Too many questions and not enough answers

While I should be upbeat about the 105th consecutive month of economic growth in the US, the still very high stock values in the market on an uptick since January 2009 and the historically low unemployment rate, I know that too many folks are not feeling the love from this growth. But, I want to set this issue aside for now and just ask some “why” questions as I am beyond frustrated with our failure to address too many issues.

Why can’t our so-called leaders address our never ending gun violence in the US? Yesterday’s tragedy will happen again, just like what was predicted following the last one a few weeks ago. Our so-called leaders are too busy trying to keep their job and need to do their job. It is more than a gun issue, but we need to do something about various causes. Our GOP friends like to say it is a mental health issue, but then try to repeal the ACA and not encourage the expansion of Medicaid. And, Congress permitted last year folks on Social Security disability for mental health reasons to be added back to eligible gun buying rolls.

However, it is a gun access issue as well and the majority of Americans support background checks on all sales and elongated waiting periods. I would do more, but these are “no-brainers.” Yet our spineless Congress and President will not act. Part of my thoughts and prayers are for our leaders to grow a backbone and do something. We need not worry about foreign terrorists as our domestic terrorists do just fine without them in killing innocent Americans.

Why do we fail to act on Russia interfering with our democracy? The leaders of our intelligence agencies testified under oath to the Senate Intelligence Committee that not only did the Russians influence our 2016 election, they are continuing to sow seeds of discord driving Americans apart, and will influence the 2018 election. Yet, the President does not want to talk about it and did not extend the Congress approved sanctions on Russia two weeks ago. I would add that Congressman Nunes who is the head of the House Intelligence Committee and author of a memo that has been criticized by the FBI as inaccurate is refusing to call for a similar briefing under oath. It is surmised he is fearful of the same leaders disparaging the veracity of his memo. Is it not the job of the committee to get a briefing or should we just ask Sean Hannity to do it?

Why does are debt problem not elicit more reaction from the public? My former GOP party seemingly no longer cares about the deficit and debt since we have a Republican President. We have made our massive debt problem worse with the last two major pieces of legislation, but it does not seem to matter to the public or these so-called leaders. Both parties are to blame, but taxpayers will be left holding the bag as we have further mortgaged our future to heat up a good economy. It makes no sense, unless you look at this through a donor’s lens, which is the real reason for the tax cuts.

Why do we allow EPA DIrector Scott Pruitt to lie so much about climate change without repercussion, echoing the lines of his boss? Like the debt, our so-called leaders are ignoring a growing problem. It would be nice if they helped, but Pruitt and Trump are being left at the kids’ table, while the grown-ups move forward. Fortunately, the cities, states, universities and companies are moving forward with renewable energy and conservation measures. The renewable cost is more comparable to fossil fuel cost and they do not leave a negative footprint. Plus, when the present value costs of environmental degradation, clean-up and risk are factored in, renewables are cheaper. We could do so more with federal leverage, but at least the President has galvanized other to act since he won’t.

These issues are four of several that need to be addressed, but are not. Our democracy and planet our under attack. These should not be partisan issues. I am independent former Republican voter and these are representative of the issues I am trying to increase awareness of. Ask your legislators what they plan to do about them. If they do not respond or respond to another question, find out who is running against them. A good thing created by this President is very qualified people will be running for more offices.These are real issues. Let’s work on addressing them.




Mr. President, listen to the Department of Defense and CIA

One of the hardest jobs of any employee is managing up when they have a boss who is not very good at his or her role. Business is littered with stories of high performing individuals who fail miserably as managers. The President is not an exception as he has always been a better salesperson than manager as reported by financial reporters and biographers.

The folks working beneath him are doing their darnedest to keep him between the white lines and on message. Too often, he derails an effort by tweeting or being less than truthful or aware of the issues. Yet, there are two consistent messages that are being ignored by the boss from two important groups, which are making us less safe and secure.

First, the Department of Defense reiterated its recurring message that climate change is a key threat to national security due to destabilization and impact on readiness. As reported in Reuters yesterday, the DoD said 1,700 of its bases (about half) are threatened by wild weather patterns due to climate change. Per Reuters, “‘Changes in climate can potentially shape the environment in which we operate and the missions we are required to do,’ said the DoD in a report accompanying the survey.”

Yet, what is the President doing about? He is pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, he has promoted more fossil fuel through words and actions, he has naysayed the climate science and his EPA director has removed climate change intellectual capital from the websites while firing, driving out or repositioning climate scientists.

Second, Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, said on Sunday, not only is there no question the Russians influenced our recent election, but he is certain they will do it again this fall. Yet, what is the President doing about it?

Although our Congress overwhelmingly voted on sanctions on Russia over the summer, the President said this week he would not impose those sanctions saying the threat is enough. And, in response to a request by Congress on the people who might be sanctioned, a cut and paste list was provided by the Treasury department. The term for this is called “phoning it in.” This on top of the President denying the intelligence, lying about his involvement, changing his stories multiple times and trying to undermine the efforts of the FBI and Special Prosecutor. All while the Russians continue their efforts.

These are threats to our national security and democracy, but we are failing to act. I am not alone in this view, but the Russians      have attacked our country though social media and cyber warfare and our Nero fiddles. His own DoD says climate change is a threat, but Nero’s response is to enable the threat, not circumvent it.

So, as the President fails to act, what are we going to do about it?



Good energy news on this cold, snowy day

Global citizens are rightfully concerned the US President is pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, but progress continues as “we are passed the tipping point on renewable energy.” Even the US pullout cannot stop the train, as states, cities, businesses and other countries continue the push. It just means the President and his team will not be at the adult table on this issue and may not be invited at all.

Here are a few miscellaneous energy tidbits that should offer encouragement.

Per the UK Based organization Carbon Tracker, here are a few highlights from the past year:

  • more than 1/2 of the US coal plants in existence in 2010 have been closed;
  • more than 1/2 of the remaining coal plants in Europe are losing money;
  • the UK has slashed electricity from coal usage from 40% to 2% in the last five years; and
  • there have been big strides in China and Australia on reducing coal usage.

Per the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the five member, Republican dominated agency denied the request by Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry to fund the building of more coal-fired and nuclear plants. This was a surprise move given the make-up of the committee. I would call this decision as not wanting to throw good money after bad.

It should be noted, it is not just coal that is giving the FERC commissioners pause. The US division of Westinghouse Electric Company had to declare bankruptcy for cost overruns on a new nuclear power plant for SCANA, the South Carolina utility. As a result, the new plant is being shuttered and SCANA is being sold to Dominion Resources, so as not to overburden SC citizens with the cost of the lost investment.

The International Energy Agency in their 2017 Energy Outlook notes the cost of new solar photovoltaic electricity has declined by 70% and wind energy has fallen 25% since 2010. It should be noted the IEA has tended to favor fossil fuel energy in past releases. China, the new country leader in the climate change fight, will be investing US$360 billion more in renewable energy by 2020. Plus, the price of solar has fallen so much in places like Zambia, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, it has won bidding contests against fossil fuel energy sources for projects.

Finally, any discussion on future energy cannot exclude the declining cost and increasing capacity in battery storage. Per Bloomberg New Energy Financials, energy storage will double six times between 2016 and 2030. Elon Musk just helped southern Australia go live with a major battery installation and 21 states in the US have planned projects on energy storage.

All of the above stories are important because it has always been a financial argument to combat the environmental concerns, whose long term costs have been undervalued. Now, the financials are favoring the renewable energy engine, so market forces will continue to force the ultimate demise of coal-fired energy, which started with the lower cost of natural gas. If a company can find a clean energy source which is cheaper and more predictable long term, that is easily the better path forward. If you don’t believe me, just ask companies like Google, Facebook, Walmart and IKEA to name only a few.



If you give a mouse a cookie

The childhood book by this name reveals that some are never satisfied when you do them favors. I was thinking of this as I thought of the litany of things done by a self-promoted populist on behalf of his true benefactors, the wealthy mice. He started with cookies, but the list goes on.

If those onerous environmental regulations were getting in the way, he just rolled back a few of them. Plus, if those scientists and their data were problematic to polluting businesses, he just fired a few, ran off a few and deleted access to important research data.

If access to public lands and what lies thereunder was a roadblock, he just cut back on the national parks and gave easier access to developers. What is land, if it cannot be exploited for short term gain? As a rancher put it, when the developers come, the profits go to Houston and Calgary, but the degradation is left for them long term.

If paying taxes is preventing investment in employees or business, even though conpanies are sitting on cash, then he gave the mice more money. The key is how much will flow into investment and employees and how much will be used to make the executives look good?

Along the way, there are some photo ops to say look what is happening, but the mice seem to be the ones who are getting the cookies and added benefits. As one energy consultant noted, the President has done a lot for coal owners, but not much for coal workers.

I am all for making things easier, but we need smart regulations that protect Americans from short cutting and corruption. We must pay for things as well, and debt and environmental costs are dear. Saying they don’t matter is poor stewardship as our children and grandchildren will have to pay the price for our avoidance.

Need more to meet in the middle

The overarching theme of the book “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn is to accomplish lasting, impactful solutions (in this case with climate change and environmental concerns) we need to work with folks in the middle. In essence, the folks in the extremes are too strident and reluctant to compromise.

A good example comes from the Montana rancher as he combats climate change and environmental degradation caused by fracking for natural gas. He works with folks who will address the environmental issues, but permit him and his family to make a living ranching. He notes the fracking companies paint a picture that is far rosier than it is, while some extreme environmentalists want everything to stop and do nothing with the land. At personal risk, he built a coalition of ranchers, environmentalists and government officials who were willing to follow his lead to preserve the environment while permitting the ranchers to do their thing.

The Kansas farmer speaks to working in concert with the land and learning and sharing best practices with other area farmers and the agro-economics people at nearby Kansaa State University. Farmers want to maximize a sustainable yield on their crops, but climate change and water concerns increase the challenges to do so. He emphasizes growing what grows naturally in the area. There is a reason wheat and alfalfa are cash crops in Kansas. He notes the farm to table concept is not necessarily ideal – it would be a waste of water and land to try to grow everything there. As for climate change, they work with legislators to protect the water resources, but have to stop short of using that term with their representatives. They gain collaboration by speaking to what is happening, not identifying its lead cause.

The Louisiana based river man moves frieight up and down the Mississippi River. He understands the importance of experienced teams who know the river going both ways, with high, low or medium water levels. He has seen the significant dissipation of the wetlands in the Bayou which are causing huge problems to many, Engineers tried to outsmart the river and failed. In fairly dramatic fashion, the Gulf of Mexico is absorbing land due to rising sea levels and fewer buffers, So, they are working with scientists, businesses, and even the petroleum industry to slowly rebuild the Bayou.

It should be noted working in collaboration is how business and government work best. Yet, collaboration is hard work. For those who block the consideration of solutions, they need to be sidelined. In our toxic tribal political environment, we must remember each side does not own all the good ideas and both sides own some bad ones. Let’s follow the lead of these folks who get their hands dirty, understand what is happening and work together.

A few odds and ends

Happy Hump Day. May the rest of your week be enjoyable and productive. Here are a few odds and ends to ponder.

One of the flaws of the President is he defines everything transactionally, with winners and losers. Two comments. Winning does not make you right, it just means you won. He is telling folks to discount Senators Flake and Corker because they will retire next year because they were going to lose. Yet, one thing the President needs to realize is they are dead-on accurate in their concerns.

The President has a difficult time with multilateral agreements, preferring bilateral where one side can win and the other lose. But, if we are seeking long term relationships everyone must benefit. The Nobel Economics Prize winner John Nash developed what is now called the Nash Equilibrium for multilateral agreements – simply if each partner seeks the best gain for the whole, more economic gain will occur. This runs in direct contrast to Trump’s zero-sum game approach. It should be noted there is a business alliance of car makers and others telling him to not ditch NAFTA, a multilateral agreement.

Climate change continues to increase the magnitude of hurricanes, forest fires and droughts. The GAO noted the costs of catastrophic events are escalating as a result to the tune of $300 Billion, not counting the events of the last two months. These costs will likely get worse given the rising sea levels, temperatures and amounts of rain that melt away snow and expose the terrain to these intense forest fires.

On the positive side, renewables continue there double-digit per annum growth and are more affordable long term. The Mayor of Greensburg, Texas signed a twenty-five year contract for wind energy as the numbers were more compelling. Texas leads the country in wind energy with 16% of their energy portfolio and Iowa has almost a third of its energy by wind. It should be noted that irrespective of pulling the Clean Power Plan, America will blow past the requirements in carbon reductions based on the work of several states and market forces. Folks like Trump, Pruitt and Perry are less relevant in this conversation and need to stay out of the way.

That is all I have for now. Your thoughts are welcome.

Coastal collaborations

One good, one bad. One founded on truth, one founded to perpetuate a lie. Two recent articles in The Charlotte Observer shed a spotlight on the coastal threat of man-influenced climate change and these two collaborations.

First, the bad. North Carolina realtors who sell coastal properties have banded together to fight those who want to plan for climate change induced sea rise. They have successfully lobbied the passage of a law in the General Assembly that repeals the requirement that builders reflect the impact of climate change on their structures and placement.

This adversarial relationship with science has followed a history of the GOP led General Assembly toward climate change. The more memorable moment was the General Assembly’s refusal to accept a peer reviewed scientific report that said sea levels would rise by 39 inches by the end of the century, accepting one that looked backwards limiting the increase to 8 inches. The former report had been accepted by Virginia and Louisiana. Stephen Colbert ridiculed the NCGA on one of his shows for the absurdity in NC.

Realtors are supposed to tell the truth, although there are some who embellish too much. Yet, to try to hold back the ocean with paperwork is not good business. When leaders hide the truth, people suffer. I encourage buyers to do research with reputable sources, including their ability to insure their potential properties. Owners on NC’s Bald Head Island realized the hard way what happens when property is built too close and without buffers.

Now, the good. In response to an executive order by the current White House incumbent to do seismic testing in advance of offshore oil development off our Atlantic Coast, a building bipartisan coalition has formed. Six coastal states’ governors (two Republican) have joined with numerous mayors and business people to fight this oil exploration.

They estimate the coastal tourism business is about $95 Billion per year. Then, there is the fishing industry which is exposed. And, we should not lose sight of homebuyers who want to retire or have property near the ocean. It should be noted that the Florida and Georgia governors are silent on these issues, which is viewed as a positive by this group.

Climate change is a real threat that is no longer futuristic. Miami is the most at risk city in the world in terms of assets and sees daily flooding even without hurricanes. The latter are now more severe  in strength, while droughts and forest fires are more in number and extremity. These are predicted in climate change models.

I am disappointed in these coastal realtors, the NC General Assembly and the White House. Ignoring scientific experts on this topic puts people in harm’s way. We must plan accordingly. I praise highly the courage and wisdom of these governors, mayors and business people. They see climate change as a threat and offshore fossil fuel development as a risk.