US, the president will have done a great service, but will be fired for it. So, what we need is a person with smarts, diplomacy, and chutzpah. We need someone who has the respect of many across party lines.

I have just the person for the job. Her name is Maya MacGuineas who is the Director of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. She is held in high regard by leadership of both parties. I would love to see her help set in motion the resolution to the problem.

MacGuineas is a Northwestern University graduate with a masters from Harvard University.

Per Wikipedia, “MacGuineas served briefly at the Brookings Institution early in her career, then spent two years at Paine Webber as an equity analyst on Wall Street. She also advised the 2000 presidential campaign of John McCain on Social Security.

She became a senior fellow and director of the Fiscal Policy Program at New America (organization)] At New America, she oversaw its work on the federal budget, entitlement programs, and taxes.

In 2009, she did a stint on the editorial board of The Washington Post. She previously served on the Board of Directors of Common Cause. She also served on the Domenici-Rivlin Debt Reduction Task Force.

She currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Penn-Wharton Budget Model. She is Co-Chair of the National Budgeting Roundtable.

MacGuineas also serves on the Economic Strategy Group of the Aspen Institute. In addition, she is a Member of the National Academy of Social Insurance.

Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

MacGuineas has served as president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a non-partisan public policy organization dedicated to fiscal issues, since 2003. The Committee has been described as a “budget watchdog” by The Hill (newspaper). In 2018, she noted that she is a political independent and that the Committee is critical of both parties.

Under her leadership, the Committee grew in stature as it became a prominent voice for tackling rising national debt that is projected to reach record levels as a share of the economy in the years to come. A Roll Call article stated, “the previously obscure organization, a home for former federal budget officials, has been pulled into the spotlight, speaking to what its members and supporters argue is the overriding fiscal issue of the time.”[15]

In 2012, she became head of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a project of the Committee that seeks a comprehensive and bipartisan approach to addressing rising national debt. Business leaders, economists, and budget experts became involved with the Campaign, as well as thousands of grassroots supporters.

She has testified before congressional committees on several occasions. A Wall Street Journal piece described her as an ‘anti-deficit warrior.

We have a serious problem with our debt and it will get worse. The solutions must include tax increases and spending cuts. The math will not otherwise work. Do not let anyone tell you it will. They are blowing smoke at you. Both are needed. Let’s give her the job of president and tell the folks in Congress to listen to her guidance. She wields a data-driven set of approaches that will help if done in concert.