Being candid on obvious concerns

Last night, “60 Minutes” did a piece on the continuing forest fires in Australia. The risk has heightened due to climate change on this very hot and dry continent.

One of those whose home has been destroyed is incredulous by the lack of planning and execution by the prime minister and government. She said our country is on fire and the risk will continue and they cannot focus on that? Another person joined others and refused to shake the prime minister’s hand saying “you’re an idiot, mate.”

Not to be outdone, former conservative PM Malcolm Turnbull noted climate change is making the Australian forest fires worse. He referred to climate change naysayers in his own party as “idiotic.”

Their candor is needed. In the US, Republican lawmakers are now pushing the planting of a million trees. This is a good start, especially after twenty years of varying degrees of climate change denial, but addresses only one side of the issue. We need to also stop putting so much carbon and methane into the atmosphere as well as taking carbon out of the air with more trees (and other measures).

I am not advocating the use of derogatory terms like idiot or idiotic, but in the case of the current Australian PM, Scott Morrison, many would not shake his hand after he took a planned vacation to Hawaii while the fires were raging back home. That was not the wisest of moves.

Planting trees is a good start

I read this week House Republican minority leader Kevin McCarthy is pushing for a bill to require the planting of a million trees. Some members of the Republican party are now openly admitting climate change is a problem after over twenty years of varying degrees of denial.

The rationale is to two-fold. These members realize younger voters know climate change is a problem to deal with. These members also are pushing a carbon capture narrative to permit the unabated use of fossil fuel energy.

This is a good start for the Republican party, but a necessary strategy has two vital components:

1) take more carbon out of the atmosphere

2) put less carbon into the air

Focusing only on one or the other is half the battle. Fortunately, coal is on the demise in most places around the world. In the US, more coal-fired plants have been retired under Trump’s tenure than under the last three years of Obama’s. With all his bluster, Trump cannot stop the demise.

The key is to diminish natural gas, which has less carbon impact than coal, but creates a larger methane and water problem. While methane has a shorter life than carbon, it is more potent a problem.

We should embrace planting more trees. We should also increase mangrove areas near seashores which absorb a lot of carbon and protect against rising tides. And, as noted in the documentary “Ice on Fire,” there are a number of other carbon eating measures.

These with increasing solar, wind, and tidal energy sources and continued urban and agricultural climate efforts will help put less carbon in the air. The answer is all of the above and more.

Near universal health coverage achieved in six states and DC

An article by Michael Rainey of The Fiscal Times (see link below), called “How six states achieved near universal coverage” noted the success of covering at least 95% of their people. These six states are Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont. The District of Columbia also fits the bill. Per the article:

“A half-dozen states and the District of Columbia have health care insurance rates of over 95%, achieving near-universal coverage. Three researchers at the University of Pennsylvania — including Ezekiel Emanuel, a key architect of Obamacare — said Monday that the Affordable Care Act has everything to do with those results.

Here’s how the states achieved such high insurance rates, according to the authors:

Expanding Medicaid: States that expanded their Medicaid programs as allowed under the ACA had about half the uninsured rate (6.6%) in 2018 as states that did not do so (12.4%). ‘Nearly 5 million people would gain health insurance if the remaining 14 states expanded Medicaid,’ they write.

Extending enrollment periods: High-coverage states countered the Trump administration’s efforts to shorten enrollment periods and reduce informational assistance.

Lowering premiums: States enacted additional subsidies and reinsurance programs to keep premiums low, a crucial factor in maintaining insurance coverage from year to year.

Simplifying options: Some states limited the number of options available to counteract “choice overload,” which can reduce signups through consumer paralysis.

Maintaining individual mandates: Five low uninsured states maintain some kind of individual and employer mandates, which may help persuade healthy people to sign up.

The lesson, the authors say, is that near-universal health coverage can be achieved without national legislation. ‘While it is easy to dismiss the ACA and focus on the promise of Medicare for All, there is a more straightforward path to universal coverage,’ they write, ‘adopting a handful of relatively simple policies and programs at the state level can ensure health insurance coverage for nearly all Americans.’”

This article echoes what can be achievable if Medicaid is expanded and the other above steps are taken. The three states who drag the results down for the country – Texas, Florida and Georgia – did not expand Medicaid nor run their own Healthcare exchanges. Of the six states over 95%, it should be noted Iowa and Hawaii use the federal Healthcare Exchange, while the other four run their own exchanges.

I have long said Medicare for All is something to be explored, but it requires detailed analyses (and time) of its costs and impact. In the interim, I have strongly advocated improving the Affordable Care Act. The goal is access to care, in my view. The employment paradigm has been changing for some time, where fewer full-time workers are being used than before. We are seeing several industries move to a largely part-time workforce, such as in the retail, restaurant, and hospitality industries. We have seen contractual employment continue as well as the growth of gig economies. Health care access needs to come from somewhere.

What I do not care for is the hyper-politicization of this topic. Republicans (including the president) have actively sabotaged the Affordable Care Act, cutting funding to insurers, not mentioning the negative talk about it. It has still survived. Some Democrats choose to throw progress out and go full bore with Medicare for All. Again, that is a detailed undertaking and no candidate can accomplish this without buy-in from both parties.

So, let’s improve what we have. States who have not expanded Medicaid have been economically short-sighted and harmed their citizens. I have argued for repaying insurers who were harmed by the reneging on funding commitments, inviting them back into markets. Where choice is not available, introduce a Medicare option. I would also lower the eligibility for Medicare to age 60 or 62.

These are practical options that may move the needle upward like in those six states. Let’s talk about that.

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/6-states-achieved-near-universal-224827646.html

KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid

We should remember this acronym, KISS. It stands for Keep it Simple Stupid. Donald Trump certainly does. There is a reason why he speaks in a bumper sticker fashion. He does not know or care to know details. He just needs a prop, a message or a hook. Then, he repeats it over and over, sometimes a half-a-dozen times in one a short speech.

Whether people think Mike Bloomberg or Tom Steyer are the best candidates for the Democrat nomination, note how simple they are keeping their messages in TV commercials. They focus on how weary we all are of the current president. But, the ideas are straightforward:

– we must act on climate change (both)
– we must improve health care access (Bloomberg)
– we must help more people prosper under the economy (both)
– we must have better gun governance (Bloomberg)
– we must have term limits (Steyer)

Steyer has added another key element which I like, people are treating each other better than the folks in Washington treat each other. That has resonated with me and someone I know who voted for Trump because he disliked Hillary Clinton.

I am not saying these are the best candidates. But, I am saying they are worthy of people’s consideration. I encourage all Democrat candidates to boil their messages into simpler themes. And, stop the circular firing squad. A good idea should not matter from whence it came.

Those imperfect candidates

The search for nirvana, whether it is the perfect partner, job, setting, workout, dinner, vacation, etc. is an endless search. There is no such thing. The same goes for presidential candidates, regardless of party, country, state, locality, etc. And sadly, the better candidates get tainted once they have been elected as they make compromises and decisions which you may not like. Or, maybe when looked back on with a different context, those decisions look foolish.

I have been watching the circular firing squad of the Democratic party candidates for several months. I see more fanatical followers of candidates use a scorched earth mindset to destroy the candidates that are not their favorite. I witnessed this in 2016, when some Bernie Sanders were so adamantly against an imperfect Hillary Clinton, they could not bring themselves to vote for her. The current US president used this ammunition to create even more distaste and get those voters to stay home, vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or even vote for him as a change agent. It worked as he needed less than 100,000 voters spread among three states to win.

Every Democratic candidate has good selling points. And, every Democrat candidate has faults. I will not belabor either one of these lists, as my purpose is not to analyze the veracity of one or the other here. I will save that for a future post, when the slate gets more manageable. I will add every Democrat candidate has a better moral and ethical compass than that of the incumbent president. Conservative writer David Brooks noted that Trump does not seem to be able to show empathy. Almost every situation is exploited to elevate himself. Yet, in so doing, he reveals a very shallow and egomaniacal person. At times he reveals his corrupt nature.

Yes, I want the next president to focus on climate change, healthcare, career training for new and emerging jobs, better gun governance, etc. Yes, I would like them to deal with the debt and deficit. Yes, I would like them to restore America’s reputation as a trusted, fair and reasonable global partner. But, I would like my president to represent our better angels, not our worst demons. The current one does not. Issues are used to divide, not galvanize. I want a president to shine a spotlight on poor behavior, not condone it or discount it.

So, as people look for perfect candidates, remember this biblical example. We had only one perfect person walk the earth – and we killed him. Let’s not kill the Democrat candidate in search for nirvana.

A few climate change tidbits

There was good news, bad news and ludicrous news that occurred this week. Here is a Friday rundown.

On the good news front, The Charlotte Observer did an excellent editorial called “Federal disaster relief: Tossing cash in the ocean in NC.” The gist is the US Army Corps of Engineers is spending “$237 million to rebuild dunes and widen the beach on 10 miles of Topsail Island shoreline.” The sad part is the rebuild is occurring only a year after an earlier rebuild. Per Orrin Pilkey a Duke emeritus professor of geology and an expert on coastal erosion, “‘These projects can only be characterized as madness. The sea-level rise is clearly accelerating, increasing intense storms are expected as has happened in the last four years, and the amounts of money spent on these beaches will need to be expended again and again for years into the future.'” Per the Observer, “piling cash into the sand won’t stop that for long.” Ten years ago, the largest global pension trustees did a study that noted the cost of addressing climate change was in the multiple tens of trillions of US dollars.

On the ludicrous front, US Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin decided to follow his boss’ lead and pick on Greta Thunberg. In essence, Mnuchin said she needs to go back and get an economic degree and then explain why we should fight climate change. OK, Mr. Mnuchin, please tell me how spending cash to rebuild sand dunes over and over again makes financial sense? Help explain why the present value cost of renewable energy such as wind and solar, which includes the cost of acquisition, transportation, environmental degradation, production, maintenance of byproduct, and litigation is far cheaper than the present value cost of coal energy? And, while your at it, why did a Mayor, with an accounting background, in a Texas town choose a 100% renewable energy proposal over a fossil fuel one due to cost and guaranteed pricing for twenty-five years? What this shows to me is grown people are trying to denigrate a young girl as if they do, then climate change is not an issue.

On the bad news front, the courts threw out the climate change inaction case against the US by twenty-one children and now young adults. The case had merit and moved up to a district courts where it was dismissed by a 2 to 1 vote. The courts did agree with the plea to do more about climate change, but did not feel the case warranted further action. It has spawned other cases in other cities and helped fuel an advocacy to do something about climate change. What the plaintiffs will do next is uncertain at this point. It should be noted the suit against Exxon Mobil by three states is still pending. Using Exxon’s own data, the lead state New York Attorney General, is arguing that Exxon Mobil misled its shareholders and possible investors on the impact of climate change on its financials. That is securities fraud under the guise of the SEC.

The takeaways from the above are clear in my mind. Dealing with climate change is a “pay me now or pay me later” proposition. A key is we cannot put the climate back together again if we wait too long to act more aggressively. I have quoted Pilkey before, but one message bears repeating. People would be foolish to buy property on the shore and should think about selling what they have now. That cuts to the chase.

The other takeaway is the young people get it. The older people in positions of power either don’t get it or cannot say that they do, as they take so much funding from the fossil fuel industry. Coal is in the demise and more coal plants have been closed under this president than under his predecessors. That would be a good question for Messers. Mnuchin and Trump that Ms. Thunberg might want to ask. She might also want to ask why the Trump Organization petitioned, in writing, the Irish government to build a sea wall at a Trump golf course to hold back the rising ocean due to climate change. It does not take an economist to call BS on that one.

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?