Bumper sticker solutions

Bumper sticker solutions may get people elected, but they rarely solve problems. Most problems are complex and multi-faceted. And, some bumper sticker solutions don’t address the greater causes.

The most obvious example is “Build that wall.” Building a wall was sold as the cure for disenfranchised economic areas. Yet, immigration, legal or illegal, is down the list as causes. The two primary causes are companies chasing cheap labor and technological gains. As a CFO once said, companies would get by with no employees if they could.

Bumper sticker solutions also dilute the focus and dollars from addressing the underlying causes. “Saving coal” fits nicely on the bumper, but it overlooks that coal has been in demise for both cost and environmental reasons and has been for ten years. Only Senator Bernie Sanders told coal miners the truth in 2016 saying “your jobs are going away.” But, what could not fit on a bumper is “here is what I plan to do about it.” He then defined transitionel compensation and training to help miners learn new trades. It should be noted the demise in coal fired plants has accelerated under the current White House.

Our problems are real and complex. Very few, if any, can be solved with implementing a bumper sticker solution. Repealing Obamacare will hurt tens of mullions of people. Any improvements or changes have to be well thought out and not slapped on a wall as was done in 2017.

Let’s ask more questions of politicians. What, how, when, how much are good ones. But, let’s start with why?

A lump of coal is less in use

A good news environmental story that began almost ten years ago is coal use is on the demise. Sadly, legislators who have a say in coal states have not been forthcoming with coal miners making commitments that are not reflective of market conditions. Two stories frame this topic:

A Fox News piece by Dan Springer from September entitled “Coal Industry continues sharp decline despite Trump’s promised revival,” notes the following:

“But since he (Trump) took office, U.S. coal consumption has hit a 41-year low and coal plant closures have actually accelerated. The next to fall, in December, will be Colstrip units 1 and 2, which have been keeping the lights on throughout the Pacific Northwest since 1975. Shutting down one-third of the capacity of the largest coal plant west of the Mississippi comes even after Trump scrapped the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and his administration pledged $39 million to make coal plants run cleaner.

‘There’s nothing he can do about it,’ said Randy Hardy, an energy consultant and former head of the Bonneville Power Administration. ‘The market economics are so compelling that absent massive federal government subsidies to keep coal alive, you couldn’t do it economically.'”

Recently, a Houston Public Media piece by Florian Martin called “Wind energy on track to surpass coal power in Texas,” noted the following:

“Both (Coal and wind energy) now make up about 20% of the state’s energy mix, with wind just 0.3 percentage points below coal. Ramanan Krishnamoorti, chief energy officer at the University of Houston, said wind power has increased dramatically in the past 12 years, up from 3% in 2007. But in the short-term, it’s cheap natural gas that’s responsible for the decline of coal.

‘The real story has been, if coal went down from over 32% down to 20%, that slack was picked up by natural gas,’ he said. Natural gas made up more than 47% of the energy mix last year.

Krishnamoorti said he expects coal to decline further and for renewable energy to make modest gains in the next few years. ‘If wind can just maintain where it is, it’s going to surpass coal in 2020,” he said. “It’s a question of, can it get that next bump up to sort of go through this significant expansion.’ Krishnamoorti said wind power’s growth has slowed down in the past few years due to the end of tax credits that helped it.”

Links to both articles are below. I have written earlier, that if measured as a country, the state of Texas would be the fifth most prolific wind energy country in the world. And, California is among the world leaders in solar energy, also if measured as a country.

What is lost in all of this is the decline of coal is not a surprise, nor has it taken place over night. So, it frustrates me that legislators in a position of power have not shot straight with coal miners and done something more to help the transition. The wind blows and sun shines in these coal producing states. And, that is where the job growth is, not in coal energy.

https://www.foxnews.com/politics/coal-industry-decline-trump-revival

Wind Energy On Track To Surpass Coal Power In Texas

Bank CEO blasts peers for not seeing inequality (per The Charlotte Observer)

With more interest and advocacy for the disenfranchised in our midst, an article by Austin Weinstein of The Charlotte Observer caught my this week called “Bank CEO blasts peers for not seeing inequality. A link to the article is below.

I have written often about the “haves and have-nots” in America. The disparity has been worsening for years and it now matters more to whom and where you were born than merit. Sadly, the declining middle class and growing poverty problem has been addressed by more trickle down economics and attacks on benefits to help people in need.

Per The Charlotte Observer:

“Kelly King, the CEO of Truist — America’s sixth largest bank — issued an exhortation to the economic elite of North Carolina and the country: We are blind to the difficult lives of many in the U.S. and must work to resolve the country’s educational and economic divides, or risk the consequences.

‘We see what happens when we have this giant divide between the haves and the have-nots,’ King said to bankers and executives gathered in Durham for an annual economic forecast hosted by the North Carolina Chamber and North Carolina Bankers Association. ‘If we have this scenario where people lose hope, they have no sense of opportunity, they’re dysfunctional. They get mad, they get on drugs, they get guns, they start shooting.’…

While there are many origins to America’s widespread educational and economic inequality, King pointed to the perceived failures of American public school system as one of the paramount reasons for the divides in the country. If people can’t read or do simple math, he said, they are effectively left out of much of the U.S. economy.

‘We are cheating our kids and our grandkids of a future,’ King said. ‘They will not have the same kind of life we have had,” he warned, if the current course of the country isn’t changed.'”

We must invest in our children and our communities. Asset Based Community Development means repurposing depleted assets or restoring them to original form. A neighborhood school is more than a place of seven hour education. It offers a community meeting place for after-school programs, neighborhood meetings, civic meetings, exercise classes, etc. Inviting schools, rewarded teachers, safety mind-sets, etc. will reinforce better education for our kids.

King’s admonition speaks to the crisis it is. The US disparity has widened at the same time our educational ranks in science and math have fallen. If we don’t invest in our kids, we really don’t have the standing to speak of American exceptionalism. It is hard to be a shining light on a hill if we fall from the top.

Read more here: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/banking/article239048138.html#storylink=cpy

Manic Monday Musings

Manic seems to be the word for the new decade. I crave having boringly competent leadership who do their jobs with a focus on real problems. I crave a world in which problems are not caused by the people in leadership positions. I crave people in leadership who understand the importance of relationships and do not view everything through a transactional lens. Yet, these are only cravings in a manic world.

The tenuous and scary position the US is in with Iran is not a surprise. Leaving an agreement that was signed by seven countries, whose other six asked us not to leave, and whose US Defense Secretary asked not to leave, could only end up with conflict. And, what makes this scarier, per Admiral Mike Mullens, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the previous two presidents, says we appear to have “no off ramp” as we ratchet up things with Iran.

The tenuous position with North Korea is not a surprise either. The question which has an obvious answer, but seems to be lost on the US people in leadership positions is why would North Korea give up the one thing that got the US to the bargaining table? The answer is they would not. Kim wanted global recognition. He got it. I was all for discussions with North Korea, but we needed a leader who was conversant on the issues and concerns, not someone who led with his gut, which he said was smarter than most experts, which is an excessive amount of hubris.

The tenuous position the UK has with the EU is also unsettling. I have only slightly more confidence with the UK prime minister than I have with the US president, which is not saying a whole lot. There is something about truthfulness that seems to be lacking. I have felt from the outset, Brexit was not the right path forward, but fully understand the concerns of the leavers. Yet, I worry that the future will be mishandled and our UK friends will be in a malaise longer than expected.

The tenuous positions of the Muslim worshipers in China and India is of concern. It gets less notoriety than the Hong Kong issue, but China’s government is strong arming Muslims into forsaking their religion for the state. It reads right out of the old days of Russia, China and Nazi Germany. In India, Muslims are given second class citizenship and are now crying foul. It was an unforced error and such a move should be protested, to be frank.

There is more mania out there than I note above. On the flip side, many good things happen everyday in spite of or without help from those in leadership. Thank goodness we don’t have to rely on people in leadership to live our lives. I recognize fully that people who do not live in a free society may not have such luxury. Yet, the less we need to rely on the decisions of leaders to live every day, the better off we will be. It would be nice, though, if they helped us rather than stood in our way. Or, just made us crazy.

Saturday in the park (a muddy one to ponder muddy agreements)

The weather report for Saturday is better than our rainy Friday. Even if the sun emerges through the morning clouds, it may leave very muddy walking paths. So, as I take a muddy stroll, join me as I ponder a few muddy things.

Agreements between multiple parties are hard and take work. They are not perfect, but they provide opportunities to improve them. Leaving them when your co-signers ask you not to must be for very important reasons. Under the tutelage of the current US president, previous agreements are “disasters,” primarily because he did not work on them. Another key reason is multiple party agreements require give and take and focus on relationships.

Early on, the US pulled out of an agreement called the Trans Pacific Partnership with Asian countries, the US, Australia and Canada. It was an imperfect agreement, but was defined to better enable competition with China. What is still very underreported is the other ten or so countries went forward without the US and signed a refined agreement, which is now in effect.

Around the first of June, 2017, the US president decided to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Change Accord. We are one of a handful of countries who have decided not to be a part of this historic agreement. Remember the song, “You and me against the world?” That is the US. Ironically, the announcement was the day after Exxon Mobil shareholders voted to require management to share with them progress on addressing climate change (this followed two similar votes for energy companies in May).

Other agreements like NAFTA have been modified and rebranded, but the changes are not as material as the pomp and circumstance promoted. The agreement allowed for change and could have been repurposed a year earlier had the president not interjected last minute changes. This is a good example that agreements allow for parties to make changes at certain times. They need not be thrown out, especially when the throwing out is more optics than substance.

Finally, the Nuclear agreement with Iran and six countries, including the US, was also imperfect. But, it allowed for dialogue, auditing and commerce. Against the wishes of the six other countries and his key advisors in the Defense department, the president pulled out of the agreement. He also chastised the other five non-Iranian partners for not so doing and imposed more sanctions. So, rather than have a better, but tenuous relationship with Iran, we have escalating tensions with “no off ramp” per former Chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullens.

Agreements require hard work, collaboration and respect for the relationships. By their nature, they are long term in scope. When they are viewed through a transactional lens, especially one bent on perception than reality, their imperfections can be highlighted. If you have concerns (and all parties have them), the answer is go to your partners and suggest to fix them. Devaluing the relationship is extremely shortsighted and can be dangerous. That last word is on many people’s minds today.

A Habitat for Humanity Legacy

There are strong opinions about who might be the most impactful US president. But, there should be less debate on the most impactful ex-president. In the view of many, that would be James Earl Carter, better known as Jimmy.

With Rosalynn, his wife of 73 years by his side, the 95 year-old Carter is out there with hammer and drill building houses for Habitat for Humanity. As a non-profit Board volunteer, I believe the Habitat model, embraced by Carter, is a sound model, based on sweat equity. Having helped build one house with my co-workers, I can attest to the “sweat” part, as never have I been more tired at the end of the day.

Not only does the home owner have to help build his or her house, he or she has to help other home owners build their houses. But, another famous couple is building on the Carter Habitat legacy. You may have heard of them – country singers Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. They hope to carry the hammer and drill forward after the Carters can no longer do it. Yet, the older couple are still out their hammering away, even after falls, hospital stays, etc.

Yet, that is not all of what Carter does. He still teaches Sunday school, which is so well attended, it was moved to the church sanctuary. He has also written about thirty books – I have read a couple, one on his upbringing and one on addressing the maltreatment of women in the US and world. His and Rosalynn’s “Carter Center” has helped to eradicate guinea worm disease in many places around the globe. And, Carter has been asked by several presidents to be an envoy to certain countries to represent our interests be it for state funerals or to elicit the release of an American in custody.

To be frank, his presidency is not given sufficient credit as he served one term as an outsider. To my surprise, I read that a significant number of bills were signed into law on his watch, but that is not well known. But, it is clear, he has been a much more impactful former president. He will be missed when he is gone.

Let’s celebrate them while he and Rosalynn are with us. A good way to do so, is to sing a Peter, Paul and Mary song, “If I had a hammer, I’d swing it in the morning, I’d swing it in the evening all over this land….”

We cannot solve US debt by charging more on our national VISA

The math problem is large. We have $23 trillion plus in US debt today, per the US debt clock. It is projected to increase by $10 trillion by 2027 FYE (September 30, 2027) before the tax cut in December, 2017. The tax cut added $1.5 trillion to the debt projection over ten years. A later budget change added $500 billion over ten years.

The budget bill just signed last week will add $500 billion over ten years per the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, yet they note all laws passed in 2019 have added $2.2 trillion over ten years. That would make it at least $37 trillion. So, a good working number is $37 trillion sans any action by the end of 2029 FYE.

Tax increases will not solve this problem, nor will spending cuts. Both are needed. Once the interest cost approaches the defense cost, we have a serious problem. At $37 trillion in debt, the interest cost to maintain it inches closer. So, it truly matters not what Democrats or Republicans like, some poor souls in charge will take the heat for trying to solve a problem passed along by poor financial stewards. It will be akin to the Greek people not liking the EU or responsible Greek leaders when they said Greece was in debt trouble.

What frustrates me is the GOP Freedom Caucus who got elected on debt reduction is the biggest bunch of hypocrites. They screamed bloody murder when the debt was $8 trillion, then $13 trillion, but are passing debt increases misleading the public that the tax reduction would pay for itself – no tax bill has ever done that and this one did not. But, Dems are not without fault. What should scare us all, we should be reducing the deficit with a pretty good economy, yet the deficit is growing and will exceed $1 trillion next FYE. What happens when the economic growth softens even more than it has over the past year.

So, my plea to all is dust off the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan and do even more. I am trying to tell folks what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. If I was a young person, I would be screaming bloody murder at inaction on climate change, guns and debt. Debt is not as frightening as guns and climate change, but it is a huge problem.