Just to be clear

Cutting through a lot of noise in the news, just to be clear:

– Getting dirt on a campaign opponent from a foreign entity is something of value – it is illegal to do this no matter how much it is rationalized by sycophants in your party. The message lost on the man in the White House is you don’t want to be beholden to a foreign government – that is why the law exists. The key question for me is the man speaking only of the future?

Watching the US Open at Pebble Beach on Monterrey Peninsula, my wife and I recall playing this course in 1992 about two months before the US Open at the same course. It is as beautiful as it looks on TV. The pros make this hard course look easy. Yet, one thing they don’t tell you on TV is guard your valuables and food as the seagulls swoop down and take them from unattended golf carts.

– When the Special Counsel in the Justice department, who the president appointed, says someone on the president’s staff is in violation of the Hatch Act (politicking on the taxpayer’s dime) after multiple warnings to cease and desist, action is required. Yet, unless she resigns, the “law does not apply to me” president won’t take action.

On the same trip we played Pebble Beach, my friend (we traveled with another couple) and I played Spyglass Hill as well. Pebble was hard, but Spyglass was painful. The first hole is over 600 yards – I thought I would never get to the green. We also played a course named Spanish Bay where the marshes are protected by law. You could see the result of an errant golf shot, but could not reclaim it due to the postings.

– Senator Mitch McConnell is the key blocker in passing a bill to further protect our election process. I have heard a security expert and a conservative pundit be critical of McConnell’s weak-kneed response. Both of these commenters said it us because McConnell did not want to hurt the president’s feelings as he gets volatile thinking people are questioning his legitimacy. Note the major take away from the Mueller report is the Russians influenced our elections. And, just today, there is an article that the EU thinks the Russians impacted their recent vote through social media.This is an indicting criticism of McConnell. Please ask him why.

The golf trip in 1992 led us to wine country for two days of tours. Too many tastes of wine will get you snockered. An interesting memory is the owner of one winery was out mowing the grass as we visited. Our final two days were in San Francisco, my favorite American city. We took the advice of our B&B chef and enjoyed some neat restaurants, one of which the wait staff sang opera and Broadway songs while serving.

– As with the US president, if the Brits end up with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister the two leading English speaking countries will be led by two people who have a very hard time with truth. That makes me sad for democracy. If Johnson wins, it will be interesting to see how Trump and Johnson handle their first disagreement when neither’s word is worth a darn. It is already apparent, Angela Merkel is the leading voice in the western world as she commands respect far more than either person.

I intermixed our trip to the San Francisco area with the current US Open there. I felt just talking only about the real news might be too depressing.  I hope all the fathers out there have a pleasant day tomorrow with their families.

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Ice on Fire

I encourage people to watch the excellent HBO documentary called “Ice on Fire” on concerns over climate change and remedial actions underway that should and can be leveraged. The documentary is produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, but the most impactful voices are the scientists, inventors and trendsetters who are seeing dividends from their actions and investments.

To sum up, we have two major problems facing us – too much carbon in the air along with a growing concern over methane as it is released from beneath melting ice caps and frozen tundra, on top of the venting from natural gas sites. The title comes from researchers lighting methane leaks on fire as it is released from melting ice covered waters. The scientists note with data that it is quite clear man is causing the hastened uptick in temperatures as we leave our carbon fingerprints in the atmosphere.

These are major concerns, but we are not sitting still. Significant efforts are underway. They can be categorized as putting less carbon in the air and capturing more carbon from the air. To avoid a novel, I will touch on some of the ideas, but please do deeper dives and watch the documentary airing now.

Stop putting carbon in the air

We must hasten the move to renewable energy. The costs are more on par and less, in some cases, than fossil fuel energy production. Wind and solar energy are growing at accelerated rates. One CEO noted, the technology is here to make this happen even more than it already is. Here in the US, California gets 25% of its electricity from solar and Texas gets 16% of its electricity from wind energy.

Yet, a very promising start-up off Scotland is tapping tidal energy. There is a company producing electricity today with an offshore platform with two turbines turned by the tides to generate electricity. I have written before about this group as they use existing technologies to harness the sea. Their success is gaining notoriety around the world, as it appears to be replicable.

Two other ideas also help with both recapture and restricting release. The first is reusing depleting biowaste (such as dying trees, plants and compost) in the soils to grow crops and future trees and foliage. The biowaste holds water better, maintains top soil and is straight out of nature’s guidebook.

The other is growing more kelp offshore as it captures carbon like sequoia trees and can also be used as a food source for livestock. Feeding cattle kelp is not a new approach. Feeding cattle is important as it greatly reduces the gases released by animals and preserves more carbon capturing grassland.

Capture more carbon from the air

The documentary spells out several natural ways to capture carbon and a few technological ways. On the former, here are a few ideas:

Maintain forests, especially those with large sequoias, which are huge carbon eaters. There are several places that are nurturing huge forests, but they note we need more of these efforts. We need to be mindful to replace what we cut, but keep some protected forests off limits to cutting.

Another example is to replenish mangroves that offer buffers to oceans. In addition to offering protection against storms, they also are natural born carbon eaters.

Another effort is to grow more urban farms. These farms are usually more organic, but in addition to absorbing carbon in urban areas, they perpetuate a farm to table concept that reduces transportation fumes. Reducing auto fumes is a huge concern of cities around the globe.

The next idea is more compex, but it requires the growing of more shells in the ocean. The dusts off the shells creates “ocean snow” that settles to the bottom and absorbs carbon. The idea is to spread a very small amount of iron in the ocean to cause more shells to grow.

The more technological solutions are designed to pull carbon out of the air. There are two approaches – one is to extract carbon and store it safely underground. The other is to pull it out and reuse it through artificial photosynthesis. Both of these options need more description than I am giving them. I prefer the more natural ways, but all of the above, is a necessary strategy at this late hour.

The scientists have concerns, but they do offer hope. The uncertainty of the ice-covered methane release gives them pause. They did note the methane release from accidental leaks from fossil fuel is visible from space and reduceable with some effort.

Another concern is the well-funded activity behind climate change deniers. A Wyoming rancher scientist standing in front of a visible, leaky methane cap said it plainly – they know this stuffs hurts kids more than adults. If someone came into my home to hurt my kids, it would be over my dead body. So, why is it OK too allow this?

Another scientist was less colorful, but equally plainspoken. He said fossil fuel executives perpetuating climate change denial should be tried in The Hague for crimes against humanity. Yet, as the costs have declined, the profit of creating carbon is becoming less palatable than the profit of reducing carbon in the air. People need to know these market forces exist today and not stand for future unhealthy energy creation.

Finally, if you cannot convince a climate change denier that we have a problem, ask them a simple question – if costs were not an issue, would you rather your children and grandchildren breathe methane from vented natural gas or drink coal ash polluted water or have carbon and methane neutral solar, wind or tidal energy? Guess what – costs are not much of an issue anymore and, in an increasing number of cases, less for renewables.

Boom, boom, boom, boom – the US deficit and debt continue to explode

In honor of John Lee Hooker’s famous lyric, which is played at the beginning of “NCIS – New Orleans” and in the movie “Blues Brothers,” a good wake-up call for our US deficit and debt is “boom, boom, boom, boom.” Please note, this is not the trade deficit, which is overblown as a problem as we are more of a consumer nation. This is due to our government spending far more than they take in revenue.

Per the following introduction in a Bloomberg News article, “U.S. Budget Gap Balloons to $739 Billion Despite Tariff Revenue,” we have an escalating problem.

“The U.S. budget deficit widened to $738.6 billion in the first eight months of the fiscal year, a $206 billion increase from a year earlier, despite a revenue boost from President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported merchandise.

The shortfall was 38.8% more than the same period a year ago, the Treasury Department said in its monthly budget review released on Wednesday. So far in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, a revenue increase of 2.3% hasn’t kept pace with a 9.3% rise in spending.”

Right now, our US debt tallies more than $22 trillion and was expected to increase by $10 trillion over the next ten years, before the tax cuts in December, 2017. Our fiscal year runs October through September, so this is the first fiscal year with full benefit of the tax cuts. The Congressional Budget Office forewarned the tax cuts would increase the debt by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years over the already projected $10 trillion. That will put us closer to $34 trillion at that time.

Yet, Americans were told by the president and favorable politicians that the CBO was wrong and growth would accelerate enough to pay for the debt using the assertion “the tax cuts will pay for themselves.” Per the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, tax cuts do not pay for themselves, with the best historical result being in the neighborhood of 30%, but usually much less. That leaves 70% of the revenue reduction adding to the deficit in the best of times.

The reasons for the increase in deficit are increases in military, healthcare and interest cost spending, which have overshadowed the revenue increases due to the longest running economic growth period in the US. Even the worst budgeter amongst us knows, we should be paying down debt when times are good, not increasing it. Sadly, the economy has begun to slow some, so the tax cutter’s rosy projections of 4% and above growth have not materialized (except in an isloated quarter) and economists are expected  lower growth rates than the current 3% per annum the rest of the year.

Per The Concord Coalition, the above Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction plan from December, 2010, we must solve our deficit and debt problem through spending cuts and revenue increases (tax increases) both. The math will not otherwise work. If any politician, no matter how smugly, tells you otherwise, they are not be honest with you or are misinformed themselves.

To be brutally frank, I said so then, but the tax cuts passed in December, 2017 were malfeasance in my mind. We borrowed from our future to make a pretty good economy a little better. It was also hypocritical. Former Freedom Caucus members got elected saying the previous $5 trillion, then $8 trillion, then $13 trillion debts were abhorrent. Now, when it is just below $22 trillion, they pass a bill that increases it even more.

When I raised this with a Freedom Caucus staff member, he curtly told me the CBO is often wrong and they are wrong on this. My push back was simple. These folks do their homework to try and get it right. And, what I have found in my 40 years of adult life, is politicians hail the CBO when their number agree with their decision and call them on the carpet, when they don’t. Yes, it is a projection, but these folks try to be apolitical.

Folks, we have a problem that is not getting talked about enough. We must cut spending and raise revenue. My GOP friends have ceded their fiscal stewardship mantra – that is highly unfortunate. My Democrat friends need to question every candidate on how they plan to pay for their ideas and what they plan to do about the debt. We cannot have Medicare for all if we cannot pay for it.

So, let’s get real and ask politicians some pointed questions. If we don’t, John Lee Hooker will sing even more loudly. “Boom, boom, boom, boom.”

 

A little bit of this, a little bit of that this Wednesday

Happy hump day. Let’s cruise into the downside half of the work week. With multiple themes percolating in my mind, here are few little bits of this and that to bite into.

Former host of “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart has been fiercely active in helping gain funding to pay for the medical costs of the 9/11 first responders in NYC. He gave an “out of the pool” criticism to a Congressional Committee in person as the funding has run out. He said in essence the first responders did their jobs, now you do yours. Forceful is an understatement. Let’s hope it sinks in. Congress and this president need to be shamed like that when they fail to do the obvious. In essence, he said I don’t give a crap about your politics, do the right thing. Amen brother.

The greatest talent of the current US president is marketing schtick. He can make a pair of twos look like a full house better than anyone. Like this analogy, most of what he does is untrue or blown way out of proportion. He knows fear sells, so he sells it daily, if not hourly. One of his greatest triumphs is to convince his followers that everyone is against him and that only he speaks the truth. He has his followers parroting his remarks saying “you just don’t like him” or have “Trump derangement syndrome.” In other words, it is your fault he lies far more than he does not.

The best line I read recently in a letter to the editor was an attempt to combat this. The letter writer said it is not the media and not the Democrats who are causing all of this chaos. He noted that the US president does not need any help in causing chaos and defaming his own character. He does a very good job on his own. I have said it differently – the greatest enemy of Donald J. Trump is the person who looks back from the mirror when he shaves. One of the reason why the volume of criticism is so high toward him is to combat the significant number of mistruths and the fact he has so many followers who see his lies on their phones.

Kudos should again go out to Republican Congressman Justin Amash from Michigan and Senator Richard Burr from North Carolina. Amash is an attorney and has read the Mueller report. He is a very lone and lonely voice in saying in writing that there exists grounds for impeachment of the president. It should be noted over 1,000 former federal prosecutors agree with him. Yesterday, he resigned from the Freedom Caucus and the vindictive president said he would “squash” Amash. To me, I see Nikita Khrushev pounding on the table at the UN with his shoe saying “we will bury you.” Fear sells.

Burr is also a lonely man, but he at least got a little air cover from Mitch McConnell. Burr subpoenaed the Junior Trump in to testify to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Burr got backlash, but Junior was a “no-show” twice, so Burr asked a judge to get Junior’s fanny in to talk. The issue is Junior may have lied to the Committee about his awareness of the Moscow Trump tower that attorney Michael Cohen briefed him on. Junior said he was only a little aware of the Moscow development issues, but Cohen said he briefed him 10 or 12 times. Like father, like son.

Finally, I have been conversing with our astute British blogger Roger. We are of a like mind (note he is astute even when I don’t agree with him) that the Brits are looking to a very Trump-like prime minister in Boris Johnson. That is not meant to be a compliment. The only poetic justice is if the he wins and the Brits do a hard-Brexit, Johnson will be front and center in the mess he helped create by being untruthful. I understand the rationale, but am not a fan of Brexit – it will dampen the British economy and global clout and that saddens me.  But, if the UK follows through, please, please work out a deal. A hard Brexit, so says business leaders, would be as unwise a decision as the country leaders could make (or fail to make in this case). It should speak volumes that Trump, Johnson and Nigel Farage want a hard Brexit.

That is all for now. Have a great rest of the week.

 

Out of the pool

I think it is time to fire any politician in Washington who is forgetting why they are there. We could start with the White House incumbent and then take out hundreds of members of Congress in both houses. I understand fully Congress must investigate and provide oversight over the Executive Branch. That is part of their job and the current incumbent has given them cause to dig further.

Yet, I have this simple idea that leaders of both houses sit down with legislative liaisons from the White House and figure out some things they can pass and sign into law. I think a civilian board could list about a dozen major issues to focus on and say work these out. It should not take a civilian board, but these folks are too beholden to funders to come up with a workable list.

A key reason for not listing the problems is too much discussion occurs around whether not solving an issue helps them politically. A curse word comes to mind, so please insert your favorite. A good example is a bipartisan Senate immigration bill was passed in 2013, but the House refused to take it up as leaving immigration unaddressed would help the Republicans in the 2014 midterms. The Democrats should not be smug as they do the same thing.

Because of the Republicans unhealthy focus on dismantling the Affordable Care Act, the party justifiably lost seats in the 2018 midterms. To be frank, they should have lost seats with a rushed process that did not follow form and came up with several awful ideas. They should also thank Senators John McCain, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski for saving them from themselves by voting against an ill-conceived vote.

But, what have Dems done with improving the ACA with their winning back the majority in the House – nothing other than “beating on their chest” bills that went nowhere? Not that they were bad bills, but don’t wait until an election in 2020 to address healthcare. The ACA is imperfect, but is working OK and needs some more stability and improvements due to initial design flaws and several efforts by the GOP to sabotage it.

So, Ms. Pelosi, Mr. McConnell, and Mr. Pence, get your fannies in a room with a white board and figure out how to get something done. I do not care which party benefits from what comes out of this. The key is we benefit. Do something that will be signed into law by the mercurial man in the White House. So, Mr. Pence you better have the Queen of Hearts’ blessing to make deals or you may lose your head.

Here are few items for the list:

  • Stabilize the ACA: pay insurers what we owe them (yes we reneged on two deals with them) and invite them back to the market to have more competition. Consider expanding Medicare to age 62 as a trial to improve the risk pools in both the ACA and Medicare. Push for the remaining states to expand Medicaid.
  • Address better gun governance: another mass shooting occurred yesterday and nobody in office cares. More suicides occurred yesterday and nobody in office cares. A few accidental shootings and homicides occurred and nobody in office cares. It is a holistic problem that needs holistic solutions. Do something, anything that will help even if it is just a little. Universal background checks and elongated waiting periods would be well received by the majority of Americans.
  • Address climate change at the federal level: Cities, states and some industries are moving forward without an active federal government role, which is rightfully being sued by 21 children for failure to address what they have known about for three decades. They actually have a good case. This is also a jobs and economy issue as we can look backwards and get passed by or look to growing renewables industries. As a good example of looking backward, we let China seize a significant majority of the rare earth metals market share from us which is now a threat to national security.
  • Address the debt and deficit: Trade deficits are not a big thing as we are a consumer driven economy. The far bigger crisis is our national debt and growing deficit. We have to pay for things and the less we do, the more risk we have with a growing interest cost as a percent of our annual budget. We must increase taxes and reduce spending, both. The GOP has forsaken its role in being a budget hawk passing a tax bill that made a growing problem worse. Revisit the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction plan and do some of those things.

I will stop there, but there are more problems to address. Immigration is a problem, but it has been made worse under this president by cutting funding to help some Central American countries improve the lives of their citizens and the lack of judges to address the increased migration. A wall is not an answer. It is merely a structure. Dusting off that bipartisan Senate bill from 2013 would be a good start as well as addressing DACA. We need to keep educated young people in our country, as growth is an issue.

So, legislators, please get in a room and do some things that will pass. The focus should be on helping Americans, not helping legislators. Stop worrying about keeping your job and do your job. And, yes continue your oversight role as we are a republic not a kingdom.

 

 

 

Coal can’t be made great again says conservative economist

Walter Block is a professor of economics at Loyola University in New Orleans and a Libertarian. He recently penned an op-ed piece in The New York Times called “Coal can’t be made great again.”

Block sets the context for free-market thinking using more basic purchases – shoes, clothes, restaurant meals. This “leave it to the market forces” is a mantra for free-market Republicans. Yet, as Block notes “One would think that Republicans would apply that same logic to our fuel industry.”

He adds while government has a “legitimate role” in ensuring the safety of nuclear and other plants, “it should not favor, or oppose, nuclear power, gas, oil, coal, wind, water, solar, or any other source of energy over any other.”

He also notes a couple of observations of data points which reveal “the market is moving away from coal.” First, he writes “In 2016, American reliance on coal had dipped to 30% of total electric energiy expenditure, from about 50% in 2000. In contrast, natural gas and even wind, solar and water power are becoming less expensive, and will likely take on a greater share of the overall energy industry.”

Second, he notes “For the first time, as predicted by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analytsis, in April, renewables generated more electricity than power plants fueled by what was once called ‘King Coal.'”

It is through these lenses, he views the efforts to subsidize coal use and place tariffs on imported solar panels as a political attempt to “pick winners.” We should not be “propping up coal” at the expense of alternative energy sources.

In my view, we are passed the tipping point on coal. New plants are too costly to build and the present value cost of acquiring, transporting, burning, storing the ash, health and environmental degradation and litigation of coal exceeds other sources. Further, the solar energy jobs are 4x the number of coal jobs. And, wind energy is soaring in growth, especially through the plains states.

This is not a US-centric result. Renewables are growing rapidly abroad with Germany now getting more energy from renewables than coal. China has been heavily investing in solar panels. But, my favorite global example is southern Australia is now solar powered using American Elon Musk’s battery storage and a French company’s installation of solar panels. Three continents came together to forge a renewable future.

While I agree with Block for the most part, government can play a role to help move forward cleaner energy initiatives, at least temporarily. So, the temporary 30% tax credit for solar power installation makes sense, especially when our Department of Defense continues to cite climate change as a significant threat to national security, even under the current president.

But, as the renewable costs have become more on par from a production standpoint, they can stand on their own without the tax subsidy. Embracing future technologies that will drive the economy is essential. As an example, yesterday, Toyota announced the movement from 2030 forward to 2025 when 1/2 of their vehicle sales will be electric cars, with batteries being made in China. So, if our leaders look backwards too much, we might get passed by.

 

 

 

 

A lot of stress balls are needed

Dr. Tara Narula on CBS Morning News cited a statistic today from Workforce Initiative that 64% of people feel stressed at work. In an earlier survey, the American Psychological Association noted the following about stress:

“63% – The percentage of Americans who say the future of the nation is a significant source of stress. That’s higher than the percentage who are stressed about money (62 percent), work (61 percent), or violence and crime (51 percent).”

We are a stressed out nation. I actually think these numbers understate the extensiveness of stress, it just may be some folks have been able to put lids on the simmering pots.

I believe stress levels have increased by the divisiveness in our country and a highly contentious president where too many things become issues, when they need not be. He did not create division, but he exploits and perpetuates it on a regular basis. He truly wears me out.

So, what can we do about it? First, we need to disconnect more from our social and work media. On the latter, companies like you working off the clock on their behalf. If you cannot quit cold turkey, manage your activity in set pockets of time. As I told a colleague, it does not impress me that you sent an email at 10:30 pm. Disconnect and take some down time.

As for social media, please recognize when you look at Facebook, Instagram, etc., you are seeing the Sunday dressed version of a person’s life. They tend to post the polished versions of what is happening. They tend not to share the warts that they hide from the public. I recognize some folks over share, but I don’t want to be that aware of another’s life, as you may overreact when it is not wanted or needed.

Second, we need to better govern our news sources. I am guilty of this, but need reduce the hours of watching and reading and focus on reputable sources. I do focus on better sources, but often over-indulge. Watching so-called experts shout at each other is not news. Watch shows that let people talk civilly. Watching night time talk show hosts or high-volume online hosts is not news, it is opinion disguised as news. And, read and watch news that state when they get it wrong.

Third, here are two additional rules of thumb. Be careful of getting news from public figures. Before 24×7 segmented news sources, politicians used to campaign off rhetoric and govern off facts. Now, far too many govern off rhetoric. And, take anything the president says or tweets with a grain of salt. Not only is he noted to be very untruthful by several data sources and former associates, he self-professes a preference not to study issues, bragging on his gut instinct. So, he is not a very good source of news.

Fourth, find healthy, sustainable outlets for stress management and avoidance. The word sustainable is as important as healthy. We are creatures of habits, so we should replace a stress causing habit with a stress reducing one. Doing a walk, jog, yoga, pilates, workout or meditation need not be too time intrusive to help. Or, it could be reading a book or magazine or watching a favorite show.

Stress abounds and there are not enough stress balls. But, before we succumb to that stress, remember the words of advice from Mister Rogers – you do not have to be sensational to be loved.