On the downhill side of hump day

Tomorrow, the infamous Mueller report will be released in redacted form. Of course, the AG has called a press conference, so there are no guarantees. I would not be surprised by anything at this point. I do see a scared President.

What I find interesting is Giuliani and crowd are preparing a rebuttal, yet we have been told they had not see the report. I did not believe this for one bit, but I find it odd that you can write a rebuttal to a report you have not seen.

What I also find interesting is how someone can tout the summary conclusions that the AG offered and then denigrate the underlying report. This was akin to Trump saying Michael Cohen lied to Congress, except when he was bragging on Trump.

Herman Cain said he will keep his hat in the race for the Federal Reserve Board. This is giving the GOP Senate leaders heartburn as they see him as unqualified and unfit based on past issues. They have a right to be concerned, in my opinion.

Mayor Pete has some sound advice for his fellow Democrat Presidential candidates – do not make this about Trump bashing. I agree. Mayor Pete has impressed every where he has gone for interviews.

Speaking of impressing, Bernie impressed the Town Hall attendees on Fox. Dems need to do more of this, as their message is overall better than the current President and GOP. It is not perfect and needs to move to the center more, but talking about healthcare, job training, climate change, e.g. is much better than a border wall. By the way, the President, who feels Fox is his network, has fumed twice for Fox hosting Bernie. I find this amusing.

Finally, I was quite tickled when the President started criticizing Bernie’s taxes that he released. The response should be simple – “Mr. President, you are welcome to do this as I realized my tax returns. Where are yours? What are you hiding?”

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Mobile homes aren’t too mobile and create financial risk

John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” may have a comedic bent, but is one of the best news shows around. The latest episode included a detailed look at the mobile home industry. The key takeaway is private investor groups prey upon the mobile (and modular) home buyers through a rigged system.

Between a truly captive audience (more on this later), the fact the significant majority of mobile home buyers rent the land underneath, and the predatory lending and sales practices, the buyers are at the mercy of greedy players in a shady industry. Adding to that, the value of the mobile home will only depreciate (like an auto), so the buyer truly must beware.

We have come to this problem as several conditions have culminated together. We have an increasing number of “have-nots” in America, so mobile or modular homes are the most affordable route. The mobile home park owners have consolidated and were purchased by several private investor groups, but even the larger regional players operate under this rigged system. These folks see a market to squeeze. Finally, if the buyers do not own the land, they are truly held hostage.

Why? Over 80% of mobile homes never move due to the cost of moving. The property owners know this, so they annually jack up the rent increasing by exorbitant amounts. The renters are then inundated by collection agencies who get them to pay. When they cannot, they eventually move, leaving their home behind. Then, the property owner takes possession of the abandoned home and rents it out.

Finally, the sellers of these products often own the financing agency offering a turn-key purchase. The loans are more like predatory car loans than they are mortgages. So, the interest is higher than normal at the same time the rent is getting increased.

Oliver’s show highlights a couple of the players in the industry. One property owner has sites in 25 states and offers seminars on how to gouge your captive tenants. In one instance, this property owner referred to his tenants as “like being chained to a Waffle House table.”

There is a small movement afoot which will allow homeowners to buy the mobile home park land en masse, as a right of first refusal. Nonprofit funders are helping make this happen. What is needed is more states to have right of first refusal laws, so that the property is not sold to a predatory landlord.

The other need is education. If you must buy a mobile or modular home, place it on land you own or in a tenant owned development. Also, seek better financing than what is offered by the seller. But, know going in this home will not go up in value. If you buy a modular home for $50,000, it may be only worth $10,000 in a few years.

The “have-nots” have little recourse in this industry. Education is a must, as you will truly become a hostage in your home.

 

 

Renewable energy has become cheaper than coal

An article in The Guardian caught my eye yesterday, entitled “‘Coal is on the way out’: study finds fossil fuel now pricier than solar or wind.” This is not surprising to me as the production costs of solar and wind energy have significantly dropped over time, yet it likely catches some as a big surprise. Per the article:

“Around three-quarters of US coal production is now more expensive than solar and wind energy in providing electricity to American households, according to a new study.

‘Even without major policy shift we will continue to see coal retire pretty rapidly,’ said Mike O’Boyle, the co-author of the report for Energy Innovation, a renewables analysis firm. ‘Our analysis shows that we can move a lot faster to replace coal with wind and solar. The fact that so much coal could be retired right now shows we are off the pace.'”

When all of the costs are factored in, coal is even more expensive than indicated above. For example, coal energy continues to be costly long after it is burned through ash maintenance, leakage and litigation. Yet, now production costs are largely higher for coal than renewables. As the article notes the decline of coal is passed the tipping point.

But, don’t just take the word of this article. In the first two years of the Trump Presidency, more coal plants have been closed than in the entire first four-year term of Obama’s Presidency. This would have happened anyway regardless of who was President, but I mention Trump as even someone who campaigned on keeping coal plants open cannot stave off this trend.

If that is insufficient, note there are currently more than four times the number of solar jobs than coal jobs in the US. And, the wind energy jobs are growing very quickly in the Midwest, with Texas, Iowa, North Dakota, and Minnesota among others leading the way. In an article called “Will 2019 be the year of the turbine – wind energy continues to surge in Texas” in the Caller Times, in 2017 Texas provided about 15% of its energy through wind and has and will continue to increase that percentage in 2018 and beyond.

I feel for the coal miners, but they are owed the truth and help in retraining for new jobs and some transitional financial support. In the same areas where coal is found, the wind blows and sun shines. I implore legislators to help invest in the new economy in these areas. This should have been happening all along as this trend is not new.

 

 

Saturday in the park (redux)

It is a beautiful spring day and we just got back from a walk. With due credit to the band Chicago, hum “Saturday in the park,” as you read on.

– Speaking of walking, there were multiple hundreds of thousands marching in London pleading for another Brexit referendum. Some of it has to do with Parliament’s inability to plan a smooth exit, but the large part is due to Brexit being a financially imprudent idea.

– The Mueller report is in and I encourage a large dose of patience. Let people read and digest the thing. Plus, this is just the end of one phase, with much more to come. Future indictments will likely come from the Southern District of New York and be of a campaign finance or conflict of interest nature. Spiking the ball in the endzone is premature, especially when dealing with such an untruthful man.

– Boeing is in a heap of hurt, with an order for 50 737’s being canceled. Training is everything and, apparently, it has been shortchanged on this unwieldy plane. A pilot said the switch from autopilot to pilot in some instances maximizes the worst attributes of both at the wrong time. Unfortunately, hundreds have died.

– Seeing the horrible flooding in the US and the cyclone damage on the east coast of Africa reminds me of a report sanctioned almost ten years ago by the largest pension trusts in the world on the financial impact of climate change. Between the increased severity of forest fires, drought, flooding and sea rising, they estimated a cost on the order of multiple tens of trillion dollar. I think that might be light as there will be an echo effect that is worse than predicted then.

– Kudos to New Zealand, its people and its  leader, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. From the heartfelt solidarity to the grieving Muslim community and nation to acting with seriousness of purpose banning assault weapons, Ardern showed what leadership looks like. As an American, I am envious of her leadership and proud we have such in our world.

Have a great weekend all. Best wishes to those in need or grieving their lost loved ones.

A fool’s errand

In my experience, people do not like to appear foolish. Yet, Mark Twain is quoted as saying it is easier to fool someone than convince him (or her) he (or she) has been fooled. With this in mind, believing the recounting of history by a man known for his untruthfulness and his disinterest in details is a fool’s errand.

In yet another attempt to point the spotlight elsewhere, the US President is denigrating a recently deceased American hero. During this head-scratching diatribe, he incorrectly said Senator John McCain obtained the fake-news Steele Dossier to sway the election.

There are two false statements in this Trump inane rant. First, McCain received the document and handed it to the FBI about a month after the election. Second, Christopher Steele is a well-respected intelligence gatherer, which increased McCain’s interest. The credible dossier has more than a few verified findings. The President is a cornered animal, so he has and will continue to attack anyone or anything to distract people.

But, inaccurately telling history is not new to Trump, as it is his modus operandi. When the US President says “I never said…” what follows is usually a lie. When he says something someone else did is “disaster,” it is not. More often than not it is some form of compromise or multi-lateral agreement where every partner gives up a little. When he says he is the smartest or best at something, I would suggest more proof.

So, when he says we achieved in 2018 an expected GDP growth rate of 3.1%, he fails to tell people that he said the tax law change would push it to 4% and pay for itself. The 3% is what economists expected, so when this was pointed out, he blamed the negative differential on Fed Chair Jerome Powell.

Folks, to believe this untruthful man on pretty much anything is unwise. But, to believe him on historical matters is truly a fool’s errand, even when it applies to himself. He tells people he grew his fortune off a small loan from his father – the truth as reported last fall is his father transferred over $400 million to his son before he died.

There is a baseball analogy for this. Trump was born on third base and likes to tell everyond he hit a triple. Please remember what Twain said.

Fast break

With the NCAA March Madness tipping off, let me use fast break as a way to quickly comment on news items. For non-basketball fans, a fast break is an attempt to score before the defense sets up after a possession change.

– Congressman Devin Nunes is suing two Twitter accounts for making fun of his questionable and unethical actions as a Committee chair. Unfortunately, he has brought more followers to the two sites.

– There are a number of experienced and quality candidates running for the Democrat Presidential nomination. Dems need to avoid the “circular firing squad syndrome” which attack candidates’ imperfections. My suggestion is to listen to what each has to offer.

– The US President is headed to Ohio to save face by asking in person for GM not to close two plants hastened by his tariffs and not helping when asked last year. The union leader and two Ohio Senators asked  the President to help GM retool the plants to build SUVs rather than the sedans last year. Senator Sherrod Brown noted now the President is paying attention as it makes him look bad.

– The Brexit “troubles” continue, but hopefully the EU will agree to the delay. And, Parliament needs to use the time to clearly define what Brexit means versus staying with the EU, something they have not done. This needs to be thoughtful and data-driven. I would hate to see a state leave the US based on politics only to wake up to a terrible hangover.

That is all for now. I hope your bracket for the tournament is successful. Fast breaks are fun to watch and usually the team doing more of them wins.

The ice is going to break

The title is a crucial line from a movie called “The Dead Zone,” based on the Stephen King novel. I use this line as a metaphor for ignoring real problems. Let me explain the context. The movie stars Christopher Walkien as Johnny, who because of a car accident, could see the future after touching someone. But, if the future was less clear, a dead zone as he described it, he could alter the outcome.

A boy he was tutoring was supposed to practice ice hockey on a frozen pond with his demanding father as the team’s coach. But, when Johnny touched him, Johnny saw the ice breaking. His father said that was crazy, even though both men knew the father did a background check before hiring the tutor. Johnny slammed his cane on a chess board and said “the ice is going to break!” The son stayed home, but the father went ahead with practice and four kids drowned as the ice broke.

So, Mr. President, members of Congress and various state legislators, let me state obvious problems with this metaphor in mind.

– We have a global water crisis including in the US with the World Economic Forum identifying it as a top long term risk. Farmers are having to fight harder to protect their diminishing water rights. It will be made even worse by climate change.  And, the problem is exacerbated with the significant water loss in fracking and lead pipes tainting some of the dear water.

– That climate change thing is a problem in its own right. Our federal government and several state government need to pitch in more and help. The President backing out of the Paris Climate Change Accord is as poor a decision as could have been made, especially when it came the day after ExxonMobil shareholders voted to order management to inform them on what they are doing about climate change.

– I learned today our EPA is turning a blind eye to asbestos. Since Brazil stopped production of this toxic product, we now are importing asbestos from Russia. As a metaphor for this President, each bag of toxic asbestos imported from Russia has Donald Trump’s picture on it. A toxic material imported by a toxic man from another toxic man.

– Although, debt is not an environmental concern, our so-called leaders are ignoring this huge and growing problem. As interest cost grows to a greater part of our budget, it will hinder our ability to do other things. We must spend less and increase revenue both. The math will not otherwise work,

The ice is going to break. We must heed the warnings now. If we don’t, we may be the ones who drown.