Yet another letter to Senators

Please open up the government. A deal is there to be had, but it needs to not involve the person causing the shutdown. It is telling when a boss does not support his employees. To me, this speaks volumes into the nature of the US President.

Americans are being harmed. These federal employees deserve better than to be mere pawns in Trump’s game. Sadly, that is his history as a manager. Please do your job and open the government.

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Wednesday at the movies

I hope your week is going well. I had an afternoon to myself, so I saw a movie my wife would pass on – “Vice.” The movie defines the Vics Presidency of Dick Cheney as one where he had more control of the country than his boss.

Christian Bale plays Cheney quite well to the extent it is hard to believe that is Bale underneath the weight gain and loss of hair. The movie is similar in style to “The Big Short,” so it has several asides to explain things. Amy Adams is highly commendable as his wife Lynne Cheney. I would give it a thumbs up, but I must confess it is a little unnerving.

Last year, we caught a few other movies that are also getting some Oscar buzz. Our favorite movie is “Green Book.” Viggp Mortenson plays a chauffeur hired as security to transport around the pre-Civil Rights era South an African-American concert pianist played by Mahershala Ali.

We also saw “Bohemian Rhapsody” about the life of Freddie Mercury and Queen. Rami Malek plays Mercury and Gwilym Lee plays the talented guitarist Brian May. It is quite entertaining and worth a look if only to learn more about Mercury and see the behind the scenes interplay of the band.

“A Star is Born,” is my favorite of the two versions of the same movie I have seen. Bradley Cooper brings a great deal to the role of the aging rock star with demons. Lady Gaga is sensational in her first acting role and her scenes on stage with Cooper are moving.

We also saw “First Man” where Ryan Gosling plays astronaut Neil Armstrong. The movie is good, but it does not get quite the buzz as the others. Armstrong was a duty-bound and sober man, so playing him straight-up does not offer a lot of drama outside of the challenge of the mission.

Finally, we saw the movie “Black Klansman” about the true story of Ron Stalworth, an African-American policeman who joined the KKK. Stalworth is admirably played by John David Washington. Adam Driver plays his Jewish white partner who attends the meetings as Stalworth’s avatar. It is a moving story with a brief history lesson that is unfortunately still alive today.

What movies have you seen that you rank highly? What do you think of any of the above?

An unlikely transformative genius

If you watched “60 Minutes” on CBS last night, you may have seen the interview with Lesley Stahl and a game changing self-made scientist named Marshall Medoff. This 81 year-old, eccentric inventor has researched and created a breakthrough idea that will help move the dial on biomass energy, plastics and even sugar. What you might ask?

Medoff has succeeded in the release of cellulose that is ingrained in all plant products in an elegant fashion. Where MIT and others have failed to cost effectively do so, he has developed the concept of using an electron beam accelerator to blast the cellulose out of the plant materials. This is fascinating enough, but this man is a self-taught scientist. And, to add to the story even more, he came to the idea at Walden Pond in Massachusetts, where he lives nearby. What a great place to think of how to unleash the power of plants.

Yet, Medoff’s invention is beyond the idea stage. Investors are so enthralled, they have invested in his company called Xyleco and there is a facility in Moss Lake, WA in production. This place employs trained and educated chemical scientists and engineers. He also has a testing facility in Massachusetts near where he lives, employing many scientists from MIT and elsewhere.

On his Board of Directors are Bob Armstrong, the former head of MIT’s chemistry department and Steven Chu, the former Director of Energy under President Obama, and several other known advisors, including John Jennings, the former CEO of Shell. They all claim this man is an Edison-like genius, who is a tad eccentric. And, as Armstrong pointed out MIT and others have failed to do what he has done.

These Board members echo his enthusiasm to make a 30% or so dent in the energy business with a 77% more efficient biomass fuel than ethanol. Also, with petroleum-based plastic a huge issue on the environment, one of his scientists demonstrated a plant-based plastic that can have a planned disintegration at the end of its usefulness.  And, if that were not enough, a sugar byproduct called xylose, or wood sugar, is less in calories and has a smaller impact on teeth.

If it were April Fool’s Day, this would seem like a great story to fool people with. The exciting part is Medoff is legitimate. A key side bar is fifteen years ago, he decided to work on this problem to fight climate change. So, he read everything on the subject. And, then started putting together ideas and patents. One of his Board members said this eccentric old man had the confidence that he could do this. That can-do attitude is part of a genius’ make-up.

https://www.localbuzzot.com/2019/01/07/marshall-medoff-the-unlikely-eccentric-inventor-turning-inedible-plant-life-into-fuel-60-minutes/

Dear Mr. President

Below is a slight variation of a letter I posted on the White House website. To be heard, my message is not accusational. It is an earnest, forthright plea for help. Please feel free to use any elements you like.

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Dear Mr. President,

Please reopen the government as American people are being harmed by the closure, especially federal workers. As a former Republican, I feel the wall issue is overstated. We should not hold people hostage on this and should discuss immigration in a data driven, compassionate and diligent manner. Please work with Congress to make this happen. I feel what the House proposed will allow some time to do this and let people get back to work to serve our citizens.

Saturday in the park – once again

The rain has stopped and the sun is shining. So, we will celebrate with a nice hike in a close-by park trail. Hopefully, the trail won’t be too slushy.

Here are a few thoughts to chew on this weekend, in no particular order.

Note to expressive incoming Congressional representatives. Even though the President acts like what you call him, derogatory name-calling is not productive. It is even more true with this President who relishes mud fights simply because he does not need to know facts to win. Please stick to the issues and his actions and words.

Speaking of said man, he says he will do what it takes in shutting down the government to get his wall. Excuse me, but what sacrifices are you making Mr. President? It seems the federal workers who work under your watch are worried sick about mortgage, rent and bill payments and spending on groceries and prescriptions. What precisely are you sacrificing Mr. President?

What saddens me about the Republican Senators is they know their leader is largely untruthful and does not deal in good faith. This man screwed them over before Christmas reneging on a deal, yet again. Conservative columnist David Brooks said it best on PBS Newshour last night. If you get a deal with Donald Trump, get it in writing.

Lastly, let’s give a shout out to our newly elected Congress that looks more like America. It is indeed an exemplar of what our country should be all about. Whether people like the new Speaker or not, Nancy Pelosi is an effective leader and has a bipartisan record to prove it. She is far from perfect, but she is much closer to that paragon than another person in a place of leadership who I may have mentioned above.

Happy trails to you, until we meet again.

Sample letter to Senators to open government

I posted the attached letter on my two Senators and Senator McConnell’s websites. If you like this, please feel free to modify and use.

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Senator, it is time to open the government, so please pass the forthcoming two house bills. I would ask you to urge the President to please stop lying about the number of border crossings and his role in causing this shutdown. His divisiveness and fear-mongering have caused this problem. We need fact-based and compassionate debate over DACA and border security and less of whatever the President is talking about.

A new word for an old problem

Wages in the US for the common worker have been stagnant for going on forty years. This disenfranchisement did not happen over just the last ten years. It is the culmination of various events and actions and not due solely to one or two causes or solvable by bumper sticker solutions. Yet, we have a new word for a major cause courtesy of the Economic Policy Institute – monopsony.

In essence, monopsony is the sister of monopoly. It is an employer who has so much clout in a region or area, it can suppress wages to its workforce. It can also move jobs away more readily be it through off-shoring, outsourcing, downsizing or relocation. This movement of jobs adds to an employer’s ability to manage wage increases. In essence, the word monopsony highlights the goal and ability of employers to chase cheap labor.

Per the EPI, much of the wage stagnation after 1970 has occurred at the low-end of the wage spectrum. An economist noted on a talk show to get an idea of what has happened, stand up and put both arms out in front of you parallel to the ground. The left one represents the bottom 90% and the right one the top 10%. Move the left one up at an angle by one inch, then move the right one up by twenty inches. That disparity illustrates what has transpired over these forty years in wage differential.

I have written before the efforts by the current President to create fear of immigration and trade deficits as the reasons for disenfranchisement in various areas over look the main two drivers – chasing cheap labor and technology improvements. Immigration is actually accretive to the economy, even illegal immigration as there are many jobs that Americans have said they don’t want.

But, if the President wants to solve an illegal immigration problem, he should begin with punishing employers who hire these workers. I have noted before about a textile company who went bankrupt and closed its doors. When career counseling people said in an auditorium full of workers that you had to have a Social Security Number to get access to benefits, 1/3 of the audience got up and left. The construction, agricultural and restaurant industries would have severe issues if these immigration wells dried up.

Yet, the two main drivers of wage stagnation and good paying jobs do not get talked about – chasing cheap labor and technology gains. An unnamed CFO said in the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us,” an employer would get by with no employees if it could. So, robotic machinery has been displacing workers for many years. And, now it is becoming even more efficient and affordable. We do much more manufacturing in the US today than in 1980, but with much fewer workers.

Yet, with these tools and possible actions available to an employer who has a monopsony in an area, good paying jobs are fewer in number. Mind you, high-tech manufacturing and similar jobs exist, but they are not in the same number with so much competition for wages. I make this last point as the disenfranchisement is real and not made up. To his credit, Trump went out and visited these areas. But, what they did not realize, he was selling on fear, over-simplifying the causes and highlighting the wrong major ones.

The disenfranchisement in the western world has a visual called the “elephant curve,” with a side view of an elephant with his trunk raised. The body of elephant is wage growth for the emerging and burgeoning international markets. The raised trunk reveals the rapid wage growth for the top 10% in the western world. The trough between the raised trunk and body, reveals the stagnation in wages in the western world.

So, immigration and global trade have an impact, but the key drivers are chasing cheap labor and technology. And, the last one will grow even faster than before. Yet, chasing cheap labor will continue to be a driver as well. It is the culmination of pounding on unions to weaken their voice. It is the active fight to keep minimum wages down over time. It is making tax changes dating back to the 1980s (and last December) that are more advantageous to the top 10%, giving them a chance to invest in technology and places to house cheaper labor. It is threatening to move jobs to gain wage limits.

Since the housing recession in 2008 and early 2009, we have seen unemployment decline and stay down. Wages have gone up some, but not near enough to track other increases in costs. We need to be discussing retraining impacted workers building off some success stories around the country. We need to renovate and repurpose deteriorated assets to create new jobs. We need to invest more in our infrastructure and jobs of the future. We need to stabilize the ability for employees, whose hours are limited, to get affordable healthcare, since employers hire more part-time and contractual employees to restrict them from joining their healthcare plans.

The disenfranchised employees and areas need a real voice who will speak to real causes, not over-stated ones. Monopsony is a hard word to say and is a hard word on these people. They deserve better than what they have been hearing.