Infrastructure, India and Intellectual Capital

These are three very powerful “I” words – Infrastructure, India and intellectual capital. They are related in one key fashion. The failure of the US to address each of these issues has hastened its forthcoming demise as the world leading economy. China, of course, plays a key role, but we sometimes lose track of the other fastest growing economy in India, who has been creating a technology proficiency that rivals and may surpass Silicon Valley.

Per Vice News, India is well positioned for two key reasons. They have one billion people and are much more heavily focused on STEM education than the US. Even if the US had the same focus, India is three times larger and has been doing major call center and technology outsourcing for US and other companies for years. Now, they have companies that only focus on the domestic market in India. And, one other key is important. Indians who have traveled to the US to be educated are returning home rather than staying here. Why? Opportunity back home and the fact the welcome mat has been thrown away by the current US President for immigrants of color.

The other two “I” words are crucial. India is investing in their infrastructure and intellectual capital. The US has forgotten what got us to a world dominant economy. In the book “That used to be us: How America fell behind in the world it created and how it can come back,” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, it describes an America that used to invest along with a blend of local government and private funding to do great things. Now, we are more concerned with cutting revenue to dare fund things like our dilapidated infrastructure and intellectual capital.

Both the US Chamber of Commerce and labor unions have been pleading for years to invest more in our infrastructure. While interest rates were low, it was the ideal time to borrow to invest in depleted assets. Infrastructure investing also would create jobs and enhance productivity, the latter through saving of time by reducing the time when roads, canals, locks and bridges have to be shut down for repair. The President rightfully noted this need on the campaign trail and then shelved a report to do anything about it one month into his Presidency. Who says so? The man he asked to do the report.

Like India, we should be investing in new technologies and our infrastructure. Plus, we should be more welcoming of immigrants, especially those who are educated here. Innovation is portable, so if these folks leave the US, the Innovation will occur elsewhere. This coupled with a better and protective patent system will promote growth.

Like America, India is not perfect. But, they are focused on the future moreso than the US leaders are. We tend to be focused more on protecting legacy industries, than greasing the skids for new ones. Fortunately, other Americans are more forward thinking, in spite of our leaders. But, it would be nice if we helped them out more.

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Wind waltzes across Texas

Relatively unknown to many Anericans is the rapidly growing success of renewable energy in America. California is the significant leader in solar energy and Texas is the predominant wind energy state.

As reported on CBS Morning News this week, there are 24,000 renewable energy jobs in Texas mostly in the wind sector. That is more than 1/3 of coal jobs in the whole country. Further, over 16% of the electricity produced in Texas comes from wind energy at the end of 2017.

What may be surprising is former Republican Governor Rick Perry deserves credit for pushing a bill to expand the electric grid to draw power from the wind turbines. This action is vital as to power cities, the electricity has to be transferred from the plains areas where wind blows so strongly.

This makes Perry’s relative silence on the subject frustrating in his role as the director of the Department of Energy. He is doing the heavy lifting for the President as he pushes for more coal use. With the renewable energy jobs growing at double-digit per annum clip, one would think Perry might want to talk about expanding the nationwide grid.

Let me close with a reminder of the town of Georgetown, TX that is 100% powered by renewable energy. Republican Mayor Dale Ross noted in the CBS news interview that he is a Reagan Republucan, but breaks with his party on climate change. Ross, a CPA, wants to meet with the President as his Town Council voted to select the lesser and more predictable cost model for energy which is renewable energy.

Too many people debate renewable energy as a jobs vs. environment issue. This is an old argument and is no longer true. The market forces and development have made renewable energy more affordable. As a result, the jobs are growing. Just think of the wind waltzing across Texas.

Pope is at it again

Last week, Pope Francis again revealed why he is a global leader. Leveraging the biblical teachings that God wants us to take care of our environment, he reiterated his concerns on climate change to oil executives. Per a Wall Street Journal article called “Pope Francis Criticizes Continued Search for Fossil Fuels at Meeting with Oil Executives,” he encouraged oil executives to find ways to leave fossil fuel energy in the ground. Per the WSJ article:

“’Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!’ he said at a Vatican climate change conference attended by top executives including Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Darren Woods, BP PLC Chief Executive Bob Dudley and BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Laurence Fink.

At the conference, co-sponsored by the University of Notre Dame and featuring nearly 20 speakers Friday and Saturday, the pope said that an estimated 1 billion people still lack electricity and noted that access to energy is an essential resource for escaping poverty. But he warned that a failure to reduce the use of fossil fuels would lead to a ‘spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty.’

The poor ‘suffer most from the ravages of global warming,’ he said, through water shortages and extreme weather which in turn drive mass migration, among other ways.
Pope Francis commended oil and gas companies for adopting policies that account for ‘assessment of climate risk’ and he encouraged the practice of environmentally sensitive ‘green finance’ investment strategies. But he warned that ‘markets and technology’ wouldn’t be sufficient to stop climate change, since our ‘current economic system thrives on ever-increasing extraction, consumption and waste.’

Earlier this year, BlackRock’s Mr. Fink in a letter urged chief executives at global companies to ‘make a positive contribution to society.’ The world’s largest asset manager has played a key role behind the scenes in insisting that companies take action to respond to climate change.

Pope Francis’ meeting with oil executives and investors comes almost exactly three years after the publication of his encyclical Laudato Si’, in which he called global warming a major threat to life on the planet and said it is mainly caused by human activity. In that document, which as an encyclical ranks among the highest levels of papal teaching, the pope blamed special interests for blocking policy responses and indicted the market economy for plundering the Earth at the expense of the poor and future generations.”

With the US President announcing his intention to leave the Paris Climate Change Accord, other global leaders, like Pope Francis are continuing the push. Ironically, Exxon Mobil’s shareholders voted (the day before Trump’s announcement to leave the Accord) to obligate the company leadership to inform them of what they are doing to address climate change. Fortunately, US cities, states and businesses are picking up the baton dropped by the President. The US has passed the tipping point on renewable energy, in spite of the President and his EPA head’s efforts.

Pope Francis should be commended for leading the charge. Taking care of the least of us has been a mantra of this leader. I recognize he is not perfect, but is concern for people and the environment is meritorious. And, unlike Messrs. Trump and Pruitt, the pope is a scientist, with a Masters in Chemistry and has worked as a chemist.

Ports, trade and jobs

In Steven Solomon’s book “Water: the Epic Struggle for Power, Wealth and Civilization” he notes two of the greatest water decisions that helped make America a global power are the building of the Erie Canal and Panama Canal. Both gave the US the ability to conduct trade more easily. I mention these decisions as many east coast US ports have dug deeper channels to permit larger ships to enter their harbors. And, non-port cities have developed trans-modal distribution facilities to get goods on and off planes, trains and trucks often going to or from ports.

The leaders of ports and these trans-modal facilities have concerns over the tariff wars that are beginning because of the short-sighted decision of the US President. While some industries will see job increases, peripheral and other industries will see job losses. But, the ones who see red flags are those who handle the distribution of goods.

The port leaders are concerned the return on the investment to dig deeper ports may be watered down. But, less trade also means fewer truck drivers, rail workers, dock workers and distribution handlers. This is on top of industries specifically hit by tariffs.

Nick Hanauer, a venture capitalist spoke on a Ted Talk about his frustration that business leaders called themselves job creators. He asked “Do you know who creates jobs? Customers.” It should be noted the first and third Presidents who witnessed the most jobs were Bill Clinton (22.9 million) and Ronald Reagan (16.1 million). Per David Smick, an economist who worked for both, this was in large part due to their emphasis on free trade.

Tariffs hurt the wrong people. They may help some targeted industries, but they end up hurting far more employees than they help.They do hurt business owners, but in the end, they reduce the number of customers. And, fewer customers cause fewer jobs. The math is that simple. Any decision that adds to customers is job accretive, while the converse is also true. And, one thing is certain – we cannot shrink our customer base to greatness.

Messers. Trump and Pruitt – it is the Environmental Protection Agency

Almost one year ago, the President of the United States announced a plan to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Accord making the US a very isolated country on the world stage. That announcement both betrays and galvanizes further the significant efforts and science behind America’s push toward renewable energy and conservation.

Yet, that is only part of the attack by this administration on our home planet. Under the tutelage of Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency, has decided to have an all out war on science and the environment. The orchestrated removal of climate change science data accessible by the EPA website and the repositioning, demotion or firing of some scientists, is indicative of a parent wanting to mask the fact they do drugs from their kids.

Pruitt has also tried successfully and unsuccessfully to let companies pollute waterways and the environment with fewer repercussions. The fact we have a global water shortage is irrelevant. He has also championed the ability for industry to question the EPA’s data. That may sound good, but industry has challenged data for years and, as a country, we do not adhere to the Precautionary Principle.

This principle states that if it is believed an industry is polluting the environment, then they must prove they are not before going further. In the US, industry has to be proven they wronged people many years after the fact. The reason Erin Brockovich is so famous is it is rare to win against industry. The sad part is people have died or been made ill by then. The Pruitt change is to let industry cherry pick data more easily. I should note the flame retardant industry used a study that had nothing to do with that issue to show the retardants were safe – it was proven they cause cancer in firefighters, toddlers and mothers.

Last week, a new report came out that noted the Outer Banks of North Carolina will be the hardest hit region by rising tides by the end of the century. Yet, the report eliminated any reference to man’s influence of climate change. It should be noted a few years earlier, the NC General Assembly refused to accept a similar finding, but paid for a report that used the past 100 years sea level increase as a guide for the future showing an increase of 8 inches versus 39 inches per the scientists. Apparently, that report has been proven faulty.

Finally, a report by the United Nations has estimated the failure to address climate change will cost the world $100 trillion in US dollars. Some have cried foul over this number, but I would add a study sanctioned by the world’s largest pension scheme (plan) investors in 2010 estimated the cost of repairing climate change problems in the $10 trillion to $20 trillion range. The key word in both is trillion.

We should recognize these numbers are guesses backed by science and some rationale. I would quibble less if the numbers are toward either end and focus on the observation that doing nothing will cost money and a lot of it. Hurricanes are more severe now when they hit shore from elevated sea levels. The costs to fix the damage run in the tens to hundreds of billions range. When you multiple just the hurricanes by these cost fixes, then one can see how the numbers can rise.

If that does not scare, there is a new term that should called “sunny day flooding.” These are days when high tides flood the streets of coastal cities when no storm is present. These days are increasing significantly in places like Miami, Hampton Roads, Charleston, New Orleans, etc. In the next fifteen to twenty years, some of these cities may have fewer non-flooding days than flooding ones.

So, Messers. Trump and Pruitt, you can choose to play ostrich all you want, but the people that care about our home need to move forward. It would be nice if you were an enabler rather than a blocker.

A Portugese Energy Company knows about US Growth

An article in Reuters earlier this week noted a Portugese energy company that knows first hand where energy growth is occurring in the United States. It may be surprising to the current White House, but not the market, the growth is not in the coal energy sector.  Per Timothy Gardner’s article “EDP bullish on US renewable power despite Trump’s support for coal” in Reuters, the following quote is compelling.

“‘U.S. renewables represent the growth engine of our company,’ António Mexia, who since 2006 has run the power utility EDP (EDP.LS), one of Portugal’s biggest companies, said in an interview on Tuesday.

U.S. wind and solar power projects represented 65 percent of new investments last year at EDP’s renewables arm EDPR (EDPR.LS), and are expected to continue at that rate in 2018 and in 2019, Mexia said. EDPR operates renewable projects in 11 other countries in Europe and the Americas.”

This is not inconsistent with other measures in America as solar and wind energy growth have risen with the continual fall in pricing. And, it is showing up in recurring double digit job growth in solar and wind energy.

I have cited the significant increase in wind energy across our plains states, but this is following the forecast of oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, who appeared on “60 Minutes” more than five years ago. He noted that natural gas expansion is a bridge to wind energy. It is just buying us time to get the infrastructure ready and prices to get more effective. It should be noted that several states get over 10% of their electricity from wind energy, with Iowa  at just under 33% leading in percentage of total and Texas at 16% producing the most wind energy due to its size.

In California, North Carolina, Florida and other southern states in the east and west, solar energy is growing significantly. California, by itself, would be one if the most prolific solar countries. And, Tesla is more of a battery storage company than car company. Elon Musk went live with a massive battery storage site to help a French company power southern Australia with solar energy. It truly is a global industry, so seeing a Portugese company invest here in the US is not unusual.

The growth in energy jobs are in renewables. It would be nice if this was more publicly recognized by all of our elected leaders, not just the ones who are not funded by the fossil fuel industry.

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.