Goodbye to 2021

The past year began with more hope to finally turn the page, only to find that the next few pages were glued together. COVID’s vaccines had been created and hope that we could put this pandemic more behind us were building. And, the last president of the United States was going to leave after one term taking his untruthful, bullying, incompetent and ego-maniacal bent with him.

Sadly, we learned that no good deed goes unpunished, and politicians made political a pandemic and its vaccines, masks, and other tools to fight it. In some places, public officials who were trying to help people got vilified by hyper-political attacks fueled by governors from Texas and Florida, and the former president. Ironically, only last week when the former president tried to do the right thing and advocated the booster shot, he got booed by his own fans. He realized then he helped create a monster that was bigger than himself.

We also learned that same man was far more than what is noted above. We learned he played a heavy hand in seditious activities to overthrow a branch of government. This handiwork may be proven to be far worse than what is overtly known, but we cannot and must not let what happened on January 6 happen again. Full Stop.

And, we learned he can be sociopathic. Narcissism is a form of sociopathism, but it came to a point when the former president confirmed this year what he told two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Bob Woodward in an interview on February 7, 2020 that he knew of the dangers of COVID then. What makes this unnerving is he had several pep rallies later in the month of February with his most loyal followers without telling them they were in danger. At those rallies, he told them COVID was Democrat hoax and naysayed it.

We also learned that Joe Biden can make mistakes just like his predecessors. Getting out of Afghanistan so abruptly without forewarning allies caused a rapid domino effect. We had little reconnaissance that people in the military would simply step aside so easily to let the Taliban assume control. Yet, we should have known and handled this better. One of the sad truths about American leadership is sometimes we let our own arrogance get in the way of learning the facts. We went into Iran and Afghanistan thinking we knew more than we did and it caused us problems.

I will say Biden, while imperfect, is a breath of fresh air from his predecessor. I grew very tired of the lens always being on the former president. I actually do not want to hear from the president every day. Let the people you hired do their jobs. I am also glad we finally got an infrastructure bill passed after ten years of inaction. America must invest in ourselves as we have fallen into a state of disrepair.

On the global front, we are learning that Brexit is briar patch that is hard to navigate without getting thorns. And, while it is appropriate that Boris Johnson be the one getting the thorns given his marketing stance on Brexit early on, it is painfully obvious the UK needs someone who knows details and diplomacy to handle the unwind. We are also seeing China continue to assert itself as the dominant global power, with its heightened crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong (and elsewhere) and reaping the dividends of investing in rare earth metals that go into so many electronics.

So, in 2022, I hope we can put the COVID thing to bed. And, I hope the less fervent followers of the former president start to realize what kind of person he truly is. The question has never been can he win again. The question is he should not ever be allowed to be in charge again. America needs to stop its own in fighting long enough that others like us fighting amongst ourselves as they take advantage.

Good economic news per Jennifer Rubin and Wall Street Journal

In an editorial by Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post called “Opinion: Biden gets an early Christmas gift: Good economic news,” she discusses the good economic news hearing into 2022. In excerpts below, she cites The Wall Street Journal and The Conference Board to support her claim.

“Presidents have some control over fiscal policy, but markets, the Federal Reserve and, yes, the state of the pandemic have a lot more say on how the economy is performing. Nevertheless, if President Biden can be bashed for bad economic news during his presidency (e.g., inflation), then he also should get some credit for successes. And right now, there is plenty for him to crow about.

Heading into the new year, the economy looks in better shape than Biden’s legislative agenda. The Wall Street Journal reports: ‘A booming U.S. economy is rippling around the world, leaving global supply chains struggling to keep up and pushing up prices. The force of the American expansion is also inducing overseas companies to invest in the U.S., betting that the growth is still accelerating and will outpace other major economies.

With a projected 7 percent annualized growth rate for the fourth quarter, the United States is running circles around Europe and China. That relative strength against the rest of the world, reflected in a strong dollar that lowers the cost of imports for U.S. consumers, matters greatly.

The economy grew 2.3 percent in the third quarter (higher than the expected 2.1 percent). Moreover, for all the talk of inflation and the pandemic, consumer confidence is through the roof. ABC News reports: ‘The Conference Board, a business research group, said Wednesday that its consumer confidence index — which takes into account consumers’ assessment of current conditions and their outlook for the future — rose to 115.8 in December, the highest reading since July.

…Furthermore supply chain woes are showing signs of abating. As Biden said at a meeting on Wednesday with his supply chain task force, “Packages are moving, gifts are being delivered and shelves are not empty.” He was also able to point to concrete steps his administration has taken to address the issue, such as obtaining the ports’ agreement to operate 24/7.

The full editorial can be linked to below. Rubin’s first point about presidents getting too much credit and blame for the economy is a good one. Yet, they do provide headwinds and tailwinds, usually a little of both. Biden’s predecessor inherited an economy that was in its 91st consecutive month of economic growth in January 2017 with six consecutive years of 2 million plus annual job growth. To his credit, it continued and was lifted some by a temporary sugar rush of the corporate tax cut in 2018, before falling back to previous levels after the sugar rush waned. Once the pandemic hit, all bets were off and we retrenched.

Biden and Trump invested in stimulus payments to get the economy going providing money to spend. And, it helped tide us over until more of us started working. Was it the best use of funds? Arguably. Some contended we should have provided the subsidies to employers to keep people employed. I would preferred to have seen that, as people would still be tethered to their job. The recently passed Infrastructure Bill will provide some additional tailwinds as would the Build Back Better bill that is still waylaid.

Inflation is of course a concern. Yet, politicos like to highlight bad news when their tribe is not in charge and lessen the focus on good news. In addition to the new COVID strain, what gives me pause is the stock market continues to remain at record high levels. The question is how long can it remain there? If you know that, you are way ahead in the game.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/12/22/biden-gets-an-early-christmas-gift-good-economic-news/

Built to Last – a revisit to a still relevant book

This is a repeat post from about nine years ago. It is longer than my current posts, but I did pare down a few dated anecdotes.

As a retired business person, my favorite business book is “Built to Last – Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” written in 1994 by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. “Built to Last” is a data driven book that looks at the habits of 18 highly successful companies and contrasts their results to the second-best competitor in their industries. While the data supports their arguments, it is an easy read and not an arcane business book. To me, its lessons can be translated to any organization or governmental entity, be it national, state, provincial or local. If you would like to explore it more, check out the WikiLeaks summary of the book which is quite good.

While I read this book several years ago, today’s business, political and governmental climate of more short-term thinking troubles me. As our country does not have the patience to see if an idea works, we are destined to try small band-aid solutions that will never get at the underlying problems. I would say, though, band-aids can help if they move things incrementally forward, but many of our problems will take longer term planning and execution that will go beyond the terms of office of those making the decisions. This occurs in business as well as governments. The businesses who are publicly traded must meet analysts expectations on a quarterly basis. Think of how many times you have seen a business do better, but miss expectations and are crucified. So, it is not uncommon for businesses to forego longer term solutions that are not “accretive” or additive to short-term earnings.

Clearly, the same holds true in governments whether they are in the US or abroad. In these partisan days, we have too many people kicking the can down the road. They won’t take necessary action during times of prosperity and have predictable problems grow and must be resolved during times of economic strife. They did not learn their bible lessons from Joseph who had a dream that his Egyptian captors should save grain from the seven years of fortune, as seven years of famine would follow.

In “Built to Last,” the 18 companies studied dwarfed the performance over time of that of their best competitors.  They did not just dwarf the industry average performance; they significantly outperformed some very good companies. There were several lessons learned from these companies that formed the “successful habits” presented in the book. A brief review of these habits and some analogies follow:

Build a clock, don’t just tell time

These organizations were built from the outset to do more than just one thing. In fact, some of the companies failed at their first idea. Yet, they built a framework to develop new ideas and concepts. This is needed in government as well as business and non-profit organizations. What is the framework to plan and execute our strategies? In the US, this framework for future strategy has to be done in a thoughtful, non-partisan manner. Otherwise, we all will fail.

Be more than profits

These companies are all good community citizens. They recognize that for their business to flourish, their communities must be vibrant and take care of those less fortunate. This helps their customers and employees. It shows this is a great place to work. It also helps their shareholders, as the performance numbers are powerful. In the book it highlights how Dow Chemical survived one the worst chemical spill disasters in India, in part because they were a good community citizen. People knew the company was mortified by this tragedy and worked with them to rebound. Contrast this to the company whose coal-miners were killed in West Virginia two years ago. This company had a long history of trying to usurp the law and had a trail of audit issues for safety violations.

While we do need to reward and promote success, we have to be more than profits. Paraphrasing Gandhi, a community’s greatness is measured in how it takes care of its less fortunate. We have to help those in need climb the ladder. Otherwise, we will end up with the haves and have-nots. Having seen the “Hunger Games” last night, it is not unlike some dictatorial cultures where those that have do well and those that do not live in poverty. We have places like that on Earth today and our economic disparity in our own country is rather disgraceful for a free country.

Preserve the core but stimulate progress

These companies had enviable track records of success and had a core set of businesses. Yet, they all looked to grow. They realized to survive they had to progress, to make things more efficiently, more effectively and seek new avenues for growth. Our country has an enviable construct of government. It bothers me greatly when people want to mess with that construct. That is our core. Yet, we do need to work to define what is truly needed and develop a longer term plan for progress. We have added tools (laws, regulations, bureaucracies) over time to help us progress, so we need to review these and make sure they are still effective. Where our tools are outdated, redundant or less effective, we should refine them to promote progress. But, we need to preserve the core.

Set Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGS)

Many people have heard or used this term, but don’t know where it came from. These companies have been successful because they set bold goals or BHAGs. One of the boldest goals noted in the book is that of John F. Kennedy when he declared at his inauguration that America would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  At the time, America had seen several launch failures, not unlike the recent North Korean missile failure. So, it was indeed a BHAG. And, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July, 1969. We need more of this in business and government. While the President has declared and set mpg standards for cars, something like we will make America’s energy production entirely green by 2050 would be a BHAG I think we should strive for. To do this would require a lot of planning, industry support and buy-in and execution.

Cult-like Cultures

One of the more interesting habits was this one on cult-like cultures. They cited the customer service focus of Nordstrom and how the customer came before the shareholder. Their mantra is if we take care of the customer, the shareholders will make more money. They actually inverted the pyramid structure, putting the customer at the top.  New employees would need to adopt this or leave. Other companies had similar culture issues. Equating this to our country, Americans believe fervently in freedoms. They also believe in fairness. So, when things begin to look unfair, Americans will act. That is our cult-like culture. Yet, we need our community conscious leaders to let us know when things are becoming unfair.

Try a lot of stuff and keep what works

The successful companies are constantly trying new ideas. Sometimes they fail. It notes the example of Texas Instruments who used to be a darling of Wall Street. Back in the 1970’s, they had a leadership group that would actually publicly humiliate you for perceived dumb ideas. Guess what happened? Idea creation went to zero and TI fell by the wayside. In an another example, I read where a CEO made a $10 million mistake on a new venture. The Chairman of the Board called him in and instead of telling him he was fired, congratulated him on trying something new. That is why he had hired him. This is an interesting converse to the TI story.

In today’s world, I hate to see when people are unfairly punished for failures, real or perceived. We are human and we mess up. We make decisions based on the best information available.  I would want to understand why things failed.

Good enough never is

I switched the order of the chapters as I see a lot in this chapter with the above.  These companies never rested on their laurels. They always said this is good, but we could be or do it better. They never are satisfied with good enough. They strived to be more. This is one of the geniuses of Steve Jobs. He never was satisfied with good enough. He was quite adamant and even an asshole about it. Yet, those who worked with him saw his vision come true time and time again. There were many times when he could have let an inferior effort get to the market place, but he was enamored with the art and elegance of the product. He wanted the Mac to look good on the inside as well as the outside. He wanted the walls of the factory to be painted white as it shows the dirt and had to be cleaned more. He wanted the impression that if we care so much about cleanliness, we really care about our products.

Home grown management

This habit was equally amazing to read about. I will cite these numbers incorrectly, but out of the 500 or so leaders these 18 companies had over time, 495 of them came from within. Meaning these companies promoted recognizable leaders from their own ranks. This went against a preconceived notion. In actuality, promoted leaders were recognized for their success as natural transitions, their promotion opened other promotions which led to better career-pathing and the companies benefited from the intrinsic knowledge of how to get things done in the company, whose counsel to seek out and whose to avoid.

My old company made the mistake of hiring outside leadership several times in the last eight years. Each time, the leaders were eventually fired. It became a revolving door. Each time the leaders would try ideas that had been tried before and failed in this company. Several times decisions were made and announced and the employees knew the day of the announcement that the decision was poor. They would inevitably not know who to trust, so they would bring in new leaders from outside. As these folks were not known commodities, the mistakes would be magnified. And, the good internal candidates would leave creating a greater void.

New blood is good when effectively used. A company needs new ideas. Yet, it cannot throw out what makes them successful with the bath water. Our country needs leaders of all types. We cannot have only new leaders who have never governed before. And, we cannot just rely on leaders who have only governed.  We need people who know how to get things done who know others in other areas of government. Yet, we do need new ideas as well.

If you have not read this book, I would encourage you to do so. There are good lessons for many types of governance. The businesses and governments who think long term and embrace these successful habits will flourish. And, so will we as citizens, customers, shareholders and employees.

Interesting news item on lead pipe and paint removal

In the midst of all the falderol about the former president’s last Chief of Staff, something good is happening. Part of the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure bill will help with lead pipe and paint removal. This has been a festering problem and not just for the folks in Flint, Michigan.

In an article called “Harris announces Biden administration’s new lead pipe and paint removal effort,” by Kevin Liptak and Kate Sullivan of CNN, it speaks to why this is a concern and what is going to happen.

“Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday announced a new administration push to eliminate lead from water pipes and homes in the next decade using billions in new funding allocated through the new bipartisan infrastructure law.

‘Here’s the truth, and it’s a hard truth: Millions of people in our country, many of them children, are still exposed to lead every day,’ Harris said at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations in Washington.

The vice president said many parents across the country have told her they were worried ‘that every time they turned on the faucet to give their child a glass of water that they may be filling that glass with poison.’

‘The science is clear about what drinking water from a lead pipe can do to the human body,’ Harris said. ‘For adults, it can cause an increase in blood pressure and decreased kidney function. In children, it can severely harm mental and physical development. It can stunt growth, slow down learning and cause irreparable damage to the brain.’

Through the administration’s new Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan, agencies will take a number of steps meant to remove the toxic metal from places where people live, work or go to school. Harris said the push would focus on communities that have “historically been left out or left behind.”

The Environmental Protection Agency will begin the process of writing new regulations that would protect communities from lead in drinking water; the Department of Labor will form technical assistance hubs to fast-track removal projects with union workers; agencies will commit to removing lead service lines and paint in federally assisted housing; and a new Cabinet group will focus on lead removal in schools and child care facilities.”

The Infrastructure Bill is about ten years over due in my mind. It has long been supported by the US Chamber of Commerce and the labor unions, as it helps invest in America and creates jobs. And, it has always received bipartisan support. Ironically, the last former president spoke of improving infrastructure during his 2016 campaign, but missed a chance to address it during his term.

This aspect of the bill is vital as it is addressing something that is harming our children. And, that is certainly a very good thing.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/white-house-to-announce-new-lead-pipe-and-paint-removal-effort/ar-AARSxCE?ocid=msedgntp

Lower-cost clean energy rises in NC

The following are a few excerpts from an editorial written in The Charlotte Observer on Sunday by columnist Ned Barnett. While the focus is on what North Carolina has done the past ten years, it shows what can happen with a focus on renewables and attracting business. It should be noted a lot of NC’s success is in part due to companies like Amazon, Facebook (now Meta), Google and IKEA setting up centers powered by renewable energy, which got the attention of legislators.

“A new report from Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group gives North Carolina strong grades for renewable energy. In measures of growth since 2011, North Carolina ranks third nationally in solar power, 10th in energy efficiency, 17th in electric vehicle sales, 20th in battery storage of renewable energy and 26th in wind power. ‘It’s amazing the difference that a decade can make and how many people are choosing to embrace renewable energies like solar power,’ said Krista Early, an advocate with Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center.

That growth raises prospects that seemed hopelessly remote just a decade ago: widespread use of electric cars that could eliminate the volatile cost of gas and a power grid driven by renewable energy that will reduce utility bills. North Carolina’s move toward renewables will be accelerated by this year’s passage of a major energy bill, House Bill 951.

Steve Levitas, a vice president at Pine Gate Renewables in Asheville, one of the nation’s fastest growing renewable energy companies, said the new state law will have a big effect. ‘HB 951 is going to drive a dramatic transformation of the state energy sectors,’ he said. ‘It will drive retirement of (Duke Energy’s) coal fleet and will result in more renewables. That’s going to happen.’

The new federal infrastructure law and the possible passage of the Build Back Better bill will also expand the use of renewable energy. While renewables still produce a small fraction of electric power, Levitas said the rising use of solar and wind power will make renewable energy an increasingly cheaper option to fossil fuels. ‘People predicted a long time ago that if you created demand, that would drive down costs and that’s been proven to be true many times over,’ he said.”

Note, while the reference to renewables providing a small fraction of electric power may be true in NC, in places like Iowa, Texas, California, Oklahoma, et al, the percentages are not small fractions. Iowa gets over 40% of its electricity from wind energy while Texas is right at 20% on electricity from renewables, primarily wind energy.

Progress is being made, but we now need to hasten it as we have passed the tipping point. Yet, what business has started realizing the past several years, if they do not keep up, their ability to compete may be compromised. State legislatures must recognize this as well.

Read more at: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/article256092197.html#storylink=cpy

A Beautiful Mind has it Right – the Nash Equilibrium shows the power of working together

The following post was written seven years ago, but holds true even more so today with the recently passed infrastructure bill as well as the need to work together in our global economy on trade, environmental, and human rights issues.

One of my favorite Russell Crowe movies is “A Beautiful Mind” directed by Ron Howard about the schizophrenic Ph.D. in economics, John Nash. If you saw the movie, you know that Nash won the Nobel Prize in Economic Science for his theory which became known as “Nash Equilibrium” that was used in game theory, economic development and other areas. In short it was all about maximizing everyone’s gain. From Wikipedia, this example might help define what Nash’s theory was all about:

“Stated simply, Amy and Will are in Nash equilibrium if Amy is making the best decision she can, taking into account Will’s decision, and Will is making the best decision he can, taking into account Amy’s decision. Likewise, a group of players are in Nash equilibrium if each one is making the best decision that he or she can, taking into account the decisions of the others in the game.”

The reason I raise is this is that we can all benefit more if we work with each other rather than against. If we all try to win the game, whatever that is, we will actually end up in a collective lesser state. This is a key reason why collaboration is vital to the success of most endeavors, including and especially politics. But, let me use a real example of how a region can benefit more economically through collective partnering under Nash Equilibrium.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, we have a terrific new “transmodal distribution facility” that is near the airport. The facility is adjacent to and incorporates railroad train tracks in the distribution process. It is also very conveniently located to three interstates (I-85, I-77 and I-485) and a fourth four lane highway (US 321) which connects to I-40 about forty miles away. If you know your North Carolina geography, you will know that Charlotte is right on the border with South Carolina and several towns in SC are actually included in the Metro Charlotte area.

A key reason for its success is more than the rail, highway and air access. Charlotte is also a convenient driving distance from ports in Charleston, South Carolina, Wilmington, North Carolina, Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. With the deepening of the Panama Canal set to be complete in 2015, bigger ships can sail from Asia-Pacific (China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, etc.). Yet, unless these ports are dredged to become deeper, the bigger ships cannot enter the harbors there and will sail past. Activity has begun in various stages, but here is where Nash Equilibrium should come to fruition.

The states of North and South Carolina (and Florida and Georgia) should work collectively along with business and the Federal government to deepen all ports noted above. We will all benefit more greatly if we invest together. This would be true on other economic investments where we should work less at cross purposes and compete as a region. I recognize there have been pockets of success where this has been done, but to me, with the significant cost of dredging these harbors and the stalemate in fighting in Washington where Congress is moving money around to fund a very limited transportation budget for infrastructure, this a keen example of why we must work together to benefit more.

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell have been promoting a bipartisan investment in our infrastructure, each representing the major political parties. LaHood said this is the best jobs program we could possibly have. And, as I have said before, borrowing money to invest in assets, is different from borrowing money for operations. This is where we need to spend our money as the collective return on investment is huge.

So, to the state legislatures and Congress, let’s get with it and work to invest in America’s ports and roads. As Rendell said, if we don’t deepen our ports, the ships will sail right by us to Canada. John Nash indeed had a beautiful mind. We should follow his direction to maximize our collective gain.

It is all about The Donald

Yesterday, the former president was giving a speech during which he again lambasted thirteen Republican representatives who voted in favor of the infrastructure bill. One of those thirteen, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of New York was in the audience. According to news reports, she was visibly shaken, as she probably knows what it means for the former president to rile up his base.

I called her for a second time this week, on top of my call to thank her for her vote and political courage. I also wanted to thank her for putting America’s interests ahead of those in her own party or at least those of a vocal and fervent base. The second call was to reiterate her courage and ask her to hang in there. We need more people to vote for what they believe is in her constituents better interests and not fewer.

Here is what I also told her. The former president forgets he campaigned in 2016 to pass an infrastructure bill. This is one of the few things I agreed with him on. So, did Democrats and folks like Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders welcomed discussion on infrastructure. Yet, the former president chose to try and take people’s healthcare access away first and foremost. Over four years, nothing on infrastructure happened after making a campaign promise..

Now that he lost the election because he got fewer votes overall and in key states, he is targeting anyone in his party who, in his mind, is helping the opposition. This in middle school behavior, saying I am not going to like you, because you like him. He is siccing his fervent base on them and some use vile threats against this group. Those targeted know this and still voted like they did. Now, why would they do this?

But, back to the infrastructure bill which will be signed Monday. Most Americans want the bill to happen. In fact, the Senate had nineteen Republican votes on top of the thirteen Republican representatives who voted in favor of the bill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted for it saying this week it is a “godsend” to the people of the state of Kentucky. Mind you, he did not see this is a pretty good bill for his constituents. He said it is a “godsend.” I will take that as an endorsement.

This former president is reacting like he usually does through the lens of an enormous and fragile ego. How does this bill’s passing affect me? Using a line that can be used with any narcissist, but applies here – it is all about the The Donald. America’s and Americans’ interests are always secondary to that of The Donald’s. That is why extorting other countries for gain and “burning it all down” as his niece said he would to overturn the election are so easy for him to consider and do.

And, for those who believe I am all wet, consider these two things. Why would a person in a leadership position have rallies in February, 2020 when admitting to Bob Woodward on February 7, 2020 that he knew of the dangers of COVID-19. He had several rallies of his most loyal followers, lambasting COVID-19 as a Democratic hoax (that would go on to kill 750,000 Americans), and without letting his most ardent followers know they may be in danger. If that were not enough, he had a big party at the White House later in the year, where about a half-dozen folks caught COVID-19, which may have been where he contracted it.

Why does he do these things? It is an easy answer – the adulation. Full stop. It is all about The Donald. And, Representative Malliotakis and the 31 other Republicans who voted for the infrstructure bill (not just twelve others), thank you for your service to our country.

Two posts on infrastructure worth a look this morning

As I was fumbling around for the subject of my post, I saw a post that intrigued me. To be frank, the subject was less important, but the author was our friend Jill who has been missing from the online blogging world as she recovers. She has been missed.. It is truly a delight to see her words again.

Her post and that of fellow blogger Annie are related to the passing of the infractucture bill. late Friday night. Rather than repeat their blog posts, I will provide links below. Please read their words on their blog and comment accordingly. I am going to put one of my comments here to emphasize how important it is to highlight this accomplishment.

“I thought his (President Biden’s) words yesterday were well done. And, he was ebullient. I did call the thirteen Republican representatives who voted for the infrastructure bill, thanking them for putting our country ahead of party. As an independent and former Republican (and Democrat) voter, this bill is more than three months over due; it is ten years over due. And, contrary to what is being portrayed by some Republicans, this was a bipartisan bill that also passed 69 to 30 in the Senate, including a vote in favor by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.

Not to belabor the point, but the US Chamber of Commerce and union leadership for ten years have been pleading for Congress to act. Yet, the only substantive change made was to reload funding for the Highway Trust Fund. How many bills get support of the unions and business leaders?

So, this is good news for America and Americans. We can now fix and improve things that are outdated and in disrepair and build better infrastructure to serve our needs going forward.”

When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water – a revisit to an old post

The following post was written nine years ago. Since that time the global water crisis has annually been noted as the number one or two long term concern by the World Economic Forum. Plus, we have had crises like the one in Cape Town, South Africa where they came perilously close to running out of water and Flint, Michigan where a lead pipe system caused health issues for disenfranchised populations. Caution, this is a little longer than my current posts, which I have tried to shorten.

The title above is a quote from Benjamin Franklin which speaks volumes. Water is a very dear resource and we truly do not know its ultimate value until it is gone or our access to it is limited. I recently completed one of the best history books I have ever read “Water – the Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization” by Steven Solomon. Solomon has written for the New York Times, Business Week, The Economist, Forbes and Esquire among other places and is the author of “The Confidence Game,” so the book has an investigative storytelling bent which makes history come alive. Yet, it is not just a history book as he brings us to today’s times and provides us with cautions to heed as we move forward.

In short, the book shows the ability for great civilizations to rise, thrive and fall based on their ability to control water resources for drinking, farming, manufacturing, sewage and transportation. Through this we learn the vital role that bringing water into an area for use and then using it to sweep away sewage from that same area can have in enhancing or debilitating our lives. To paint an ugly picture, London in the mid-1800’s had a terrible period, as did other major cities, where cholera, dysentery and other diseases were prominent. The period was called “The Big Stink” as sewage was not be adequately washed away and was actually being dumped into the same drinking water sources. After years of postponement (sounds like our debt crisis) of dealing with it, the smell became so grotesque that Parliament had to act within 18 days to set in motion a plan to resolve it.

I use this example rather than others as it shows how basic the needs water fills and our inability to use it wisely can be truly catastrophic. Rome was known for its aqueducts and how it flourished with the baths it created. The baths which improved hygiene became so popular, they were the social meeting places where people of all strata kept themselves clean and healthy. It is not ironic that Rome flourished during this time and fell when many of these aqueducts were destroyed by invaders from the North.

To use a more recent example, Teddy Roosevelt is probably the greatest water president in US history. Before his time, the greatest US water accomplishment was the building of the Erie Canal which reduced the cost of goods transport immensely connecting ports. Roosevelt had three major contributions – the building of the Panama Canal, the development of planned water rights and retrieval in the west to help irrigate dry areas for crops and sustenance, and the protection of water sheds via the vast number of parks he created. His inspiration and force of will also led to the building of the Hoover Dam which occurred later and whose success was copied many times over by his cousin, Franklin when he was in the White House.

It is arguable that these water initiatives by Teddy Roosevelt are key reasons the US is as powerful today. I recognize that downplays the roles of many others, but the US leveraged its access to both coasts through the building of the Panama Canal. Plus, it helped the can-do psyche of Americans after earlier attempts by France to build the canal failed. Successful major construction can be uplifting just as failures can be crushing as China saw with the huge failure of a major dam project completed just four years ago.

I wanted to provide a little varied context from the book, as we look at problems of today and the near and longer term future. I had incorrectly given credit for this quote to Jim Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy, but a key chapter title in the book is called “Water: The New Oil.” We have growing concerns in the US, especially in drier parts of the country, but even other areas which are not known for being dry. More on these later. While we have these concerns, we are still referenced as being more water rich than other places on the planet. What this book highlights is the insatiable desire for water in water poor countries is causing the misuse or  unplanned use of water at too fast a pace so that it cannot be replenished. What will bring the Middle East to its knees will be the ever worsening shortage of water. As rich a country as Saudi Arabia is through oil, it is water poor and will very soon be using up its water supply. Other countries are even in more dire straits in that region.

If you move into the African continent you can look to Ethiopia to where the Nile begins, but most of the water is used in Egypt. Issues have erupted around the sharing of water and will continue to be of concern. The building of the Aswan Dam was in some respects a success, but in others a failure as it was built in the wrong place. Much of the water created from the dam evaporates before it is used. The book points out to these kinds of issues as we plan ahead and we must. This issue becomes even more critical in water and economically poor countries. So, globally we need concerted planning on we should use our water resources. This problem will only become worse if we grow unfettered increasing the number of people on our planet and the impact of global warming continues to affect our supply.

Bringing the issue back to the US,  we are water rich, but could be better personal, industrial and governmental stewards of our water. Americans use far more water than others on the planet. We are seeing droughts and water fights between Georgia, Alabama and Florida and Texas has numerous places where the water table has dried up, e.g. The global warming impact will continue to hit the driest places on the planet the most and it is one of the factors there has been the onset of forest fires which we are seeing here and in Australia and Russia.

So, we need to act now to plan ahead with better water usage strategies and not wait for the “big stink” to occur using that as a metaphor for all water problems. And, we need to continue to offer and help other countries develop strategies and execute them at the regional and local levels. One of the ironies is in parts of rural India where the British water management back in the early 1900’s did not reach, they still maintain water councils who provide stewardship over water use. India has grown so rapidly in major cities, that the infrastructure needs updating, but these smaller water council areas continue to be judicious users of water because they had to be that way. We all need to be judicious.

So, what can we do? At the individual level, conservation is key. Three of the greatest water uses are in flushing toilets, washing clothes and washing dishes. If we each can strive for more the more energy-efficient wash cycles and lower water use toilets that could be an enormous savings. There are recycling examples for water where toilets can draw from shower water and rainwater collections can be used for watering plants. We Americans need to cut back on the lawn sprinklers as well as we abuse this privilege. We can do this through use, but also by planting more indigenous grasses and plants. I am also reminded of my Dad’s navy shower restrictions on ship – 25 seconds of water. You used five to wet your body. Then you soaped up and turned back on the spigot for the last twenty seconds of water to rinse off. I am not advocating navy shower limits per se, but we do not need to be like my children either and lounge around in the shower.

Yet, I think we need to be aware and advocate that we should address our problems. There are some very good things going on in our country that can be done elsewhere. Setting aside the Big Stink example, Orange County in CA has successfully reused sewage water as drinking water and for irrigation. As scary as this sounds, they use multiple filtering and cleaning techniques that have proven to work.  There is continued exploration of desalinization techniques with ocean water, but they tend to be very expensive and the issue of what to do with the salt is an issue. Plus, there are some neat things going on in industry to use recycled water for various uses.

On the flip side, we have continued to be poor stewards in other areas and have been slow to act in rectifying these issues. In “Living Downstream,” Dr. Sandra Steingraber has noted we continue to pollute our waters with petro-chemicals which wreak havoc. In Canada, they have outlawed ornamental pesticides for home use due to the air and water poisoning. And, one of the big reasons I am against fracking is, in addition to the toxic issues it causes for air and water, it uses an exorbitant amount of water, 2 – 5 million gallons per fracking well. Fracking did not cause the drought in Texas, but it sure is not helping it now. We need a strong EPA, not a weakened one.

Finally, this is a major issue that affects every resource issue, so it needs to be stated. I am going to ask everyone to set aside their religious beliefs for these next few statements. The earth cannot support the unfettered increase in population.  We are in the neighborhood of 8 million people. If we all consume as Rwandans do, the earth may be able to support 15 million. If we consume the way Americans do, the earth could only support less than 2 million. Please reread these two sentences. So, if we do not have planned birth control, we will run out of food and water. Even if you set aside global warming and its impact which is here and will get worse, we cannot support an unfettered increase in our population. So, when I hear how evil Planned Parenthood and its global partners around the world are by our more evangelical global citizens, my reaction is we desperately need family planning and birth control or we are sentencing ourselves and our children to die or to a much different kind of life. In my bible, God told us to be good stewards of the earth. We all need to step up to the plate now and heed his wishes or we will witness Benjamin Franklin’s caution noted above.

Thursday Thimblefuls of Thoughts

It is supposed to be a rainy, cold day here. So, it is a good day to wander with my thoughts, since I cannot wander outside. Here a few thimblefuls of thoughts on this Thursday. Please be forewarned, these thoughts and $3.00 will get you a cup of regular coffee.

I sure hope Democrats will learn a lesson from the Virginia election results. They should have seen it coming, but continued to fail to act. The bickering by Democrats in the US Congress led to their still not passing the three month overdue infrastructure bill and a tandem piece of legislation that would actually help Americans. I pleaded with the Speaker and two other representatives to get something done. The Americans expected them to pass something, but they still have not. It is akin to a circular firing squad.

As for the Republicans, while their party is adrift, untethered to truthfulness and lawfulness, their choice not to participate in the governance process in Washington does not seem to hurt them. What concerns me is the members of the party do not seem to care that untruthfulness and unlawfulness are key tenets.

And, it is not just rationalizing the untruthful and seditious actions of the former president. Critical Race Theory has been invented as a name-calling hammer that most people don’t know what it is, but have been told it is bad. As a white suburban mother said, it just teaches kids the truthful history, that bad things have been done by those in power to disenfranchised people – always has. But, the conservative leaders and opinion hosts have been beating a drum about how dare people teach that white people did some bad things in our past. This white washing of history has been a planned effort to woo votes.

It saddens me how ill-informed Americans are on the whole about issues, history, economics, etc. I have written several times that we are “The United States of Entertainment.” Most people spend time focusing on sports and entertainment news. If we do read or watch news, we tend to get it from sources who are telling us what we want to see or hear. Or, worse we will get it from someone on social media, where false stories are routed six times more often than real news per a media analyst. This is why Facebook did not change their model, as they made more money letting falsehoods flow more quickly.

We have serious issues that are not being dealt with or discussed. And, some are at a burning platform stage, pun intended. Climate change is hurting us now, so we must act. This is no longer a future issue. More and intense wildfires, more sunny day flooding in coastal towns, more stalled weather patterns, more damaging hurricanes with higher sea levels are all predicted events (per Climate change scientists) that are happening with greater frequency.

Voting and civil rights are under attack in the US and in other paces. The fear of the other sells. Lies sell. The former president knows this which has been his modus operandi for decades. Voting and civil rights have been under attack for several years, but they have been heightened by the staged and planned Big Lie by the former president that he was cheated out of the election, which he still cannot prove. He lost because he got fewer votes, but is not adult enough to admit it. As his niece Mary said before the election, her uncle will “burn it all down to avoid losing the election.”

Then there is naysaying of COVID vaccines that continues to get promoted that keeps us from moving full steam ahead. And, that debt and deficit will not fix itself, especially when we have to spend to improve and fix our infrastructure. Finally, we must be more civil to one another. We can disagree without being disagreeable. Listen to understand not to respond.

What frustrates this independent and former member of both major parties, is what I said above is overtly obvious if people would just read or watch multiple news outlets. I have said many times, it is hard enough to govern with facts and the truth, but when we govern off lies, it is nigh impossible. We must get our legislators to focus on doing their jobs, not just keeping their jobs. When they don’t, we are the people who get hurt.