Conservative pundit David Brooks – How Democrats Won the War of Ideas

As an independent and former Republican (and Democrat), David Brooks is one of my favorite conservative pundits and authors. He is a regular participant on PBS Newhour’s Friday recap show with the more liberal Mark Shields. Like other key conservative pundits, MIchael Gerson, George Will, Ross Douthat, Eric Erickson and Max Boot, he is hoping that America votes out the incumbent president.

In his usual articulate and even-handed fashion, Brooks penned the following editorial last week called “How Democrats Won the War of Ideas.” The link is below, but I will highlight a few paragraphs for your review and comment.

“Over the last 100 years, Americans have engaged in a long debate about the role of markets and the welfare state. Republicans favored a limited government, fearing that a large nanny state would sap American dynamism and erode personal freedom. Democrats favored a larger state, arguing that giving people a basic economic security would enable them to take more risks and lead dignified lives.

That debate ebbed and flowed over the years, but 2020 has turned out to be a pivotal year in the struggle, and it looks now as if we can declare a winner. The Democrats won the big argument of the 20th century. It’s not that everybody has become a Democrat, but even Republicans are now embracing basic Democratic assumptions. Americans across the board fear economic and physical insecurity more than an overweening state. The era of big government is here.”

Brooks cites a few survey facts from last week’s New York Times/ Siena poll.

2/3 of Americans support allowing people to buy health insurance through the federal government

2/3 support Joe Biden’s $2 trillion plan to increase renewable energy and build efficient infrastructure

72% of likely voters and 56% of Republican voters favor another COVID-19 relief package

59% of Americans think government should do more to solve problems

2/3 think government should do more to fight climate change

60% support increasing the minimum wage and providing tax credits to low income workers

82% of voters and 70% of Republicans would like to expand requirements for paid family medical leave

Brooks also cites a study by the Mercatus Center which notes that Republicans are also moving left, just not at the pace of Democrats. This is contrary to what is believed by the media.

I have long said that more than 1/2 of the Republican voters are voting against their economic interests and do not know it. This survey indicates many do favor policies that would help them, but are sold a bill of goods packaged to woo their votes, but mask the purposeful deterioration of rights and opportunities.

A great example is the Affordable Care Act. When people are surveyed about the features of the act, the features receive high marks from all, including Republicans. The only feature that did not was eliminated – the mandate to buy coverage. Ironically, this elimination is the basis for 25 Republican Attorney Generals who have case to declare the ACA unconstitutional in front of the Supreme Court after the election, which should not occur as the case is not solid, but one never knows with these things. Sadly, the White House chose not to defend the law, which affects expanded Medicaid, exchange and employer-provided benefits.

Please read Brooks article below. It is very well done, as per usual.

Commercial electric vehicle company opens microfactory near Charlotte in Rock Hill, SC

Per WCNC, a television news station in Charlotte, a report called “Electric vehicle microfactory promises to bring 240 jobs to Rock Hill” was aired. Rock Hill is part of the Charlotte Metro area just across the border in South Carolina. Here are the salient points per a MSN write-up of the piece:

Arrival, a company that produces electric vehicles around the world, announced Tuesday its plans to build a ‘microfactory’ in York County. The factory is part of a $46 million investment in the region and is Arrival’s first American microfactory. The company expects to bring 240 new jobs to the Rock Hill area. 

Arrival, which was found in London in 2015, creates zero-emission vehicles for commercial transportation. The South Carolina facility will utilize a new cell-based assembly method to produce vehicles, rather than the traditional assembly line. This will give Arrival the flexibility to produce any vehicle in its portfolio at the factory, according to a press release from the company.”

This is just more evidence of where future growth will occur. It is good to see our area embracing new technologies to make zero emission vehicles. The train (or in this case, the bus) toward renewable energy has left the station. Communities that are embracing this will see more growth and better cost models going forward, as well as help the environment.

This is is not an outlier story. Solar energy jobs have averaged annual double digit growth and dwarf coal energy jobs. Wind energy is also growing in the US, especially in the plain states with Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma combined getting more than 1/3 of their electricity from wind energy. And, Tesla has branched into electric delivery trucks on top of their cars.

These news stories should be more widely communicated to show the path forward is being taken by states, cities and companies.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/autos/news/electric-vehicle-microfactory-promises-to-bring-240-jobs-to-rock-hill/ar-BB19ZdCG?ocid=msedgdhp

There she blows

Per an article in Power Technology in April, 2019 by Jack Unwin called “Top ten US states by wind energy capacity:”

“Donald Trump’s well-known hostility towards wind power and what he believes is its cancer-causing abilities wind energy is a well-established source of power in the US.

In fact, the US is the second largest producer of wind energy in the world with an installed capacity of over 96GW, and it has six of the world’s top ten onshore windfarms. But progress still needs to be made as a number of states in the southeast from Arkansas to Florida don’t have any wind turbines installed at all.”

Using updated statistics at the end of 2019, the top five states for wind energy are:

Texas (28,843 MW)*
Iowa (10,201 MW)
Oklahoma (8,172 MW)
Kansas (6,128 MW)
California (5,973 MW)

It should be noted, since they are smaller states, the top three by percentage of electricity generated by wind energy are: Iowa (41.7%) Kansas (36.4%) Oklahoma (31.7%). Saying it differently, more than 1/3 of the electricity produced in these three states combined come from wind energy.

The upside remains huge, especially referencing the two states that have no wind mills. The cost of wind energy is compelling and it is does not have the environmental degradation and cost of coal or does not leak methane or use water to acquire like natural gas. And, this does not reflect the huge growth in solar energy that has occurred and will occur.

I take pride that we are moving forward in spite of the efforts of the US president to play up fossil fuel. I would listen to the counsel of deceased oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, who said almost ten years ago, natural gas will buy us time, but the future of energy in the middle of the country is wind energy. It should be noted, Exxon Mobil was just removed from the Dow Jones as its capitalization has fallen.

Please remember Pickens’ words as he noted the wind blows across the plains states. And, the sun also shines across the country. More on that source later.

Note: Oil rich Texas has made a concerted effort to build wind energy. The following paragraph comes from wfaa.com’s website earlier this year.

“In Texas, the wind blows hardest in the West side of the state. But most people live in the central and eastern parts. So, Texas built 3,600 miles of electric transmission lines to carry power out of the most remote parts of the state. The legislature called it Competitive Renewable Energy Zones.Feb 16, 2020”

Robert Redford, actor and environmentalist, speaks loudly

In an article by Zack Budryk of The Hill called “Robert Redford backs Biden, warns of slide toward autocracy if Trump wins,” the following three paragraphs paint the appropriate portrait of the election.

“The reelection of President Trump, Redford wrote, would ‘accelerate our slide toward autocracy. It would be taken as free license to punish more so-called ‘traitors’ and wage more petty vendettas – with the full weight of the Justice Department behind them.’

Redford predicted ‘untold damage’ to the environment under a second Trump term, citing the president’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement and rollback of Obama-era energy and environmental regulations.

In contrast, he wrote, ‘Biden leads with his heart. I don’t mean that in a soft and sentimental way. I’m talking about a fierce compassion – the kind that fuels him, that drives him to fight against racial and economic injustice, that won’t let him rest while people are struggling.'”

I can already hear the dissenting voices say Redford is just an actor, why should his opinion matter more than mine? It doesn’t. But, here is a man who has spent a life of trying to protect the environment, whose voice has a little more gravatas. Plus, any public figure who is paid based on consumers buying his product, risks more by making statements such as this.

Finally, while my opinion is just one voice, I agree with everything that Redford write above. So, that is at least two like minds on this issue. The full article can be linked to below.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/robert-redford-backs-biden-warns-of-slide-toward-autocracy-if-trump-wins/ar-BB16uSyj?ocid=msedgdhp

Pandemic accelerates renewable energy surpassing coal energy in US

In an article by Brad Plumer of The New York Times (see below) called “In a first, renewable energy is poised to eclipse coal,” the growth of renewable energy has been further fueled by the pandemic. This year, renewable energy (solar, wind, bio-mass, geothermal and hydroelectric), will surpass coal as the second largest energy source.

Per Plumer, efforts by the current president to keep propping up coal-burning plants have proven ineffective against market conditions. He notes “Those efforts, however, failed to halt the powerful economic forces that have led utilities to retire hundreds of aging coal plants since 2010 and run their remaining plants less frequently. The cost of building large wind farms has declined more than 40% in that time, while solar costs have dropped more than 80%. And, the price of natural gas, a cleaner-burning alternative to coal, has fallen to historic lows as a result of the fracking boom.”

Plumer adds the impact of COVID-19 which has reduced electricity usage with fewer stores and restaurants open is hastening this trend. “And because coal plants often cost more to operate than gas plants or renewables, many utilities are cutting back on coal power first in response.”

Further, “Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, and its decline has already helped drive down US carbon dioxide emissions 15% since 2005. This year, the (Energy Information Administration) expects the US emissions to fall by another 11%, the largest drop in at least 70 years.”

Coupled with people driving less and avoiding traveling by airplanes, an upside to COVID-19 is 2020 will be an impactful year on less carbon usage which will help in cleaning air (which is noticeable from satellites) and addressing climate change. As the economy slowly recovers with the majority of people being cautious in their movements and spending patterns, at least this positive impact will continue for more than 2020. And, hopefully with the coal plants being used more and more in the bull pen for extra need, more may be retired.

Still, some folks are surprised by the news of the decline in coal. They should not be. About eight years ago, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens was on “60 Minutes” and said the future energy source in the windy plains states is wind energy. He added fracking for natural gas will buy time until the cost of wind is more economical. Now, oil rich Texas bears that out with wind energy surpassing coal by itself this year. While Texas produces more wind energy than any other state, Iowa gets over 40% of its electricity from wind and most of the top states in percentage of electricity are plains states.

Not only has coal become relatively more expensive due to the cost declines in other sources, its costs and risk continue beyond the life of the fuel and the plant. Duke Energy and TVA have had to clean up messes from coal ash that have bled into the water systems. And, Duke’s Dan River spill was from a long-ago retired coal plant.

The people I feel for are the coal miners whose hopes have been propped up by politicians who have not been forthcoming. I have known about coal’s demise since that Pickens’ interview and through other news and reading sources. My guess is so have the politicians, yet rather than be truthful and help them plan for new careers, they kept feeding their hopes. And, last time I checked, the wind blows and sun shines in those coal producing states. So, these miners are owed long-time-coming truths and help to find and train for new jobs.

Help me define the best (or worst in this case) metaphor of the Trump presidency

After the most recent incredulous statement by the US president about ingesting disinfectant as a possible cure for COVID-19, I felt this Marie Antoinette moment might be a metaphor for his presidency. Yet, there are truly many contenders for such a distinction.

Below are twelve top of mind statements or actions that could be considered. Sadly, there are more to choose from. So, readers please let me know your top three, including others I may have overlooked.

1. Ingesting disinfectant – he has to tried to explain this away as sarcasm, but to see Dr. Birx trying to avoid eye contact when he asked her what she thought is telling.

2. Sharpie gate – this is when the president played meterologist and scared the state of Alabama by drawing on the map the hurricane may hit them. This was an unforced error thst aides spent a week trying to diffuse.

3. Firing Comey without telling him – for a person who liked to say “You’re fired” on TV, the president cannot bring himself to fire soneone in person. James Comey found out he was fired via TV news. But, Trump failed to tell his Communication team, so Sean Spicer was hiding in the White House bushes with staff to plan what to say.

4. First travel ban – Trump likes to use the word disaster to define anything he did not do. The first travel ban was so disastrous, it waa pulled after two days. The president failed to vet the change with various stakeholders including the people who would need to conduct the ban. So, people did not know what to do and the lines were long.

5. India/ Pakistan brokering peace deal – this faux pas did not get much air time, but the president announced in front of the Pakistani leader the India prime minister asked him to broker a peace deal between the two countries over the Kashmir conflict. Within the hour, India put out a press release saying no such request was made.

6. Tariffs paid by China – the president has said this at least a dozen times, so it may be a good candidate because of its staying power. Trump likes to say China is paying the tariffs. Economists correct him each time saying US importers pay the tariffs which are passed onto the consumers. So, we pay the tariffs.

7. Extorting Ukraine – after watching a parade of reputable public servants testify under oath at a great risk with such a vindictive president, Trump was impeached over extorting Ukraine for personal gain. He likes to focus on one phone call, but if that call was so “perfect,” why did his staff try to bury it?

8. Siding with Putin over CIA – in Helsinki, standing side by side with a man who is KGB trained on disinformation, Trump sided with Putin over the advice of his intelligence people. Senator John McCain wrote an op-ed piece to blast the president’s words as “traiterous.”

9. Pulling out of Paris Climate Change Accord – the president’s stance on climate change was my worst fear going in. So, he announced pulling out of the Paris accord on June 1, 2017, the day following Exxon shareholders voting for management to tell them what Exxon is doing to address climate change. When we exit, the US will stand alone in the world.

10. Transgender in military – the announcement to ban new transgender people in the military got the press, but the decision process is the metaphor. Per the book “Fear” by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Bob Woodward, the president announced his decision by two tweets around 10:05 one morning saying the Joint Chiefs of Staff and he had decided to do this. Problem is they had not. The time is important as the Joint Chiefs waited downstairs to meet with the president to go over four options and the pros/ cons of each. The president was told of this and asked when would be a good time to meet. This is a key reason DOD James Mattis abruptly said that a tweet is not an order.

11. Wandering alone at G20 – this was a sad to watch as the president wandered the tables looking for someone to talk with after dinner at a G20 meeting. He finally wandered over to meet with Vladimir Putin alone, a very scary situation with a very informed leader and Trump, who does not study history or issues. Plus, it is a metaphor that he would gravitate to Putin’s table rather than an ally of our country.

12. Bragging on fixing the economy – this is the most relentless of topics and, until the virus hit, was his claim to fame. The problem is he did not fix the economy. Yes, economic growth continued under his watch, but when he was sworn in on January 20, 2017, the US GDP was in its 91st consecutive month of economic growth (that is seven plus years), the stock market had more than doubled under Obama, and unemployment was under 5%. Presidents get too much credit and blame for the economy, but for Trump to say he fixed the economy is untrue – it was not broken He has added both short term tailwinds and long term headwinds.

So, that is a dirty dozen, so to speak. I wanted to limit them twelve, so leaving off Charlottesville, his rallies, his ignoring the early warnings on COVID-19, or just his litany of routine, daily untruthfulness or beating up on the press, etc. proved difficult. Let me know your top three choices. Please feel free to add any others. It is funny, depending on how I want to focus my attention, I could pick a different three – is impact, continuity, or inanity the best measure?

Voting for Trump is not a favorable vote for Bernie

Note the following is a comment I made on our friend’s Jill’s recent post. See link below.

I have written separate posts on the relative veracity of Biden and Sanders. I have commented on a couple of progressive sites as well. I will vote for Sanders if he is the nominee, but I favor Biden. I am an independent who is fiscally conservative and socially progressive. I believe in helping people, but we need to make sure we pay for it and are getting a ROI (i.e. – is this the best way to help?).

Biden and Sanders are genuine and decent people. Neither are perfect, but I don’t find myself questioning the veracity of what they say. None of these descriptions fit the bill with the incumbent. I also recognize what too many don’t that America’s economic system is a blend of fettered capitalism with socialist underpinnings. That simple statement would blow people’s minds.

The question we need to ask is what is the proper balance? That question does not fit on a bumper sticker which is how the president got elected. I am just saddened that our reputation around the world has declined with 64% of Europeans not trusting the president trusting Putin and Xi more. To be frank, I am surprised it is not higher in distrust, as I don’t trust a word he says.

And, neither does Bernie Sanders who calls him a “pathological liar.” So, when I see Bernie fans say they would vote for Trump over Biden it is a puzzlement. I think it is an insult to everything Bernie stands for. I would also caution my more ardent Bernie friends to make sure who they are getting their information from, as it easily might be a Trump supporter masquerading as a Bernie Bro. Trump has and will stoop low to get reelected.

Finally, my friend Bernie is not getting the votes like last time. I was pulling for a good interview on “60 Minutes,” but his subtle answer to a question about Cuba cost him Florida in huge way. One Democrat said it may have lost Florida for the Dems if he wins the nomination. Trump cannot win if he does not carry Florida.

So, I do hope we rally around Biden. Otherwise, the climate change and environmental fights will be lost for a key four year period (per Greta and AOC) and SCOTUS will likely become a 7 to 2 conservative majority along with other judges. This point galvanizes Republicans as Mitch McConnell knows he can shape a future of jurisprudence that favors big business and is diminishes civil rights for forty years.

Discord & Dissension — Part X — Bernie or Bust?

A weekend at Bernie’s

Yesterday, I spoke of the value proposition of Joe Biden. While I need not tell this to those “who feel the Bern,” Bernie Sanders value proposition needs more selling to those who may not be so enthralled. But, what is missing from a true evaluation is needed context.

The US economy is not a pure capitalistic system and, has been much less of one, since the changes required by the Robber Baron period. To be frank, this is the period Donald Trump wants America to return to and with the tax cuts and vast deregulation, we have come closer than before to this oligarchy period. Since that time, we have added several “governors” on capitalism and layered in some socialistic underpinnings to protect those in need. On the former, think interlocking boards, collusion, monopolies, insider trading, and bankruptcy restrictions and protection. On the latter, think Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment, Workers Compensation, food stamps, etc.

So, the US is a fettered capitalistic economic system with socialistic protections. And, to make this even more obvious, if we did not have bankruptcy protection, Donald Trump would not have any money as his companies have declared bankruptcy six times. This context is needed, as the debate we should be having is what is the right balance?

Bernie is pushing for several changes that would add more socialistic protections for people. He has also discussed the government taking over the quasi-governmental, but publicly traded utility industry, to address climate change. Addressing climate change is key, but is that the preferred path forward? As an independent and former Republican and Democrat, I would much prefer the argument to be shaped with the context I note above.

As an example, Medicare for All is something to consider, but it should be evaluated with detailed cost projections on what it means for various groups of people and taxpayers. There are many considerations such as should it be obligatory, should it be an option, should it be an extended version of the current system to younger retirees, etc.? As this will take time to evaluate, shoring up the ACA is needed. I mention this as if Democrats don’t keep the House and get 60 senators, Medicare for All will have difficulty getting considered. But, if framed as something to study, it may get consideration.

While Bernie is much scarier to some as much as he is appealing to his base, it would behoove us to consider the following. Bernie is a decent person with integrity and compassion. None of these three words could be legitimately used to define the current president. It is all about Donald Trump. It is that simple.

I believe Bernie is not as scary as portrayed by the right and he should not be as aspirational beyond what he can deliver. Just like tax cuts, free stuff sells. But, everything has a price tag. The better answer is what makes the most sense to do, based on impact and cost, and the fact we have $23 trillion in debt, expected to grow to $35 trillion. If Bernie is the nominee, I would prefer him to offer needed context to his discussions. Otherwise, he is getting people wound up for disappointment.

Hey Joe

I was watching the weekly recap by David Brooks and Mark Shields on PBS Newshour last night. They both said Joe Biden needs to be crystal clear on why he should be president, without mentioning Trump or Sanders. Hey Joe, to help you formulate a concise value proposition, let me share what I value in you.

Right now, the US is less trusted around the world because our president is untrustworthy. Plus, he sees relationships through a transactional lens, so history is of less importance. You were asked by President Obama to be heavily involved with global affairs. There is a reason. You have more experience in this area than anyone running for president. Tell us why that is important and what you will do to restore America’s position.

Right now, the Affordable Care Act is doing reasonably well, in spite of many attempts to sabatoge it by Republicans, including the president. Average premiums have actually declined for the second year in a row, but that story gets little airplay. However, the Supreme Court will be ruling next year, after the GOP legislators removed the mandate, if what remains is unconstitutional. Tell folks why it is important that you are elected and what you will do to assure the ACA is put on more solid footing.

Right now, the federal government is leaving the Paris Climate Change Accord and allowing more pollution of the environment. This is a very shortsighted set of tactics that will harm humans and our planet. Tell us what you will do to put us back on the same path with the rest of the world to address climate change and environmental degradation.

Right now, even with a pretty good economy, we have a huge poverty problem, especially in various pockets. Tell us what you will do to remedy these areas, via investment, protecting needed programs, minimum wage improvement and career training. Some areas that have relied on fossil fuel exploration are suffering. Tell them the truth about the present and future and how you will help them.

Right now, bipartisan debate and discussion is at a minimum and, when it occurs, party leadership chastises the individuals who try to work with the other party. Tell us about your career of bipartisanship and why that is important to obtain sustainable legislation. Ideas have to be implemented through legislation to stand the test of time and not be changed by a future executive order.

There are so many more things to highlight. But, keep it to a minimum. Michael Bloomberg may have been a poor candidate to Democrats, but he kept the message simple. As Mark Shields said, Bloomberg’s campaign was better than the candidate.

In fairness to Bernie Sanders, I will write a future post about what this independent sees that he needs to do to appeal to people outside of his base. Irrespective of who wins, I encourage you and Senator Sanders to be above pettiness. Policy differences exist. But, the winner needs the other to beat the most corrupt and deceitful president in my lifetime, including Richard Nixon.

Fossil fuel energy may have seen a global turning point

Earlier this week, Reuters in the UK posted an article called “Fossil fuels for power at turning point as renewable surged in 2019 – data.” A link to the article is below. A few excerpts from the article are telling:

“The use of fossil fuels such as coal and oil for generating electricity fell in 2019 in the United States, the European Union and India, at the same time overall power output rose, a turning point for the global energy mix. Those countries and regions are three of the top four largest producers of power from fossil fuels. The declines suggest the end of the fossil fuel era could be on the horizon, said Tomas Kaberger, an energy professor at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, who provided the power generation data to Reuters.

Kaberger, who is also the chair of the executive board for Japan’s Renewable Energy Institute and a member of the board at Swedish utility Vattenfall AB, provided data covering more than 70% of the world’s power generation that showed for most of 2019 the amount of power sourced from fossil fuels dropped by 156 terawatt hours (TWh) from the year before. That is equal to the entire power output of Argentina in 2018.

The data also indicates that renewable power generation increased at a faster rate than the overall growth in power output for the first time, rising by 297 TWh versus 233 TWh for overall output, Kaberger said.

‘It is economics driving this as low-cost renewable electricity outcompetes against fossil and nuclear power plants,’ said Kaberger.”

The last quote from Kaberger is extremely important. The economics of renewables relative to their fossil fuel counterparts are driving the movement. The argument that renewables cost more is not relevant any more. And, when you factor in the present value of all costs – acquisition, transport, environmental degradation, production, water loss, health, storage, maintenance and litigation – renewables beat the pants off fossil fuel energy.

So, when you hear fossil fuel arguments such as cost, use the above example. When you hear fossil fuel arguments such as jobs, solar and wind energy jobs are growing at double digit rates. The big picture question is if we can use a non-polluting, renewable energy at the same or better cost, and create jobs, is that not the best path forward?

https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-electricity-fossilfuel-decline/fossil-fuels-for-power-at-turning-point-as-renewables-surged-in-2019-data-idUKKBN20R0I6?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews