Archive for October 2019

Environmental Foolishness

October 30, 2019

Three major automotive manufactures, GM, FiatChrysler, and Toyota showed a sorry lack of vision (or backbone) when yesterday they announced support for the Trump Administration’s “lower” new car emission standards.  Rather than join Honda, Ford, BMW, and VW and agreeing with California’s standards, GM, FiatChrysler, and Toyota chose to go it alone.  Why?

Of course we may never know for sure but here are some guesses.

  • Avoid continued confrontation with Trump Administration.  The prospects of Trump Administration disrupting the supply chains for all three or initiating trade wars with new tariffs, GM, FiatChrysler, and Toyota all want to avoid short term business interruption.  Go along and get along.

 

  • Avoid investing in lower emission technologies in order to maximize current balance sheets.  With the current glut of oil, gasoline prices should remain attractive for consumers.  Why offer them hybrids and all electrics when demand is still weak and future consumer demand is not assured?

 

  • Why change in times of uncertainty.  GM, FiatChrysler, and Toyota have coldly calculated that any backlash from environmental groups can be managed by continuing to offer a range of lower priced cars which do not reflect added costs for environmental controls.

Regardless of how these companies justified their decision, the wisdom behind joining the Trump Administration on weaker standards than previously accepted during the Obama Administration, may prove to be short sighted.  The Trump Administration may end in 18 months or so, and any Democrat President will be likely to return to California influenced goals.  Maybe GM, FiatChrysler, and Toyota will simply shrug and say, “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.

Beyond the hard nosed business aspects, all car companies want to make and sell what consumers want, but the Wall Street ideal route is often viewed as the path with the least change.  This is the mentality of a dying industry when a product as important as a motor vehicle can not foresee the potential for changing environment’s unanticipated consequences.

Since the late 1970’s when Japanese Automotive Manufacturers invaded North America with automobiles which already met stringent California standards, the Big Three missed the wake up call.  The Japanese did not have one car for the Japanese market and another for the US.  Japanese vehicles were “world cars and trucks”.

The behavior of GM and Chrysler is, sadly, not that surprising.  They thirst for a “no change” world that does not exist.  Rather than lead, GM and Chrysler want the world to stand still.  Hmmm.  The Trump world has no soul and gets it relevance from winning one-offs.  Not a wise option to align your company’s future to.

What is more perplexing is Toyota’s  behavior.  Have Toyota’s Lexus, fully decked out Camrays, and pick up trucks grown to such a significant share of today’s sales that Toyota has lost confidence in change, and by default, leadership?

The Trump Administration’s track record on loyalty to friends seems like a “fair weather” policy, and any Trump support is always secondary to what wins today.  This announcement reflects brightly upon GM, FiatChrysler, and Toyota’s environmental foolishness.  

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Opioids, Snap Shot Of America?

October 25, 2019

The current health crisis emanating from the rampant use of opioid pain killing medications might be a wakeup call if anyone in America was listening.  Much like boiling a frog, the sinister opioid world unfolded slowly until the streets were filled with dead users.  

From prescribing opioids for dental work to treating back pain to eventually prescribing with a wink, too many doctors gave out opioids like lollypops.  Pharmacies dispensed opioids freely at the same time these Pharmacies were taking Sudafed off the shelves because some bright but not well intended people had figured out how to make “meth” starting with Sudafed. 

Pharmaceutical distributors worked overtime to ensure no pharmacy’s opioid order was not fulfilled asap.  Drug manufacturers were delighted to put on overtime to manufacture and disperse opioids far in excess of their marketing plans.  And, health insurance companies stepped up and paid all claims regardless of how many opioids the prescriptions called for.

All this took place while month after month, more and more Americans were dying of opioid overdoses.  Exceptionalism at work.

 Law enforcement treated the mounting death rate as a crime and searched for which neighborhood drug dealer supplied innocent people with these powerful drugs.  Enforcement was slow to pick up on the fact that most victims were connected to legitimately prescribed and sold opioids.  No cartels from Mexico or China, the supply started at CVS or Walgreens. (In truth there was also a lively business with heroin and fentanyl from China which utilized neighborhood drug dealers.)  

Over time, however, the misuse and consequent deaths spread across rural America and around every corner in urban areas.  First choice was legitimately prescribed pain killers but when these were not available, heroin and fentanyl were turned to.  How could something like that happen in an unexceptional country?

Weren’t the pharmaceutical companies headed by well educated executives?  Didn’t the pharmaceutical companies employ equally well educated marketing, product, and sales managers?  And how about the doctors who prescribed opioids, were they not capable of recognizing excessive use?  Why didn’t insurance companies, who are quick to deny coverage if the mood strikes them, pick up on their product’s easy to see out of sight usage spikes?  

I wonder whether sales growth and more importantly, maintaining the growth played a role?  I wonder whether the pharmaceutical companies’ generous bonuses or opportunities for promotion provided the necessary incentive for everyone in the opioid network to look the other way?

In an exceptional country one would think there would be regulatory agencies as well as legislators at local, State, and Federal levels who set rules and limits for how drugs should be safely consumed.  And when there is an epidemic as great as the Opioid onslaught, one would have thought there would have been an outcry from all branches of government and swift legislative action to end the abuse.  Hmmm.

The chicken or the egg, which should have come first?  Should the people who make up the Pharmaceutical industry have paid more attention to the “ethical” use of their products or should the customers through their elected representatives have put in place checks to preclude excessive use?  

When our country debates whether a candidate is too conservative or too progressive, we are probably debating the wrong subject.  What is missing is moral and ethical character, and judging from the amount spent on campaign financing or the size of corporate salaries and bonuses, it would appear that money determines exceptionalism.  The more money one has or can acquire, the more exceptional they might be.

Hmmm.

What’s Happening With Pete?

October 21, 2019

Barack Obama had no right to expect he could land the Democrat Presidential nomination back in 2008.  Who was Obama, and what is there about a “community organizer” and first term US Senator that makes one worthy of the Presidential nomination?  Who knows, but it happened.  

President Obama certainly had a lot to learn when he not only received the nomination, but also when he beat Republican John McCain to become President.  

Historians are still measuring the Obama years before assigning Obama some ranking from our best President ever to our worst President of all times.  It is safe to say that wherever President Obama’s years land, the Obama years were more successful than George W Bush even though both Presidents were at their hearts “good persons”. 

Comparing President Obama and President Trump will unlikely test historians.  Up to this point, President Obama showed more character and executive skills than we have seen from President Trump.  President Obama did not get every one of his foreign policy decision right but  preliminary comparisons with President Trump are favorable.  And domestic policies favor President Obama even more.  Fast forward to 2019 and one might responsibly conclude that most Democrat candidates should have good chance running against President Trump. 

Democrat Presidential candidate leaders, Joe Biden (age 76), Elizabeth Warren (age 70) and Bernie Sanders (age 78) collectively score about 70% of the preferences expressed in polls.  South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg has about 6% popularity.  Does this suggest that when the dust settles, the Democrat nominee will be someone 70 years or older?

Some say age should not be a factor but too often what they actually mean is former Vice President Biden, Senators Sanders or Warren are not too old to become the Democrat standard bearer.  I wonder whether at age 37, Mayor Pete is not too young but just right to snatch the nomination?

Why would anyone speculate about Buttigieg when there are seasoned pros to pick from?  Age, personal energy, and perceived electability might become factors.  Like goldilocks, however, “not too old, not too progressive, not same old, same old” might just be the most attractive in the end.  

There are still too many Democrats in the field in order to make a clear call on where the crowd will go when (and if) Biden or Sanders or Warren cannot make the sale for themselves as the nominee.  But in 2008 candidate Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses against most expectations.  Will Mayor Pete do the same?

Elizabeth’s Pickel

October 18, 2019

Senator Elizabeth Warren has drawn some criticism for her performance at this week’s Democrat Debate.  The criticism centers on Warren dodging the answer to the question “will taxes increase for middle class families if Medicare For All is adopted.  There are many answers Warren could have given but none that fit the frame work of a televised debate with 11 other hopefuls.  Here’s Warren’s problem.

The most fundamental question should be “is healthcare a right” or “is healthcare a privilege”?

If healthcare is a privilege, then the path forward leads to “the best healthcare money can buy”.  If someone has the money, they can have access to the best healthcare available in the US.  If someone does not have the money, then the healthcare available is to be found in whatever safety net programs Employers and Congress enact or at the Emergency Room.

If on the other hand one believes healthcare is a right, then the question arises what is the best method to deliver healthcare.  And here begins the pickle.  Healthcare is not free and must be paid for.  And, healthcare will cost middle class Americans more next year regardless of whether there is a “Medicare For All” option or not.  

So how should Warren have answered the question?

How about, “I don’t know but I am sure asking if taxes are going up is the wrong question.  Income taxes could increase but middle class Americans’ healthcare costs might go down”.  “Here’s why.  Medicare For All is an aspirational proposal whose goal is to provide healthcare to all American residents at existing quality levels or better and at steadily reducing costs.  Under Medicare for All, there should be no exclusions for pre-existing conditions or life time monetary limits on benefits.” 

And why not, all other modern industrialized countries provide their residents basic healthcare with health outcomes equal to or better than the US, and experience a national expenditure that is one half what we spend in the US, so why can’t the US do the same?”

Warren could have said, “And even if there are reasons we can’t achieve a 50% reduction (and still provide equal or better care), there is a lot of room to cover the costs of the 20% of Americans under or uninsured.”

These “best in class” healthcare delivery systems which cost about one half what the US pays have (1) a far greater emphasis on preventive health care, (2) negotiate healthcare providers costs nationally, and (3) offset much of the actual healthcare costs with a consumption based tax (VAT) which involves all of its residents in sharing the healthcare cost burden.   

Finally, Senator Warren might have said, “healthcare costs are bankrupting America.  Over two dozen other countries have found ways to deliver equal or better healthcare outcomes at one half the total amount the US spends.  Why can’t we do the same.  If you do not think healthcare should be a right (which of course must be paid for), I can only say I sincerely disagree with your view.  If you hold this view and are relaxed because you receive your healthcare insurance from your employer, I have bad news for you.  Global competitive market pressures are slowly making your employer uncompetitive and over the coming years more and more companies will be ending healthcare coverage.

So the wiser goal is not just insuring all Americans, but rather insuring all Americans at a cost approaching one half of what we are paying today insuring 80% of Americans.

The Second Phone Call

October 16, 2019

The now famous “whistleblower” gave us an insight into President Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian President.  From the whistleblower’s report, a number of released emails, and further testimony by present and former Administration persons before select House panels, the public knows how the crass (and mafia-like) President Trump tried to extort the Ukrainian President.  Trump’s goals were information intended to discredit Hillary Clinton and his potential opponent in the 2020 Presidential election, Joe Biden.  

This week the public has learned of a second phone call, this time with the President of Turkey.  The public does not yet have the details of this second call, but the evening news is delivering the sad consequences.  Turkey has invaded northern Syria and is attacking Syrian Kurds who previously had been US allies in the effort to destroy ISIS.  President Trump’s decision to stand back, and by default, allow Turkey to have its way, was against all professional advice news reports are telling.  Slowly there is speculation forming about what the telephone conversation with President Erdogan contained.  And the speculation is not pretty.

One school, let’s call it the “innocent” version goes as follows.  The President initiated a call against the advice of his aides.  As normal for President Trump, the President was unprepared for unexpected developments.  President Erdogan told the President that Turkey was prepared to implement a “buffer zone” in norther Syria along Turkeys border with Syria.  President Trump accepted the proposal and said US troops would not interfere.  President Trump is said to have laid down no conditions or consequences if Turkey went too far.  End of call.

The second school of thought, let’s call it the “Trump, Inc” version opens with the President thanking President Erdogan for attending the recent opening of a new Trump property in Istanbul.  President Erdogan reminded the President that “Trump, Inc” also has several other properties in Turkey and that Turkey was an important country for “Trump, Inc”.  President Erdogan than transitioned to Turkey’s plans to invade Syria and that it would be wise for the US to withdraw as soon as possible, etc, etc, etc.

Most likely the actual conversation combined both versions.  President Trump’s highest interests involve his properties and their financial value.  President never prepares for important meetings and so why would one expect that he prepared for his Erdogan call?  And, as “Mr Transactional”, why would anyone expect President Trump to see further than how the deal impacts the President now.

As a narcissist, a lazy thinker, and an outmatched participant in the international big leagues, why would anyone expect President Trump to suddenly act Presidential and attempt to deal with the best interests of America first?  

Should the details of the second call begin to be leaked, President Trump could be looking at wholesale abandonment by his up to now Congressional Republican firewall.  What a hoot that discrediting Joe Biden doesn’t bother Congressional Republicans but messing with the Middle East would.  Go figure.

Kiss My A**

October 14, 2019

There is no shortage of reasons why President Donald Trump should not have been elected President.  Never the less, even with the current impeachment hearings, (barring some new discovery), there is between zero and zilch chance that President Trump will be turned out of office other than through the 2020 general election. Let’s hope the ship of state holds together until that time.

This past week should have put to rest any reason a reasonable Congress member would have to insulate the President from impeachment charges.  Whether it was subverting the national interest for his own self aggrandizement or calling out a political opponent by inviting a foreign country to interfere with the country’s elections, President Trump is as guilty as “shit” (to employ a common colloquialism).

How could I use such vulgar language to impugn the person elected to our highest office?

Well. how about the President breaking into jail himself.  This week, in an unforced error, President Trump singled out the Bidens at a Minneapolis campaign rally for a Trump special salute.  On this night,Trump scolded whomever’s name he could remember but saved his most untethered line for former Vice President Biden.

Our President, the present occupant of the White House, found a crack in the gutter and climbed down into it.  From this lowest of low points, “little” Donald Trump characterized Vice President Biden’s tenure as a period where Biden kissed President Obama’s ass.  What?

Where are all those evangelical, bible reading, bible studying Americans who have thrown their support to Trump?  Have these evangelicals thought at all about their fundamental beliefs, or at least what the Bible teaches them?  Strangely, the evangelical community has remained silent and has only spoken out when Trump pulled US troops out of supporting the Kurds.

If evangelicals cannot disown the coarse and vulgar language the President of the United States uses, there is no need to study the Bible any further.

Asking the Ukraine and China to investigate Vice President Biden, with or without a quid pro quo, is impeachable.  Using a euphemism “kissing President Obama’s ass” is disgusting and leaves a dark stain on the Office of President but the crude language is not impeachable.  The “crude speak” is, however, grounds for a sound thumping in the 2020 election. 

If Trump is not defeated, America will deserve all the sewer life that will accompany a Trump 2nd term.

Moment Of Truth, Or Not

October 11, 2019

By now in the Trump Presidency, any serious journalist has figured out that what the President is saying is either (1) completely wrong, or (2) a misleading exaggeration.  In either case, if one seeks factual information, one should look in other places for a reliable answer.  Hmmm.

Early in the Trump Administration, reporters danced around the President’s glaring misrepresentation euphemistically saying the President “may have misspoke”, “was poorly advised by aides”, or “the President’s comments could not be independently verified”.  After a few months it became clear that the President was (1) the author of what he was saying and (2) had no interest in accuracy.

Now, almost three years later, main stream media has moved on and co-reports what the President has said along side of what is known factually. 

Never the less, to a Trump friendly audience, Trumps words are about a message not about an accurate outlook.  For example, despite factual evidence that hispanic Americans, as a group, are law abiding residence with lower criminal records than the population as a whole, Trump’ message is “American doesn’t want hispanics because “they are rapists and bad people”.  

So is the President “lying”?

According to some recent articles, technically the President may not be lying.  Of course what the President is saying is not true, but in order to lie, one must know and care about the truth but intentionally choose to conceal the truth with some other words.   President Trump does not care about the truth, he cares more about a message.

Pundits are applying the non-scientific term, “Trump is bullshitting” or “Trump is a bullshitter” to describe the President’s constant behavior.

A “bullshitter” is someone who has message to deliver and says whatever is necessary to make that point regardless of whether there are facts to support what is said.

Bullshitting goes well beyond “bluffery” which has been practice in politics forever.  For example, “the good citizens of Iowa have a very special place in my heart.  I lover coming here”  These are harmless but almost certainly untrue and meaningless words especially when they are repeated in each and every State.  Bluffery represent innocent statements.  “Bullshitting”, on the other hand, is intentional misleading.

America is witnessing the unexpected complications from Trump’s life time of “bullshitting”.  President Trump made his career as a real estate developer and an entertainer as a “bullshitter”.  Bankruptcy, broken promises, and shady deals where Trump talked his way into a court battles, regrettably does not prepare one for the Presidency.  

As President, Trump has cannibalized existing national strengths and foreign relationships to advance his personal (and unsupported) claims such as “trade wars are easy to win”, “I know more than the Generals”, and “America doesn’t need NATO”.  Today a world congested with mistruths is closing in on President Trump despite what the “yes men” who surround him are saying.

As more voters begin to realize that reality is the opposite of what President Trump claims, the margin of defeat for the president will grow and grow.