Born After 1950? Counting on Social Security OR IRA Retirement Savings? Think Again!

I had never heard of “Pink Day” until Alyssa, my 13 year old granddaughter, said we had to absolutely go on Friday for back to school shopping.

After I paid the bill for her “loot”, I looked her in the eye and said “my credit card is now in DEEP FREEZE!

That didn’t keep her from trying, again, on Saturday to see if she could get me to use it, again.

No dice, sweetie. Unlike our government I need to live within my budget.

Once a month, I have to gather all the bills, including that credit card, check my bank balance, pay all the bills, subtract the payments, and put some of the remainder into savings. What is left is so-called “discretionary revenue”.

National Debt will Reach 110 Percent of GDP by 2036

If we impose that kind of prudent thinking on the American economy — that means no more “pink days” for Congress and the American people.

We can’t pay the bill!

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects, based on current law, the National Debt will rise to 86 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2026 and will exceed 110 percent of GDP by 2036. (The 2016 LONG-TERM BUDGET OUTLOOK Table 1.1)

That’s the rosy scenario.

As debt grows, interest on the debt grows, squeezing out private investment and with it economic growth. As the economy shrinks, the ratio of debt to GDP accelerates.

Before the United States reaches the 100 percent Debt to GDP threshold, no investor, foreign or domestic, will be willing or able to purchase our debt at any interest rate.

The largest economy in the world — the collapse of the USA’s economic system would lead to a worldwide cataclysm.

The military superiority the world has depended on to bring order and stability since the 1940s would disappear – in fact, we wouldn’t be able to maintain an army or navy to defend the homeland.

Prepare to Lose Your IRA Savings!

Not planning on Social Security — believe your retirement savings will secure your old age? Think again.

On our current course, you are likely to live to see the United States unable to meet its financial obligations either domestically (Social Security, Medicare, Education) or internationally.

The combination of political and social instability and the collapse of our financial system will swallow everything – including your savings.

For a preview of what could happen during your lifetime or your children’s look to history the rise of Nazism in Germany  or to Greece or Venezuela today

President Obama Couldn’t Defuse Debt Bomb

During his 2008 Presidential campaign Barack Obama excoriated President George W. Bush and the GOP Congress for increasing the National Debt (credit card) from 33 percent of GDP in 2001 to 35 percent of GDP in 2007.

Three big, unexpected events drove the Bush-era increase in the National Debt:

  • Cost of tax rate reductions following the 2001 recession
  • Unprecedented spending for Homeland Security after 9/11
  • Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When President Obama came into office in January 2009, “Job 1” was stabilizing the economy – that meant spending more money to get the country moving forward, again. The only way to do that was to borrow still more money – the National Debt quickly rose to 62 percent of GDP.

During his tenure in the White House the first of the Baby Boomer Generation would retire – putting more pressure on an already stressed Social Security System.

The President faced a steep challenge — balancing the budget would require shared sacrifice across the American population and the American economy.

Every special interest served by the Federal Budget would resist. He needed a Bi-Partisan PLAN.

His answer: A National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

To lead the effort he invited former Republican Senator Alan Simpson and former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles. Both of these men have strong reputations as citizens before they are partisans.

Among others, he appointed Alice Rivlin, who had served as Clinton-era Director of the CBO. She warned about debt in general and the need to reform Social Security in particular.

The Commission membership included Republican and Democratic House and Senate leaders and others from the Administration and outside government.

Their findings were published in December 2010 — to significant fanfare — subtitled The Moment of Truth:

But the Moment of Truth never reached Congress for an up or down vote.

Instead the National Debt rose from 62 percent of GDP in 2009 to 75 percent of GDP in 2016.

The striking rise in debt is the result of unrestrained government spending, Congressional reluctance to raise or reform taxes, natural disasters, and continued military operations.

Next President Has Last Chance to Defuse the Bomb

And yet, unlike Barack Obama, neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump have focused on the rising ratio of Debt to GDP or the risk it presents to every aspect of our national life and government.

Libertarian Gary Johnson (former Governor of New Mexico), has made debt reduction and balancing the budget a priority in his campaign but the limited press exposure he receives has allowed Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump to “skate” on the issue.

In fact, both promise more discretionary spending, expanded Social Security and lower taxes.

They are either lying or they can’t do basic math?? I’ll let you decide.

Every American Must Make the Hard Choices

One thing is certain, as citizens, taxpayers, parents, and grandparents it is our solemn duty to elect a President and a Congress willing to confront debt, deficit, and balancing the national budget honestly and courageously.

No one wants to pay more in taxes, but the fairly small sacrifices required of each of us in this decade pale in comparison to the consequences that could face our children in the next decade.

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Raise the Wage

Increasing Minimum Wage Won’t Fix USA Economy

Back in the day, my first job was working in Petaluma’s only movie theatre. There was only one screen. I got paid to stand in the back of the theatre and see all my favorite movies, except on nights when I worked the ticket booth.

My least favorite station was working the candy counter. Before the movie and at intermission it was intense – adding up the price of the order and making correct change – all in my head. Cash registers were just that – they registered cash.

It was a good job for a 16 year old high school junior. It gave me my first taste of accountability to a boss and a little bit of financial independence from my parents. I don’t remember how much I was paid, but I can’t imagine it was more than the minimum wage at the time.

When I go the movies, today, the box office clerks, ushers and candy counter workers all too often have grey hair. It makes me sad to see people in the prime of their lives working at a minimum wage job.

Minimum Wage Earner Is Not Middle Class

It worries me to think that even if Congress raises the minimum wage from $7.25/hour to $10.10/hour two of these middle aged workers – both working full-time and combining their incomes would just barely make it into the so-called American middle class. Middle class income is estimated to begin at about $40,000.

San Jose, in the heart of Silicon Valley, already has a city-wide minimum wage of $10/hour – a little over $20,000 a year/full-time and few of these jobs are full-time. Average rent here for a one bedroom apartment is more than $1000/month – leaving these people at the brink of homelessness.

What about their future? They will earn barely $600 a month in Social Security. After a life-time of work, they will be dependent on Medicaid and Food Stamps.

That’s not the America I grew up in. That’s not the American future I imagine.

Raising The Minimum Wage is Economic Triage

Increasing the minimum wage does bring some temporary help for low wage workers, but it does nothing to solve the underlying problem.

The American middle class is shrinking faster than the polar ice caps.

The question is are we going to concede defeat or are we going to ignite a 21st century American economy that provides stability and prosperity for everyone willing to work for it.

This is not a government OR a private sector responsibility.

This is a NATIONAL Emergency

In the wake of tornadoes or forest fires or flood – we see Americans spontaneously reaching out to help their neighbors. They don’t wait for government to come and tell them what to do.

Even before the danger passes neighbors grab shovels and dig through the rubble to save lives and property. Home Depot and the Red Cross deliver relief supplies while government officials are still looking for the requisition forms.

The national economic crisis is no different. Every American must make national economic recovery their personal responsibility!

Economic Recovery Starts With Me

It starts with your wallet. Every time you make the decision to BUY AMERICAN you contribute to creating good paying American jobs.

It continues at the ballot box. Before voting to re-elect your representative to Congress or the Senate look and listen – are they leading the fight for real economic reform?

It culminates when Americans invite our private sector to step forward and lead from the middle.

Major Economic Surgery

There’s a lot of talk but not enough action to harness America’s innovation economy.

Innovation does not just happen. It occurs when a great idea meets a thoughtful, detailed implementation plan – well executed.

What if Warren Buffet and Bill Gates established a private/public think-tank chartered to develop a road-map to transform the American economy?

What if the think tank recruited a team comprised of past and present state governors, business, political, academic and social leaders and the four living former US Presidents – to examine every facet of American life and its impact on the economy.

Building Public Support for Economic Transformation

Economic transformation can’t happen without broad public support. The think tank must build a national consensus around a bold National-21st – Century Economic-Roadmap – timelines, milestones, KPIs and assigned responsibilities.

What if the think tank recruited David Muir and his ABC Made-in-America team to demonstrate how the economy works?

What if team members conducted – a beer teach-in on the economy – as a regularly scheduled reality TV show?

A strong and prosperous Second American Century Roadmap can’t be built on the minimum wage. It can be built on the self-sufficiency of average Americans who never fail to rise to meet any challenge or threat they understand.

Photo Credit: The White House

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Water Crisis

California Urban Areas Must Link Land Use & Water Supply

A friend of mine is just in the final stages of building a new home. It’s a beautiful site – full of oaks and other native species. Just blocks from town center but just remote enough that the garden has to be planted with species wild deer won’t eat.

As we were unpacking and arranging her new kitchen – she pointed out the 10 additional trees the City of Los Gatos had required her to plant as a condition of occupying the home. Anyone who didn’t know the story behind the 10 trees would never see the seedlings – swallowed up amidst the mature forest.

Her argument – there’s a drought – fell on deaf ears at the city planning department. It didn’t matter that water to irrigate the new trees might not be available – trees were part of the conditions for permitting four or five years ago – so, the “rules are the rules”.

City Planning That Matters

Such mindless genuflecting to the rules is a perfect example of what happens when bureaucrats incapable of asking themselves what if are given free rein to implement legislation that had a far different intent.

What if temporary water conservation measures prevent the homeowner from watering the $10,000 worth of new trees during their first summer on the site?

What if they die, will the city require they be replaced next year? Will there be sufficient water next year?

What if planners had offered an interim alternative that met the homeowner’s, the neighborhood and the city’s needs?

Drought Tolerant not Required

This homeowner planned her landscaping to take advantage of native species that are known to be drought tolerant – even though that’s not required. Planting is required, drought tolerant not required.

If I ask you whether the city’s requirements makes any ecological or economic sense in the midst of unprecedented drought, your answer would surely be “no”. That’s correct it makes no sense.

If I then asked: Do you think this lopsided planning logic is restricted to this single upscale California community, you might say “yes”. You would be absolutely wrong.

This morning, I spent more than two hours listening to a San Jose mayoral primary debate. San Jose is the 9th or 10th largest city in the nation.

To my surprise, in the midst of historic drought not a single question was asked or answered concerning the city’s role in planning for current and future water conservation. None of the five candidates – who each waxed eloquently about their growth plans for the city – jobs, population, economy, tax base – explained how so much growth could occur against the backdrop of a static to declining supply of fresh water. Believe me, I asked!

Can’t Eat the Lawn

In urban California it’s easier not to consider the reality of finite water resources.  It’s not our fault, it’s those greedy farmers.

At the local and regional level, planning for land use and planning for water storage and distribution is done separately by separate elected boards and councils. Each entity makes assumptions and draws up plans within its own silo of responsibility. There is no mechanism to force the integration of these efforts – no mechanism to respond across the silos in an emergency situation. No collective throat to choke.

And most alarming – there is no imagination. Not one politician suggested, for example, a moratorium on new backyard swimming pools until the water situation is stabilized or a moratorium on expensive capital landscaping for, perhaps, one year.

Not one local politician has offered an explanation to voters about the importance of water for agriculture to the California and national economy as well as national security. It’s a simple argument. Approximately 50% of urban water usage is for the lawn and landscaping. We can’t eat our lawns – all Californians are in this drought together!

Water conservation is everyone’s responsibility and it’s everyone’s opportunity. Each of us can make it a habit to use water more thoughtfully but – as importantly – we must challenge our elected leaders to work across the silos of 20th century government to address our 21st century water challenges holistically – the greater good of the greater many.

We need to elect leaders who consider land use plans within the context of limited water supplies. We need leaders who demand thoughtful, flexible implementation of land use policy by the bureaucracy to match policy to the realities of the moment. Or we need to elect different leaders.

Demanding a larger share of someone else’s water so – well, so 19th century! So economically and socially short-sighted.

If you agree with me, share this blog and your ideas with your elected officials.

Photo Credit: David McNew/Getty Images

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Drought - Flood

Drought Plus Flooding — USA Can Mitigate Consequences

The morning television news announced a temporary reprieve from flooding dangers now forming on many of the nation’s major and minor rivers – resulting from the return of the Polar Vortex to the Midwestern and southeastern United States. Then the news pivoted to the above normal winter temperatures gripping the southwestern and western United States – and the threat of drought – even as rain is predicted from Seattle to San Diego for the next week.

Neither of these threats can be averted. Both are going to have a direct or indirect impact of every American. Climatologists are predicting major flooding in the central and eastern United States. Continued drought in California will result in as many as 500,000 acres of farmland lying fallow this summer, fewer cattle, and the potential for large-scale farm bankruptcies and the loss of whole farming communities.

Redistribute Water

In one place there’s too much water, in another place not enough. What if government tried an “ounce of prevention” instead of just waiting to declare the inevitable state-of-emergency? There’s no doubt about what is coming. What if federal and state governments, cooperating with private sector, made an effort to redistribute some of the water before disaster occurs.

I’m not a railroad expert or an engineer but I do understand how to meet demand with supply. How about placing some of that excess (soon-to-be) floodwater on a train? That’s right. Imagine loading frozen flood waters onto rail cars and shipping this precious cargo to all points west – California, Arizona, West Texas, and Colorado. These giant ice cubes could be unloaded and trucked to farmers with dry reservoirs and/or wells where it could melt into some water to sustain the farm – if not farming – through the summer?

Snow levels not seen along the Mississippi River tributaries since the 1930s are going to melt. Along with spring rains, the flooding is predictable. What if rail tankers were positioned near major pumping stations from Minnesota to Ohio, filled at pumping stations and shipped west to replenish water supplies for rural western communities predicted to run dry over the spring and summer months resulting in less flooding and fewer western ghost towns?

The principle is the same as railroads carrying Canadian crude oil to Louisiana refineries and safer. A derailment will only cause a big mud puddle – no risk of explosion and atmospheric pollution.

In the midst of the 5th worst unemployment period in history, redistributing water would create thousands of temporary skilled and unskilled jobs. It would reduce, by some small percentage, the number of farm workers who will find themselves on bread lines throughout the southwest this summer.

Moving ice and snow would temporarily reduce excess rail rolling stock capacity. It would re-emphasize the importance of rail commerce in our national economy.

Preposterous, You Say

I know this a preposterous idea. Clearly, there isn’t time from a standing start on March 1 to avert natural disaster. The logistics involved herculean and the cost of this plan outrageous. But doing nothing will save nothing and help no one.

The United States of America has a track record of getting the preposterous done:

  • In 1863 Americans built a 1907-mile long railway across both the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains in less than 6 years, linking the Pacific Ocean to the Union.
  • In 1940 Franklin Roosevelt told the American public the country would go from building 0 new merchant marine ships in 1940 to 200 in 1941 and doubling this rate of production each year in World War II. But American workers did it.
  • John Kennedy’s promise to send a man to the moon and return him safely to earth within a decade was labeled preposterous. But Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and returned to tell the tale in only 8 years.

We’re a people who have a capacity to do big things. Meeting the challenges of a changing climate is just the latest in a long list of insurmountable challenges American ingenuity overcame. Our elected leaders have an obligation not just to rail against climate change but, also, to develop plans that mitigate predictable natural disasters.

Necessity Mother-of-Invention

Necessity has always been the mother-of-invention in this country. The wild swings in weather of every sort over the last decade makes its own emphatic argument for the development of a broader water re-distribution system to insure the nation’s (food and drinking water) security. We know that doing this will be hard – but doesn’t reduce the urgency to start! A network of pipes, pumps, and channels will be difficult and expensive to build – but it’s still a fact that without such a network we face an uncertain national water future – a future of scarcity punctuated by excess.

If you agree please forward this blog with your comments to your representatives in Congress, your Governor, the President and Warren Buffett (Burlington Northern Santa Fe RR) – marked Extremely Urgent.

Photo Credit: Andrew Beckett/XvsY

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More People, Same Water Does Not Add Up In California

I have to confess that I have forgotten how to write a complex mathematical equation but I am pretty good at practical arithmetic. I am also a pretty good cook and hostess. I know that if I bake an 8-inch cake and 8 people show up to the party, everyone is going to get a generous piece of cake. If 16 people appear, I can make the necessarily smaller slices appear more generous by adding a scoop of ice cream to each plate. But if 32 people show up, I am going to have to offer a choice of cake or ice cream – there are only a finite number of portions possible from an 8-inch cake.

California is facing a similar situation with water.

Not Enough Cake

Current drought conditions merely underscore the urgency to address the longer-term reality. In any year there is a finite amount of fresh water available.

President Obama’s recent visit to California reminds us all this is not a choice between California farms and California cities. The nation’s food supply depends on California’s farms – the national economy on California’s centers of innovation.

Conserving 20 Percent Per Capita

California farmers can do more to conserve water by adopting new methods of production and eliminating some crops. But most of the elasticity in California’s water usage is in its urban centers. In 2009 the legislature set an urban water conservation target of 20 percent per capita by 2020. The goal can be met, but it’s not enough to solve the water problem. In the same 10 year period, the state’s population is predicted to rise to 47 million.

Here’s a chart that illustrates the math.

Even if Californians meet the stricter 99-gallon per capita conservation standard, demand for water will be 28 percent greater than the existing supply.

What’s worse – some climate scientists have predicted that warmer temperatures caused by atmospheric pollution (climate change) may result in a decrease of as much as 40 percent in the annual snow pack over the next 40 years. If these scientists are correct, the gap between California’s fresh water supply and water demand could be more than 50 percent by mid-century.

Water to Match Population Growth

If California’s leaders heed the warning, the current drought is a blessing in disguise. It is an early window into an uncertain future. Before politicians propose a November election bond issue to authorize more spending on the same water infrastructure – they need to ask what if.

  • What if the drought ends this spring or next winter?
  • What if drought continues into 2015 or 2016 or 2018?
  • More challenging still, what if both climate scientists and demographers are correct?

Even if the drought, now in its third year, runs its course by Fall 2014 politicians and water managers can’t celebrate. It will take several years of average rainfall to refill our man-made lakes and smaller water reservoirs – above and below ground. Water conservation will need to be continued and strengthened.


Any model for a quality life in mid-21st century California must close the gap between available fresh water and growing population.  Even if we assume that rain and snow fall will decrease only half as much as climate scientists predict, there will be a baseline 28 percent shortage of water by 2064. The large coastal urban areas will need to find new, nearby sources of fresh water. The two most obvious alternatives are to desalinate sea water or treat and recycle waste water.

The technology to do either or both already exists. While both are considered costly, today, the law of supply/demand and technology price curve will intersect to bring these two water sources into the mainstream of water delivery in California.

San Diego has been building a desalinization facility since 2010, but it is not due to go online until 2016. Until then residents will continue to rely on Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District. If the current drought persists, will residents continue to have an adequate fresh water supply during the next four years?

Technology may develop other less expensive or more environmentally benign new sources of fresh water by mid-century but planners and water managers cannot wait for the perfect solution. Expanding efforts already underway to build the necessary facilities to implement good-enough fresh water technology must be started now.


California politicians have to make the hard decisions to address the water what ifs now. Mother Nature has given them a potent political argument to persuade reluctant voters to approve bond measures. If they don’t seize the opportunity, then we need different politicians willing to work with the private sector to pioneer and extend new approaches to meeting our water challenges.

Oh, did I forget to mention that 2014 is an election year?

Photo Credit: Grace Wyler/Business Insider

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Man Made

California Water Crisis Is Man-Made

I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of pounding rain on the roof. In the midst of California’s worst drought since 1850, the downpour was music to my ears. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, mother-nature will spare Californians the worst consequences of our failure to anticipate and prepare… for another year.

If you think this is just a California problem, you are wrong. Since the Civil War, California has been a key supplier in the nation’s and the world’s food supply. Climate, soil, rail transport to the urban centers of the east, and water to irrigate fields made this possible. Crops like citrus, apples, summer fruits, vegetables and related row crops, almonds, walnuts and cotton don’t grow without ample water. Today California farmers supply more than 40 percent of the nation’s fresh fruits and vegetables irrigated by federal and state water projects. California, alone, is equal to the 5th largest food exporting nation in the world. Drought in California will lead to higher food prices and less supply across the country.

Drought is a cyclical natural event. Despite our best efforts, mankind has not been able to master “mother-nature”. The adverse effects of rain and snow, wind, earthquakes are not preventable – all we can do is try to mitigate the impacts. The statewide water crisis is man-made and it has many owners – politicians, agricultural interests, land developers and, most important, we-the-people. What makes this truly alarming is the willful suspension of reality that has driven California water policy for at least the last half century.

The Urban Desert

Geologists describe California as semi-arid. About 2/3 of the state is actually a desert. The approximately 200,000 Native Americans who lived here before the arrival of Spanish, Mexican, European and American settlers inhabited the coastal and inter-coastal valleys – watered by ocean fog, rivers, and streams.

The first generations of settlers followed the Indians’ habitation patterns, but the long dry summers led to the development of irrigation systems to water fields to support food production. Water storage and transport has been a part of the “California story” since the Franciscan fathers established 20 + mission churches and rancheros in the 18th century (1769-1833).

It is true that California’s farmers were too slow to adapt to shifting allocations of water toward California’s cities (40%/20%). But urban Californians are wrong when they point to agricultural as the cause for our water crisis – an expendable casualty of progress.

Droughts ranging from 5 to 7 years are relatively common in the history of the State of California. A longer look back at the geologic history of California reveals two medieval droughts — each lasted over 100 years. Ominously, scientists have concluded that the scarcity of rainfall in 2013 has not been matched in California since 1580.

Delivery System Fails to Match Population Growth

In the 1960s, California had a population of approximately 16 million when the current septuagenarian Governor Brown’s father, Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, broke ground on the California Water Project. The 700 mile project of dams, lakes, canals and pipes carries snow melt from the lightly populated northern part of the state through the Great Central Valley (agriculture) to Los Angeles (Castaic Lake). The project was completed during the 1970s. By then the state population had risen to 20 million.

40 years later, buffeted by California’s urban boom/bust economic cycles, California’s population has grown to almost 40 million but the water system has not been expanded. Even without a drought, there isn’t enough water available to satisfy all the conflicting interests of state water users – and still maintain the natural eco-system (40%)!

Do the Math

Californians had a population of approximately 29 million in 1990 – when drought resulted in 20% mandatory rationing for a single summer. In 2014 the same amount of water supports 25% more people.

And who is to blame. Ladies and gentlemen of California – let’s begin by looking in the mirror. It is fair to blame government for allowing development to outpace our natural resources. You’ve chosen to live in a desert but still claim the right to a manicured lawn in front of every home and swimming pools in too many backyards?

Blame politicians who indulged you by approving urban development they knew would run out of water someday. They’ve just hoped that it wouldn’t occur during their tenure.

This is not a zero sum-game between urban and agricultural interests. Software engineers got to eat, too!

Water is a finite resource. Water conservation cannot be treated as a periodic inconvenience. It’s got to become the California way-of-life.

Photo Credit: State of California/Dept of Water Resources

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Congressional Budget Office

No 21st Century American Vision – No Goals, No Plan = No Budget

I looked out the window last week and observed that my lemon tree needed pruning. It’s a source of frustration to me that this “dwarf” lemon tree refuses to remain shaped in the round. No matter what I do, six foot shoots grow straight out of its top every year.

The goal out my window was clear, a ball-shaped lemon tree; but how to reach the goal? I could pick up the phone, call the arborist, tell him to prune the tree and send me an invoice or I could pick up the phone, call my neighbor, ask him for his help and, together, spend a couple of hours, in fellowship, working on the pruning project. Time versus money – I choose to save money.

But saving money complicates the planning. What to do with the trimmings? The city recycling unit comes on Monday morning – if the trimmings are not on the neighborhood “pile” by 9 a.m. Monday, they’ll be sitting there for a week. My neighbor and I agreed to meet with ladder and tree trimmer tool at 7 a.m. Monday morning. I was dragging the last 6 foot section of trim to the pile when the recyclers arrived. By executing the plan perfectly, we restored the lemon tree’s shape – on time, on budget.


A budget is simply the costed-out tactical implementation of a plan. That’s a fact whether we are trimming my lemon tree, running Apple Inc., or governing the United States of America.

The budget of the United States is more complex than the budget to trim my lemon tree but the underlying relationship between goals, planning, and budgeting are exactly the same. The goal is an objective. The plan explains actions required to reach objective. The budget calculates whether the cost is justified by the objective.


When a potential new client contacts me regarding a strategic or tactical planning project, the first question I ask is “what is your goal”—“your desired outcome”. Without a specifically understood goal, the client cannot determine when the plan had been successfully executed. The team just keeps executing to infinity or bankruptcy – whichever comes first. It’s no different for the United States of America.

In the early 1960s, President Kennedy set a national goal of “sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to earth within a decade” – a clear goal around which the entire country was unified. Has there been another similar national goal set by a President since? I checked. There has been none.

The federal government is a client I would not take on. There’s no 21st Century American Vision – no integrated set of goals that the nation – the people have agreed to. Yes the majority of voters voted for “Hope and Change, Change You Can Believe In” but none of them can articulate the goal or point to a result of that change. How do we, as either citizens or politicians, agree we have achieved the right degree of change?

As a result – no vision, no goals, no plan = no budget. That is why we have seen Continuing Resolution after Continuing Resolution to “fund the government” without asking the question are we funding the right priorities, at the right level with the right resources? Unless we arrive at an adequate answer to that question, it is a sure prescription for national bankruptcy!

Predictable Debt Crisis

The USA faces a very predictable debt crisis – we even know when. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has warned that within our lifetimes – by 2038 – the National Debt held by domestic and foreign private and government interests will exceed 100% of US GDP. The more Debt the more government revenue is needed to pay the debt service and the less the less government will be able to spend for national defense or entitlements and other government services.

Threatened with the potential of bankruptcy or default, any competent corporate CEO would stop all extraneous activity – including new product introduction – devoting every waking hour to changing the company’s trajectory. The CEO would focus every employee, every resource, every plan, and tactic on one common goal – preventing bankruptcy.

Presidential Leadership

It is no different for President Obama. The 2013 government shutdown and the second debt crisis in 3 years are an opportunity for the President to be that CEO. He, alone, can marshal the people and resources of the nation behind a National Plan of Action.

Barack Obama, the most eloquent orator of his time, must offer the vision and lay out the obstacles to reaching the goals. Elected to lead all of the American people, he must quickly evolve from Democratic politician into consensus builder. He must stop pointing fingers and start building on areas of agreement.

Then, only then, can Congress develop a bi-partisan Budget that achieves a stable, prosperous, fiscally independent United States of America by 2038.

Photo Credit: Sam Pizzigati/Too Much

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Realistic 21st Century Transit Plan Must Include Urban Monorail

Tomorrow I am attending the Churchill Club’s annual Game Change Conference. The conference begins at 9 A.M at a local hotel convention center – about 5 miles from home. To be there on time I need to leave home by 8 A.M.

One hour to travel 5 miles? Yes, that’s what it takes during the typical rush hour gridlock on the surface streets or the freeways of Silicon Valley. What’s worse – the long-term Plan Bay Area transportation plan assumes that by mid-century the problem will only get worse. That forecast is dead wrong. If urban planners cannot overcome the gridlock on our streets and highways, the Innovation Economy will relocate rather than accommodate.

Urban Plan or Nightmare

The current plan is to concentrate housing in multi-story urban villages built next to existing transportation systems. These systems (for example Bay Area Rapid Transit [BART], Capitol Corridor, Cal Train) are already technically obsolete and run on inflexible schedules making commutes even longer and more difficult.

The plan envisions multi-square block transit centers of apartment-type homes built on stilts over the transit corridor. The residents would ride the elevator down to lower levels to shop or drop children off at pre-school or the take the dog to a faux park. Urban planners argue that this type of housing would appeal to folks like me – empty nesters. I have news for them – sounds more like a really bad science fiction movie!!!

It does not have to be this way. We don’t have to have more congestion, more noise, more concrete and more crowding. The technology exists to move thousands of Silicon Valley, California or Phoenix, Arizona or Dallas, Texas residents from their homes to major employment centers quickly, comfortably and affordably – without their cars. It already exists in Las Vegas, Nevada, in Orlando, Florida and Anaheim, California – as well as in Europe. It’s a monorail system.

Monorail, Logically Alternative

A monorail could move thousands of people straight across Silicon Valley – a distance of less than 10 miles as the “crow flies” – in under 15 minutes. Monorail technology is more than a century old. It is quieter, cleaner, and less expensive to build than traditional rail stock – i.e. San Francisco Bay Area (BART) System. It travels overhead on a much smaller rail. That means far less land acquisition, smaller environmental footprint, less noise.

Who has not enjoyed a ride on the Disneyland monorail? Disneyland built the original monorail in the 1970s for about $1 million a mile. Disney and the State of Florida estimate, that expanding that system, today, would cost $100 million a mile. Compare that to a projected cost of about $2 billion dollars to build a 5 mile extension ($200 million a mile) of the Bay Area Transit System that will not remove a single car from our gridlocked roadways!

Based on the Las Vegas model, a monorail system can be built and operated with private capital. While Nevada did guarantee some of the original construction bonds, the Las Vegas system was built and is operated by a combination of corporate sponsorships and fare box receipts. It has become a magnet for new development in the area of the city it serves.

Alternative Funding Model

I believe, there are enough corporate CEOs in the United States who would contribute to the development of a monorail system. Financial leaders would see the clear benefit—increased worker productivity. No more one or two daily commute hours and the added benefit of a cleaner environment. Sponsoring a monorail project would be a much stronger statement of corporate citizenship than the traditional sports arena!

What is lacking is the catalyst of public leadership – politicians who grasp the opportunity and are willing to “take the risk” to do to work with the private sector to do something extraordinary.

Americans have set the bar for governing our dependence on fossil fuels too low. Our pigmy politicians only see diesel powered railroad trains and gas guzzling automobiles. Even worse, we’ve been intimidated by unaccountable urban planners into accepting gridlocked traffic and disease causing pollution.

Get Involved

Get out of your comfort zone. Imagine a city where you can actually smell the roses.

Take time out of your already too busy lives. Fact is, if enough of us do not get “madder than hell”– that awful science fiction movie is going to be thrust on us as reality.

Publicly accessible transit is fundamental to a renewed 21st century America. But it won’t happen unless you are willing to challenge every assumption that maintains the status quo – on our roads, on our mass transit systems, on development projects. Go to meetings. Contact the local media to identify alterative (private) funding sources and to engage existing manufacturers.

It’s not about why, it’s about why not!

Photo Credit: Orlando Vacations

  • It is up to YOU

    Get Involved

    In the coming weeks, will do what our Presidential Candidates and other politicians are not - throw out some positive and plausible ideas to "right the ship of state".

    Ideas you can ask candidates about during the Fall Campaign.


Publicly Accessible Transit Anchors Any Climate Control Strategy

I try to walk a few miles almost every day. It’s a choice – walk or starve myself to preserve my size 2 figure. Besides it makes my dog happy and it is doing my part to minimize climate change.

I get the motivation by combining my walk with life’s necessary errands. Walking to the grocery store or the pet store or the cleaners, the drug store, etc keeps me out of the car and off our gridlocked city streets.

Not everyone is as committed to walking as I am, but most of us hate the gridlocked traffic that defines our daily lives. More people would happily park their cars if public transit were more accessible. Access means easy to use – close to home and destination, affordable, and on a continuous loop rather than on a time-consuming schedule.

Enter the Moving Sidewalk

I walk to any destination within 1.5 miles (3 mile round trip) but not in high heels. I would, however, happily step onto a moving sidewalk (conveyor belt) at the corner and “ride it” to the shopping mall or to a transit connection center beyond a couple of miles – even in high heels.

The moving sidewalk would move along city streets more slowly than the personal automobile but eliminate signal light delays. When the passenger reached their destination, they would just step off at the corner – as easily as they had stepped on.

Avoiding the parking hassle, alone, probably would reduce total travel time! Tens of thousands of vehicle miles would be saved. Tons of carbon pollution would be eliminated. Parking facilities could be turned back into green space or recreational facilities.

The technology to make moving sidewalks already exists. Ever stepped onto a conveyor systems at the airport or a sports stadium? The moving sidewalk is basically the same thing. And it’s Made-In-USA – so you could say that building moving sidewalks is a jobs program!

The fact is that there have already been examples of successful implementation of moving sidewalks. The first in America was built in 1893 for the Chicago World’s Fair. Today the same technology is used to connect streets in Hong Kong. Generally speaking experiments have shown that at speeds above 9 miles an hour, it is wise to install some sort of seats.

There are lots of challenges to deploying the first moving sidewalk. Easiest are the technical challenges. Harder will be overcoming the inertia of politicians and planners and hardest will be overcoming the resistance of potential users – conditioned to transit systems that don’t work well.

Technical Challenges

The moving sidewalk must be designed to move continuously in parallel with existing roadways – without interfering with the flow of vehicle traffic. To meet this challenge, the sidewalk must move over or under intersections by combining existing escalator technology with existing flat floor conveyor technology.

It’s unlikely that the first generation of moving sidewalks would be able to control heat and cold. But a roof to cover the sidewalk and walls on either side of the conveyor – between intersections – would eliminate both direct sun exposure and offer protection from precipitation

Consumer Challenges

Moving sidewalks will not get built just to eliminate the hassle of getting to the shopping center or the movies. To amass the required user base, the moving sidewalk has to facilitate getting workers from their neighborhood to jobs many miles away faster and with less stress than driving.

We have the technology to deploy long distance people movers in urban 21st century America. The biggest obstacle to widespread deployment and adoption is getting people out of their cars for the first 2 miles of the journey.

Political Inertia

The moving sidewalk is technically feasible but getting politicians to fund the first proof point will be much harder. Building such a system requires foresight. Foresight requires risk. If “we” – the politicians – “build it, will they” – the residents and tax payers – “come” to use it? “Will they reward our foresight at the ballot box?”

Sadly our politicians are so afraid of leading rather than following their constituents. That fear has made them comfortable only with making pigmy-type climate change decisions like banning plastic bags in grocery stores or Styrofoam containers in takeout restaurants. All the while, they are doubling down on repaving the existing traffic-gridlocked-paths – the primary causes of pollution and environmental degradation.

Get Involved

If you “are madder than hell” and believe moving sidewalks are one 21st century alternative to the SUV, then you have to become involved. You must be willing to challenge every assumption of every planning, development and traffic decision that maintains the status quo. You have to go to meetings, to contact the local media, to identify alterative (private) funding sources, and to engage existing manufacturers, energy companies etc.

Your activism will create an environment that attracts and elects politicians who have BIG Ideas, who don’t whisper why but SHOUT why not!

Photo Credit: WingLuk/Wikimedia Commons

  • It is up to YOU

    Get Involved

    In the coming weeks, will do what our Presidential Candidates and other politicians are not - throw out some positive and plausible ideas to "right the ship of state".

    Ideas you can ask candidates about during the Fall Campaign.


Urban Planning Can Clean Soot Out of Environment

I hate being stuck in gridlocked traffic on city streets and zero to five miles an hour on the freeway during so-called “rush hour”? And since when did “rush hour” extend right into the “lunch rush”?

Just the other day as idled through several lights before being able to turn from one gridlocked street onto another, I had a vision of a different kind of American city – a city a little more like Down Town Disney than Los Angeles. There were more bicycles than cars and more walkers than both. In my imagination people actually smiled and greeted one another as they walked to work sipping their fresh Starbucks lattes. There were no gasoline fumes and the only sound was the hum of conversation and the tapping of shoes on the pavement.

The Urban Village Concept

A walkable city is not just the product of my imagination. It is the latest fashion in urban planning – the urban village. In the urban village people live, work, shop and play in the same radius.

The urban village concept ignores three realities. The first is that the super market, super store, mall anchor store, Costco world we live in – and only want more of – is not compatible with pedestrian shopping. The shopper needs at least a sedan – if not an SUV – to carry home 24 shrink wrapped rolls of Costco toilet paper (their number one selling item).

The second – America’s suburban romance with spacious living – is not over. The Sunday home section of your local newspaper, like mine, is full of pictures of spacious two story homes being developed on “reclaimed” farm land and open space – many miles from major employment centers.

The first urban village in San Jose is a mixture of designer boutiques and upscale restaurants with a few expensive apartments build above the retail space. Half of the first floor of the several block complex, and all of the basement levels, is a parking garage. The entrances and exits to the two freeways that access the area are always jammed. This urban village is a net carbon polluter!

And that brings us to the third reality. Typically, the types of small businesses created within an urban village do not produce the sort of high salary jobs that attract people to Silicon Valley or other large cities. The major job centers of most urban areas are miles and miles from residential districts.

New York Understands Urban Villages

The rest of the country would be well served to study New York’s plans to revitalize a 120 acre parcel in South Bronx.  The project is an example of “infilling” the city. Without expanding the city limits, infilling will turn existing blighted housing and rusting industrial facilities into much needed new housing, retail and entertainment facilities surrounded by green space – anchored to the larger city by an extension of the city’s subway system.

New York subways may not be elegant but they move millions of people from one commercial and residential center directly into the heart of another district in about 30 minutes. Subways are electric – and, thus, have a smaller carbon foot print – and efficient. Mayor Bloomberg prefers the subway to a limo ride to work every day – avoiding street traffic and saving time!

Urban Planners Are Obstacle

The problem is not that Americans don’t want quieter, cleaner, walkable cities integrated with efficient, modern people mover systems. The problem is our urban planners and the politicians they serve. Their thinking is all short run. The motivations are tax dollars, development fees, federal grants – all mixed with campaign contributions.

As a result, too often, urban planners and politicians lack imagination and foresight. It is not apparent that they understand the longer historic trajectory or the frightening consequences of failing to develop solutions that will lead to a cleaner sustainable environment.

Heck, they don’t even understand the short term trajectory. Congress mandated higher fuel economy standards for cars and trucks and then was surprised when fewer gasoline taxes were collected! For example, you travel 200 miles a week in an SUV that gets 20 miles per gallon. The federal highway tax on 10 gallons of gas is $1.835. Now you buy a new SUV that gets 40 miles per gallon. The same weekly travel will net only 92.5 cents in taxes. What should really scare you is that this surprised law makers who couldn’t understand why the highway fund was running out of money – its 4th grade math!

American cities will rise from the soot and the noise and the smell and the stress for the 20th century only when we, the American people, stop staring out of our gridlocked windshields, step out of our cars and make a chorus of “we’re madder than hell and we are not going to take it any more”.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

  • It is up to YOU

    Get Involved

    In the coming weeks, will do what our Presidential Candidates and other politicians are not - throw out some positive and plausible ideas to "right the ship of state".

    Ideas you can ask candidates about during the Fall Campaign.