Sustainability is an underappreciated word. It is essential to most aspects of life, such as exercise, relationships, saving, or business or governmental decisions.

Beginning with exercise as an example, you need to start out like you can put out. Think what you are trying to accomplish and do sustainable exercises. I used to jog often, but my efforts would wane and I would need to start again.

Now, I exercise daily after I shower for about fifteen minutes altering the routines each day. They are a series of Yoga, Pilates, isometrics and light weightlifting. I balance that with 2 to 3 mile walks or hikes and yard work. My goal at age 59 is to be flexible and toned able to get around on my own for the rest of my life.

The same holds true with financial decisions. A word of advice is pay over time what your budget can support. Save with each paycheck to create a dollar averaging effect that is not hinged on stock market rises and falls. Be wary of buying on ego – buy on sustainability (master bedroom downstairs will become a must at some point and most cars and SUVs look similar no matter the price).

Our government could learn this as well. We are borrowing from our future to make a long running pretty good economy a better one. We are on an unsustainable path toward debt and we have exhausted a few measures that would let us recover from the inevitable fall.

We are reversing a trend of treating our environment better by removing some needed regulations and allowing polluters to pollute more. We are peeing in our own swimming pool. At some point, there is a financial and health reckoning with these environmental degradations.

Sustainability is the key. It may be a boring word, but it is an essential one. Start out like you can put out.


Headwinds and Tailwinds to the Economy

Presidents get too much credit and blame for the economy. They can provide headwinds and tailwinds, but global market forces tend to control what happens. By headwinds, I mean the wind is against the economic growth, with tailwinds aiding economic growth.

In the US, we are under the third longest economic growth period in our measured history with 103 consecutive months of growth. We have also had seven consecutive years of 2 million plus jobs created. And, the stock market more than doubled under Obama and continues its rise under Trump. These are great numbers. But, before we pat ourselves on the back too much, not everyone has benefitted and wealth disparity among economic classes has been widening for the past thirty-five years.

Economists I have watched project the good news to continue for the year, but several have cautioned about the future and if we don’t address the inequity, we will have major problems on top of other concerns.

On the tailwinds ledger, the global economy continues to grow and the World Economic Forum projects a 3.9% increase for the year. In the US, the cut back on regulations, plus the reduction in new ones over the rates of the past, have given more confidence to businesses (more on this later). Plus, the reduction in corporate tax rates will help fuel some growth, provided these companies who are sitting on cash, choose to invest it in their people and business. And, with more money in many people’s pockets, this will add some fuel.

On the headwinds ledger, several economists have noted we are robbing Peter to pay Paul, leveraging our future with even more debt. Not only did we not address the expected increase in debt taking it from $20 trillion to $30 trillion in 2027, the tax law will increase it by $1.5 trillion. The interest cost thereon will take a greater bite out of our budget. But, other headwinds are of concern. Retrenching from global markets and trade agreements replacing them with binary ones, will be dilutive to growth. Not investing as much in science and innovation is a major concern to Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics.

This will be heightened if we restrict immigration. What seems to get lost in the argument where some have become too cold-hearted in my view, is immigration is accretive to the US economy. Plus, the people immigrating tend to be more entrepreneurial and better educated, in many cases. These sh**hole countries that someone demeaned are sending us more educated people than reside here in the states, on average.

We should not fail to remember that “innovation is portable” so says David Smick, an economic advisor to Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Jack Kemp, one of the smartest Congresspersons who considered a run for President. If we do not provide an inviting place, innovation may be hindered. I should note that Steve Jobs was born to Syrian immigrants to the US. What if they had been denied entry? Apple might not have ever come to fruition.

Finally, not all regulations are bad, so restricting regulations may cause headwinds down the road especially with more freedoms given to pollute the environment and take advantage of customers. This is a developers mindset. Remove obstacles to build, but leave the clean up for others. Unfortunately, we taxpayers are the others. We citizens, that must drink and breathe more polluted waters and air and realize the impact of climate change, are the others. As coal ash deposits have taught us, there is a cost to environmental degradation.

So, we need to be mindful of what we are facing. I have communicated with numerous Congresspersons, Senators and the President, that we are avoiding some elephants in the room – debt, climate change, water crisis and income inequity. In my view as an Independent voter, passing a tax law that increases the debt was extremely poor stewardship, as we cannot cut our way out of this problem. The math won’t work.


Good energy news on this cold, snowy day

Global citizens are rightfully concerned the US President is pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, but progress continues as “we are passed the tipping point on renewable energy.” Even the US pullout cannot stop the train, as states, cities, businesses and other countries continue the push. It just means the President and his team will not be at the adult table on this issue and may not be invited at all.

Here are a few miscellaneous energy tidbits that should offer encouragement.

Per the UK Based organization Carbon Tracker, here are a few highlights from the past year:

  • more than 1/2 of the US coal plants in existence in 2010 have been closed;
  • more than 1/2 of the remaining coal plants in Europe are losing money;
  • the UK has slashed electricity from coal usage from 40% to 2% in the last five years; and
  • there have been big strides in China and Australia on reducing coal usage.

Per the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the five member, Republican dominated agency denied the request by Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry to fund the building of more coal-fired and nuclear plants. This was a surprise move given the make-up of the committee. I would call this decision as not wanting to throw good money after bad.

It should be noted, it is not just coal that is giving the FERC commissioners pause. The US division of Westinghouse Electric Company had to declare bankruptcy for cost overruns on a new nuclear power plant for SCANA, the South Carolina utility. As a result, the new plant is being shuttered and SCANA is being sold to Dominion Resources, so as not to overburden SC citizens with the cost of the lost investment.

The International Energy Agency in their 2017 Energy Outlook notes the cost of new solar photovoltaic electricity has declined by 70% and wind energy has fallen 25% since 2010. It should be noted the IEA has tended to favor fossil fuel energy in past releases. China, the new country leader in the climate change fight, will be investing US$360 billion more in renewable energy by 2020. Plus, the price of solar has fallen so much in places like Zambia, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, it has won bidding contests against fossil fuel energy sources for projects.

Finally, any discussion on future energy cannot exclude the declining cost and increasing capacity in battery storage. Per Bloomberg New Energy Financials, energy storage will double six times between 2016 and 2030. Elon Musk just helped southern Australia go live with a major battery installation and 21 states in the US have planned projects on energy storage.

All of the above stories are important because it has always been a financial argument to combat the environmental concerns, whose long term costs have been undervalued. Now, the financials are favoring the renewable energy engine, so market forces will continue to force the ultimate demise of coal-fired energy, which started with the lower cost of natural gas. If a company can find a clean energy source which is cheaper and more predictable long term, that is easily the better path forward. If you don’t believe me, just ask companies like Google, Facebook, Walmart and IKEA to name only a few.



The biggest global risk to the west

Ian Bremmer, the President of the Eurasia Group and a CBS News Correspondent cited his group’s report on CBS This Morning regarding the greatest global risk. In essence, he said the number one risk is an emergent China filling the void being left by a retrenching US from the global leadership stage. Here is what Bremmer said in the interview about China.

“They  have the strongest leader in Xi Jinping they’ve had at least since Mao [Zedong]. And because the United States is America first, it’s transactional. It’s unilateral. It’s undermining a lot of alliances. You put those things together and suddenly you actually have a China that is willing to engage in what is increasingly a geopolitical vacuum,” Bremmer told “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday.

“In other words, this is the first time we’ve ever seen as U.S. leadership erodes, no one else has been standing up. Now the leader of China is saying we’re prepared to stand up whether it’s on climate or the global economy, you know, regional security, you name it, that’s a big change for the world.”

Bremmer cited an easy example. The US President said he is going to cut funding to Pakistan as they are not doing enough to combat terrorism. The sad truth is it really does not matter that much, as China supports Pakistan more than we do and will step up. I mentioned in a recent post that twice now, Xi Jingping followed the US President at two world events in Davos and Vietnam. The Chinese leader gave the speech the US President usually gives regarding working together globally. Trump spoke of maximizing only American interests.

Not only is this counterproductive, it will actually hurt our share of the global pie making us less relevant.There are two things to note. First, the position that Xi is advocating used to be a foundation of the US Republican Party. The party sold its soul to support the short-sighted and bullying President who gives the illusion of being a populist.

Second, the US cannot shrink to greatness. We are actually doing pretty well as a country and were so when Trump took office. It is the distribution of wealth that is the problem and this President has done very little to resolve that problem. Lessening our global position not only will hurt our economy, it will make us less safe.

If Trump continues in office through one term, this period will be viewed by historians when the US made an unforced error and ceded its global leadership position. This is the exact opposite of what the President should be doing.



Threatening others is not a great sales strategy

The US President made an ill-advised move to declare Jerusalem Israel’s capitol saying the US would move its embassy there. The dilemma is it’s a lightning rod of a change, with Palestinians laying claim as well. Yet, after the UN Security Council voted 14 to 1 against this declaration with the US being outnumbered, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, extended the President’s threat to cut funding to the countries who voted against the US.

Well, in a show of defiance, the entire UN body voted 128 to 9 against the US decision. Some small African nations, who heavily rely on US funding, acquiesced to the threat. Several countries abstained since the did not want to unsettle the sensitive President, but the sizable vote count should serve as an embarrassment to him. In sports and politics that would be called a rout.

It is my guess the President will remain defiant as it is not in his nature to admit a mistake, but one thing the President absolutely detests is being made to look bad. We should not forget his recorded comment that asked Enrique Peña Nieto, the Mexican President, to say openly Mexico would pay for the wall as “it was making him look bad” if they did not.

We should remind the President that his decisions and comments are what are making him look bad. When he announced that the US would be withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Accord on June 1, it was the day after Exxon-Mobil shareholders voted against a management recommendation to require management to disclose what they are doing to battle climate change, the third fossil fuel based company to be so required in May following shareholder votes at PPL and Occidental Petroleum. The shareholders did what the President would not, go against the wishes of a petroleum company’s management.

To further illustrate US isolation on this Paris withdrawal, we are the lone county not to participate once the withdrawal becomes effective. We are also one of the biggest polluters, which seems fairly un-neighborly to thumb our nose at the rest of the world. Our country was also not invited to a climate change planning conference earlier this month in France. The US did have representation from several states, cities and business leaders who have picked up the baton the President dropped, but our government was not represented nor wanted.

My biggest fear going in with the bullying President was his not supporting climate change action. But, the greater fear is making the US a pariah in the world, someone who threatens other countries. If a country has a choice to deal with the US President or not, unless avoiding pain or accomplishing gain is compelling, the answer may be “no, thank you” more than it would have been before this President took office. Threats will not help in this cause, as illustrated at the UN.

China is benefitting from our retrenching position in the world. Xi Jinping is a more rational and trusted leader than the US President. Even domestic US leaders know not to trust the President at his word, including Republicans who suffer in silence. Lying and bullying are not admirable traits. Fortunately, leaders like Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are picking up the mantle as true leaders of the Western world.

In closing, if there is a visual metaphor of the bullying US President, it occurred during a meeting with fellow NATO leaders in Brussels earlier this year. President Trump appeared to shove Prime Minister Milo Dukanovic of Montenegro aside in order to position himself front and center for photographers. A bull in a china shop, so to speak.

Side of the Angels

A CFO once said during a meeting I was involved with “at least we are on the side of the Angels.” He was referring to a decision a Committee had made which was a conservative reading of the law. If they were wrong at least they would not be at risk.

I use this example as many decisions are made these days that run counter to what experts using data and analytics might say should be done. A good example is happening as of this writing in the US Congress. A law is being passed which goes against what several nonpartisan economic and budget organizations are saying will happen. It is also being sold as more than it is, which is a windfall for wealthy people and investors. These lawmakers are not on the side of the Angels on this issue.

Earlier this year, the President of the United States decided to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Change Accord. As a result, our country was not invited to a conference last week to plan ahead. We are the lone country in the world that will not be in the accord. Ironically, the accord permitted flexibility to reshape how we comply, so leaving was merely a political statement. Being a lone wolf on one of the two most important topics in the world does not leave us on the side of the Angels.

We must do our homework and make decisions based on data, analytics and nonpartisan opinions of experts. Making decisions off rhetoric and lobbyists’ wishes   tends not to be on the side of the Angels.



What this independent voter believes

As an Independent voter who has been a member of both parties, I have been frustrated by the lack of civility, lack of truth and lack of due diligence shown by the President. I am also frustrated by the ongoing rationalization by his party for his behavior. When he was elected, I said let’s give him a chance as his success will be ours and that is how this works. I did have low expectations which he has failed to achieve. After I made the above statement of hope, within days he appointed Steve Bannon as a Senior Advisor. That made a huge statement to me meaning white supremacy and nationalism had a chair at the table.

The President consistently is more untruthful than he is not. His lying has been measured at 69% of the time, which is kind as it gives him credit for partial truths in the 31%. This is not news as Politifacts said he lied 70% of the time during the campaign and his five biographers and ghost writer for his biggest selling book all said Trump has a problem with the truth. Thomas Wells, an attorney who worked with Trump, wrote last June, 2016, that “Trump lies every day, even about things of no consequence.” Other leaders in the US and abroad do not trust this man and why would they? So, I keep it simple and do not believe a word he says as the odds are in my favor.

Then there is the demonization of everyone who dares criticize him or did things he did not do. Everything Obama or Bush did is “horrible” and every thing he will do will be “beautiful” or “make you happy.” But, it is the transactional, zero-sum game he plays with critics that is so childish. He must crush critics to make it alright in his mind. He rarely criticizes on issues or policies as he is not steeped in details. He prefers a mud fight. This lack of civility to people who have lost loved ones, homes, livelihoods, civil rights, etc, is downright un-Presidential and un-Christian. It would not be confused with the right thing to do and to me is very telling.

If this were not bad enough, almost every decision is made off rhetoric, not data. Our problems are too complex to solve them without knowing what caused them. Or, trying to solve a problem that has been over-simplified or does not exist is more commonplace. Right now, the Department of Defense says not reacting to climate change is a threat to national security. If you take this one step further, then a President who ignores climate change, must also be a threat to national security. Thomas Friedman wrote an excellent piece this week about the holistic problems in Niger, which include the impact climate change has had on desertification. This has caused farmers to lose crops and to invite in ISIS to garner some level of income.This is what a President should consider in his decisions. (Gronda has written an excellent piece on this whose link is below.)

The sad part about the last issue is the President does not show any desire to learn things. We have woeful staff shortages and he has a limited attention span. This is severely crimping our diplomacy abroad, which is much needed. Without such, the President has already elevated the risk with North Korea. Michael Lewis has written about how Obama’s people made transition books and invited the Trump people in to meet. Department by department, very few took them up on this, so this learning curve baton was never passed.

We now need more Republican leaders to remember to whom they swore their oath – it is to the Constitution, not their party or this President. He needs to be censured and he may eventually need to be impeached, if what appears to be true about Russia, in fact is. That is what I believe.

Thomas L. Friedman Connects The Dots Between President Trump And Niger