Letter to Editor on Wedge Issues

The following letter I sent in to my local newspaper was published in its entirety, which is rare. Please feel free to modify and forward if you like the message.

It amazes me how so much time can be spent on created wedge issues for political gain and so little on real ones. The global (and US) water crisis and need for accelerated climate change action are key environmental issues. Investing in deteriorated infrastructure while also reducing the US deficit and debt are at odds, but both are needed, so we must be judicious with spending cuts and revenue increases, as both are needed to solve the math problem.

And, we must stop this degradation of civil rights that were long fought for. Attacking the right to vote under the guise of staged and unproven election fraud claims is abhorrent in the eyes of this independent voter and should be in the eyes of more elected officials.

Letter from my Republican Senator who voted for the Infrastructure Bill

The following response from Senator Richard Burr was after I thanked him for his vote and encouraged him to see this thing over the finish line with his advocacy.

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684). I appreciate hearing from you. 

Please know that I understand your thoughts on the historic infrastructure package that recently passed in the Senate. As one of the 22 Senators who helped negotiate the framework of the bipartisan bill, I believe it is a major investment in America’s economic future. It provides the largest core infrastructure investment in our nation’s history and it does so responsibly – without raising taxes. While no compromise bill is ever perfect, I’m proud to have worked with my Senate colleagues to find common ground on an issue that affects all Americans. 

This bill is particularly important for growing states like North Carolina. As more families and businesses call North Carolina home, we have to have the right infrastructure in place to meet the needs of a growing population. Poor roads and high traffic areas cost commuters and businesses a not insignificant amount of money each year. This legislation will provide $9 billion to update, expand, and repair North Carolina’s roads and highways. It also invests heavily in airports, bridges, rural broadband access, and our clean water supply. 

America’s aging infrastructure poses a risk to our economic growth and our ability to compete globally in the 21st century. Modernizing our roads, bridges, railways, ports, waterways, broadband capabilities, cybersecurity, and more will help lower the costs of doing business, create more jobs, and spur innovation. 

For these reasons, I voted for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on August 10, 2021. It is my hope that the House of Representatives will quickly pass this historic investment in our nation and that President Biden will stick to his commitment to sign H.R. 3684 into law. 

Again, thank you for contacting me. Should you have additional questions or comments, please do not hesitate to let me know or visit my website at http://burr.senate.gov. 

Sincerely, 

Richard Burr

United States Senator

Infrastructure bill – letter to the editor

I am very pleased the US Senate passed an infrastructure bill. Here is a letter I sent into my newspaper this weekend. Let’s see if they publish it, but I at least wanted to let others see it, in case they do not.

I applaud the sixty-nine US Senators who approved the much needed Infrastructure bill, including the 19 Republicans (Burr, Tillis as well) who voted for it. The bipartisan push for this bill is very encouraging for this independent voter and shows we can remember how to work together.

This bill is about ten years overdue as our infrastructure is of great concern. Many may not realize we did not get the Chicago Olympics because our airport, train, communication and highway infrastructure was severely outdated. And, that decision was made several years ago. Let’s encourage our legislators to do more of this and cease the tribal politicking that will be our demise.

Bipartisan House group proposes an infrastructure solution

With the latest talks between President Biden and the Republican Senators on an infrastructure bill falling apart, I took some encouragement from a House caucus of 58 members evenly split between the two parties. In an article called “Bipartisan caucus endorses its own proposal after infrastructure talks fizzle” by Jacqui Heinrich and Edmund DeMarche of Fox News, it notes progress from the group.

Here are a few paragraphs, with a link to the entire article below.

“Shortly after talks on President Biden’s infrastructure plan fell through on Tuesday when talks between the White House and Republican senators fizzled, there was significant movement on an additional bipartisan effort to come up with a deal.

The House Problem Solvers Caucus voted and endorsed its own proposal: an 8-year package that comes with a $1.249 trillion price tag, including about $500 billion in new spending. (The actual new spending is $761.8 billion over the timeframe, but an aide for Rep. Josh Gottheimer, the Democrat co-chair of the caucus, made an error. It is yet to be seen if the revised number becomes an issue going forward. The error does not affect the total price tag.)

The 58-member group, which consists of 29 Democrats and 29 Republicans, came up with the proposal called, ‘Building Bridges: Bipartisan Physical Infrastructure Framework.’ The bill calls for $587 billion for highway and bridges, $160 billion for transit, $24 billion on electric vehicle infrastructure among other initiatives. The endorsement requires that the group votes as a bloc, should the bill formally take shape and come to the floor.

GOP lawmakers offered a $928 billion infrastructure proposal that included roughly $330 billion in new spending on related projects. Biden had proposed a $1.7 trillion spending plan funded by tax hikes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans. 

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, the Republican co-chair of the caucus, said in a statement that the group worked ‘tirelessly to put together this bipartisan framework that is both responsive to local needs and worthy of the public’s trust. Infrastructure investment can and will deliver real benefits to every American and additionally, has the unique power to unite us as a nation. An investment in our roads, rails, bridges, IT infrastructure, and electrical grid is an investment in our nation, our economy, and our families,’ he said.”

Since I wrote again recently urging legislators to stop worry about keeping their jobs and start doing their jobs, I wanted to report this excellent progress. Collaboration is the way forward in this time of tribal politics. Hopefully, something will happen on this topic as it has been needed for about ten years.

Bipartisan caucus endorses its own proposal after infrastructure talks fizzle | Fox News

The Wednesday Wanderer

In all fairness to Dion who sang “The Wanderer” back in 1961, this wanderer is not the womanizing man defined therein, but someone whose thoughts are wandering about. It is not unusual for some great tunes to be about not desirable folks (think “Every breath you take” by The Police).

So, let me play gadfly and wander around with a few thoughts.

I have seen graphic data which reveals vaccines are making a huge difference in cutting the rate of COVID-19 infections. The news by President Biden should be well received, but we also need to help places like India whose population is four times that of the US and too many live too close together, increasing exposure.

Speaking of vaccines, I get my second one on Saturday and my wife and son will be finishing theirs later in May. The only side effects have been with my wife, who was extra tired and a little nauseous. These are small prices to pay to be safe. It is only your life and that of your family. As my Air Force veteran brother-in-law noted, it is not like you are being asked to storm a beach at Normandy.

I did notice there is one night time opinion host, whose veracity is consistently in question, advising his viewers to go up to children who are wearing masks and tell them they will call the police on their parents. Really? This is malfeasance in my view, as someone will get hurt, either the revved up person or the target of the revved up person. It is similar to the former president being responsible for inciting an insurrection that ended up with seven people dead and over 400 charged with a crime all because his fragile ego could not handle losing.

I remain dismayed how politicians can avoid working together so as not to be seen working together as that will not sit well with the base. Really? You will avoid solving problems, which people want you to do, because it will look bad to your tribe? Let me be frank – get off your duff and go make it happen. Be a leader. I do not care who gets more credit, please do something and stop the posturing.

In this vein, I have said for four years, the previous president had a golden opportunity to push through a needed infrastructure bill. He campaigned on it and Democrats were ready to discuss it.. Plus he had a majority in both chambers. He could have set sails on his presidency with a bipartisan bill out of the gate and it could have changed the course of his presidency. Yet, he chose to try to take something away from people as his first mission all because it was nicknamed for his predecessor – Obamacare. After months of god-awful legislation and process, that effort was defeated. And, that failure better defined his presidency.

That is all for now. Let me know your thoughs. They call me the wanderer, the wanderer..

Pay me now or pay me later

Seeing what is transpiring in Texas with the lack of advance planning, it reminds me of painful history lessons. There is an age old problem in governing and public service. When things hit the fan, it is often due to problems that were not fixed due to budgets and were left to linger.

Politicians are good at blaming others and asking how can you let that happen? They tend to overlook their role in the process. Here are a few real life examples:

When some one in a social worker’s care has a horrible episode, the fact the social worker is serving 160 people versus the best practice 16 to one does not get enough consideration as a root cause. Think about it, due to budget cuts, one social worker is serving 10X the number of people which is ideal. That is drive by social work, not counseling.

When a train wrecks on an old trestle bridge, the fact the bridge has never been fixed and is only patched up does not get enough consideration as a root cause. When the next train derails, read the fall out from politicians and dig beneath the finger pointing at the actual causes, not who did what.

When Katrina devastated New Orleans, people forget the Army Corp of Engineers said the levees could not stand a direct hurricane hit a few years before. Nothing was done about it and the levees failed. We should also remember the Houston area has flooded twice with one-hundred year hurricanes that were four years apart.

And, In Texas, the vulnerability of their independent electricity system is a festering problem. So, when the system is overwhelmed like it has been with the icy storms, it fails.

Avoiding disasters by planning is a rare commodity in governance. No one wants to pay for it. Plus, so-called leaders do not get sufficient credit for pre-planning like they should. They get more credit for fixing a problem later after the fall out, if they ever get around to it.

As we speak, we have thousands of car and train bridges in need of repair, we have antiquated electrical grids, we have poor water piping (think Flint), etc. When the Olympics was not awarded to Chicago a few years ago, it was due to our aging infrastructure, even then.

A good example of pre-planning occurred in my home city of Charlotte. The city built an Intermodal distribution facility which was placed on the property of the international airport. Easily accessible to this facility are train and truck distribution centers and highways for trucks. They took advantage of shipping in/ out by plane, train and truck.

This is the kind of planning that is needed with infrastructure improvements. The fixes have to be holistic in evaluating the problems and hopefully make the process better in the end.

And the band played on – letter to the editor

My local newspaper printed my letter to the editor based on the theme of a recent post. Please feel free to adapt and use it, if you agree with the concept.

****************

I feel like citing the song lyric “and the band played on” in reference to elected leaders ignoring problems which will only get worse. On climate change, environmental degradation, increasing US debt, aging infrastructure, and insufficient gun governance, we have ticking time bombs. The kids get what is needed on climate change, environment and guns. But, debt and infrastructure must also be dealt with. And, not addressing the former makes the latter harder.

These are the questions we must be asking our politicians. If they are evasive or give poor answers, do not vote for them. We don’t need a wall. We need safe bridges and railways.

 

This, that and another thing

Now that the state of the union and Democrat rebuttal are behind us, it would be nice if an independent voter had a turn. On the talk (and some shouting) shows, the independent views do not get heard enough and that is disappointing. For once, it would be illuminating for a member of neither party to share their thoughts.

For example, we might learn:

  • Global warming really is a concern and we should be doing something about it. On Bill Maher’s Friday show,  he noted that Senator Marco Rubio used the argument against the President for declaring a national emergency to build the wall, as what would stop President Kamala Harris from doing so to address climate change? Maher correctly pointed out the latter is becoming a national emergency, while the wall is not even a top ten issue and is overblown as a solution. He also noted, with the very real concerns over Miami, Rubio may become the Senator of Atlantis.
  •  A growing debt which is around $22 trillion with an annual deficit about to hit $1 trillion is a problem, especially with the deficit in a good economy. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget models the debt to be around $34 trillion at the end of the 2027 fiscal year. We must have spending cuts and revenue increases both. The math will not otherwise work. If a politician tells you differently, he or she is lying to you. Don’t let them.
  • The Affordable Care Act and Obamacare are the same thing. So is KyNect in Kentucky. Too many people still don’t realize this in the GOP. But, don’t look to politicians to solve this, as they really do not understand how our complex healthcare system works. We need to stabilize the ACA and stop sabotaging it, as the GOP has done.  My recommendation as a retired benefits consultant, actuary and manager is to fund money promised to insurance companies to pay for adverse selection and committed to deductibles, copays for people beneath 2 1/2 times the poverty limit. I would also expand Medicare as a pilot, measured effort to retirees below age 65, such as 60 or 62. This will reduce the cost rate in the exchanges and Medicare. The remaining states need to get off the dime and expand Medicaid – it is a no brainer per GOP Governor John Kasich.
  •  Addressing America’s crumbling infrastructure would help rebuild assets and provide good jobs. We also need to build on the community college system with some added funding to retrain people to do the jobs of the future, as technology claims even more (this is the major threat, not immigration or trade). Also, building on the bipartisan idea pitched to the President last year by Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman from Ohio, we should co-invest with car manufacturers to retool plants to make the cars in demand and keep the factories open. This idea was ignored and the President was offended when GM announced some plant closings.
  •  There are so many more ideas around rethinking ill-conceived tariffs and trade fights, poverty issues, and gun governance, but let me make a general statement that is important. Start treating our allies and citizens with fairness and dignity. Stop the adversarial BS. A country and business makes more money long term by having a productive long term relationship. We need to stop measuring success on short-term transactions. Listen to your advisors as they actually study our problems. And, stop beating up on a free press. From where I sit, they are not perfect, but the true journalists try to get it right. The main source of fake news in the country sits in the oval office and he only cares about looking good.

Well, that is enough for now. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Real problems are not getting addressed

In lieu of focusing on problems that have been overstated by fear and misinformation, several real problems remain. Just to name a few – $22 trillion in debt with an expected $1 trillion annual deficit; ill-crafted tariffs which are slowing the global economy; increasing poverty and hunger; climate change interventions; infrastructure needs that are ticking time bombs; retraining workers impacted by technology; domestic terrorism and gun deaths; and stabilizing the ACA. These are the concerns of this independent voter, who has belonged to both parties.

Note: I wish to applaud Germany for announcing last Friday they plan to phase out coal energy by 2038. It should be noted that in 2018, renewable energy surpassed coal energy in Germany. This is what can be done when real problems are addressed with planning. The US is doing many good things with renewable energy, but it could do so much more with supportive federal leadership.

Infrastructure, India and Intellectual Capital

These are three very powerful “I” words – Infrastructure, India and intellectual capital. They are related in one key fashion. The failure of the US to address each of these issues has hastened its forthcoming demise as the world leading economy. China, of course, plays a key role, but we sometimes lose track of the other fastest growing economy in India, who has been creating a technology proficiency that rivals and may surpass Silicon Valley.

Per Vice News, India is well positioned for two key reasons. They have one billion people and are much more heavily focused on STEM education than the US. Even if the US had the same focus, India is three times larger and has been doing major call center and technology outsourcing for US and other companies for years. Now, they have companies that only focus on the domestic market in India. And, one other key is important. Indians who have traveled to the US to be educated are returning home rather than staying here. Why? Opportunity back home and the fact the welcome mat has been thrown away by the current US President for immigrants of color.

The other two “I” words are crucial. India is investing in their infrastructure and intellectual capital. The US has forgotten what got us to a world dominant economy. In the book “That used to be us: How America fell behind in the world it created and how it can come back,” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, it describes an America that used to invest along with a blend of local government and private funding to do great things. Now, we are more concerned with cutting revenue to dare fund things like our dilapidated infrastructure and intellectual capital.

Both the US Chamber of Commerce and labor unions have been pleading for years to invest more in our infrastructure. While interest rates were low, it was the ideal time to borrow to invest in depleted assets. Infrastructure investing also would create jobs and enhance productivity, the latter through saving of time by reducing the time when roads, canals, locks and bridges have to be shut down for repair. The President rightfully noted this need on the campaign trail and then shelved a report to do anything about it one month into his Presidency. Who says so? The man he asked to do the report.

Like India, we should be investing in new technologies and our infrastructure. Plus, we should be more welcoming of immigrants, especially those who are educated here. Innovation is portable, so if these folks leave the US, the Innovation will occur elsewhere. This coupled with a better and protective patent system will promote growth.

Like America, India is not perfect. But, they are focused on the future moreso than the US leaders are. We tend to be focused more on protecting legacy industries, than greasing the skids for new ones. Fortunately, other Americans are more forward thinking, in spite of our leaders. But, it would be nice if we helped them out more.