Hey Dems, focus on these four issues

One of this Independent voter’s frustrations with politics, which is exacerbated by this President, is pressing issues are not getting discussed. And, some are made worse or are sabotaged by the current White House incumbent as we are told to focus our attention on issues he has overstated in importance or sold on fear.

While there are many issues, it is hard to boil the ocean. So, my advice to all politicians, but especially the Democrats who are pushing these ideas, is to narrow the focus to the following four issues.

– Stabilize the healthcare system and have a good debate on Medicare for All, which is a hard sell. The GOP has failed to realize that a reason they lost the House is not listening to most Americans, instead sabotaging the ACA reneging on commitments to insurers and trying to repeal it. As a retired benefits actuary, consultant and manager. I would suggest an idea to stabilize the ACA is to expand Medicare to retirees at age 60 or 62 and measure the impact for its veracity. But, we need to start by paying insurers what we committed to them.

– Climate change is real, is happening and is man-influenced. AOC is dramatizing a little about the end of the world, but the data point she is citing is if we do not make huge strides by 2030 (12 years), our ability to stop the warming trend impact is minimal. She has been ridiculed for he Green New Deal by the GOP, but I would rather discuss her plan than Senator Marco Rubio ignoring the fact the largest city in Florida is the most at risk city on the planet and is seeing a larger number of sunny days flooding from the rising tides. Who is the crazier person, the one speaking to a problem or the one ignoring it altogether?

– Job retraining is key, but we need to understand the major reasons the jobs are going away are technology/ robotics and CEOs chasing cheap labor. It is not immigration or trade, which are down the list. This especially true in those impoverished areas where industry has left them behind moving or closing a plant.

– Finally, the debt and deficit are critical to discuss. The debt just passed $22 trillion and is headed to $34 trillion by the end of 2027. The annual deficit will pass $1 trillion this year, which is nearly 1/3 of our annual revenue. My former party and, in particular, the Freedom Caucus, are as hypocritical as they come. When the Dems had the White House, the Freedom Caucus screamed bloody murder when the debt was $8 trillion, then $13 trillion. But, I give the same caution to Dems I give to the GOP, we must reduce spending and increase revenue. The math will not work otherwise, so says the CBO, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, The Concord Coalition and Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee.

Of course, there are other critical issues. But, if you focus on the important few, it will resonate. This is especially true for younger folks – climate change, debt, future jobs and healthcare are important. In my view, the GOP has lost its way on issues of import. When I left the party twelve years ago, a key reason was its global warming denying stance. My thesis is if you are denying the greatest threat facing our planet, how can I trust you on resolving other issues?

We are behind the eight ball on too many issues. We are leaving our problems to our children and grandchildren. They will ask us, why did you do that? Why, indeed?

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Corporate shareholders are acting on climate change

While fossil-fuel funded politicians avoid addressing climate change and strip away governance enabling industry polluters, shareholders have been picking up the baton. Last week, Reuters published an article called “Chevron ties executive pay to methane and flaring reduction,” which defines specific gas emissions targets.

The article penned by Jennifer Hiller notes that it is not just executives with incentive plan targets to reduce emissions. 45,000 employees also have incentive plan emission targets. In other words, their pay is tied to combatting climate change. The intermediate goal is to reduce gas emissions by 25% by 2023.

While Chevron is the first to tie incentives to reducing gas emissions, in the month before the current US President announced our pullout of the Paris Climate Change Accord, three energy companies -ExxonMobil, PP&L and Occidental Petroleum – announced shareholder votes requiring management to report on efforts to address climate change. The Exxon-Mobil vote is telling in that they face a shareholder lawsuit and one by the New York Attorney General, Barbara Underwood, for misrepresenting the impact of climate change on their business to investors.

Per The Guardian, the NYAG lawsuit notes Exxon’s “longstanding fraudulent scheme” to downplay the impact of climate change including under-representing the “proxy costs” of fossil-fuel extraction. This lawsuit follows a three-year investigation and uses Exxon’s own research and scientists’ speeches against them. Before they took a “global warming is a hoax” public relations stance around the turn of the century. Exxon was active in climate change research. Even Shell produced a video in the 1990s that was made for educational purposes about the dangers of climate change.

But, it does not stop there. Well before fossil-fuel company shareholders made these impositions on management, more forward thinking companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, IKEA and Walmart have invested in renewable energy like wind and solar energy. IKEA and Walmart are using their expansive store rooftops to place solar panels, while the three technology companies have used all of the above renewable energy strategies to power their  data centers. In my state of NC, these companies have helped propel the state forward as a top four solar energy state.

Let me close with my favorite Super Bowl commercial of last week, Budweiser produced a commercial that noted their beer is now being produced by wind energy. Seeing the Clydesdales meander down a road surrounded by windmills was a beautiful sight. It showed this is not a future goal – it is here. And, just to show it is making a difference, over 1/3 of Iowa’s electricity is produced by wind energy and Germany just announced renewable energy now exceeds coal energy as the biggest electricity source and they plan to be 100% renewable energy powered by 2038, twenty years from now.

This, that and another thing

Now that the state of the union and Democrat rebuttal are behind us, it would be nice if an independent voter had a turn. On the talk (and some shouting) shows, the independent views do not get heard enough and that is disappointing. For once, it would be illuminating for a member of neither party to share their thoughts.

For example, we might learn:

  • Global warming really is a concern and we should be doing something about it. On Bill Maher’s Friday show,  he noted that Senator Marco Rubio used the argument against the President for declaring a national emergency to build the wall, as what would stop President Kamala Harris from doing so to address climate change? Maher correctly pointed out the latter is becoming a national emergency, while the wall is not even a top ten issue and is overblown as a solution. He also noted, with the very real concerns over Miami, Rubio may become the Senator of Atlantis.
  •  A growing debt which is around $22 trillion with an annual deficit about to hit $1 trillion is a problem, especially with the deficit in a good economy. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget models the debt to be around $34 trillion at the end of the 2027 fiscal year. We must have spending cuts and revenue increases both. The math will not otherwise work. If a politician tells you differently, he or she is lying to you. Don’t let them.
  • The Affordable Care Act and Obamacare are the same thing. So is KyNect in Kentucky. Too many people still don’t realize this in the GOP. But, don’t look to politicians to solve this, as they really do not understand how our complex healthcare system works. We need to stabilize the ACA and stop sabotaging it, as the GOP has done.  My recommendation as a retired benefits consultant, actuary and manager is to fund money promised to insurance companies to pay for adverse selection and committed to deductibles, copays for people beneath 2 1/2 times the poverty limit. I would also expand Medicare as a pilot, measured effort to retirees below age 65, such as 60 or 62. This will reduce the cost rate in the exchanges and Medicare. The remaining states need to get off the dime and expand Medicaid – it is a no brainer per GOP Governor John Kasich.
  •  Addressing America’s crumbling infrastructure would help rebuild assets and provide good jobs. We also need to build on the community college system with some added funding to retrain people to do the jobs of the future, as technology claims even more (this is the major threat, not immigration or trade). Also, building on the bipartisan idea pitched to the President last year by Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman from Ohio, we should co-invest with car manufacturers to retool plants to make the cars in demand and keep the factories open. This idea was ignored and the President was offended when GM announced some plant closings.
  •  There are so many more ideas around rethinking ill-conceived tariffs and trade fights, poverty issues, and gun governance, but let me make a general statement that is important. Start treating our allies and citizens with fairness and dignity. Stop the adversarial BS. A country and business makes more money long term by having a productive long term relationship. We need to stop measuring success on short-term transactions. Listen to your advisors as they actually study our problems. And, stop beating up on a free press. From where I sit, they are not perfect, but the true journalists try to get it right. The main source of fake news in the country sits in the oval office and he only cares about looking good.

Well, that is enough for now. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Real problems are not getting addressed

In lieu of focusing on problems that have been overstated by fear and misinformation, several real problems remain. Just to name a few – $22 trillion in debt with an expected $1 trillion annual deficit; ill-crafted tariffs which are slowing the global economy; increasing poverty and hunger; climate change interventions; infrastructure needs that are ticking time bombs; retraining workers impacted by technology; domestic terrorism and gun deaths; and stabilizing the ACA. These are the concerns of this independent voter, who has belonged to both parties.

Note: I wish to applaud Germany for announcing last Friday they plan to phase out coal energy by 2038. It should be noted that in 2018, renewable energy surpassed coal energy in Germany. This is what can be done when real problems are addressed with planning. The US is doing many good things with renewable energy, but it could do so much more with supportive federal leadership.

Wednesday wanders and wonders

With the backdrop of Del Shannon’s “The Wanderer,” let me wander a little as I wonder. In no particular order:

HBO is running a movie called “Brexit,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the lead of the “Vote Leave” campaign. I would ask my British friends to comment, but it is interesting as much as it is scary. There are several takeaways – the slow realization by the “Vote Remain” campaign that the leave movement was playing off fears and insecurities that had been festering over time. The others are how targeted the analytics and persuasion technologies are and how poorly thought of the faces of the leave campaign – Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson – are by their own side. One thing is for certain, the leave campaign glossed over how long and complex leaving the EU would be, per the words of the man who led the campaign in later testimony.

On a related, but scarier front, it was reported today that Russia and China are filling the global void being left open by a retrenching US and a very distracted UK. This is not a surprise as it is part of a presumed strategy to disrupt the west. The elegance of Putin’s strategy is not just helping promote the election of a mercurial US President, the leave vote with Brexit or the disruption of Syrian refugees in Europe, it is the divisiveness in each of the affected countries that continue to this day. To Putin, social media is like shooting fish in a barrel, as that is what he was trained to do.

Tomorrow, the US Senate is having two base appeasing votes to reopen the government, neither one standing a chance of passing. The hope is they will get down to business afterwards and come up with an acceptable compromise. To be frank, I am long passed tired of legislators governing off the extremes. If the President continues to be influenced by entertainers and personalities rather than sober, sound data-driven advice, then good governance will prove difficult. It is equally imperative for the Democrats to govern less from the extreme. A closed government is hurting people. It matters not which party is to blame.

I want these three items in your mind as you think of this last thought. As the US and UK chase their tails at home, the leaders of these two countries are absent from a global economic forum in Davos. To me, that speaks volumes.

Letter to Democrat Members of Congress

All, please consider sending the following to select Democrat Senators and representatives. Please feel free to reshape it to suit your needs and style. I feel the opportunity exists to make a deal to reopen the government.
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As an independent voter who has belonged to both parties, I have been critical of the President for his lack of good faith bargaining and use of fear and misinformation to sell over-simplified solutions. I have also been critical of GOP Congressional members for not governing acquiescing to the President’s commands.

With this context, I ask you to use this opportunity with the packaged offer of the President to gain acceptable terms and re-open the government. I recognize fully this attempt by the President is more to deflect blame, but people are being hurt by the shutdown and it is time to act.

So, I beseech you to find terms that will be acceptable and make a deal. Tell Senator McConnell what could be added to make it acceptable. It is time. As this lingers further, more of the mud from this shutdown will rightfully get on on Democrats. Yes, the President caused this shutdown, but it takes two sides to have a communication problem.

And now, a word from George Will

I have noted before the significant number of respected conservative pundits and editorialists who have shared concerns over the President. George Will, a long time conservative, is among those who see the damage being done by the man in the White House. Like other conservative critics, his voice should be one that is heeded by those conservatives who are not totally in lock-step with the President.

In his most recent column called “Trump’s misery is also country’s,” Will is hypercritical of both the policies and behavior of the current President. He is also not too keen on the current Senate leadership for not doing their job to govern, being too interested in acquiescing to the President’s commands.

As for policy, he cited several examples, but two jump out. He is critical of the Trump and the GOP leadership as he notes, “Except that after two years of unified government under the party that formerly claimed to care about fiscal facts and rectitude, the nation faces a $1 trillion deficit during brisk growth and full employment.”

Will also notes concern over the US getting out of a trade deal designed to compete with China. He said, “The President’s most consequential exercise of power has been the abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, opening the way for China to fill the void of US involvement.” It should be noted the agreement went forward without the US and has become effective for six countries at the beginning of this year, with five others coming online later this year.

But, Will leaves his harshest criticism for the President’s behavior which has been destabilizing. He writes “Still the ubiquity of his (Trump’s) outpourings in the media’s outpourings gives American life its current claustrophobic feel.”  Will goes on to note that “He (Trump) is an inexpressibly sad specimen…He seems to have as many friends as his self-centeredness allows, and as he has earned in an entirely transactional life.”

As a result of Trump, Will notes the “GOP needs an entirely new vocabulary. Pending that, the party is resorting to crybaby conservatism: We are being victimized by ‘elites, markets, Wall Street, foreigners, etc.'”  This is what unfolds when fear is used as the key selling point. Principles are thrown aside, as exaggerations, over-simplifications, misinformation and lies paint others as bogeymen and the reason for any problems you might have.

As noted earlier, Will does not stand alone among conservative writers. My friends in the GOP and who have more conservative leanings need to pay more attention to people like him, Erik Erickson, Steve Schmidt, David Brooks, Michael Gerson, Ross Douthat and others, and less to those who the President seems to hold in high cotton. These are not Democrats who are raising concerns. These are people whose opinion used to matter more to Republicans and conservatives. They still should.