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Category: Solution (Page 1 of 2)

‘Facts’ Can’t Be Ignored in XL Pipeline Decision

Photo: commondreams.org

In a win for all those interested in using facts, science and in depth analysis to make policy decision, a federal court held in a 54 page decisions that the Trump administration had disregarded the facts prepared in a 14 volume report by the Obama administration in 2014.  In January of 2017, President Trump executed a memorandum to approve the XL pipeline project and move it along.  The State Department which has jurisdiction in the pipeline project because it crosses the US – Canadian border surprisingly used the 2014 findings to justify its conclusion that the pipeline environmental damages were ‘inconsequential’. The court held that the Trump Administration had provided no supporting evidence for their argument.

Judge Brian Morris, sitting on the Montana federal court found the government must complete a through, fact based environmental review before approving the project.  There is long standing environmental and procedure law dating back to the 1970s which federal judges have found the GOP administration trying to short-circuit to make a policy shift toward fossil fuel development. Judge Morris provided additional related findings:

  1. The State Department is issuing the approval failed to analyze the climate change impact of greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. The Department acted without complete information on the impact of the project on Indian territory and culture.
  3. The Department failed to use a ‘fact based’ set of reasons for the reversal of previous law and policy of the previous administration.
  4. The Department needed a ‘reasoned explanation’ for its finding that their were no climate change impacts from the project.

The environmental review is likely to take at least a year, the Administration is likely to appeal the ruling.

Let’s step back here a moment, the project taps thick oil from Canada oil field and pipes the oil to refineries in Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast.  Why do we need this project?  We are trying to reduce green-house gas emissions.  We know that the latest UN report on climate change estimates that within 12 years the planet will be 1.5 degrees Celsius hotter if present climate regulations and changes are implemented.  Yet, even at that level the impact would be monumental causing more damage to the planet with hotter oceans, intense rainstorms, drought, wildfires, and rising seas engulfing valuable shore line and displacing millions of people. We are already experiencing, more category 5 hurricanes than ever, wildfires that create their own windstorms racing through cities nearby in seconds, coastal areas flooding on a continuous basis and the list goes on.

Sources NRDC, The International Energy Agency -2013

Experts predict significant degree increasing impacts based on Keystone plans as outlined.  If Keystone was implemented at the 4.6 million per barrel level by 2030 there would be a 6 degree global impact. This level of global warming can’t be justified compared to the UN findings.

We applaud legal efforts of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Indigenous Environmental Network and others who focused their efforts on protecting our planet and our lives.  Maybe Jefferson and Madison’s faith in the people of this country ‘in a reasoned’ manner based on truth and facts making decisions will win out over corporate inertia and politicians that are bought off by corporate campaign contributions.

Rethinking How We Get From Home to the Grocery Store

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Photo: texastribune.org

In a recent seminar by Climate One, an environmental conversation group, sponsored in San Francisco, one participant pointed out “the greenhouse gas reduction potential is huge.  Greenhouse gases from transportation are about 28% of all greenhouse gases in this country. “  Certainly changing how we get from home to the grocery store and everywhere will have a significant impact on climate change and greenhouse gas diffusion into the atmosphere.

While a few of us walk to the market bringing home our groceries in a cart with a basket, 99 % of all grocery trips are made by one person in a two-ton car, spewing out carbon gases.  Of course, most Americans still live in suburbs, sprawled out with single family homes connected by streets and freeways to shopping centers where the grocery store is located.  We buy a house in the suburb, buy a car to get around and that’s about all the thought we put into it.

We need to start thinking beyond the present urban map and transportation model centered on the single passenger car.  How about electric scooters?  They are shareable, we setup a logon on our smartphone, pick up a scooter left by a previous user and head on our way. Just leave the scooter there on the sidewalk when we arrive for the next person to use it.  In a minute or two, they are riding and are off on their trip.  Bikes are being shared in cities all over the U.S. with some bikes motorized to handle longer trips.

A short trip in a car on average costs about $8 one way, while an electric assisted bike costs just $2 per trip. There are cargo bikes available as well that can handle larger loads.  Of course, weather is an issue as these sharable scooter and bike solutions are growing popular in the Southwest and West.  Public transit, a bus or subway maybe the answer for rainy or snowy days.

Uber and Lyft are rethinking their business models to include electric scooters, and bikes. A customer logs on to their app for all personal transportation needs is their vision. They already offer shareable rides at a discount. Instead of buying a car, people are living closer to work and shopping in densely populated cities where owning a car is actually a costly liability.

New sharable transportation models combined with driverless cars would not only change transportation but our city maps as well.  Urban planners are already building denser housing near transportation hubs, providing bike lanes off away from parked cars and more bike pathways used exclusively by bikers.  The economic consequences are significant, the new car and used car markets would begin to shrink,  financing and insurance businesses for auto loans would decline.  New businesses using sharable transportation system would spring up for delivery, assisted transportation for doctor appoints or dropping off kids a practice.

Most importantly, using sharable transportation vehicles, bikes and scooters would make a significant impact to reduce carbon gases across the planet.  We may be able to finally, get ahead of the climate change curve and return our planet to more livable temperatures

Thinking creatively to solve our major problems like Climate One does in conversation mode with all points of view represented is refreshing.  The dialog during this seminar was focused on ‘can do’  and ‘make it happen’ while being sensitive to safety issues, city regulators and other businesses.  If we could have more of this civil solution oriented tone in our national dialog we could solve the big problems in front of us, as we always have the past two hundred and forty years.

Housing Has Not Recovered From the Great Recession

Image: 15146affordablehousing.weebly.com

As a percentage of GDP housing has not recovered from 2008.  Particularly, in two key categories: (1)  Furniture, Repairs & Maintenance and (2) Construction.  Additionally we know that appliance sales have been lagging as well due to tariffs and price versus worker wages being stagnant.

Sources: BEA, John Burns Real Estate, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 10/18/18

Housing has not recovered from the Great Recession downturn from sub-prime mortgages and loose lending practices.  As part of the recovery, banks were made whole with billions of TARP funds, but homeowners who tried to write down their principal loss on their homes to reduce mortgage payments were not allowed in court.  Banks paid a small pittance of $50 million in homeowner relief that was distributed in a hazard manner.  Millions of homeowners lost their homes and more importantly lost their equity.  They could not replace their homes when the economy turned around, they had to take ‘make do’ jobs when they did finally find a job and are now left with little wealth to retire on except for Social Security.

Young prospective home buyers face a daunting affordability crisis as the inventory of affordable homes is low as builders focus on wealthy buyers, who buy high margin homes.

Sources: Scotiabank Economics, NAR, Haver Analytics, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 10/17/18

In all regions of the country affordability continues to fall after reaching a peak in 2012.  Mortgage rates are at the highest level since the Great Recession, the inventory of middle class housing continues to decline and the commitment to homeownership is waning.  We hear more and more about how ‘renting is really ok’ – for who?  The wealthy landlords who continue to raise rents while raking in the cash.  What about families who want yards for their kids to play in, or to gain ‘sweat equity’ by upgrading the home they live in or landscaping the yard.  It is clear just looking at most neighborhood which homes are owned and maintained and which ones are rentals owned by an off premise landlord.

Next Steps:

Dropping the national commitment to home ownership is not the solution to the problem.  We need to ensure that the 80 % who do the heavy lifting in the economy can afford to buy a home on their incomes.  Corporations need to be increasing wages for workers at least as fast as their executives and more to ‘catch up’ to the raises and stock plans of the executive team receiving high compensation from stock and stock buybacks.

Reducing student debt, now at $1.5 trillion is critical so that prospective home buyers do not have student debt right at time they are starting families and purchasing a home.  We have proposed a far reaching program building on existing student debt forgiveness programs to more comprehensive service for debt forgiveness programs.

Builders need incentives to build lower margin homes middle class homes in new developments.  Local and state governments need to take on the charter of ensuring that affordable housing is a priority for zoning near commercial and business centers.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac need to be committed to focusing on first time buyers and lower income prospective buyers innovating ways to get them into homes while at the same time being financially responsible.  The Federal government needs to provide more funding for the two housing agencies to bring down rates to an affordable level.  Working in cooperation with groups like Operation Hope, banks need to make a new effort to make mid and lower income buyers financially literate and help them move into homes.  Think what a huge difference it would make for our cities and rural communities if people owned their homes and made improvements to their home and yards.

Resetting the Web’s Balance of Power

Internet pioneer, Tim Berners-Lee has an audacious yet powerful goal for his latest startup Inrupt.  He wants to “reset the balance of power on the web and reignite its true potential.” Building work with other Internet activists at MIT he is developing a decentralized personal web based platform called Solid.  He is introducing a ‘Netscape’ browser front end that gives the user control of all his own content. During a demo he shows a fundamental set of tabs with a To-Do List, Calendar, Chat Address Book and eMail.  Yet, this screen hides from the user one basic difference, all his data is stored in a POD or Personal Online Data store. All the content he creates or uses is stored in a POD, not some corporate server like Google, or Facebook.

Source: Tim Berners-Lee – 9/29/18

Users of the Inrupt browser and applications are given a Solid identity and access key to personalize security. Berners-Lee envisions an Alexa like persona assistant, he calls Charlie where a user can be comfortable accessing health records, financial accounts and personal memos in POD storage not a Amazon cloud server. He sees global web developers writing appls for Solid and Inrupt to take back the Internet, provide the security and safety of personal identity management and reduce the need for government regulation.

We are excited about the opportunity to finally end the corporate control of user created content which we have always believed is the user’s property not the Internet application provider.  Google, Facebook and Apple have the idea that they own our content, can do anything they want with it, including selling it to partners without our permission.

Solid and Inrupt are revolutionary in scope, technology and return the Internet to its original vision – to empower users and link them together on a peer to peer basis.  Not, a corporate behemoth holding all the content power to a weak end user.  Maybe with technology like Solid we can finally get back to a democracy of entrepreneurs, small business and users controlling their content, its use and distribution!

Zinc Air Battery Is Renewables “Game Changer”

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Photo: public.wmo.int

One of the major problems with solar and wind energy is how to store the energy they create for use when it is actually needed.  Patrick Soon-Shiong, a California billionaire, announced a new zinc air battery which is cheaper than lithium-ion batteries, less likely to catch fire and store more electricity for its size. Forecasts for renewable energy demand are soaring.

Source: EIA – 2017

Renewable energy will continue to grow from the present rate of about 7 % to about 14 % of total energy sources by 2050.  Thus, technologies like the zinc air battery could make a significant impact on how quickly  development and availability of electricity from renewables can be realized.   The zinc air batteries have been deployed at villages in Africa and Asia and cell towers in the U.S. without backup from the electric grid.

“It could change and create completely new economies using purely the power of the sun, wind and air,” Dr. Soon-Shiong told the New York Times last week. Dr. Soon-Shiong’s company, NantEnergy has deployed micro grids in Africa and Asia in arrays of zinc air batteries and solar arrays to 110 villages not connected to an electrical grid system.  The technology can bring down the cost of electricity below $100 per kilowatt hour.  At this level the zinc air batteries become cost effective to deploy in a fully electric grid that is carbon free.  Nant Energy plans to expand the product line into telecommunications, and home storage use in California and New York soon.

We are excited to see this technology come on board, just as California sets a goal for a carbon free energy system by 2045.  The key now is to get our politics aligned with what we need to do to mitigate the climate change crisis.  We need to give complete and full support to the Paris Climate accord, take leadership with other countries in developing renewable energy sources and wind down our use of fossil fuels.

California Urges World Leaders to Move Fast On Climate Solutions

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: globalclimateactionsummit.org

Yesterday, California Gov. Jerry Brown, convened the  Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.  The Summit brought together climate change leaders from around the world in private, government and non – government sectors to focus on action-oriented programs to mitigate the effects of global warming. Just before the meeting started Governor Brown signed into law a goal for the state to be using 100 % electric and renewable energy by 2045.

The conference sponsors focused on urgency in their introduction to the conference:

The Global Climate Action Summit, happening midway between Paris 2015 and 2020, is timed to provide the confidence to governments to ‘step up’ and trigger this next level of ambition sooner rather than later. 

The momentum we generate this year must lead to bending the curve of emissions down by 2020—science advises us that this gives the world the best opportunity to prevent the worst effects of climate change. 2018 therefore must be the beginning of a new phase of action and ambition on climate change.

The Summit will underscore the urgency of the threat of climate change by mobilizing the voices and experience of real people, in real communities already facing real and stark threats. It will challenge and channel the energy and idealism of people everywhere to step up and overcome it.”

The carbonization of our planet is the preeminent challenge of our times, possibly threatening our very existence long term.  World-wide temperature records are being set from Tokyo to Washington as the following heat map for 2018 indicates:

Source: The Washington Post – 7/5/18

About 25 % of the heat is being soaked up by the ocean causing algae blooms which can contaminate water and cause wildlife to die. Scientists in the Pacific Northwest have discovered how certain ocean plants can dilute and mitigate water acidity. There are a variety of solutions being developed by governments and private businesses, yet what we need is a coordinated effort focused on those solutions that are most effective, affordable and can be quickly implemented.

We applaud California leaders for taking the initiative on this critical issue of our times to urge world governments to implement solutions to climate change before the problem goes beyond our ability to cope with the effects.

Apprenticeship Program A Good Step Forward

 

Photo: siemens.com

The Administration has announced a new job training and apprenticeship program focused on many hard to fill positions in manufacturing. The President signed an order to create a Council for the American Worker instructing the secretaries of commerce and labor to coordinate existing federal programs and focus on new apprenticeship programs for job seekers without college degrees and older workers.  Labor Secretary, R. Alexander Acosta noted prior to the announcement that in June 2017 the administration had allocated $150 million in funding to strengthen apprenticeship programs.

Officials from various job development interested groups including unions, corporations,  and trade association officials signed a ‘Pledge to America’s Workers’ committing to the creation of more career opportunities.  Many of the leaders had made previous commitments, though Fed Express announced a new pledge of 512,000 workforce development slots with tuition assistance provided.

While, ‘dual careers’ have been a staple part of German and European education programs in the U.S. the ‘college for all’ mantra has taken its effect discouraging apprentice program candidates. However, many European firms like Zurich Insurance have applied their experience with apprenticeship programs to their U.S. subsidiaries to fill positions and have shared their experience with U.S. based firms like Accenture and Walgreens. Apprenticeships are 4.0% of the workforce in Germany while in the U.S. the total is about 500,000 in skilled trades like plumbing, electrical or metal work, just a small fraction of the U.S. workforce.

Source: The Labor Department, The Wall Street Journal – 2016

American employers are struggling with filling many positions in manufacturing that require special skills but not at the level of a college degree. We expect that as more co-automation jobs are created apprenticeship programs will become the norm to accelerate the number of qualified workers and retrain those workers who lost jobs from automation.

We are pleased to see the GOP Administration move ahead with executing on its pledge to increase the number of apprenticeship training programs and enlist all interested stakeholders in the process. However, this Administration has also announced budget cuts of 40 % to a Department of Labor Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, so making the program work and develop momentum seems challenging given the mixed signals.  We see apprenticeship programs as crucial to expending jobs opportunities for the working class when they are combined with good salaries, benefits and continued training. Education is a bedrock institution to build a thriving society  for all not just the wealthy.

Scientists Discover Plants Can Reduce Ocean Acidity

Image: see.systemsbiology.net

Global ocean acidity has increased by 30 % over the past 200 years and is expected to increase by 150 % by 2099 to the highest level in over 20 million years.  About 25 % of the carbon dioxide in the air is absorbed into the ocean.  For carbon organisms like algae they will grow increasingly prevalent yet for calcifying organisms like oysters, lobsters, clams, sea urchins, corals and others they will lose the ability to grow and reproduce.

Source: WXshift

Three and one half billion people rely on the ocean for food. It is of huge consequence to have the oceans of the world become so acidic that the sea cannot sustain ocean life nourishing billions of people.

So, what is being done to reduce ocean acidification?  Certainly, efforts at reducing global warming are having an impact in the ocean specifically. There are some intelligent solutions being developed that would immediately improve shell organism survival.  The Pacific Northwest has a $200 million shellfish industry for export and shipping to West Coast cities.  Baywater Shellfish, west of Seattle, is having trouble growing geoducks, oysters and clams for market due to increased acidification of the water causing the shellfish to lose nutrients they need to grow and survive.  However, Oregon State University researchers working on an solution have discovered that eelgrass growing near the shell fish farms can lower the acidity in the water through photosynthesis absorbing the carbon, and pulling it from the water. This process allows vital nutrients to become available to the shellfish.  Eelgrasses can be planted in oyster farms or near shellfish hatcheries to provide the necessary lower acidity levels to nourish the shellfish.

The ocean covers 70% of our planet and provides food for 3.5 billion people making it crucial to human existence.  We have a stewardship responsibility to reverse the damage we are causing by human activity to preserve the oceans for future generations.  Cleanup of the ocean is a top priority for all of us and businesses too, as business success in the future assumes access to safe, clean, reliable water supplies and ocean environment.

States Move Ahead of Fed To Reduce New Drug Prices

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Photo: healtheconomics.com

Several states including New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and California have begun initiatives to take on drug companies for the their exorbitant prices of new drugs.  New York is taking a price versus effectiveness approach with a new drug called Orkambi for cystic fibrosis.  The New York state Medicaid department is demanding a lower price as it is not clear the drug helps patients with the disease better than existing treatments. Vertex,  the manufacturer of Orkambi made $1.3 billion in sales from the drug which is a high sales level for a drug that is marketed to only 26,000 eligible patients.  Vertex prices Orkambi at $272,000 for one year of doses. The drug costs so much that some insurers pass on the high costs to patients in some cases $3000 per month.

Dr. Steven D. Pearson, President of the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review is working with New York officials on a state board case against Vertex to bring the price down.  The state board found that Orkambi did not meet the effectiveness claims by the manufacturer so New York should receive a 77 % discount.  Dr. Pearson said his evaluation of the costs indicated that the drug could be discounted by 77 %.

Major states like New York and California are taking on the drug companies with renewed interest as their Medicaid costs soar in part from new drugs where companies like Vertex price the medication at extreme multiples of a fair cost. While the GOP Administration has promoted some ideas to bring the cost of new drugs down, nothing to date has been done.

The U.S. is alone of all major developed countries in not directly regulating drug prices.  In Europe health services officials do not accept high prices for drug with marginal value and negotiate using their purchasing power to bring the price down.  Congress has consistently bowed to the drug lobby by not speeding generic drugs to the market and not including in any drug bill the power for Health and Human Services to directly negotiate the price of all the medications it covers for U.S. patients.

Source: Bloomberg – 5/11/18

In 2014, U.S. patients paid the most of ten developed countries at $1,100 per year out of pocket and for many patients with difficult treatment diseases the costs per year are significantly more.

Next Steps:

Time is up for the drug companies and insurers gouging patients with soaring prices while they make hefty profits and executives pocket huge compensation packages.  Drug companies need to stop buying back their stock, wasting the money that could be used to bring the price of their drugs by billions of dollars.  Congress needs to give HHS the power to negotiate prices and effectiveness limits on drugs of dubious value the way most developed countries in the world do today.  Over the past decade pharmaceutical companies have found that their exorbitant prices have not stuck in Europe or other developed country market, so they jack up the price of the medication in the U.S. where there is little regulatory constraint.

Startup Creates Executive Tracks For Women With Innovative Job Definitions

 

Image: vnnc.org

Women often face job flexibility issues in managing their job.  Time to be a caregiver, take care of children, or just needing to take care of kids when they get sick and can’t be in daycare. Werk co-founder, Anna Auerbach found in the workplace there was just not enough jobs that offered flexible hours, location or time agility to put women on an executive track.  Werk offers products to help companies change their thinking about full time W-2 jobs but with some unique flexible characteristics.

Source: Werk.com

The Werk team has identified 6 different types of flexible work through their research that companies need to be more inclusive, hire more women and accommodate men with flex time needs. The options range from Desk Plus – with different company locations for an employee’s desk, to MicroAgility where the worker can step out of the office for 1 – 3 hours to take care of an emergency. The firm trains their client company executives on how to re frame their jobs and how to recruit for more women and men who need flexible schedules.

We have seen the need for more women executives starting new businesses, in venture capital, angel funding and mature companies.  It has been difficult to bring more women into the job market due to the fact their needs for jobs with greater flexibility have not been met by standard HR job definition practices.  It is time these practices change to hire more women into management roles and assist men that may have caregiver or family needs.

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