Expansion of the Chris Rock Solution

One of the funniest, yet provocative routines performed by the comedian Chris Rock is his proposal to solve gun violence. Price the bullets at $5,000 per bullet. He goes on to describe, as only he can, that shooters will become very judicious with how they use ammunition at that price point.

I was thinking of his idea today and thought it might be a good strategy on other things that are causing problems in America. Civil protest need only require a permit, yet if you bring a weapon that will cost extra. Bring a bat, baton or stick and that will be $5,000 per weapon per person. Bring a knife, sword, dagger, etc., that will be $10,000. Bring a hand gun or rifle that will be $25,000. Someone has to pay for the police cost.

If Congress wants to fund raise on our tax dollars, that will be $5,000 for two hours worth of calling payable by the political party. In person fund raising will be $10,000. If a lobbyist wants to talk with you, they must pay Treasury $25,000.

As for making people tell the truth, if a news agency tells a falsehood and doesn’t visibly retract a story, $100,000 fine. If a President or member of Congress tells a falsehood without a visible retraction, $25,000. If a story is repeated, the fine is tripled. If the politician hits ten lies, the fine is tripled, as well.

The job to collect national fines will be imposed on the Secretary of the Treasury. Local fines can be collected by the City Tax Collectors. Failure to pay, will double the fine and require public disclosure by name and party. This may cause folks to think about how they use their time. It would also help with our deficit and debt.

Climate of Hope

One of the positives of the US President pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord is it has galvanized the many who see the need to act to save our planet. Coupling the US exit with the President placing climate change deniers and fossil fuel supporters in key cabinet roles, he has placed the US government at the kids table, while the adults talk about solving the world’s problems.

Fortunately, even the President’s actions cannot stop the momentum as a tipping point on renewable energy and other efforts have been reached. As reported in the book “Climate of Hope,” by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Executive Director of the Sierra Club Carl Pope, cities, businesses and citizens have been leading the way. This is important as cities are significant contributors to climate change and can therefore make a huge dent in ameliorating its effect. And, they are sharing their successes formally and informally.

Some of these efforts include:

– Restoring and renovating older buildings into green buildings. Bloomberg touts the renovation of the 1931 built Empire State as a key example.

– Building new structures with an even greener footprint. In India they deploy white rooftops to reflect away the sun to minimize cooling costs, e.g,

– Building more pedestrian areas which provide safer and eco-friendly access to shops, restaurants and businesses. These car free zones actually are part of a solution to reroute traffic to reduce carbon polluting stoppage.

– Building with buffers to allow nature to do its jobs to absorb the pounding of the ocean, since,  so many large cities are coastal cities with some below sea level. We should use nature to provide defenses that stand the test of time.

– Developing master traffic plans embracing car sharing, ride sharing, bike sharing, pedestrian pathways, electric vehicles from buses to taxis, and the elegant use of mass transit based on capital needs and restrictions. Bloomberg is big on measuring things, so installing GPS in New York taxis allowed them to measure success and make modifications to their plans as executed.

– Planting more carbon saving trees in cities and other areas, as well as using other plants such as mangroves in coastal areas as they suck carbon out of the air.

– Conserving food and reducing wastage. We waste huge amounts of food, both before and after it is cooked. Imperfect fruits and vegetables go straight to the dumps unless concentrated efforts prevent it and guide distribution to other users. Buying local saves on transportation costs and emissions, as well.

– Challenging manufacturers for efficient production and distribution. For example, a significant amount of wood goes to pallets that are tossed after one use. Look to more durable pallets that can be reused. Plus, the US does an excellent job of distributing products by rail and can do even better, as the rest of the world improves their efforts. These transmodal distribution centers that marry the efforts of ships, planes, trains and trucks provide huge efficiences and enhance trade.

– Dissuading the building of new coal plants. Active efforts have reduced coal from over 53% market share in 1990 to 30% market share of energy in 2016. Market forces are reducing this further as natural gas became cheaper and renewable energy cost fell to become more on par with coal. If new coal plants must be built, do it in concert with retiring older, less efficient plants.

– Making investment funds available to pay for upfront costs for renewable energy in countries that have fewer capital funding sources. India could do even more with available funding, especially as they electrify more of the country.

The great news is these things are happening. And, they are being shared. Please read this book. It is brief and optimistic. Also, watch the soon to be released sequel to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” Then spread the news about what is happening.

To be frank, these actions are positive and smart irrespective of one’s stance on climate change. And, a final note from Bloomberg is the millennials are paying attention. They want to work in places that are doing their part to fight climate change. Think about that as you plan.

Are you sure you want to double down on fossil fuels?

The United Kingdom just announced it will ban sales of combustible engine cars in 2040. Australia announced the same week the planned development of a super highway for electric cars, complete with charging stations.

These announcements come a month after France made a similar decision to the more recent UK one to ban combustible cars and Volvo said they would no longer make combustible cars after 2019. And, not to be outdone, several cities like Paris, Mexico City, Madrid et al, want to ban combustible cars much sooner by 2025.

In fact, as reported in the book “Climate of Hope” by former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Sierra Club ED Carl Pope, cities around the world are leading the way on the climate change fight. They are making huge strides in making buildings more green, improving the time for taxis and cars to move across the city which produces less exhaust, developing more pedestrian and bike areas that improve safety and Eco footprint and migrating to hybrid and electric vehicles among other things. Bloomberg cites large buildings as a huge impact on carbon emissions, so improvements like NYC made with the 1931 built Empire State Building pays dividends.

Lastly, the shareholders of three energy companies – ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum and PPL – voted in May to require management to report their climate change impact and plans to reduce such impact to the shareholders. It is not ironic that ExxonMobil is being investigated by three state attorney generals for alleged past misrepresentation to shareholders of the impact of climate change on its business, which would be a securities crime.

So, back to my question in the title which is addressed to the US President, EPA Director and DOE Director, are you sure you want to double down on fossil fuels? Or, would you rather acknowledge the significant movement toward renewable energy and conservation in your own country and invest in the true growth industries and our environment?

Sunday sermon-ettes, the sequel

Good Sunday morning all and enjoy the day. A few tidbits have been bouncing around in my head, so I will commit them to writing for your review and critique. The tidbits are light on religious tone.

Guns and butter: For some reason, in the US we spend more time discussing protecting the right to own a 34th assault weapon than feeding 34 people. We have far too many food deserts in our country where the closest food is a convenience store. Far too many in our country are undernourished. Yet, pick up any local paper on any day of the week, and you will find multiple gun killing stories. Better gun governance is essential, but it is a nonstarter with the NRA who is more interested in gun sales. I think our priorities are off.

Kicking poor people in the teeth: Along those same lines, our President is pushing the Republicans in the Senate to vote on whether to kick 22 million Americans in the teeth or 34 million, many of whom are in poverty or near poverty. It should be noted the President said he would not touch Medicaid. I guess that detail escapes him in his desire to have a photo op of him signing something.

Brexit is a hard pill to swallow: The word Brexit sounds like one of those new fangled drugs to cure something you did not know you should worry about. I think voters were not told the whole story and many are wishing they had a do over. As foretold, the financial companies who based their EU regional business in London, are making definitive plans to move. Bank of America just announced a move to Dublin, Citigroup is moving folks to Frankfurt and other places, and Japanese banks are doing likewise. While I  understand the desire to fully govern your future, the UK is harming its future growth. That is not just my opinion, but that of financial experts.

Shrinking to greatness is not a good strategy: Speaking of financial growth, limiting relationships with other countries is not conducive to growth. And, a venture capitalist noted that what creates jobs is customers. Plus, when we discuss global trade, we need to reflect the whole picture and that is the foreign owned companies who make things here with American workers. Why? Selling big durable products is more cost effective and less risky if they are not shipped from abroad. Just ask BMW, Toyota, Husqvarna, Michelin, Mercedes, Volvo, Mitsibishi, etc. about their plants here in the US.

The bible says many things: There is a minister who upsets a few applecarts by preaching that the bible should not be cherry-picked to support points of view. His obvious example is in Genesis where God tells Adam and Eve to go forth and multiply and then gets mad at them when they like being naked with each other. The question is how did they know how to go forth and multiply? The minister’s premise is we should take away the overarching messages that are taught therein and remember the context of when the bible was written.

So, on that note, go enjoy your day, whether you choose to practice your multiplication tables or not.


Gone to seed

We have a poverty problem in the United States. Too many of our declining middle class did not rise to the next strata, falling instead, to near poverty and into poverty. Yet, we do not talk about this problem enough. We have let their ladders out of poverty, go to seed along with their environment.

Poverty should be succinctly defined, as it is often misdefined along with simplistic diagnoses. Quite simply, poverty is the lack of money. The causes are many and complex, so the solutions must be holistic.

Some like to say it is due to lack of virtue. Some like to say it is due to lack of work ethic, while others may claim it is due to drug use or alcoholism. When I work with people in poverty, I witness hard working, often pious people. I see people with a lesser propensity to do drugs than general society.

If we recognize the simple definition of poverty as lack of money, we can focus our attention on providing ladders out of poverty. We can invest in the communities that have gone to seed, both with economic and social capital. We can start with redeveloping depleted assets. The term coined with a successful program in Atlanta is ABCD – Asset Based Comminuty Development.

ABCD could focus on repairing and not closing a community school, recognizing the during and after school value it offers. Or, it could be redeveloping a gone to seed golf course or empty textile or tobacco mill. Or, it could be repurposing a mall to be a school, church, charity or governmental building. Replacing or refurbishing blighted assets makes a huge difference.

Coupled with these investments must be education and career development, or social investments. Jobs and careers are scarce in too many areas. Opportunities must be introduced and nurtured to make them sustainable. STEM education, apprenticeships, trades skills are part of an all of the above tactical strategy,

But, we must be mindful of four negative trends in areas that have gone to seed – crime, opioids, food deserts  and single families. Community policing by people living in the community is key. Targeted help with the opiod epidemic is important. Better food choices must be available as they may not have a grocery market. And, we must have holistic sex education and access to planned parenthood tools and birth control.

What we cannot have is kicking tens of millions off health care insurance. We cannot reduce an already minuscule food stamps program. We need to think about improving the minimum wage.

These are just a few ideas. But, first we need to address what people in poverty lack – money.




Thursday needs a song and a few other thoughts

Off the top of my head, I am having a hard time thinking of a song with Thursday in the title or chorus. As I write this, I can remember a few songs for the other days of the week, with Wednesday being the hardest one to recall. So, with a special shout out to Thursday, here are a few odds and ends.

I mentioned in a comment earlier this week that Tesla is on target for rolling out 250,000 of its new affordable electric car. The car sells for US$35,000, is fun to drive and can go 215 miles on a charge. It should be noted that Elon Musk’s Tesla is one of the leading edge innovators on advanced battery storage.

I read yesterday in Reuters that Geely Volvo will only produce electric and hybrid cars after 2019. Let that statement sink in a little. Volvo will not produce combustible engine cars after 2019. I want you to think about that as the President wants to increase fossil fuel production. Apparently, Geely Volvo sees a different future.

At the same time these articles appeared, Scott Pruitt, who heads the EPA decided to spend our tax money in delving further into the climate change is a hoax theory. This is after the EPA removed various research links to papers and work on climate science from its website at Pruitt’s order. This alternative research flies in the face of peer reviewed science that questions the veracity of findings. Apparently “making America great again” means to throw away our advantage and let the world pass us by.

Finally, just to further this point, ice floes off of Antarctica are melting at a faster pace than expected. Now, we should note that when floating ice melts, it does not by itself contribute to sea level rise. But, these ice floes protect the land ice and, once gone, the land ice will melt at a faster pace and that will impact sea level rise.

So, Messers. Trump and Pruitt, are you quite sure we want to leave the Paris Climate Change Accord, focus on climate change denial and invest more heavily in fossil fuels? Yes, this is about the environment, but is also about jobs. The jobs are growing much faster in renewable energy and related industries.

Undoing how we make decisions

Best-selling author Michael Lewis’ latest book is called “The Undoing Project – A Friendship that Changed our Minds” which focuses on how we make decisions. Two transplanted Israeli psychologists named Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky partnered together for years and were acclaimed for their work in showing we are less rational decision-makers than we think we are, especially where risk is involved.

In short, we include our biases in how we interpret data and probabilities, so we do not all see the issue the same way. But, even more telling is we can be influenced by how the question is posed to us. Their analysis eventually led to a Nobel Prize in Economics, which was awarded to Kahneman after Tversky had passed away. The reason is their work created a new breed of economics called “Behavioral Economics.” But, their work had converts using it in the practice of medicine, setting public policy and even in making NBA draft picks. They ask that people step back and question things. Your bias may lead you to pick the most improbable cause or choice, so if you question yourself and others you may find the best probable path forward.

The other key takeaway is the tremendous partnership these two had over the years. They were very different personalities, yet it was difficult for them to know who had more input into their work. They often flipped a coin to decide whose name should go first in a paper. Their partnership was so constructive, it was difficult on people in the US who tend to believe one of the partners was a greater contributor. Tversky, being more outgoing and confident, was more easily and incorrectly thought of as the lead. Kahneman questioned everything even when he was far more right than wrong, so he came across as less confident. Ironically, it was his questioning things that challenged Tversky to reconsider strong positions. They yin and yanged like an old married couple.

It would be difficult for me to define their work in such a short piece, so let me share some of their examples which may be illustrative. Their most famous piece is called “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk.” If you were given two options where (1) gave you a 50% chance to win $1,000 and (2) provided a gift of $500, most people would pick (2) as a sure thing. Yet, if the question is reframed and the two options were (3) which gave you 50% chance to lose $1,000 and (4) which provided a sure loss of $500, most everyone would pick (3) the gamble.

As they dived further into questions like this, they discovered that people would regret losing the sure thing as they did not have the money, yet were more risky with money they did not have. When they altered the probability of winning or losing, the same result would occur, even when the odds were much more in your favor to win (or not lose). But, they also learned how the questions were framed made a huge difference.

If an Asian disease was expected to kill 600 people and you could take one of the following actions, which one would you choose where Option (1) would save 200 people and (2) had a 1/3 chance of saving all 600 and a 2/3 chance of saving none? Most people chose Option (1) to save 200 people. Yet, if the question is framed as Option (3) where 400 people would die and (4) where there is a 1/3 chance none would die and 2/3 chance all would die, most people chose Option (4). Yet, it is the same question.

Another key concept they introduced through study is “representativeness.” If you added information to a question, people would believe the greater accuracy meant they should choose that option. This would even be true if the information added was irrelevant or unimportant. In other words, if something is described in more detail than other options, it creates an information bias. They illustrated this to be true with experts in a field, as well as with laypersons.

Lewis uses the example of medical doctor who embraced Kahneman and Tversky’s work named Don Redelmeier. Redelmeier would question quick conclusions by doctors made under stress, where they would use information bias. A good example came when a car accident left a woman with an irregular heartbeat after they treated her. The doctors hung their hat on the fact she had a medical history of excess thyroid hormones and just assumed that was causing the irregularity.

Yet, this was a remote probability. They were led down this path because of the extra piece of information. Redelmeier had them question this remote idea and look further. It turned out the more likely cause was indeed the reason for the irregular heartbeat – a collapsed lung from the accident. Because they had more information on a condition, they stopped looking for other causes that did not obviously surface.

I encourage you to read the book for the two reasons Lewis wrote it. It is more than just the work of Kahneman and Tversky on making decisions. It is also about how two different people can collaborate so successfully and be far more together than they were separately. They valued this partnership and made it work well for them and us.

Note: Lewis also wrote “The Blind Side,” “Moneyball,” “Liar’s Poker” and “The Big Short,” to name a few.