On the downhill side of hump day

Tomorrow, the infamous Mueller report will be released in redacted form. Of course, the AG has called a press conference, so there are no guarantees. I would not be surprised by anything at this point. I do see a scared President.

What I find interesting is Giuliani and crowd are preparing a rebuttal, yet we have been told they had not see the report. I did not believe this for one bit, but I find it odd that you can write a rebuttal to a report you have not seen.

What I also find interesting is how someone can tout the summary conclusions that the AG offered and then denigrate the underlying report. This was akin to Trump saying Michael Cohen lied to Congress, except when he was bragging on Trump.

Herman Cain said he will keep his hat in the race for the Federal Reserve Board. This is giving the GOP Senate leaders heartburn as they see him as unqualified and unfit based on past issues. They have a right to be concerned, in my opinion.

Mayor Pete has some sound advice for his fellow Democrat Presidential candidates – do not make this about Trump bashing. I agree. Mayor Pete has impressed every where he has gone for interviews.

Speaking of impressing, Bernie impressed the Town Hall attendees on Fox. Dems need to do more of this, as their message is overall better than the current President and GOP. It is not perfect and needs to move to the center more, but talking about healthcare, job training, climate change, e.g. is much better than a border wall. By the way, the President, who feels Fox is his network, has fumed twice for Fox hosting Bernie. I find this amusing.

Finally, I was quite tickled when the President started criticizing Bernie’s taxes that he released. The response should be simple – “Mr. President, you are welcome to do this as I realized my tax returns. Where are yours? What are you hiding?”

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Some Wednesday Why Questions

Several news stories have crystallized over the past few days forcing me to ask some why questions. Here are just a few on this Wednesday.

Why is the party that is adamant voter fraud is more prevalent the one who causes more of it? Today, the GOP North Carolina chair was indicted for bribing a public official with campaign donations. This is on the heels of the GOP Congressional candidate absentee ballot fraud issue and the unconstitutional gerrymandering that has gone on under GOP tutelage in NC.

Why are we playing politics with the President overriding an unheard of 25 security clearances, including two relatives? I don’t care what party is responsible, this should give all Americans pause, especially given the President’s poor attention to vetting, conflicts of interest and the fact his two relatives do not hold positions that were approved by the Senate. The CIA has been concerned about Jared Kushner’s culpability for some time, eg.

Why is the British parliament failing to read the tea leaves on Brexit? There is a petition with 6 million names asking for a cancellation of Brexit. When the petition was criticized for foreign involvement, it was determined that 96% of the names are UK citizens. I read today that Ford will re-evaluate what to do with two British car plants depending on what happens. They are not alone.

Why is Shell Oil pulling out of an US based petroleum industry lobby group beginning next year? Its shareholders are forcing the company to more demonstratively  address climate change and support the Paris Climate Change Accord. It should be noted Exxon Mobil shareholders asked the company to report back on what they are doing about climate change. Both companies were active on climate change research before they decided to pretend it was not a problem in public.

Why would the President even consider closing the border with our third largest trading partner, not to mention the people who live in Mexico and work in the US? This would be harmful to the US economy, per Senate leader Mitch McConnell (and many others) and even more so for border states. It also overlooks the greatest need to help with the chronic border problem – immigration judges. Walls and closures are just costly theatrics.

Why is it OK to want to trade with North Korea, but not Cuba? The real reason is Obama opened the doors to the relationship. For some reason, Trump has an unhealthy focus on things Obama did. But, trading with Cuba is desirous to many Americans and Cubans and is far easier to get a return on investment. Commerce is a good way to break down barriers.

That is all for now. Let me know what you think or if you have any more why questions.

 

Renewable energy has become cheaper than coal

An article in The Guardian caught my eye yesterday, entitled “‘Coal is on the way out’: study finds fossil fuel now pricier than solar or wind.” This is not surprising to me as the production costs of solar and wind energy have significantly dropped over time, yet it likely catches some as a big surprise. Per the article:

“Around three-quarters of US coal production is now more expensive than solar and wind energy in providing electricity to American households, according to a new study.

‘Even without major policy shift we will continue to see coal retire pretty rapidly,’ said Mike O’Boyle, the co-author of the report for Energy Innovation, a renewables analysis firm. ‘Our analysis shows that we can move a lot faster to replace coal with wind and solar. The fact that so much coal could be retired right now shows we are off the pace.'”

When all of the costs are factored in, coal is even more expensive than indicated above. For example, coal energy continues to be costly long after it is burned through ash maintenance, leakage and litigation. Yet, now production costs are largely higher for coal than renewables. As the article notes the decline of coal is passed the tipping point.

But, don’t just take the word of this article. In the first two years of the Trump Presidency, more coal plants have been closed than in the entire first four-year term of Obama’s Presidency. This would have happened anyway regardless of who was President, but I mention Trump as even someone who campaigned on keeping coal plants open cannot stave off this trend.

If that is insufficient, note there are currently more than four times the number of solar jobs than coal jobs in the US. And, the wind energy jobs are growing very quickly in the Midwest, with Texas, Iowa, North Dakota, and Minnesota among others leading the way. In an article called “Will 2019 be the year of the turbine – wind energy continues to surge in Texas” in the Caller Times, in 2017 Texas provided about 15% of its energy through wind and has and will continue to increase that percentage in 2018 and beyond.

I feel for the coal miners, but they are owed the truth and help in retraining for new jobs and some transitional financial support. In the same areas where coal is found, the wind blows and sun shines. I implore legislators to help invest in the new economy in these areas. This should have been happening all along as this trend is not new.

 

 

Saturday in the park (redux)

It is a beautiful spring day and we just got back from a walk. With due credit to the band Chicago, hum “Saturday in the park,” as you read on.

– Speaking of walking, there were multiple hundreds of thousands marching in London pleading for another Brexit referendum. Some of it has to do with Parliament’s inability to plan a smooth exit, but the large part is due to Brexit being a financially imprudent idea.

– The Mueller report is in and I encourage a large dose of patience. Let people read and digest the thing. Plus, this is just the end of one phase, with much more to come. Future indictments will likely come from the Southern District of New York and be of a campaign finance or conflict of interest nature. Spiking the ball in the endzone is premature, especially when dealing with such an untruthful man.

– Boeing is in a heap of hurt, with an order for 50 737’s being canceled. Training is everything and, apparently, it has been shortchanged on this unwieldy plane. A pilot said the switch from autopilot to pilot in some instances maximizes the worst attributes of both at the wrong time. Unfortunately, hundreds have died.

– Seeing the horrible flooding in the US and the cyclone damage on the east coast of Africa reminds me of a report sanctioned almost ten years ago by the largest pension trusts in the world on the financial impact of climate change. Between the increased severity of forest fires, drought, flooding and sea rising, they estimated a cost on the order of multiple tens of trillion dollar. I think that might be light as there will be an echo effect that is worse than predicted then.

– Kudos to New Zealand, its people and its  leader, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. From the heartfelt solidarity to the grieving Muslim community and nation to acting with seriousness of purpose banning assault weapons, Ardern showed what leadership looks like. As an American, I am envious of her leadership and proud we have such in our world.

Have a great weekend all. Best wishes to those in need or grieving their lost loved ones.

A few green thoughts for a green day

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here are a few green thoughts for the day. Green will take a few different meanings herein.

– Let’s give a big shout out to the kids around the world who went on strike from school to bring awareness to the need for more action on climate change. I am certain they will receive push back from the fossil fuel funded crowd, but these kids care about the future and present of our planet.

– Let’s give a shout out to the twenty kids suing the US Federal government for insufficient action on planning the demise of fossil fuel in response to what they already know about climate change. As this unheard of case progresses, the lead attorney told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that their information is very solid and comes from the files of the US government.

– Let’s give a shout out to Germany and places like Georgetown, TX, Greensburg, KS and Burlington, VT. Coal energy now lags renewable energy in Germany as they are on their way to eliminating coal use in twenty years. As for the three US cities, they are 100% renewable energy powered.  The CPA Mayor of Georgetown said the renewable energy model selected is more cost-effective than the fossil fuel model – so it is saving greenbacks as well.

– Let me state my being green with envy as China is investing a trillion US dollars in building trade corridors with dozens of countries around the world. This is occurring at the same time the US is retrenching from its global leadership role, leaving global multilateral agreements, denigrating allies and spending money to build a wall for an overstated problem. The symbolism is stark – China is building bridges, we want to build walls. The US is enabling an ascendant China.

– Let me close with a shout out to people with chutzpah to set forth a Green New Deal. While not perfect, it is an idea worth discussing to fashion a plan going forward.   Ignoring a problem does not constitute a plan.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. May the road rise to meet you.

 

Rural hospitals closing at an alarming rate

Rural hospitals in trouble is not a new topic, but the significant increase in closings and risk of such is finally getting some attention. The issue for years has been the large percentage of a rural hospital’s budget that went unpaid due to patient debt and indigent care. In some hospitals, the percentage of these two items is more than 1/2 of the budget.

Per a February, 2019 article in Modern Healthcare called “Nearly a quarter of rural hospitals are on the brink of closing” by Alex Kacik: “Twenty-one percent of rural hospitals are at high risk of closing, according to Navigant’s analysis of CMS data on 2,045 rural hospitals. That equates to 430 hospitals across 43 states that employ about 150,000 people and generate about $21.2 billion in total patient revenue a year.

Hospitals are often the economic drivers of rural communities. Per capita income falls 4% and the unemployment rate rises 1.6 percentage points when a hospital closes, a related study found. Ninety-seven rural hospitals have closed since 2010, according to the University of North Carolina Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.

They also broke the impact down by state, revealing that half of Alabama’s rural hospitals are in financial distress, the highest percentage in the country. At least 36% of the hospitals in Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Maine and Mississippi are in financial jeopardy.”

Most of the states in trouble chose not to expand Medicaid, but there are some who did or are now doing so. Per several studies by The Commonwealth Fund, RAND Corporation, Economic Policy Institute and George Washington University, expanding Medicaid would help patients, state economies and rural hospitals. Why? It would allow these hospitals to get paid and paid closer to the time of service reducing accounts receivables. Getting paid has an echo effect on employees and consumers.

This issue was brought home by two Republicans pleading with their party to acquiesce in states like North and South Carolina that did not expand Medicaid. GOP Governor John Kasich of Ohio, who ran for President, said Medicaid expansion is a “no brainer” and would add over $13 billion to Ohio over several years. Yet, the most dramatic plea was from Adam O’Neal, a GOP Mayor of a North Carolina town called Belhaven.

After failing to get the GOP majority in Raleigh to help save his town’s Vidant Pungo Hospital that served 20,000 people, he walked 273 miles to Washington, DC over 14 days. “You can’t let rural hospitals close across the country. People die,” O’Neal, told Modern Healthcare in 2014. Unfortunately, Vidant Pungo closed later that year (note a non-ER clinic opened in 2016).

You can add my pleas for help back then (and now). Folks, this stuff is real. I do not care if your tribe is blue, red, purple are chartreuse, hospital closings impact people’s lives and people’s livelihoods. Closings also hurt their community’s economy. My strong advice is for legislators to stop political posturing and do something. I do not care who wins or loses a political game. Stop focusing on keeping your job and do your job. You could start by expanding Medicaid, joining the other 36 states.

Hey Dems, focus on these four issues

One of this Independent voter’s frustrations with politics, which is exacerbated by this President, is pressing issues are not getting discussed. And, some are made worse or are sabotaged by the current White House incumbent as we are told to focus our attention on issues he has overstated in importance or sold on fear.

While there are many issues, it is hard to boil the ocean. So, my advice to all politicians, but especially the Democrats who are pushing these ideas, is to narrow the focus to the following four issues.

– Stabilize the healthcare system and have a good debate on Medicare for All, which is a hard sell. The GOP has failed to realize that a reason they lost the House is not listening to most Americans, instead sabotaging the ACA reneging on commitments to insurers and trying to repeal it. As a retired benefits actuary, consultant and manager. I would suggest an idea to stabilize the ACA is to expand Medicare to retirees at age 60 or 62 and measure the impact for its veracity. But, we need to start by paying insurers what we committed to them.

– Climate change is real, is happening and is man-influenced. AOC is dramatizing a little about the end of the world, but the data point she is citing is if we do not make huge strides by 2030 (12 years), our ability to stop the warming trend impact is minimal. She has been ridiculed for he Green New Deal by the GOP, but I would rather discuss her plan than Senator Marco Rubio ignoring the fact the largest city in Florida is the most at risk city on the planet and is seeing a larger number of sunny days flooding from the rising tides. Who is the crazier person, the one speaking to a problem or the one ignoring it altogether?

– Job retraining is key, but we need to understand the major reasons the jobs are going away are technology/ robotics and CEOs chasing cheap labor. It is not immigration or trade, which are down the list. This especially true in those impoverished areas where industry has left them behind moving or closing a plant.

– Finally, the debt and deficit are critical to discuss. The debt just passed $22 trillion and is headed to $34 trillion by the end of 2027. The annual deficit will pass $1 trillion this year, which is nearly 1/3 of our annual revenue. My former party and, in particular, the Freedom Caucus, are as hypocritical as they come. When the Dems had the White House, the Freedom Caucus screamed bloody murder when the debt was $8 trillion, then $13 trillion. But, I give the same caution to Dems I give to the GOP, we must reduce spending and increase revenue. The math will not work otherwise, so says the CBO, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, The Concord Coalition and Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee.

Of course, there are other critical issues. But, if you focus on the important few, it will resonate. This is especially true for younger folks – climate change, debt, future jobs and healthcare are important. In my view, the GOP has lost its way on issues of import. When I left the party twelve years ago, a key reason was its global warming denying stance. My thesis is if you are denying the greatest threat facing our planet, how can I trust you on resolving other issues?

We are behind the eight ball on too many issues. We are leaving our problems to our children and grandchildren. They will ask us, why did you do that? Why, indeed?