Tired of this who wins and loses reporting

The media is not biased in the way many people think. Their greatest bias by far is toward conflict. Bad news will outsell good news any day. But, to keep readers and viewers interested, the media likes to pit people against one another. This is one of the reasons we are more polarized in America. Conflict sells, too,

This conflict is exacerbated by news outlets that spin the news for a target audience. I am reminded by the old joke when a relative from New England visits his cousins in Alabama. He is asked to kill their dog who has become rabid. Headlines in northern newspapers said “Visiting relative kills rabid dog.” The Alabama newspapers said “Damn Yankee shoots beloved pet.”

I have long been perturbed by TV news who put talking heads side by side on the screen to portray an issue as fifty-fifty. Yet, one side may be supported by a large majority, whereas the other is not. Climate change coverage is a good example. It is not fifty-fifty issue, as in the scientific community it is more like 97 to 3. Yet, when portayed as 50-50, a skillful arguer can win a debate to influence opinion, but that does not make them right.

Yet, another key bugaboo is not covering the impact of an issue, but instead focusing on who wins or loses. I truly think it focuses attention on the wrong thing. Here is a series of examples where we should focus on the issues, not on who benefits by the decision or event.

– It is good that the US is talking to North Korea. It is true we need to be mindful that Kim will likely never give up his nuclear weapons and is using this to drive a wedge between the US and South Korea, but talking is better than the chest-beating  and name-calling that was going on last year.

– It is good the NC minister was released by Turkey. The Senators and President should be applauded for this. I am also certain a lot of behind the scenes folks helped pave the way.

– While it is good the tax law change is helping a pretty good economy be a little better, we should not celebrate we borrowed from our future debt by $1.5 trillion to do so. The increasing debt which is currently at $22 trillion will provide growing headwinds to the economy as annual interest cost eventually becomes one of the biggest budget items.

– We should be mindful of the impact on the economy by tariffs. Supplies and sales pipelines are increasingly impacted and will provide headwinds maybe beginning as early as the quarter that just ended. The second quarter results were positively impacted as companies accelerated purchases before the tariffs became effective.

– Leaving the Paris Climate Change Accord is just an abysmal decision. We stand alone against the world. Coupling that with the significant attempts to make it easier for polluting companies, it will cost us dearly in money, health and lives. Fortunately, others are picking up the baton that our leaders are dropping.

– Civil rights are important for all. Our leaders should be beacions of that message and critical when others feel the rights of one group are more important  than another’s. My rights are important, but not moreso than anyone else. That is how our great country works.

There are so many more that we can draw from such as gun governance, healthcare, human rights, etc. I personally don’t want to hear if some leader or party benefits from a change or event. I want to know how it helps Americans and our world. Read past the conflict to understand the issues. Everything need not be contentious.

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Two Americans win Nobel Economics prize on Climate Change work

Per an article this morning in Reuters, “Americans William Nordhaus and Paul Romer, pioneers in adapting economic theory to take better account of environmental issues and technological progress, shared the 2018 Nobel Economics Prize on Monday.”

Romer, with New York University, and Nordhaus, with Yale, developed models on the economic impact of dealing with climate change. Reuters cited the Nobel Academy in Stockholm, “‘Their findings have significantly broadened the scope of economic analysis by constructing models that explain how the market economy interacts with nature and knowledge.'”

This news is important as Americans still provide global leadership inspite of the dearth of leadership in the White House and EPA. America is moving forward on renewable energy, but our efforts are in spite of the absence and antagonistic actions of federal leadership. Arguably, more than any other issue, voters must ask their candidates where the stand on climate change actions and protecting the environment.

It is interesting that this came today as the headline article in The Charlotte Observer is “NC Leaders share concern about climate change.” These are 60 business, advocacy, former government and university leaders who have been brought together to speak to various problems. 45 of them responded to the question of climate change and, of the 45, only two naysayed climate change – one called it a hoax, while the other said it is real, but the jury is out on man’s influence. Think about that – 43 out of 45 define the problem and offer solutions.

Per these leaders, ideas include ceasing building on lands prone to flooding. NC has had two 500 year floods in two years, the same with Houston, Texas. Miami may be inescapably lost to continued flooding due to rising seas and porous limestone. The term we must understand as well is “sunny day flooding,” which happens more and more throughout the year.

These Nobel prize winners note we have to address the problem now while the costs are more manageable and can be sustained. The best teachers are the Dutch, as they have managed sea water encroachment for years. But, the impact also includes more and intense forest fires and the faster depletion of already dear water sources.

We have major problems occurring that Washington is not talking about and, in some cases, is making it worse. We must address climate change and invest more in  renewable energy, consider better coastal and flood plain building and consider a carbon tax. We must address fresh water loss that is hastened by climate change that is affecting farmers and other Americans. And, we must address pollution by companies and the growing mountain of plastic.

There are economic models that call to mind the old Fram oil filter commercial – you can pay me now or pay me later. Now, is far cheaper. Ask your politicians more questions and vote accordingly. If they do not admit there are problems, do not vote for them.

Thursday thumbnails redux

Since I am kicking around several topics, let me throw a few together for your reading and reaction. Your thoughts are welcomed and appreciated.

  • It would be terribly unfair to say Republicans are racist, but it seems there are more than a few racists running for important offices in various states under the GOP banner. In Virginia, Illinois  and Florida, for example, a few candidates have a history of racist comments and associations. To their credit, the GOP leadership is not backing all of these candidates, but they should not back any and should condemn their words and actions in no uncertain terms. It is disappointing that the US President has done neither and has greased the skids for white supremacist hate groups who now feel empowered. Trump had a truly a low bar to step over to condemn white supremacists last summer and he tripped.
  • Sexual assault is a heinous crime, yet the accuser does not often come forward given the backlash they get. So, for it to take years to come forward is not uncommon. The fact they do so when the accused is being considered for high office, should reveal a greater sense of character. Professor Blasey Ford deserves due consideration and time for her accusations of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Call me crazy, but we should take the time to get this right as this is one of the nine most important people in our courts. Because we did not take time back in 1991, we may have a man guilty of sexual misconduct on the bench already.
  • I have written before that Democrats are lousy marketers. Even when they have a better story to tell, they often let Republicans define the talking points. The Democrats have many fine candidates running for office. Some are running uphill battles in gerrymandered districts, but they are running well. What should be shouted from the rooftops is they will help improve and stabilize the ACA as it continues to be sabotaged by the GOP making premiums even higher, they will protect our environment against the further roll back of regulations enabling polluting and stay committed to the Paris Climate Change accord, they will make sure we do not devalue our allied relationships and retrench further from our global leadership role, and they will advocate for rights of all citizens, especially those in poverty. And, to be frank, since the GOP has ceded its leadership toward addressing the debt and deficit, the Democrats can be seen as better financial stewards.

Truth be told, the President touts what he has done with the economy, but what he fails to tell people is we are in the 113 consecutive month of economic growth, the bull stock market traces back to March, 2009 and unemployment was low when he took the reins. What has been done, is he is borrowing from our future to make a good economy a little better, but the cost is doing nothing but add fire to our burning debt.

Presidents get too much credit and too much blame for the economy. They do provide headwinds and tailwinds, though, and this President has done both. The headwinds will show up later as noted by most economists, while the tailwinds add today.

Debt and more debt

The following is a brief sample letter to the editor on the US debt problem that is being unwisely ignored. Please feel free to adapt and use if you agree.

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The last time we had a balanced budget was when Bill Clinton left office, but we still had debt. Now that debt is about $21.5 trillion and is expected to grow by almost $12 trillion by 2027. The tax reduction law passed last December will increase the debt by $1.5 trillion and the spending bill from the spring will add to it as well.

The annual deficit is once again approaching $1 trillion, which is about 30% of our annual tax revenue. I believe it was poor stewardship to increase the debt with the tax change and now I understand another tax bill is in the works. We cannot cut our way out of this problem – we need both spending cuts and more tax revenue.

A day of reckoning will come and future legislators will have to address this poor financial stewardship by three Presidents and their Congresses.

Not so Freaky Fridays anymore

It seems that news people recapping the week are in a continual, almost weekly, loop saying the President had a difficult week. One week it was the appropriate backlash on his Helsinki acquiescence to Vladimir Putin. Another week was the conviction and confession of two of his cronies. Earlier it was the detention of migrant children away from their parents. And, there are many others.

This past week started last Saturday with the funeral of a true hero and honorable public servant, an event to which he was purposefully uninvited. Not being invited to the national mourning of Senator John McCain was bad enough, but his modus operandi was appropriately criticized without mentioning his name by more than a few speakers.

By itself, this event would warrant a bad week, but it was followed by the release of excerpts from highly credible reporter Bob Woodward’s book on the disruptive White House environment. For younger voters, Woodward was 1/2 of the team that broke the Watergate story. While nothing surprising about Trump was revealed, it was reassuring that the President’s people do their best to keep him between the white lines.

While the White House was in full damage control mode, an anonymous op-ed was published in The New York Times by an insider which echoes much of what Woodward’s book reveals. It should be noted that the both pieces echo some earlier books that were also denounced by the White House, as well as previous leaks and actual observations by reporters.

A few comments are in order:

– Many GOP legislators are painfully aware of these shortcomings of the President, but choose not to act. Right now, supporters are ignoring the consistent message and focusing on the messenger.
– A plausible reason the anonymous op-ed writer has not gone to Congress is it would likely not do any good given the willingness of too many GOP sycophants wanting to save their tribe and not do their job.
– The President’s boorish behavior is not a secret, except to his base, who water down the criticism. What is known by fewer folks is what conservative columnist David Brooks noted as early as last year regarding various mismanaged events when he said the “White House is equal parts chaos and incompetence.”
– But, his offensive behavior and poor management predates his campaign and White House. Five biographers note Trump’s problems with the truth and financial reporters have lauded his sales skills, while being critical of his poor management skills. It is easy to see why he is deemed a poor manager given his ego, temper and lack of attention to detail.

What frustrates me as well, I have consistently reached out to Senators and members of Congress usually after various missteps or misstatements by the President. Two questions I often ask are “is this the man you want to spend your dear reputation on?” and “what will it take for Congress to act?” Seeing us bully our allies and forego our global leadership role is highly frustrating. Seeing us make changes that favor corporations and wealthy is another. Seeing us ignore climate change and our building huge debt are yet more concerns. But, the lying, denigration, name-calling, admiration for autocrats and disdain for democratically elected leaders takes the cake.

You may have noticed I have not mentioned the Russian collusion issue or his historical sexual misconduct. More will come out on these issues, but I find it of interest the lone constant in both issues is the story changing by the President. This is a key reason he did so poorly on a mock deposition in preface to a possible real one with Robert Mueller. The contradictions abounded.

So, I leave you with the questions I asked the GOP legislators above. Apparently, this is the horse they are going to ride. My added question is where will he lead you? And, us?

Capitalism and socialism coexists

On more than one occasion, I have seen letters to the editor speak of setting up beachheads in the coming election around capitalism vs. socialism. To me, this is a name-calling gimmick to persuade a voter who does not do much homework. Voters that are prone to listen to name-calling as debate will buy into this logic time and again. The irony in this debate is the United States’ economy is a blend of “fettered” capitalism with socialistic underpinnings. So, both co-exist here.

For readers in the either camp, this observation probably surprises them, especially those who are gung-ho capitalists. But, the word in quotes is also important as we do not have unfettered capitalism. If we did, the US President would have run out of money long ago with his many bankruptcies. I believe in capitalism as well, but we need to understand why we ventured down the path of the socialistic underpinnings.

These underpinnings spoke to a nation that was in a great depression and who seemingly got lost in poverty later on. Social security is a low-income weighted pension, disability and survivor benefit program that is funded equally by employers and individuals. To determine the base level benefit, 90% of average wages are used for the earlier wages then added to 32% of the next tier of wages which are added to 15% of the highest wages up to a limit.

In the 1960s, LBJ’s “War on Poverty” added Medicare and Medicaid to the mix, with Medicare helping retirees and Medicaid focusing on people in poverty. Then, we can mix equal measures of unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation and food stamps which are now called SNAP benefits. Each of these programs are forms of “social insurance” benefits. That is socialism designed to keep people fed, housed and protected.

Taking this a step further, utilities are so needed to our communities, they are either co-ops or fettered capitalistic models where rate increases must get approved by a state governing board. Companies like Duke Energy and Con-Ed must get permission before they change their rates. For the co-op model, the customers own the business.

But, the word “fettered” enters into the mix on other businesses as well. To prevent monopolies, insider trading, interlocking boards, collusion, the misuse of insider knowledge by investors, etc. rules are set up to provide governors on capitalism. Then, there is that bankruptcy thing, where a business or person can claim bankruptcy to pay debtors what they can and restart. I use the President as an example, but his experience is a good one, as he filed for bankruptcy six times on various investments.

I want people to think about our country in this context. We want people to earn their keep and be fully functioning tax paying citizens. Yet, we have programs in place to keep them out of the ditch. As we considering changes to programs, we should consider what they are accomplishing and how changes could make them more effective. And, we must understand that things must be paid for, so how do we get the best return on the investment into those stated goals?

For those that have followed my blog for some time, you know I have been involved for many years in helping homeless working families find a path back to self-sustainability. We help the homeless climb a ladder, but they climb it. Yet, we are also successful in keeping people housed on their own after two years of leaving our program because we measure things and make improvements. The ultimate goal is self-sustainability, so we measure how we can be the best financial stewards toward helping people achieve that purpose.

We need social underpinnings to help people be fed, housed and protected. Some need to be temporary in nature, while others are longer term like Medicare and Social Security. There is a cost-benefit to these equations, but we should understand that we have poverty problem in our country. We must also understand technology advances will continue to change the paradigm on employment as it has throughout the industrial age placing additional pressures to even more wage earners. Not providing ladders out of poverty or ways to avoid it would be a bad path to follow for our country.

 

Walmart and Mars

What does this title mean, you ask? Walmart and Mars are two global companies moving the ball forward to combat climate change. Mind you, it is not just altruism driving these efforts, it is creating a sustainable, more predictable and better cost model. And, companies care about cost.

On PBS Newshour yesterday, an update on an earlier story was provided.  Walmart has a goal of being 100% renewable energy powered which they established a decade ago under CEO Scott Lee. They started simply, retraining their truck drivers on better ways to shift gears and drive to save fuel costs and actually measure fuel efficiency in truck driver performance.

Walmart also is converting their 12,000 stores to renewable energy. The PBS Newhour update noted that almost 500 stores in the US have been converted to solar power. Now, 28% of their US energy needs comes from solar energy. Retail stores have a lot of roof space, so companies like Walmart and IKEA have growing numbers of solar powered stores. They are also asking their suppliers to be better environmental stewards.

Mars is known for its candy, the biggest seller being M&Ms. Their goal is to make decisions that are “good for the environment and good for Mars,” They are using combinations of solar and wind energy to power their manufacturing plants. They just rolled out a new wind farm in Texas, a state that produces more wind energy than any other. Mars has noted their costs are lower with the renewable energy.

Fortunately, Walmart and Mars are not alone. Google, Facebook and Amazon are driving forces behind renewable energy given their significant data and distribution center power needs. Their centers in North Carolina are a reason NC ranks so highly on solar energy lists.

Yet, we should not lose sight that the cost of renewable energy has decreased so greatly, the decision is not just environmental, it is economic. Paula Diparno of CDP said on PBS Newshour that addressing climate change is “no longer a punishment, it is an opportunity.”

That is a huge shift in mindset. She added that there are three stakeholders for companies – customers, shareholders and management. Customers are noticing, shareholders are becoming more insistent and management better be paying attention. To this end, Blackrock, a major institutional investor, is requiring its companies to define what they are doing about renewable energy and climate change.

To this end, because of Blackrock’s efforts, Exxon Mobil’s shareholders voted last year to require management to do more and report back on addressing climate change. Ironically, this vote was the day before the current US President announced that he was withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Accord. That contrast speaks volumes.