Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Ordained

A long time friend and cartoonist left this cartoon on my desk the other morning after spending the night in my B no B hotel home.  It pretty much says it:

The next day, he sent me this one:

I first published Charlie Loving's cartoons over 40 years ago.  Back then, he was doing a Nuncio Narc 13 cartoon series in the RAG, our underground newspaper. Nuncio was an incompetent DEA agent who was always finding himself in laughable situations.  Since those days, Charlie has been a weatherman, a sportscaster, a mud salesman, a TV station builder, and  the list just goes on.

Most importantly, I rode with Charlie the first time we drove to Real de Catorce where he lived for a few years.  It was Charlie Loving who turned me on to Humberto, and Ed, and Charlie and Cora, and all my many friends in that enchanted town 9000 feet high in the state of San Luis Potosi.

Now he lives west of Leakey, Texas with his wife Rae, oddly enough in Real County.

And he still draws and paints everywhere he goes, at every time of day or night.

You can reach him on facebook as Charles Igor Loving.


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Thursday, March 31, 2016

March Mania

Most of us look forward to March Madness, especially if we are B ball fans.  We get to watch the NCAA playoffs as 64 teams turn into 4 until one finally wins.  This year it was Villanova.

But every four years we have super Tuesday and the big primaries in March.

And this year, it is indeed madness.

How a substantial number of Republicans can vote for a guy who is  (or was) a casino owner is way beyond my power to add or detract.  Here is a guy with some of the most god awful taste known to  bad taste.  He has had 3 wives, with the most recent one posing in the nude in his jet with fur and jewels.  Now that's a first lady I can get behind.

His money came from his Dad who made his money in Brooklyn leasing his apartments to white people.  One of his most famous tenants who lived in Beach Haven wrote a song about him after he left in disgust.

I suppose
    Old Man Trump knows
    Just how much
    Racial Hate
    he stirred up
    In the bloodpot of human hearts
    When he drawed
    That color line
    Here at his
    Eighteen hundred family project ....
 Woodie Guthrie 

When his son decided to join his Dad in business, the first thing he did was use Daddy's contacts to get some public money.  His history is just as tawdry as his art collections and home decor.

According to Wikipedia:

In 1971, Trump moved to Manhattan, where he became involved in larger construction projects, and used attractive architectural design to win public recognition.[41] Trump initially came to public attention in 1973 when he was accused by the Justice Department of violations of the Fair Housing Act in the operation of 39 buildings, including false "no vacancy" statements, and sham leases presenting higher rents to minority applicants, to facilitate the denial of housing to racial minorities.

Trump settled the charges in 1975 without admitting guilt, saying he was satisfied that the agreement did not "compel the Trump organization to accept persons on welfare as tenants unless as qualified as any other tenant."[43] The Trump Organization was again in court several years later for violating terms of the settlement.[42] 

Now this is real presidential material.  Yet, look at his delegate count:

And here is the end of March and early April

Amy Goodman and others ask:

"Fascism: Could it happen here?" That’s a question increasingly being raised as Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump continues his bid for the White House. People as varied as former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, actor George Clooney, comedian Louis C.K. and Anne Frank’s stepsister Eva Schloss have suggested Trump is a fascist. Earlier this month, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto criticized Trump by invoking the fascist dictators Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini."

AMY GOODMAN: What is fascism?

ROBERT PAXTON: Well, fascism is a mass nationalist movement intended to restore a country that’s been damaged or is in decline, by expansion, by violent attacks on enemies, internal as well as external enemies, and measures of authority, the replacement of democracy by an authoritarian dictatorship.

Make America Great Again.

This is March Mania.

The Democrats have been fun too.

Bernie is giving Hillary a real run for the money.

And he has actually raised a lot of it.

But the coming General Election between Clinton and Trump

is going to be Hell.

I could write a lot about this but I won't.

It's too painful.

For this March Mania will not end soon.

I miss Barack Obama more and more each passing day,

and we still have him being the great president that he has been.

He has been dignified and smart,

and measured and responsible,

and a great gift to this nation

and to the World.


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Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Year

Winters in Austin are often my favorite season.  It's a little bit chilly, occasionally a little cold, but it doesn't last very long.  Every now and then it actually freezes or snows.  But this winter has been beautiful.  Cool enough to wear a sweater and jacket but nice enough to be outside almost everyday.

It has certainly been great convertible weather.  But the dark side of this silver lining is this.

February was the hottest February on record.  Here is the Guardian's take:

Current record-shattering temperatures are shocking 
even to climate scientists

February 2016 was likely the hottest month in thousands of years, as we approach the 2°C danger limit.

“Stunning,” “wow,” “shocker,” “bombshell,” “astronomical,” “insane,” “unprecedented”– these are some of the words climate scientists have used to describe the record-shattering global surface temperatures in February 2016clip

To put the current temperatures into context, prior to last October, monthly global surface temperatures had not been more than 0.96°C hotter than the 1951–1980 average, according to NASA. The past 5 months have been 1.06°C, 1.03°C, 1.10°C, 1.14°C, and 1.35°C hotter than that average, absolutely destroying previous records. Estimates from NOAA are in broad agreement with those from NASA.

Right now, the Earth’s average surface temperature is hotter than it’s been in thousands of years; potentially even longer. clip

Last December, 195 countries signed the COP21 international climate agreement in Paris. Graham Readfearn summarized the agreement for The Guardian:

The guts of the agreement hang off the so-called “long-term goal” that commits almost 200 countries to hold the global average temperature to “well below 2°C” above pre-industrial levels and to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”.
Depending on how exactly we define “pre-industrial,” February temperatures were between 1.5 and 2°C hotter than those in pre-industrial times. So, we’re already starting to tread on thin ice, in the range that the global community has deemed dangerously hot."  more

And YET, we have a major political party in the United States that continues to place its collective head in the sand on the issue.

Other big news on the climate scene comes from Jim Hansen in a paper published in the European Science Journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

Quoting from the New York Times:

"The nations of the world agreed years ago to try to limit global warming to a level they hoped would prove somewhat tolerable. But a group of leading climate scientists warned Tuesday that permitting a warming of that magnitude would actually be highly dangerous.

The likely consequences would include killer storms stronger than any in modern times, the disintegration of large parts of the polar ice sheets, and a rise of the sea sufficient to begin drowning the world’s coastal cities before the end of this century, the scientists declared.

“We’re in danger of handing young people a situation that’s out of their control,” said James E. Hansen, the retired NASA climate scientist who led the new research.  clip

Hansen argues that society is in such grave peril that he feels morally compelled to go beyond the normal role played by a scientist and to sound a clear warning. That stance has made him a hero to college students fighting climate change, but some fellow scientists say they believe he has opened himself to the charge that he is skewing his scientific research for political purposes.

"The nations of the world agreed to try to limit the warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above the pre-industrial level, though they have yet to agree on any program remotely ambitious enough to achieve that goal. The Earth has already warmed by about half that amount, with the consequence that virtually all land ice on the planet has started to melt and that the oceans are rising at an accelerating pace."

The paper by Hansen and 18 co-authors dwells on the last time the Earth warmed naturally, about 120,000 years ago, when the temperature reached a level estimated to have been only slightly higher than today. Much of the polar ice disintegrated then, and scientists have established that the sea level rose 20-30 feet. more

I remember 35 years ago when Dan Rather reported that the Reagan EPA had determined that climate change was going to be a danger to global well being in perhaps as little as 50 years.  In that report, President Reagan's own EPA called for a plan which would outlaw coal  by the year 2000, while placing a 300% carbon tax on oil and gas. It also called for a ban on shale oil.

Now with Renewable Energy and electric vehicles available at prices that could have been only dreamed of 35 years ago, we have the tools we need to meet this challenge.

So we must leap now.

And we have 4 Leap years to do it.

And YET, we have a major political party in the United States that continues to place its collective head in the sand on the issue.










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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Cheap Oil is Expensive

In January, while I was enjoying a sustained retreat from all things business, a rather large international event occurred.


Yes, the price of oil which has been as high as 140.00 dollars a barrel eight years ago, had gone from 90 to 100 dollars a barrel 18 months ago, to the mid forties in late December.  It rallied back into the sixty dollar range last spring, but headed back to the forties within a few months.

Then this January, it went to $27.00.

Now, for those of you who don't care the least about the price of crude oil except for how it affects your pocket book at the gas station, this post is not really for you.  No, this post is for those of you out there who care about the cost of energy because you know that cheap oil makes electric cars less desirable.  Cheap oil tricks car and truck buyers into buying big trucks and inefficient cars.  And if oil is cheap because there is more supply than demand, then the odds that there is also going to be more natural gas is likely.  And that has happened too.

And so, in a few months after oil prices collapsed  natural gas prices in the US went from $4.50 to $2.00/ MCF and even below.  Cheap natural gas is good for electric rates here in Texas, but it makes new solar and wind additions a little less appealing, especially if you think these super low decade record breaking prices will continue well beyond the near future.


Well, of course that's not what is happening.  If you read the trades and the other financial rags, you are told that the Saudi's are in a market share war with the American frackers.  And that might well be true.  American oil production has gone from 5 million barrels a day in 2010 to 9.6 million BPD in 2015, a truly impressive increase in domestic production.  And of course, most of this comes from horizontal drilling in the various shale plays.

In just five years, the Americans had caught up with Saudi oil production.  Americans imports of oil began to go down.  (but not by 4.5 million)

And so what did the Saudi's do?

They increased their production by 1 million barrels a day.  They traded protecting the price of oil for protecting their market share.

 Here is the story from Oil

Conventional Wisdom
"Conventional wisdom has it that the Saudis are focused primarily on crushing the U.S. shale industry. In this view, the Saudis blame the U.S. for the supply-demand imbalance that began to make itself felt in 2014. U.S. production data seems to support this. Between 2009 and 2014, U.S. crude and NGLs output increased nearly 4 million barrels per day, while Saudi Arabia’s increased only 1.64 million barrels per day, Canada’s 1.06 million, Iraq’s 0.9 million, and Russia’s 0.7 million (Saudi data doesn’t include NGLs).

In addition, the Saudis, among many others, believed that U.S. shale would be the most vulnerable to Saudi strategy, given relatively high production costs compared to Saudi production costs and shale’s rapid decline rates and the need therefore repeatedly to reinvest in new wells to maintain output."

But in the last 18 months, despite idled rigs by the hundreds and layed off employees by the hundred thousands, American production has continued to grow.

Until about six months ago.

Starting last September, production leveled off.  And now American crude oil production has fallen about 500,000 barrels a day back down to 9.1  million barrels  a day.

Now understand,  the total global market for oil is not quite 100 million barrels a day.  (96)  And it's generally understood that the oil market is over supplied by about 2 million barrels a day.  Now, even a fifth grader with an above C average in math knows that 9 million times 100 dollars is more that 10 million at 30.00 dollars.

It's almost $600 million more...a day.

This chart below shows American imports.


And it shows that Saudi imports with the US have remained about the same at 1 to 1.4 million barrels a day.  And it shows that even though American production has grown by 4.6 million barrels a day, our imports have only gone down by less than 2 million.

There are lots of other things that make this oil price collapse even more interesting.

One is the strength of the dollar.  Since oil is only traded in dollars,  a stronger dollar means that a big part of the drop in oil prices is actually a strong dollar.

Another is the huge deal made by Congress in December which traded continued renewable energy tax credits for the end on the ban on US crude oil exports.  This will effectively reduce the difference in price between West Texas crude and the higher international bench mark Brent oil. 

Another big consideration is the Russians.  Putin is hurting from the Saudi's actions.  And the Ruple is in the toilet. Are they sending a signal to him? And to their Allies?

Do they want a a cease fire in Syria?  And an agreement in Yemen?

And WHO are THEY?

Cheap Oil is Expensive


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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Rear View Mirror

The Christmas season came like it always does.  Too soon.  But this year, after my trip to Paris for the climate Change talks, I was taking things in stride.  I got my natural foliage wreath with my little birds and antique silvered balls installed  above the mantle in the living room in the big house, but I decided  not to hang the big flat Christmas tree in the dining room.

We were going to New Orleans the day after Christmas and it seemed like more work than it was worth.  So I did a miniature tree on the dining room table instead.  Originally, we were taking the whole family to our mountain home in Real de Catorce for the Holidays, but some little voice told me not to get that far away from civilization.  While I was in Paris,  and after, I noticed that my stride was slowing down, especially after dinner.

When I got back, I bought a fit bit, one of those cute little space watches that records your pulse and measures your activity.  For the last 30 years, excluding  2015,  I have been an avid runner and exerciser, and it seemed to me that my pulse was running too fast, even just to get up and walk to the bathroom.  So as I did my shopping and other Xmas chores, I was watching and recording my heart rate on a daily basis.  It seemed as if my resting heart rate was going up a little everyday.

On the 22nd of December, I found myself responding to a freedom of information request from a channel 8 reporter.  The whole thing irritated me, but I got it done early on that day.  Now, I was ready for the Holidays, and to eat some good bad food in New Orleans, and enjoy the rest of the trip I had planned with the family.

However, an odd thing happened on my way to the forum.

My blood pressure suddenly shot up way high... Like 200 over 150.

That afternoon, thanks to my guardian angel partner,  I was in the Cardiologist's office getting an EKG.  The next day, I went in early for a nuclear stress test.   I flunked it spectacularly.  Instead of the pictures showing a  nice round donut of red, the bottom half of my donut was light yellow.

We drove from the Doctor's office across the street to the Heart Hospital.  Within 2 hours, I was being wheeled into the Heart Cath room.   This is where the Cardiologist inserts an instrument into your groin and winds his way up into the heart.  They inject die and take pictures.  If necessary, they can also do work to improve the situation.  They can open up areas or put in balloon like devices.  (I figured I would end up with some stints.) They don't knock you out to do it, they just make you real dopey.  But I do remember the cardiologist saying something like, "Let's get out of here, this is going to take full surgery".  I looked up over at him.  "Sorry, he said"

Within an hour, and in the proverbial blink of an eye, I was being scheduled for full open heart surgery.  Only problem was, now it's the day before Christmas Eve, the 23rd of December, which was also my son's birthday. And finding a good surgical crew out of the holiday shift surgeons and remaining kitchen and janitorial staff was looking grim.  So, I got to go home on Christmas Eve and return on the next Monday when the A team would return.

Obviously, Christmas was very different this year.

But that first night, when I first learned of my situation, it was a doozy.  By the time I came to, both mentally and actually, it was around midnight.  For the next 6 hours, using my mifi and my mini, I did an internet super search on bypass surgery.  And, make no mistake, there are a lot of stories out there that tell you not to do it.  There are even new techniques called EECP that in some cases can substitute for it.  Obviously, by six o clock in the morning, I had a head full of ideas on the subject.

But I was mostly trying to just get my hands around it.  And with a 5% bad outcome rate, it sounded a little like trying to scamper across I 35 with a bad knee.

The next morning, the Cardiologist came in.  He listened as I emptied my head of my newly acquired internet degree in heart health.  My physician partner patiently allowed Dr. Tibliet to artfully bat my serves  back over the net.  But when it came down to getting through, it was these words,  "Look Michael, look at it this way,  in 30 days, you will have this in your rear view mirror, and in six months, you'll be booking a flight to Greece without even a thought of it."

It's been thirty days today.

And he was right. (knock on wood)

My quadruple coronary artery bypass graft (cabg)

is now in my rear view mirror.

And I am grateful.

And I send warm embraces to those whose love and care

Made this journey,

a ticker tape parade of a thousand kindnesses.





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Monday, November 30, 2015

Paris Climate Talks


During a dinner party at the big House in which a pretty good group of thinkers, leaders, and commotion makers met just before Thanksgiving, a group of us decided that we should go on and pull the trigger and go to Paris for COP 21.

Certainly, we had been thinking and even planning to some degree to go, but the actual commitment to go came quite late.  Given the recent events in Paris, we figured we could book the flights and find the Hotels we would need.  And we were right.

So, by the end of November, we were on our way.

This was not our first Climate Change Conference, nor, I suspect,  will it be our last. I made two videos, one which was very personal, and another  which was our Mayor's remarks at the convention at the Cities and  Region's Pavilion.

Here is the first:

During our stay we were attending meetings at the official site way north of Paris and at the Hotel de Ville in downtown Paris.  The meetings up north were in temporary well lit buildings and I was told that the site was an old military base.  The meetings at the Hotel de Ville (city hall) were in on the Seine in the Island east of the Louvre.

The Meeting of the the Nations going on to the north were significant and important, but this was the first time that the Mayors and the Cities had met at the same time as the Nations.  This was different.  And these were the meetings that drew our attention.  Besides, we all had good credentials for the Meeting of the Cities, not the case up north in Le Bourget.

For it was at the meeting of the Mayors where a great deal of excitement was occurring.  We had the President of France, the Mayor of Paris, the Mayor of Rio, the Mayor of London, Bloomberg from New York, and others like Al Gore, Leonardo di Caprio, and Elon Musk.

We were invited to the American Ambassador's  little party. Her residence is more like a Palace.   The Secretary of Energy was there.  So was the US lead negotiator at the talks.  We met  Mitch the Mayor of New Orleans.  And we met that high energy Mayor from Baltimore.  I was chatting in another room with a state department guy who looked like security.  He was sort of.  He was in charge of keeping track of all the decommissioned nuclear weapons in the world.

When the Mayors signed their agreement, we did it at the Eiffel Tower.  And it was then that the somber blue heart in the tower of the city of light was  once again brought to life.

The next day, Mayor Adler spoke at the Cities and Region's Pavilion up north:

Later that evening, I went to a piano quartet in the Sarbonne with my old friend Jim Haynes, and we ate dinner at the restaurant across the street afterwords.

Jim has been feeding and introducing people to one another in Paris for three decades.

But before that, he did it in Amstersdam, London, and Edinburg.

The next night, I took Commissioner Shea and Councilmember Pool to Jim's dinner.

We felt as if we were in the center of the universe,

in the City of Light.

Perhaps we were.


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Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Solar 600


On October 15th,  on a 8-2-1 vote, The Austin City Council instructed Austin Energy to purchase 450 MWs of solar power now and to build or buy another 150 before 2019.  This will put Austin Energy's solar portfolio somewhere in the 850 MW area with 750 MWs of west Texas solar and perhaps another 100 MWs of local solar.  And, it represents a substantial compliance with the recommendations of the Austin Generation Task Force in July of 2014.

But it came about only after a lot of work from the broad community and pressure from the Electric Utility Commission.

For it was the EUC resolution that cleared Council to get Austin Energy to release the RFP for the 600 MWs of solar that was required in the adopted gen plan of December 2014.  That request went out on April 8th.

Austin, Texas – Austin Energy today issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) that includes options for both power purchase agreements and direct ownership for up to 600 megawatts of solar generation.
 Proposals are due by May 15, 2015. The RFP is available on Austin Energy’s Web site at
 Acquiring up to 600 MW of utility-scale solar is a major component of Austin Energy’s recently adopted Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2025. The plan sets a goal of delivering 55 percent of all of Austin Energy’s electricity to its customers from renewable energy sources by 2025.
 A good telling of the story from the perspective of the Sierra Club can be found here.

But my telling is more personal.  As the Chairman of the Electric Utility Commission that pushed the solar purchase through a half dozen votes and the Chair of the Generation Task Force that provided the original 600 MW recommendation, my story is one of a once progressive utility and leader in the fight against climate change to a Utility that had returned to the dark ages of utility management and vision... and of the City leadership that overcame it.

Originally, when the Generation Task Force made it's recommendations, the Utility said it would cost billions of dollars.  In truth, it will save money for our rate payers from day one.  When the bids were received at prices below 40 dollars/ MWh, the Utility then argued that it was not prudent to buy the 600 MWs because solar prices would go to 30 dollars/MWh in a few years and we would have buyers remorse.

Yet, when they compared the price of the natural gas plant that they wanted to build, they compared the price of the Gas Plant with  higher solar prices than the prices they were predicting in their buyers remorse arguments.

They had become duplicitous.

The night before the big vote, I met with the Mayor, a council member, other staff members and the Mayor's representative on the Electric Utility Commission We worked for 3 hours trying to come up with a path that took advantage of the great pricing represented in the offers, the needs of our customers both big and small, and the demands of our consumer and environmental communities. And even though we went through most of our old ideas, and a few new ones, I can say that when I left that night, I didn't have the answer.

Later that night, during a dinner with a former EDF senior staffer, I pondered the events of the next day, and answered the calls of those who were anxious to know what the plan was.  The truth is, we didn't have one yet.

Then, the next morning, one of the most experienced environmental/consumeristas in the region, if not the country, called me and told me he was going to talk to the Mayor.  At the time he was in Indiana.  I told him to text him first.  As I was driving to City Hall, he called.

"We've got a deal" he said.  The Mayor has agreed.

I listened and it sounded good to me.

I had the sponsors office type up the amendment. And I ran it by them.

Just before the Council meeting convened, I walked up to the dias and to the Mayor.

Is this our deal? I asked.

He turned it around and added one word and turned it back to me.

I nodded.  We shook hands with our eyes.

The motion with one more minor change passed.

That would get one R.

It passed 8-2-1.

We have a really good Mayor.

And a Council we can be proud of.

And a Utility that needs to come home.


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