Impediments To Success

It seems to me….

Success is almost totally dependent upon drive and persistence. The extra energy required to make another effort or try another approach is the secret of winning.” ~ Denis Waitley[1].

The “Horatio Alger myth” is based on novels by Horatio Alger, Jr., that were very popular following the U.S. Civil War, which told the classic American success story of how impoverished boys could rise from humble backgrounds to lives of middleclass security and comfort through hard work, determination, courage, and honesty. The Horacio Alger myth has long persisted in the U.S. and though never very factual, has become even less so in recent years.

Thomas Jefferson first used the phrase “All men are created equal” in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, a quote widely considered to be an immortal declaration. George Orwell countered with the sarcastic quote “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others[2]. It is obvious that people are in fact not created equal; there are basic genetic differences: some are smarter, better looking, or more athletic. Some grow up in better communities, have better educated and wealthier parents, attend better schools….

Everyone is told – and we prefer to believe – that hard work and perseverance determines how our lives turn out but while important, not entirely factual. Where and when we are born, having nurturing parents (who are financially well-off), growing up in a safe neighborhood, having good teachers able to inspire us, attending a good college and selecting an appropriate field of study, and having inspiring mentors are the primary determinants of “success”. While intelligence is important, there are many extremely intelligent, creative, hardworking people who never excel. The Horacio Alger story might not be a total myth but it should be obvious that being open to new experiences, being conscientious, and actually seeking success is at least equally important.

It is only natural that parents try to provide their children with the best preparation possible for their future life. But the primary determinant of a child’s future success remains the postal zip code in which they are born. The zip code is fairly indicative of parental wealth and education, the quality of local schools, and their peer group and acquaintance career choices.

The parent’s educational achievement level is a fairly good indication of their vocabular, literary, and entertainment preferences, profession and aspirations, and social contacts. A higher education exposes their child to a broader vocabulary and the ability to better understand and reason. They are more inclined to read to young children and encourage them to read, less inclined to watch television, and to read non-fiction.

Additionally, acquaintances and peer groups provide familiarity with different professional options.

The emotional, social, and physical growth of young children has a direct effect on their overall development and on the adult they will become. Low birth weight and poor maternal nutrition, more common among low-income families, have been shown to result in a higher risk of problems later in life.

Family income has also been shown to be directly related to brain structure differences (primarily cortical volume or thickness) in adolescents though it has not been conclusively determined if this has resulted from differences in nutrition, neighborhood, school quality, parenting style, or family stress[3]. Children from lower-income (poverty) families tend to perform more poorly on a variety of tests than peers from families with higher income. They are less likely to graduate from high school or college and more likely to be occupationally under-employed. Educational and occupational disadvantages related to lower economic environment can also result in significant differences in the brain’s size, shape, and functioning.

Researchers have found that the chronic stress of living in chaotic, impoverished environments affects brain centers involved in executive functioning, which controls things like attention, working memory, planning, reasoning, and inhibition[4]. Children who grow up in stressful environments tend to have more emotional and behavioral problems, making the transition to school problematic. Yet, more than 50 percent of school-aged kids now come from low-income families without the optimal cognitive or emotional development to succeed as students.

Early childhood care and education/intervention programs have been shown to significantly enhance children’s prospects for academic success by reducing the probability of referral to special education, grade retention, and leaving school prior to high school graduation, especially for children at risk for academic underachievement[5]. Such programs provide a strong foundation for literacy development as poor academic skills are credibly associated with dropping out of school and delinquency. Tragically, Pre-K is not available for one-third of U.S. children, most of for whom it would be most beneficial. Such risk factors are elevated by poverty, developmental and learning disabilities, belonging to an ethnic minority, and speaking English as a second language among other considerations.

Differences in the educational opportunities and school performance of students from low-income families as compared to non-low-income students have long been an issue of concern for educators and policymakers. Despite efforts, gaps in academic outcomes, graduation, and post-secondary enrollment persist. Specifically, students from low-income families continue to score far below non-low-income students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and graduate high school at lower rates than non-low-income students. These differences continue into adulthood, where children from low-income families earn lower wages, are more likely to be incarcerated, and have a lower life expectancy than otherwise similar non-low-income peers.

Research has shown that all young children need certain types of supports from parents to develop in positive directions starting with consistent, safe, and loving attention. When children come from homes where there is abuse, domestic violence, an incarcerated parent, or a parent with drug or mental health problems, they do not receive that type of attention and suffer the consequences including higher risks of later-life depression, adolescent pregnancy, alcoholism, drug use, and poor academic performance.

Parents and teachers, as well as home and school environments, can influence the development of early oral language skills, including vocabulary, use of complex sentences, and metalinguistic awareness (of which phonological awareness is only one element).

Parents are primarily responsible for shaping their children’s life trajectory by how they role-model emotional resilience. If stressed-out parents react to a child’s emotions by yelling at or hitting them, or ignoring or neglecting them, they create an unsafe environment that increases the child’s stress and distrust of others. Negative parenting can affect a child’s ability to regulate emotion which creates problems in interpersonal interactions as well as learning. By contrast, parents who are able to help their child handle stressful moments and calm themselves down after a tantrum or scare often have a profoundly positive effect on the child’s long-term ability to manage stress.

Lower income families require assistance if they are to break the cycle of poverty. In addition to the many other challenges common among low-wage workers – low education levels, financial pressures, and limited opportunities – lack of childcare can be a major barrier for low-income parents limiting their ability to participate in and complete education and training. Quality daycare and childcare both before and after school accessible through high school is frequently either unavailable or sufficiently expensive to exceed the parent’s low income effectively preventing them from seeking employment.

Schools and communities can only do so much to help children succeed; much is dependent upon the child’s parents but there is only so much a low-income single parent working two jobs is able to accomplish.

It is outrageous and reprehensible to ever squander the potential of any individual, especially at a time when the talents and contributions of everyone are urgently needed. As we transition into a post-industrial economy, the importance of an advanced education becomes ever more important. We no longer can afford what for too long have essentially been “throw away” people. Isn’t it time to making the Horatio Alger myth an actual reality?

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Denis E. Waitley, is an American motivational speaker, writer, and consultant.

[2] Orwell, George. Animal Farm was first published in England on 17 August 1945.

[3] Noble, Kimberly G. Brain Trust, Scientific American, March 2017, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-inequality-does-to-the-brain/, pp 44-49.

[4] Suttie, Jill. How To Help Low-Income Students Succeed, Greater Good Magazine, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_help_low_income_students_succeed, 3 June 2016.

[5] Connor, Carol McDonald, and Frederick J. Morrison. Services Or Programs That Influence Young Children’s Academic Success And School Completion, Encyclopedia On Early Childhood Development, http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/school-success/according-experts/services-or-programs-influence-young-childrens-academic-success, September 2014.

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Furthering Medical Progress

It seems to me….

I think history would say that medical research has, throughout many changes of parties, remained as one of the shining lights of bipartisan agreement, that people are concerned about health for themselves, for their families, for their constituents.” ~ Francis Collins[1].

There are numerous available pathways for medical research capable of significantly advancing healthcare progress. One of the formidable challenges healthcare providers currently face is putting the latest available medical data to its greatest possible use[2]. Somewhere between the quest to unlock the mysteries of medicine and design better treatments, therapies, and procedures lies the real world of applying data and protecting patient privacy. Much is dependent upon medical data being available to researchers throughout the field but those goals, of protecting patients and the quest for answers, are frequently at odds.

The newest and best medicines are frequently initially offered to patients in clinical trials and patients in those trials often do better than patients on standard treatments[3]. Yet trials, particularly in cancer, but also for other diseases, frequently have many empty patient slots as the vast majority of potential participants are not offered an opportunity to enroll. Most patients never get into lifesaving drug trials due to barriers at community hospitals. Low trial enrollment, which effectively cuts patients off from lifesaving medicine, is a significant national health problem. Obstacles to trials need to be overcome, especially in community hospitals, by reducing the burden on local doctors and improving patient-trial matching technology.

The drugs available in clinical trials often represent the latest in research, and many turn out to be considerably more effective than standard treatments. Half of all drugs that make it into the last of three phases of drug trials, when most patients enter those trials, end up being approved by the FDA because of these improved results. About one third of patients in the U.S. meet the criteria for a trial with a new drug, but only about 4 percent end up in such tests, according to National Cancer Institute estimates, and some specialists say the real number is even lower.

The main reason for the massive shortfall is that in the nonacademic community hospitals where most patients are treated, doctors do not feel they have the time, the incentives, or the support to learn about available trials, to qualify and enroll patients, or to provide the extra follow-up care such trials often entail.

A National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study concluded that “community practitioners lack the needed infrastructure and support to actively participate in clinical trials”. A study in the clinical cancer journal CA called trial enrollment “embarrassingly low” and blamed it, in part, on “a lack of knowledge about available studies by community oncologists, a lack of time or interest, or a lack of resources to support the cost of performing clinical trials”. Because nationally about 85 percent of patients end up at community hospitals, most of the low participation in trials is attributable to the failure of those hospitals to enroll their patients.

The enrollment problem also handicaps research. Lack of patients forces many trials to stop before getting results, ending the progress of many promising treatments. Most trials are at least delayed by patient enrollment shortages. About one out of six of all trials never manage to recruit a single patient.

Clinical trials can be redesigned to reduce the burden on community hospital physicians, shifting more of the workload to the research centers that originate the trials. The biggest physician barrier was time constraints.

What seems poised to effect the most change is a combination of approaches: trial researchers who get out into communities and market their work to local doctors, trial designs that reduce physician workload, and tools that automate patient-trial matching and related tasks.

Similar to clinical trials, medical advances are increasingly dependent on the analysis of enormous datasets – as well as data that extends beyond any one agency or enterprise. As connected healthcare devices flourish, at-home and remote monitoring has increased and big data analytics advances at a staggering rate, the stakes and the ability to use, misuse, and abuse confidential data has risen significantly.

Extensive data, mostly filed away in the form of medical records, has accumulated as the result of years of doctor’s examinations and treatments. If that data was combined in a large corpus of numerous patients suffering similar ailments, common patterns applicable beyond specific instances would become apparent revealing how medical conditions are possibly related beyond numerous individual occurrences. Medical advances are increasingly becoming dependent upon related developments in non-medical fields; e.g., robotics for more precise control than possible by human surgeons, big-data analytics for determining ailment correlations, artificial intelligence (AI) for diagnostic assistance, wearable biometric fitness trackers, etc.

Electronic healthcare records, personal fitness devices, connected home monitoring systems, and a variety of other sensors, machines, and systems are pushing the boundaries of medicine in new directions. As a result, researchers, physicians, and other practitioners, using big data analytics and machine learning, can spot patterns, trends, and causalities that would otherwise escape human detection. This makes it possible to improve therapies, procedures, and drugs while improving diagnostics and care for individual patients.

As a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed by Congress in 2009, all public and private healthcare providers and other eligible professionals were required to adopt and demonstrate “meaningful use” of electronic medical records (EMR) by 1 January 2014 in order to maintain their existing Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement levels. Currently, medical records must only be maintained for at least 11 years or until the patient reaches the age of majority plus six years, whichever is longer. This is much too short a requirement for considerable long-term research which requires full lifetime reports.

While the mandate prompted significant growth in health informatics, an interdisciplinary field of study that merges information technology and healthcare, essentially no standard formats for maintaining that data yet exist. Neither healthcare providers or researchers therefore normally have access to a patient’s complete and accurate medical records.

Greater portability of data, greater interoperability between systems, and a more coordinated approach to patient care is crucial. A national medical record database or depository able to store medical data in a common format available for research is urgently needed. Additionally, all health-related data, including medical, psychiatric, and genetic sequences, must be included.

Regulators and patient advocates have for years pushed for data-sharing standards within the medical sector to make it easier for records to flow between hospitals and doctors’ offices. The lack of interoperability has made it a challenge for consumers to access high-quality care and has led to unnecessary medical errors.

While a comprehensive standard for medical data does not currently exist, progress is being made. Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources[4] (FHIR) is a standard describing data formats and elements and an application programming interface (API) to enable the electronic exchange of protected health information among healthcare professionals. It includes diagnostic data, clinical health data, and administrative information. The FHIR specification is expected to become the next-generation standard for inter-organizational health information exchange and healthcare companies can now build on the progress of FHIR connecting data from specialties that use their own unique data-management techniques.

Medical errors currently contribute to about 250,000 deaths a year in the U.S. alone according to a 2016 study conducted by Johns Hopkins Medicine[5]. Roughly one-third of medical malpractice claims can be directly linked to failures in communication, either between the doctor and their patient or between medical professionals. While numerous errors contribute to such problems, many are procedural. AI assisted error checking systems are being further developed to help reduce many of the more common mistakes. Without record standards, these applications must be specifically written for each set of data records.

AI-determined correlation would facilitate researchers in identifying likely trial subjects and cause/effect relationships. Genome-wide association studies, which look for links between particular genetic variants and incidence of disease, are the basis of much modern biomedical research but databases of genomic information pose privacy risks and many people are understandably reluctant to contribute their genomic data to biomedical research projects[6].

Patient privacy becomes a significant concern for any data storage facility. As more fitness devices, medical monitoring devices, and advanced analytics are developed and come into use, systems must address the often-competing interests of putting data to maximum use but also protecting it. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University recently unveiled a system for shielding the privacy of people who contribute their data to genomic studies based on a process called secret sharing which diffuses sensitive data across multiple servers, none of which can deduce the data by themselves.

Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have announced plans to increase their share of the healthcare market. Apple has expanded into virtual medical research using its iPhone and Apple Watch. Microsoft has introduced cloud-based tools to help health systems share medical data. Last year, Amazon joined JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway in a venture to try to improve care and reduce costs for their employees in the U.S.

Google’s health efforts include a push to use AI to read electronic health records and then try to predict or more quickly identify medical conditions. They will partner with Ascension medical systems which operates 150 hospitals in 20 states and the District of Columbia to store all Ascension patient’s data on Google’s cloud computing platform. While it is legal for health systems to share patients’ medical information with business partners like electronic medical record companies, many patients do not trust Google which has paid multiple fines for violating privacy laws with their personal medical details.

Apple updated its iPhone Health app so users can see their available medical data from hospitals and clinics in addition to existing health app medical data from multiple providers whenever they choose. Johns Hopkins Medicine, Cedars-Sinai, Penn Medicine, and several other participating hospitals and clinics are some of the first to make this data available to their patients. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) launched Health Records to select patients this past summer.

Amazon is marketing its data storage experience as way to achieve true interoperability encompassing not just data interoperability but semantic and syntactic interoperability. Specific announcements of additional prospective users are so far limited.

Microsoft began marketing its HealthVault designed to be an online, encrypted vault, where U.S. users could store and manage their health records in 2007 but recently terminated the service. It now is promoting its Azure to the health and life sciences industry as a method of developing connected solutions that engage patients and empower care teams while saving costs by improving clinical and operational efficiency and has announced a number of users including Children’s Mercy Hospital, IRIS Healthcare, Roche Diagnostics, Merck KGaA, and others.

Electronic medical record (EMR) systems are becoming increasingly popular, as the healthcare industry is moving toward digitization. Government initiatives, such as encouraging physicians to adopt electronic health records, investing in training healthcare information technology workers, and establishing regional extension centers to provide technical and other advices are triggering the EMR market’s growth.

Moreover, factors, like the rising need for integrated healthcare systems, big data trends in the healthcare industry, and technological advancements in the field of data storage are driving the growth of the EMR market. On the other hand, factors, like data privacy concerns, high initial investment, shortage of properly trained staff, and inter-operability issues are the primary restraints in market growth.

It is estimated[7] that the electronic health record market will surpass $30 billion by 2026 representing an average annual growth rate of 5.5 percent from 2019 to 2026. If the true potential of these developments is to be realized, it is imperative that standards be developed insuring interoperability for data sharing and research. Rather than the domain of any single provider, these data must be available to researchers throughout the entire field.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Francis Sellers Collins is an American geneticist who discovered genes causing genetic diseases and led the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) public research consortium in the Human Genome Project (HGP).

[2] Greengard, Samuel. Finding a Healthier Approach to Managing Medical Data, Communications of the ACM, https://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2018/5/227203-finding-a-healthier-approach-to-managing-medical-data/fulltext, May 2018, pp31-33.

[3] Freedman, David H. Clinical Trials Have The Best Medicine But Do Not Enroll The Patients Who Need It, Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/clinical-trials-have-the-best-medicine-but-do-not-enroll-the-patients-who-need-it/, January 2019, pp60-65.

[4] Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), eCQI Resource Center, https://ecqi.healthit.gov/fhir, 5 November 2019.

[5] Prater, Valerie S. Confidentiality, Privacy And Security Of Health Information: Balancing Interests, Johns Hopkins Medicine, News Release, https://healthinformatics.uic.edu/resources/articles/confidentiality-privacy-and-security-of-health-information-balancing-interests/, 3 May 2016.

[6] Hardesty, Larry. Protecting Confidentiality In Genomic Studies, MIT News, http://news.mit.edu/2018/protecting-confidentiality-genomic-studies-0507, 7 May 2018.

[7] Electronic Health Record Market Future Prospective And Rapid Technological Advancements, Computerworld, https://www.computerworld.com.au/mediareleases/36279/electronic-health-record-market-future/, 18 November 2019.

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With Friends Like These

It seems to me….

Middle East history is replete with examples of missed and lost chances to make peace.” ~ Richard N. Haass[1].

The Middle East has been a major conundrum for the U.S. since approval of the Balfour Agreement (which was opposed by both Roosevelt and Churchill). It is difficult to discern the U.S.’s Middle East policies; especially since our supposed friends also act like our enemies. We remain “friends” with countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that continually act in opposition to us but break our treaty agreement with Iran which had adhered to a signed accord. It is quite possible that the U.S. in fact does not have any coherent policy toward the Middle East.

It always is advisable to know who are one’s enemies. It is not always that clear. It might be that who we consider our better friend actually is our enemy. The U.S.’s only actual friends in the Middle East are Israel, who is dependent on the U.S. for its very existence, and the Kurds, who we recently betrayed.

Saudi Arabia, while supposedly a U.S. ally, has until recently constituted a larger threat to the U.S. than Iran. Not only is it from where the majority of the World Trade Center bombers originated, it also finances the Madrassahs, the radical Islamic missionaries whose religious schools spread their Wahhabis doctrine of extremist teaching and hatred throughout the Islamic world. These Islamic-extremist Wahhabis religious schools teach and foment radicalism throughout the area. The overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful and tolerant but the extremist Wahhabi and Salafist sects, primarily funded by the Saudis, Qataris, and Kuwaitis, represent a significant philosophical strain within Sunni Islam that is a clear and present danger to the rest of the world.

For years Saudi Arabia seemed inert, relying on its vast oil wealth and the might of its U.S. patron to buy quiet at home and impose stasis on its neighbors but as oil prices have tumbled, the U.S. has stepped back from leadership in the Middle East. The visible result is the brutal treatment of dissent at home and assertiveness abroad.

Low prices are a time-bomb for a country dominated by oil and a government that relies on it for up to 90 percent of its revenues. Their budget deficit swelled in 2016 to 15 percent of GDP. There remains much in the Saudi budget that could be cut but that would be a perilous undertaking requiring dismantling a system where petro-cash, not taxes, pays for free education and healthcare as well as highly subsidized electricity, water, and housing.

Their economy is chronically unproductive and dependent on foreign labor. Two-thirds of Saudi workers are employed by the government where it has been too easy for Saudis to avoid actually working. With the workforce projected to double by 2030, the country will prosper only if the lethargic statist economy is turned around, diversifying from oil, boosting private business, and introducing market-driven efficiencies. The government announced plans to do this by getting the state out of all but its essential functions but, at least so far, the new regime has shown resistance to any meaningful political reform.

From health and education to state-owned companies, the new generation of Saudi leadership is looking to the privatization and private provision of public services. It has plans for charter schools, an insurance-based, privately provided healthcare system and is supposedly considering either the complete or partial privatization of more than two dozen agencies and state-owned companies including the national airline, telecoms firm, and power generation. Their biggest corporation is Aramco, a national icon and almost certainly the world’s most valuable firm.

Pakistan, another supposed U.S. ally, has knowingly harbored members of the Afghan Taliban and Quetta Shura. Pakistan has alleged that the U.S. has done little to control security in Kunar Province of Afghanistan where Pakistan’s most-wanted terrorist, Mullah Fazlullah spent time in hiding. Furthermore, as a result of the Lahore incident and black operation in the country which killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden several years ago, followed by the Salala incident, relations between the two countries have become increasingly strained.

Pakistan is identified as a base for terrorist groups and their supporters operating in Kashmir, India, and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s army has conducted unprecedented but largely ineffectual counterterrorism operations in the country’s western tribal areas where Al Qaeda operatives and pro-Taliban militants are said to enjoy “safe haven”. U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that the cross-border infiltration of Islamist militants from Pakistan into Afghanistan is a key obstacle to ever neutralizing the Taliban insurgency.

Afghanistan’s Taliban movement itself began among students attending Pakistani religious schools (madrassas). Many of Pakistan’s madrassas are financed and operated by Pakistani Islamist political parties such as the JUI-F (closely linked to the Taliban), as well as by multiple unknown foreign entities, many in Saudi Arabia. As many as two-thirds of the seminaries are run by the Deobandi sect, known in part for traditionally anti-Shia sentiments and at times linked to the Sipah-e-Sahaba terrorist group.

A key aspect of the madrassas’ enduring appeal to Pakistani parents is the abysmal state of the country’s public schools. Pakistan’s primary education system ranks among the world’s least effective.

I am not defending Iran – it remains a rogue state and a major sponsor of regional terrorism. Iran, being a major backer of terrorism throughout the Middle East, is definitely not a friend of the U.S. (though since the U.S. was instrumental in overthrowing their duly elected government, has constantly sought regime change, and recently assassinated a much revered national hero and leading government leader, that probably should be expected).

Despite Trump’s decision not to recertify what he labeled the “terrible” Iran deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has largely remained in effect though Iran recently took another step away from the JCPOA by injecting gas into centrifuges at its Fordow facility which could produce enriched uranium to be used possibly either for nuclear energy or, if highly enriched, a weapon. Iran said it would reverse any enrichment if the JCPOA’s other signatories; Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia; provide economic relief from crippling U.S. trade and industry sanctions. Considering the latest deterioration of U.S./Iranian relations, it is questionable if that will remain true.

Europe strongly condemned Trump’s decision, and along with China and Russia, pledged to remain committed to the JCPOA as long as Iran complies, even if the U.S. backs out. Were such a breakdown between the U.S. and other permanent UN Security Council members (as well as Germany) to occur, the U.S.-led sanctions regime against Iran could well disappear as European, Chinese, and Russian firms deepen business ties with Iran.

The continued success of the JCPOA is also vital for the prospects of a peaceful resolution of tensions with North Korea. Indeed, some argue that the JCPOA could be a blueprint for a similar agreement with North Korea. By contrast, the U.S. has almost certainly lost negotiating credibility with North Korea after Trump pulled out of the Iranian agreement.

Trump’s policies, the withdrawal from the JCPOA, and the stiffening of sanctions, are weakening Iran’s moderate factions and strengthening its hardliners. Trump has irritated the allies, opened a new avenue for Russian and Chinese influence in the Middle East, and heightened the probability Iran will revive its nuclear program, all for the sake of killing a deal that blocked this program for the next two decades and in pursuit of an unrealistic fantasy, which has been punctured by so many other dark escapades in U.S. foreign policy, that ousting an unfriendly regime will bring to power a much friendlier one.

Trump’s constant barbs against Iran come with political risk along with some potential political benefits: talking tough on Tehran will please Trump’s Republican base as well as Israel and some Arab states. But the broader reaction has been to expose how isolated Trump is on the world stage, especially after unilaterally quitting the JCPOA. European leaders are sympathetic to many of Trump’s complaints about Iran as they are concerned about Iranian aid to terrorist groups implicated in attacks across Europe. But these same allies believe Trump should have built on the nuclear agreement instead of walking away from it. They also fear the U.S. is doing what it can to collapse the regime without a long-term strategy which could result in additional political chaos and human suffering in the already volatile Middle East.

For most of the past half-century, U.S. leaders knew who their friends and enemies were and had a fairly clear sense of what they were trying to accomplish but not now. U.S. strategy has failed to consider the dramatic changes that have transformed the Middle East’s strategic landscape. Our current Middle East strategy is not working and principles that shaped U.S. policy in the past are no longer helpful.

If the strategic importance of a region is declining, if none of the local actors deserve unvarnished U.S. backing, if our best efforts make both friends and foes angry at us, then maybe we should stop trying to fix problems that we have neither the wisdom nor the will to address. In the end, the fate of the Middle East is going to be determined by the people who live there and not by us, though we might be able to play a constructive role on occasion. We have long recognized the benefits of coaching from the sidelines rather than getting bloodied on the field. The difficulty has been translating that strategy into a viable and sustainable long-term policy. So far, it has not been successful.

The U.S. will never be able to solve all the problems in the Middle East but should admit it shares culpability for their origin. Our premature abandonment and lack of support for the Afghanistan following their defeat of the Soviet Union allowed the Mujahideen to transition into the Taliban. Our unwarranted overthrow of Iraq freed Iran to pursue regional terrorism. The list goes on….

Perhaps reversal of the U.S.’s moronic withdrawal from the JCPOA if Iran agrees to refrain from terrorist support would salvage some semblance of order. But now, there is much well-warranted resentment toward the U.S. by many nations in that area. The prospect of securing any lasting peace has been greatly diminished by U.S. policies. Regaining the trust and confidence of those nations will be challenging.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Richard Nathan Haass is an American diplomat. He has served as president of the Council on Foreign Relations and Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. Department of State.

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Why Write?

It seems to me….

Writers have opinions – that, in part, is why they write. Therefore they have strong likes and dislikes.” ~ Frank Delaney[1].

Everyone who has ever attempted to write can relate to occasional assaults of lack of confidence – does what I write actually matter? Does anyone out there actually care? Why do I actually do this? At those times, even the most sincere commendations by our peers do little to rout these fears.

I never began writing my weekly ramblings with any expectation that anyone would ever read them; I never thought anyone would be interested in what I might think – never considered just how many people are out there, many with interests similar to my own. I wrote simply to express what I thought about some topic – frequently only rants (at least partly motivated by frustration). It was a surprise when people began subscribing or following what I posted – which to me seemed mostly a waste of their time that they presumably could have spent more productively. Now, after almost ten years of years writing and posting “articles” on essentially a weekly basis, I realize I do want them to stand for something and regret not having expended greater effort to promote them.

I probably should disclose that I was employed a number of years ago as a technical writer and editor and at one time managed a technical publications group. This should not be construed that I have ever professed to have any tangible ability in this field. Professional writing is hard work and I respect those with the talent to be successful writers. The books I wrote heavily relied on the ability of a very capable editor.

I therefore do not pretend to be a writer; rather merely only a purveyor of words. I do not have any pretense of being even an average writer – I break too many of the supposed rules and guidelines to avoid censor by the Grammar Police who seek to impose their strictures of good grammar upon those who attempt to hopefully place somewhat readable markings upon paper. I have read numerous books about how to write, and I’m sure most are quite good – I mainly have chosen to ignore them. Basically, each of us must decide for whom we are writing. While I continue to purchase and read these guides, and have a bookshelf full of them, each of us must write in a manner comfortable to us rather than how someone else thinks we should. The rules they provide are basically sound and I’m sure, if followed, would improve the quality of what I write. Damn the torpedoes![2] Regardless of readability ratings, I’ll write for myself.

Some people seem capable of sufficiently composing their thoughts to be able to directly transfer them to paper. I wish I had that ability as it frequently would be significantly simpler and faster to dictate rather than to write. Instead, I adhere to the two steps forward, one backwards form of writing. I will write one or two lines and then go back and edit what I have just written. This usually leads to another line or two of text and the entire process is repeated. Even then, when I read something I wrote several weeks, months, or even years prior, I realize what I had actually said was not always what had been intended.

I will not attempt to claim that my writing ability is very good; possibly barely adequate at best. If I have any creativity, it is in taking a scrap – perhaps only a phrase, sentence, or paragraph – one from here and another from there and assembling them into a collage representing my opinion or thoughts about some subject.

As said, I know what I should do – but then choose to write in a manner comfortable to me. This is not done out of arrogance or disrespect for any potential reader, it basically is just for whom I am writing. My words are neither inspiring nor will be long remembered. This is not rationalization, just being realistic – what I write is primarily for my own personal benefit.

I’m occasionally appalled when I realize how little new or unique there is in what I actually write. There are times when certain aspects of my writing seem very similar to written stuttering. Mostly just the same somewhat trite arguments made many times before only stated somewhat differently. All that I have to say (or have already said) has already been previously said many times in the past much more fluently by others more intelligent and better informed than me.

Looking back at what I have written in the past, it is very obvious I am merely repeating similar major themes previously addressed without saying very much that is actually new; there is only so much that can be said on any subject prior to redundantly repeating what earlier was said but using different words. While there might be slightly different percentages or supporting arguments, the conclusions and recommendations are usually basically the same. My beliefs slightly evolve over time but at least I seem to be relatively consistent.

It has been suggested several times that I submit what I write to some journal but having worked with editorial staff in the past, greatly appreciate the freedom to be able to say whatever I want. Something I write is bound to eventually draw the ire of almost everyone. Lack of editorial restrictions provides the opportunity to express myself or say what I want unimpeded.

The number of times I have written about some topic does not totally reflect my actual interests. I do not select a topic about which to write as much as about whatever seems of interest at the time. Frequency does not therefore accurately indicate the priority in which I consider some topic.

There are times when I am unable to think of anything about what to write but sit down with pen and paper and somehow thoughts seem to arrive. It must be interesting to write fiction and discover how a story unfolds. I’ve always been told that one does not so much write a story but that it writes itself. One writer told me of his surprise when who he initially considered to be his central character died in the third chapter. There probably is at least some truth that we never are totally sure how something we are in the process of writing will turn out until it is completed.

I attempt to understand what I consider to be important issues but fully acknowledge not being a seer with sufficient perspicacity and insight to answer every question. Similarly, I do not profess to be smarter or better informed than anyone else. I only wish for my voice to count in what I believe. I want a megaphone that will enable me to shout to the masses. I want what I say to be attacked and to have the soapbox from which to defend what I have said.

Granted I primarily write for myself but also acknowledge having an ego and desiring the approbations of those who take the time to read those words. This is not intended as a complaint as any blame is admittedly entirely my own. I admit that I sometimes feel I’m writing simply to hear my own voice. Regardless of whether anyone is listening to what I say or if it actually has any influence, I fully intend to continue saying what I believe is important to be heard. If repeated sufficiently often, it hopefully will have some effect.

Still, I frequently question the relevance of much that I write. There are many times when I feel I am merely shouting into the wind; my voice carried away unheard. My thoughts, concerns, fears, hopes – all to no avail. Is it all for naught? Granted most of what I write is nothing substantial – but I still would like those nothings to actually be something. I believe in the basic correctness of what I write and know there are others that agree. But if so, why do I feel unheard? Regardless, I intend to continue though there are times when it feels like a very lonely battle.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Frank Delaney was an author, a broadcaster on both television and radio, journalist, screenwriter, playwright, lecturer, and a judge of many literary prizes.

[2] Attributed to James Glasgow Farragut during the U.S. Civil War in the Battle of Mobile Bay. Mobile, Alabama, on 5 August 1864 which was the Confederacy’s last major open port on the Gulf of Mexico.

Posted in Blog, Blog, Blog, Grammar, Grammar Police, Publication, Writers, Writing, writing | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Celebrating Christmas

It seems to me….

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.” ~ Calvin Coolidge[1].

While they differ substantially, all families typically share some traditional way in which they celebrate end of year holidays whether as Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, the winter solstice, or in some other manner. Though varied based on geography, religion, family history, etc., the one aspect that unites and brings them together is the desire to spend time with those they love. The holidays are a special time for some, perhaps the only time all year they get to see other family members. As children, spouses of children, and grandchildren arrive, those traditions necessarily evolve to accommodate additional participants and customs.

Having been raised as a Christian, most of the following remarks will address the observance of Christmas though this should not be misconstrued as advocating its celebration rather than any holiday enjoyed by others.

There is not any “true meaning” of Christmas – rather, there are as many meanings as there are people. It is a time which can be many things. For some, it may be a time to

decorate the home, to revel, or even for licentious behavior and overindulgence. The Christmas season is extremely commercialized and to some it is a time to capitalize on the occasion. For many, it is time to practice the custom of exchanging gifts. For still others, it is a time for family and friends to get together and share one another’s company. For many, Christmas is a way of life; a way to worship God; a religious holiday or season. For many Christians, it is the season to celebrate and commemorate the birth of Christ.

There isn’t any biblical entreaty for mankind to commemorate the birth of Christ. In fact, observance of birthdays by early Christians was condemned as a pagan practice; it was considerable sinful even to contemplate observing Jesus’ birthday. It is not known who originated the observance as Christmas. It definitely was not observed at the time of the Apostles; in fact, the earliest historical record of its celebration was around 336 A.D.

Originally there were many pagan festivals coinciding with the winter solstice. Northern European tribes celebrated their chief festival of Yule to commemorate the rebirth of the Sun. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia (December 17th) in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. There were followers in Rome of the Persian god Mithra, Sun of righteousness, whose birth date (December 25th) was known as the “Birthday of the invincible Sun”. Mesopotamians performed rituals to their god Marduk. Greeks offered sacrifices to their chief god Zeus.

The Christmas tree, including varieties other than fir such as pine or oak, were worshiped as a symbol of eternal life. Some scholars trace the origin of the modern Christmas tree back to the eighth century when Boniface, an English missionary, erected a fir tree. Some date the modern tree back to the sixteenth century coming out of Germany.

Mistletoe also is derived from pagan practices – believed to have magical powers or properties – and burned as a sacrifice on an altar. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe evolved from enemies meeting under it, dropping their weapons, and embracing one another.

Evergreen holly was also worshiped by pagans as a promise of the Sun’s return. Druids considered it a fertility symbol with the red berries representing menstrual blood. Legends surrounding holly include the belief that it might have been used as the crown of thorns placed on Christ’s head. Legend holds that the berries were initially white but turned red when the blood of Christ fell from his head onto the berries, all leading to the origin of the Christmas wreath.

In the fourth century, Christians began celebrating Christmas in an attitude and manner similar to how pagans celebrated the winter solstice: with much impiousness and intoxication. The observance and merrymaking of early Christmas, where reveling would go on for days or weeks, has been considerably ameliorated since then as a result of Protestant influence. When Puritans came to power in England in 1642, celebration of Christmas was even declared illegal.

Pleasant memories of family gatherings are constructed from being together and the accumulation of shared experiences. But such encounters do not always ensue as desired.

Distances or other commitments frequently prevent some family members from participating every year; e.g., husbands and wives might wish to alternate years between their respective families. It might not always be only immediate family members as many include close friends without family or relatives for them to visit. Any Christmas-related travel can quickly become objectionable: weather, crowded airports, construction, traffic delays, accidents… making the journey substantially less than pleasant.

Whenever families gather, whether for holidays or other special occasions, it is generally expected that any personal animosities remain unexpressed for the duration of the event. Parents always hope siblings will remain best of friends but similar to any other comparable grouping, some will remain closer than others – marriage, life choices, education, etc. – the causes differ. Hopefully, as progenies age, the bond once shared as young children will once again emerge.

Problems can partly originate from the additional demands Christmas imposes on everyone’s already limited spare time and other resources. Christmas always is a good excuse for a family gathering but it unfortunately also has an implied expectation of an exchange of gifts, at least among immediate family members. Only rarely, possibly just for young children, does anyone normally have any idea of what to get for even those very well known.

The tradition of exchanging gifts at what is now Christmas is another ancient custom derived from pagan celebrations predating the start of Christianity. The impossibility of finding appropriate gifts for those on one’s gift list only adds to the frustration.

Frequently gifts are either something one would like for themselves (but not necessarily by the recipient), food items (which may or may not be eaten), or some last-minute desperation purchase no one really wants and will be quickly discarded. Just because the giver likes something doesn’t mean anyone else will. Even if given a specific suggestion (request), it is quite probable that it will not be exactly what was desired. Clothing is essentially impossible to buy for someone else – it normally will be the wrong size, color, style, etc. Most people are tired of receiving gifts that have little to do with their needs, interests, or style but the tradition persists.

Gift vouchers or gift cards might seem practical and sensible but are not “Christmassy” and do not provide any of the joy normally associated with Christmas. Most people hate either giving or receiving any kind of voucher or gift card. Regardless of how much thought might have been put into them (or rationalization about how they allow the receiver to get whatever they really want), they always seem indifferent and uninteresting.

Christmas for many is also a time of generosity and sharing whether it is just throwing a few coins into a Salvation Army bell ringer’s bucket or the giving of one’s time and effort when they could be warm and comfortable at home.

Regardless of how you choose to celebrate the holidays, may they bring health, wealth, love, and happiness.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Calvin Coolidge was a Republican lawyer and politician who served as the 30th U.S. President. Born in Vermont, he was active in Massachusetts state politics eventually being elected governor.

Posted in Christianity, Christmas, Christmas, Druid, England, Family, Friends, Gift Card, Greece, Greece, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Kwanza, Marduk, Marduk, Mesopotamia, Mithra, Mithra, Pagan, Persia, Romans, Rome, Salvation Army, Saturnalia, Traditions, Travel, Winter Solstice, Yule | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Domestic Political Threat

It seems to me….

People might not protest for overtly political or social causes, but when they can’t feed themselves and their family, they will take to the streets.” ~ Marcus Samuelsson[1].

The U.S. faces a number of critical challenges but perhaps the most threatening is the breakdown of political compromise resulting in the possibility of an elected political leader attempting to impose a totalitarian governance supposedly for the “good” of the nation. Though most people consider the possibility highly improbable, that also was widely believed in Chile, the German Weimar Republic, and other nations until after it had actually occurred.

The primary risk is in one political party gaining sufficient power to stack the courts with sympathetic judges, manipulate voter registration, using the courts to challenge election outcomes, and, finally, invoking “law-enforcement” to use the police, National Guard, army reserve, or army to suppress political opposition[2].

It has frequently been observed that democracy contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction[3]. While political polarization constitutes the single greatest threat facing the U.S. today, it hardly is our only serious problem. Other major threats are social and economic inequality and our failure to adequately invest in those aspects which provide the foundation of our social and economic strength: healthcare, education, infrastructure, and research.

There now is a new generation of Republicans no longer familiar with our nation’s tribulations in the Joseph McCarthy[4] era who need to learn the lessons from back then anew as many of the same tactics are being employed by Trump today.

Beginning in 1950, McCarthy became the most visible public face of a period in the U.S. in which Cold War tensions fueled fears of widespread Communist subversion. He alleged that numerous Communists and Soviet spies and sympathizers had supposedly infiltrated the U.S. federal government, universities, film industry, and elsewhere. Ultimately, the smear tactics that he used led him to be censured by the U.S. Senate. The term “McCarthyism” is commonly used today to mean demagogic, reckless, and unsubstantiated accusations, as well as public attacks on the character or patriotism of political opponents. This tactic, unfortunately, should seem all too familiar to us today.

Most of the weapons Trump attempted to use in the weeks leading up to the 2018 midterm elections were rhetorical featuring a mix of lies and false inducements that failed to carry the day. Now, Trump will likely conclude they were too timid but it is unclear how much further he might go in 2020 when his own name is on the ballot – or possibly even sooner if he considers his impeachment to be a likely possibility.[5]

A State of Emergency is a situation in which a government is empowered to perform actions that under normal conditions would not be permitted. States of emergency can also be used as a rationale or pretext for suspending rights and freedoms guaranteed under the nation’s Constitution or basic laws. The National Emergencies Act regulates this process at the federal level and requires the President to specifically identify the provisions activated and to renew the declaration annually so as to prevent an arbitrarily broad or open-ended emergency. Presidents have occasionally taken action supposedly justified as necessary or prudent under a state of emergency only to have the action struck down in court as unconstitutional.

The moment the President declares a “national emergency”, a decision that is entirely within his personal discretion, he is able to set aside many legal limits solely on his authority.

Economic powers are among the President’s most potent legal weapons. The 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act allows the government to freeze assets, limit trade, and confiscate property in response to an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to the U.S. that supposedly originates substantially outside of it.

In 1942, Congress amended Section 706 of the Communications Act of 1934 permitting the President to shut down or take control of “any facility or station for wire communication” theoretically allowing the President to seize control of Internet traffic, impede access to certain websites, and ensure that Internet searches return pro-Trump content as the top results.

Americans might be surprised to learn just how readily the President can deploy troops inside the U.S. The Constitution does not prohibit military participation in police activity nor does the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 outlaw such participation. The Insurrection Act of 1807 provides the necessary authority for the President to deploy troops unilaterally, either because he determines that rebellious activity has made it “impracticable” to enforce federal law through regular means, or because he deems it necessary to suppress “insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy” (terms not defined in the statute) that hinders the rights of a class of people or “impedes the course of justice”.

The U.S. is confronting a wide variety of threats: political, economic, and social; but primarily a test of our national will and commitment. Trump, with broad backing from the Republican controlled Congress, has created the very real probability of an economic slowdown and possible recession by disregarding all accepted economic theory. The national debt to GDP ratio is in a range where debt default is a very real possibility. Unemployment has been below the Federal NAIRU estimate threatening future high inflation. The Federal interest rate is sufficiently low that a downturn would result in a liquidity crisis. Personal debt is at an all-time high; any substantial interest rate increase would result in a greater number of defaults than the mortgage defaults that triggered the 2008 recession. The Geni Coefficient is in a range where social unrest must be considered increasingly probable. There are now additional indicators of possible recession such as the recent bond inverted yield curve. Factor in that the U.S. economy is statistically overdue for a correction – the fear is that the longer it is delayed, the more severe it might be.

Given the increasing risk potential of an economic downturn due to the precarious state of our economy, Trump might very well use that pretext to declare a state of emergency and attempt to claim emergency authority. The fact that it has become more probable as a result of his extremely ill-advised policies would likely fail to dissuade any intemperate responses by him. He would claim that only he can save us from an emergency for which he is primarily responsible.

In the event of a downturn, Trump might declare a large tax reduction and additional import tariffs further increasing both the national debt and consumers costs. This could spark wide-spread demand by workers for wage increases fueling spiraling inflation long constrained below the theoretical NAIRU. There also would very likely be considerable social protest and strife due to inequality as corroborated by the Geni Coefficient. The ability of Federal Reserve to combat any downturn is extremely limited due to the combination of an excessively low federal interest rate and high national debt resulting in a liquidity crisis. The U.S. could subsequently default on national debt payments. The combination of social unrest and plummeting value of the dollar would threaten an economic collapse providing adequate justification for Trump to declare a State of Emergency.

The Republican Party has moved sufficiently to the extreme right to now advocate neofascist policies. Fascism, only slightly further to the extreme right, is the belief that liberal democracy is obsolete and the complete mobilization of society under a totalitarian one-party state to be necessary to prepare a nation for armed conflict or in response to economic difficulties. Many of Trump’s base believe Democrats are attempting to make the U.S. a socialist nation and might be inclined to support such a move.

Would Trump resort to such tactics? He has long signaled his disdain for the concepts of limited Presidential power and democratic rule; misuse of emergency powers is a standard gambit among leaders attempting to consolidate power. Authoritarians Trump has openly claimed to admire have all utilized this ploy including the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He has seen how effectively it worked for them and might very well be tempted to try it himself.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Marcus Samuelsson is an award-winning Ethiopian Swedish chef and restaurateur, cookbook author, philanthropist, and food activist.

[2] Diamond, Jared. Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations In Crisis, Little Brown, New York, Chapter 9. What Lies Ahead for the United States? Strengths and the Biggest Problem, 2019.

[3] Chou, Mark. Sowing The Seeds Of Its Own Destruction: Democracy And Democide, University of Melbourne, https://www.auspsa.org.au/sites/default/files/sowing_the_seeds_mark_chou.pdf.

[4] Joseph Raymond McCarthy was a two-term Republican U.S. Senator from Wisconsin who dominated the U.S. anti-communist movement in 1950–1954 until his career receded after censure by the Senate.

[5] Goitein, Elizabeth. The Alarming Scope Of The President’s Emergency Powers, The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/01/presidential-emergency-powers/576418/, January/February 2019 Issue.

Posted in Chile, Communications Act of 1934, Communism, Debt, Deficit, Donald Trump, Downturn, Elections, Erdoğan, Extremists, Fascism, Federal Reserve, Fiscal, GDP, GDP, Germany, Germany, Gini Coefficient, Gini Coefficient, Gini Index, Gross Domestic Product, Inequality, Insurrection Act, International Emergency Economic Powers Act, Joseph McCarthy, Liquidity, Liquidity-Trap, McCarthy, Militia, NAIRU, National Emergencies Act, Neo-Fascist, Philippines, Posse Comitatus Act, Protest, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Recession, Rodrigo Duterte, Russia, Section 706, Socialism, State of Emergency, Stimulus, Trump, Turkey, Weimar Republic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Economic Uncertainty

It seems to me….

A perfect storm is in the making: financial uncertainty, economic downturn, government cuts, rising unemployment and a future that looks less clear the more we try to fathom it.” ~ Jonathan Sacks[1].

Market volatility has recently been increasing, possibly the calm before the storm prior to the next global recession[2]. And it is possible that the next global downturn has already begun though many economy indicators still remain positive. Politicians in the U.S. talk about the robustness of the U.S. consumer as spending has been relatively strong given how late the nation is in the recovery cycle but under all the positive headlines, there is very real fragility.

Recent economic data, while not grave, has been somewhat weak. Traditional indicators of health or recession are occurring simultaneously making it difficult to predict economic outlook. Employment reports, while solid, are not exciting considering employment is currently being inflated by hiring for the holiday season and the 2020 census. Manufacturing appears to be slightly shrinking. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s “nowcast” puts growth at 1.5 percent and falling; not recession territory but sufficiently slow that the unemployment rate could start to slightly rise following the start of 2020. U.S. consumers are starting to pare back on credit card debt and even spending less on gasoline and motor fuel.

Economic growth has been slowing as a result of moderating consumer spending and a sharper contraction in business. Economic investment is likely losing momentum as the investment slump amid lingering trade uncertainties gradually results in slower hiring activity and private consumption. The Congressional Budget office (CBO) predicted the economy’s real output (i.e., output adjusted to remove the effects of inflation) would continue to modestly expand throughout the coming decade[3] which still remains quite possible.

At the corporate level, uncertainty leads to short-term focus. The uncertainty exists on multiple levels and many CEOs cite the challenges of globalization as their top concern though they also are finding it difficult to create more innovative cultures within their corporation. Policy uncertainty is undermining investment and future jobs and incomes. The pace of technological advancement is running at an exponentially increasing rate which makes capital investment in technology as much an asset as a handicap as it is difficult to develop a long-term technology strategy while remaining sufficiently flexible to take advantage of unforeseen technology developments. Risks of even weaker growth remain high, including from an escalation of trade conflicts, geopolitical tensions, the possibility of a sharper-than-expected slowdown in China, and climate change.

Despite facing challenges at the domestic level along with a rapidly transforming global landscape, the U.S. economy is still the largest and most important in the world. The U.S. economy represents about 20 percent of total global output.

While the labor market has recovered significantly and employment has returned to pre-crisis levels, the overall health of the U.S. economy remains open to widespread debate. In addition, even though the worst effects of the recession have faded, the economy still faces a variety of significant challenges going forward[4]. Deteriorating infrastructure, wage stagnation, rising income inequality, elevated pension and medical costs, as well as large current account and government budget deficits are all issues facing the U.S. economy.

Elsewhere in the world, the purchasing managers’ indexes, which are a very forward-looking indicator of the global economy, are quite weak in places like France and Germany as well as the U.S. Bond markets are sending some very negative signals. There have been inverted bond yield curves in both the U.S. and the UK which are widely considered one of the best and most important predictors of a possible upcoming recession.

The global economy is weakening, in no small measure because of a deep, widespread sense of uncertainty. One of the most important factors influencing the market within the near future is whether there will be a trade agreement between the U.S. and China; which by all indications will not happen prior to the upcoming U.S. Presidential election. Trump occasionally attempts to redirect attention from the economic impact of his trade war by delaying additional tariff increases to somewhat defer additional anguish throughout the 2019 Christmas shopping season. The U.S. has fundamentally demanded China make changes in its party, in its economy, and in ways that it feels to be fundamentally unfair. The Chinese have said that they will not accept anything less than a deal of equals; Trump is constitutionally incapable of crafting a win-win deal.

At a very fundamental level, monetary policy has probably reached its limit and fiscal policy is now needed to create new growth. Central bankers have been the primary arbitrators of U.S. monetary policy for the last decade, if not the last four decades, depending on where the marker is placed. And the recent rate cut by the Fed simply did not basically move the markets.

Political developments are adding to the uncertainty. In the U.S., no one knows if the 2020 presidential election will result in a second term for Donald Trump or a new Democratic administration governing from either the center or the far left. The range of possible policy scenarios – from antitrust actions against major digital platforms to universal health-care schemes and major changes in the tax system– is more expansive than it has been in decades.

The situation in Europe is not very different. With nationalism and populism (of the left and right) on the rise, anti-establishment parties have either gained traction or taken power in many countries. In light of these developments, the European Union seems increasingly unlikely to undertake sorely needed structural reforms. The only two leaders who could push through such measures, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, have been weakened politically. Merkel has announced that this term will be her last, and Macron has had to contend with widespread (and in many cases violent) protests since November.

The global economy is undergoing a major transition, owing to the rise of emerging economies, especially in Asia, and the digital transformation of business models and global supply chains. Services constitute a growing share of global trade and the search is on for new sources of comparative advantage. The location of final markets and the configuration of supply chains are in flux or being upended entirely.

Unfortunately, governments are gridlocked everywhere – leftwing parties are encountering difficulty sustaining meaningful momentum, rightwing parties seem in ascendance in many parts of the world. If the populous come to power, there may be substantial shifts in the license that companies have to do business as usual. All of which indicates we most likely are heading into the next global downturn.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Jonathan Henry Sacks, Baron Sacks MBE is a British Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, theologian, author, and politician who formerly served as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.

[2] Foroohar, Rana. Is A Global Recession On The Horizon?, Financial Times, https://www.ft.com/video/93b4ca05-9541-42fe-a9e6-0349d880df55, 14 August 2019.

[3] Whalen, Charles. Uncertainties In The Economic Outlook, Congressional Budget office, https://www.cbo.gov/publication/51967, 7 September 2016.

[4] U.S. Economic Outlook, FocusEconomics, https://www.focus-economics.com/countries/united-states, 19 November, 2019.

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