Friday, April 3, 2020

After COVID-19

“Nature doesn't ask your permission; it doesn't care about your wishes, or whether you like its laws or not. You're obliged to accept it as it is, and consequently all its results as well.”- Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Covid-19 Pandemic is like nothing we have seen in our lifetime. In terms of global impact, certainly not since WWII or the Great Depression. Those two events not only had devastating impact when they occurred, but went on to change the way people lived afterwards. The Great Depression brought New Deal style government intervention into our economy in ways never seen before. It also helped shape a generation of people who valued hard work and saving for the future. WWII made America a truly great global power for the first time and ushered in an era of prosperity and growth for the middle class. From the ashes of WWII and with the looming threat of Communism, the United States became the world’s leading force for economic expansion and globalization. But this all came with a price and we’ve been paying it for the last 40 years, mostly by going deeper in debt. After giving the world the shirts off our backs, we’ve been borrowing money for decades in order to buy those shirts back, along with sneakers, televisions, smart phones and automobiles.

And now we are going through another life-changing event. We will get through it. There will be new and better ways to treat and comfort the sick. Ultimately there will be a vaccine. We will put this behind us. But it will be a long time, perhaps a generation or two before it is forgotten… or at least until the next crisis comes along. And in its aftermath, things will change.

Here is a list of ten things which I predict are likely to happen after this pandemic is over.

_1 We will certainly be better prepared for something like COVID-19 in the future. It may not be enough and we may face something totally different. But there will be massive investment in preparation for everything we can imagine and, perhaps even for things unimaginable.

_2 The Federal government will take a more active role in healthcare. Some version of national healthcare or Medicare for all will be a reality before the end of this decade.

_3 The inevitable decline of brick and mortar retail will accelerate. What was likely to happen over the next ten years will happen within five.

_4 There will be a significant increase in telecommuting. Many workers will have demonstrated that they can do their jobs just as well from home, if not all the time, at least most of the time or often enough so as not to be needed in the office every day. This in turn will have major implications for where and how people choose to live, how often they trade cars and all of the services that rely on the masses commuting to work every day (fuel, food, parking, auto repair, office space, etc .).

_5 Business travel may never go back to the way it was before COVID-19. More people will realize that many of those in-person meetings weren’t really all that necessary, certainly not worth the time and expense and that most of what needs to be accomplished can be done just as well via video conference.

_6 International travel will be more restrictive and closely monitored. Be prepared for longer lines, more questions and someone taking your temperature.

_7 Western industrialized nations will insist on having more control over critical supplies, equipment and information; especially that which is related to healthcare, technology, energy and national defense.

_8 Hand-washing, social distancing, crowd-avoidance...a lot of people will keep doing these things long after the pandemic has passed. How that translates to attendance at concerts, sporting events, conventions, etc. remains to be seen. But my guess is that it may be a few years before we return to hugging the person next to us.

_9 More people will start eating at home and eating healthy. When restaurants reopen there will be a surge of returning customers who just need to get out and eat at their favorite places. But many will have found that preparing meals at home can be a lot healthier and a whole lot more affordable.

_10 There will be major reforms in the way senior care facilities are managed. Most people, especially those who have had an elderly family member in one of these places, already knew that there are often issues with the quality of care. But now after COVID-19 and with an aging population, most of whom vote, there will be plenty of pressure to clean up this industry.

These items are just the tip of the iceberg. There will be many more. That’s why it’s called a life-changing event.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Going Over The Cliff

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic several nations have taken the approach that the best way to deal with this virus is to allow their people to develop immunity, the immunity of the herd. Isolate and protect the most vulnerable citizens, but otherwise allow business as usual for the most part. They have imposed some restrictions, but nothing along the lines of what we are seeing in the United States and the majority of European countries. Great Britain took this approach for a few weeks before reaching the Reality Cliff. After looking over the edge as members of their herd starting plunging to their death, Great Britain’s leadership revised their strategy and started shutting things down.

Interesting thing though about herds and new viruses. They tend to come together forming a train that is impossible to stop. Especially if the virus is highly contagious and there is no vaccine. Sweden and Denmark continue to pursue this more relaxed approach to managing COVID-19, counting on the herd to quickly develop immunity and eventually shutdown the virus. But they are also imposing certain restrictions and my guess is those will increase in the days and weeks ahead. However, they may also find that the unstoppable train of the infected herd is already on its way to the Reality Cliff. Hopefully, these smaller, relatively healthy countries with above average healthcare networks will find a way to overcome what is coming their way.

In the meantime, the rest of us will continue to play “flatten the curve”. We also have summer heat on the way which should help in some parts of the world. But who knows what will happen as winter takes hold in the Southern hemisphere. Hopefully a vaccine is available sooner rather than later. But if it really is 12-18 months away, we may find ourselves living and dying on the curve again next winter, a herd without immunity staring over a different cliff…the one called Economic Reality.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Just Like The Flu….Only Different

I am skeptical by nature. I am just not a trusting person. I don’t trust the media to report honestly and fairly without bias. That would be any media. Their main objective is to grab the audience and keep them coming back. I don’t trust politicians, because…well, they are professional politicians. Their main objective is to get elected and re-elected…over and over. So they will say and do whatever it takes to do that. I don’t automatically trust scientists (and that would include those in medicine) because if you listen closely they always hedge their bets. They are rarely totally wrong or totally right. Reality is usually somewhere in the middle between the media’s worst case scenario and the scientists’ best case scenario. So when I see the world turning out the lights and hiding under the bed over COVID-19, I wonder how we seem to always end up at the “worst case scenario” end of the spectrum. (Lest we forget, remember the Y2K scare?)

The CDC reports that between 3000 and 49,000 people in the United States die of flu-related complications every year. In the 1990’s it has been reported that we averaged losing 36,000 people per year to the flu. It doesn’t seem to have gone down much in the 2000s and 2010s. In the winter of 2017-2018 the CDC reported that some 80,000 people died as a result of the flu. The highest death toll in 40 years! They also tell us that flu vaccinations are at best 40-60% effective in keeping someone from getting the flu. Sounds to me like we’ve been playing Russian roulette with flu viruses for a long-time.

So why the panic this time? What makes COVID-19 different? First of all, it’s the unknown factor. We don’t know how contagious it is? We don’t know how long it survives in the air or on surfaces. The experts are telling us this virus is a tough little survivor that doesn’t die quickly, remaining virulent for hours in the air and for days on certain surfaces. We don’t know the mortality rate for COVID-19 because we don’t know how many people actually have it. And we don’t have enough test kits to find out. And, oh by the way, we do know that we don’t have a vaccine for it.

Secondly, the media is streaming 24/7 coverage of COVID-19 and we are lapping it up. Never have so many heard so much, yet know so little about something that might kill them. I don’t fault the media nor do I fault the audience. Inquiring minds want to know. I’m as bad as anyone. I am constantly checking for updates. So we all know that this thing is out there… and we don’t know how to stop it. Scary.

Third, like most things these days, it’s being politicized. Even in normal times, the opposition party will blame the President for anything that goes wrong or might go wrong or might have gone better if something else had been done. That’s politics. But these are not normal times and we’re in an election year. There is literally nothing that Trump can do or say that will not be immediately and harshly criticized by Democrats and most of the media. He is also his own worst enemy and has lost a lot of credibility by too often not telling the truth and…well…by just being Trump. So the COVID-19 fire is constantly being refueled by anti-Trump political rhetoric.

Next, our culture has changed. We are increasingly fearful and overly protective. Much has been written about “helicopter” parenting, safe-spaces and emotional triggers. Anxiety and depression are at all time highs among teenagers and college students. There is a reason why so many young people are ready to give up on our way of life and embrace socialism. It’s a cry for help. And it’s not totally unwarranted. But that’s a whole other discussion. The point here is that in this climate of fear and anxiety, something like COVID-19 is always going to land on our doorstep wrapped as the worst case scenario.

And finally, there is Risk Management and Liability. No company, organization or institution can afford not to take every precaution to protect people. Especially, if other companies, organizations or institutions are doing so. Want to get sued for millions of dollars and lose. Go ahead and have that sporting event, or conference, or concert, or pressure your employees to come to work when they don’t feel good. Then some COVID-19 related death is connected back to your actions. Good luck with that. We live in a highly litigious society. Nuclear verdicts (settlements of tens and hundreds of millions) are becoming commonplace. This is big business and certain law firms are always looking for new targets. Mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic is prime.

So are we over-reacting? Not really. All things considered, we are responding rationally to an irrational situation. It is what it is. We cannot undo the media overkill. There is no stopping the political warfare. We are a fearful and anxious nation that no longer hopes for the best but always expects the worst. And there are those among us who have found ways to monetize that fear and anxiety and we will all end up paying for it.

Then there is COVID-19 itself. It really is a thing. And it might just be really bad, a lot worse than the flu viruses that we already know about. Some of which are resistant to our annual vaccinations and kill 30,000 of us every year. Or maybe it’s not worse. But why take the chance? I think I’ll go wash my hands and just stay home.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Not Pets

“Animals are not pets – they are not your cheap burglar alarm, or something which allows you to go out for a walk. They are not ours as decorations or toys, they are living beings. A dog is a feeling, whole individual, with emotions and interests, not something you ‘have’ ‘. - Ingrid Newkirk, President of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

Ok, I am on the record as a dog-lover. I love my dogs and, as much as dogs are capable of it, I think they love me. At least they act like they do. But they have a pretty great life, so it may just be an act on their part to make sure the food keeps coming, along with the ear-scratching, massages and belly-rubs. They also get to sleep in bed with my wife and I. So I am pretty sure they are onboard with being “pets”.

Ms. Newkirk goes on to say we should stop calling our pets “Pets”. Apparently words have deeper meanings, even to animals. How would you like being called a “pet”? Ms. Newkirk recommends that we call our furry friends ‘Companions’ rather than pets. Fair enough. But I think it’s even better if we call them by name. My dogs have names and they know them. They would be offended if I called them anything else.

Conservative pundits have had a good deal of fun at Ms. Newkirk’s expense saying this is taking political correctness to a silly extreme. That this is one more example of virtue-signaling progressives trying to make us feel guilty for just being human beings. Our mere existence is a threat to life on this planet and all creatures great and small.

I am inclined to give PETA and Ms. Newkirk a break. Animal rights activists have been fighting for the ethical treatment of animals since the 1800’s. And it has made a positive difference. The Brits were the first to enact legislation regarding the treatment of animals way back in 1876. In 1966, the United States finally got around to passing the The Animal Welfare Act and it has been updated and amended several times since then. We have established guidelines regarding the use of animals for medical research and testing. Most states and municipalities enforce animal cruelty statutes. And we spend billions of dollars on our pets. A lot of animals never had it so good.

Yet, we know that many animals never had it so bad. The industrialization of animal protein production is not something we want to think about. We like to think of cows grazing in green pastures, chickens running about trailed by fuzzy little chicks while the rooster sits on the fence and crows. Pigs wallowing in the mud and just being pigs. That’s pretty much what I saw as a child on my grandparent’s farm. Sure I remember animals being slaughtered and eaten. They were not romanticized and certainly not humanized. But they were respected and we gave thanks for the food they provided.

These days I try not to think too much about where that chicken breast, or hamburger or slice of bacon came from or what those animals went through in their short, single purpose existence. I rationalize it all by saying this is the only way to produce affordable food on the massive scale required to feed the world’s population. That millions of jobs and livelihoods depend on this industry. We are just doing what we have to do to survive. After all… animals are not pets.

“Here’s an assignment for my fellow Christians: Go to YouTube, search for any video of ‘slaughterhouse animal cruelty’, watch it, the whole thing, and ask yourself if that’s what God meant when He gave us dominion over animals.”
-Dr.Shenita Etwaroo”

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Impeachment Super Bowl

For months now Republicans have been predicting that the Democrats’ attempt to impeach Donald Trump would backfire on them. That their case for impeachment has been without merit , totally driven by partisan politics and the culmination of their on-going efforts to overturn the results of the 2016 election.

If this were a football game, one might say it was late in game, the Democrats were behind, out of time-outs and down to their final play. Time for a Hail Mary Pass… “Witnesses go deep on two”. Hut..Hut. The long, desperation pass falls incomplete. Final score Team Trump 51, Impeachers 49. Team Trump celebrates and taunts the Impeachers and their fans. Game over…or is it?

I think not. For you see Team Trump overlooked the obvious. Impeachment wasn’t the Super Bowl. It was a preseason game. And the Impeachers may just end up winning the Super Bowl by losing this meaningless game. The Super Bowl will be played later this year in November. Team Trump will go into the big game battered and bruised by a long, brutal campaign in the Court of Public Opinion. The public is not likely to buy their excuses for not allowing more witnesses to be heard. Team Trump’s legal arguments will fall on deaf ears in the Court of Public Opinion. The Court of Public Opinion always wants the rest of the story, more witnesses, more dirt….and ultimately closure, one-way or the other.

For Team Trump the months between now and November will be a constant barrage of questions, challenges and allegations. Impeachment may officially be over, but the game is just beginning. And Team Trump is already losing.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

A Party of One

The other day I took one of those “Who You Should Vote For” surveys. They ask questions about a wide variety of issues including education, science, electoral process, crime, immigration, social, economic, domestic policy, the environment, national security, transportation, foreign policy, healthcare, local politics/elections. My score ended up with a tie between Michael Bloomberg and Donald Trump at the top followed by Joe Biden and Amy Klobucher. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and the rest of the free stuff fun bunch lagged way behind.

I just happen to be one of those independents who refuses to believe that either party has all the answers. I tend to consider myself more of a pragmatist than an idealist when it comes to politics. I am also inclined to question anything that is said by those on the extreme ends of the political spectrum. I know where Fox News is coming from and how it slants its reporting and commentary. Same thing for MSNBC and CNN. I gave up on the networks years ago.

My positions on taxes, climate change, gun control, welfare, same-sex marriage, abortion, immigration and most issues are a mix of conservative and progressive. If weighed out, the scales tip more toward the conservative side for sure. But I am not 100% on either side on most issues. Just a few examples:

_Taxes. I think we should reduce the size and cost of government. There is way too much waste in government, especially in the federal government. So check me as a conservative there. However, I also think we should increase taxes on the wealthy. I’m ok with carrying National Debt and when necessary over-spending for a year or two. But, we are out of control and need more revenue to bring things back in line. Plus we know that we need to spend more on education, healthcare and infrastructure.

_Right to life. I am pro-life. But I am also a pragmatist. Women will have abortions. Always have and always will. So we should make it as safe as possible. However, there should be more done to counsel, support and encourage women to go ahead and have that child. Then give it up for adoption if that’s the best option. But, if the woman chooses abortion, so be it.

I am also a pragmatist when it comes to end of life issues. Terminally ill patients should have the option of ending their lives via assisted suicide. Some will ask how I can claim to be Christian and support such an idea. I honestly do not see how you can be a Christian and not support it.

And then there is the death penalty. I am generally opposed to it, because we know that sometimes juries get it wrong. But, in certain situations, for certain crimes, I think it is justified and I support it.

So when it comes to these life and death issues…am I conservative or progressive?

_Immigration. I am not for building a wall and I think we need more immigrants, not less. So does that make me a progressive? I am also for tighter border security and more restrictions, so I guess that makes me a conservative. I am for establishing a streamlined pathway to citizenship for illegals who have been in this country and stayed out of trouble for some period of time. And we need to move quickly to grant citizenship to “Dreamers” who were born here. So I guess that makes me a progressive. But wait, I think immigrants should be required to learn the English language and the history and culture of America. I suppose that makes me a conservative.

_Guns. I own guns. I have a permit to carry. I am a gun guy. That’s about as conservative as it gets. However, I don’t think civilians need high-capacity semi-automatic weapons. Certainly not military type assault-rifles. And we need tighter regulations on buying and selling guns. So maybe I am a gun-toting progressive.

_I tend to lean left on same sex marriage, but don’t think churches should be forced to perform such marriages. Perhaps I am more of a “civil union” conservative. Live and let live. Move on.

_I am all for renewable energy, clean air and clean water. But I am also a realist and fossil fuel still offers the biggest bang for the buck. I do believe the climate is changing and we have been in a warm cycle. We have been in warm cycles before and it’s not all about C02, although CO2 is probably making some contribution. Overall, I am a skeptic when it comes to the “science is settled” dogma that CO2 and human activity are the primary forces driving climate change. That makes me about as stone-age conservative as you can be these days.

Therefore, I have become a Party of One. If you have a brain and are willing to use it, feel free to join me.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Off The Mark

Every December I make predictions for the coming year. But unlike most people who make predictions, I actually go back and review the predictions I made the prior December. Usually I do ok. A few of the predictions are spot-on and some are close. Two or three are total misses. 2019 was mostly all misses. I mean I was way off the mark on most everything. But like a gambler who doubles down to catch up, I will make my predictions for 2020 and hope for the best.

But first, how far off the mark were my 2019 predictions? Judge for yourself.

_1. Alabama wins another National Title.
Grade C: They made it to the championship, but Clemson kicked their ass.

_2. The economy continues to slowdown, but we don’t go into a recession until 2020. The tariff wars cool off which helps stabilize the economy for now.
Grade B: I was right about the slowdown, but I don’t see a recession in 2020. The tariff wars have finally cooled off, but too late to avoid a significant negative impact on 2019.

_3. Oil prices remain relatively low.
Grade A: I think this one was fairly accurate

_4. The Democrats will spend most of their time investigating Trump and Trump’s associates, but they won’t pursue impeachment. They will talk about it a lot, but it’s not a battle they can win. (Unless of course Trump does something really crazy…which is always a possibility.)
Grade: F: While I was right about the Democrats investigating Trump, I was wrong in predicting they would not pursue impeachment. I guess you really can’t fix stupidity.

_5. Trump gets to fill another Supreme Court seat. Get your popcorn ready.
Grade F: Maybe this was more of a wish than a solid prediction.

_6. LA Rams beat the LA Chargers in the Super Bowl. Super Bowl television ratings are in the toilet.
Grade C: Well the Rams got there, but what was I thinking picking the Chargers to make it?

_7. Red Sox and Dodgers meet again in the World Series. This time the Dodgers win.
Grade F: Total miss

_8. I think we will get an infrastructure bill and immigration reform passed this year. Both parties realize that they have to get something done with the 2020 election coming up. I know it’s hard to imagine anything getting done in Washington, but it might just happen this year. Whatever gets passed it won’t be great, but maybe a step or two in the right direction.
Grade D: Of course I should have known Congress would accomplish nothing. They did pass a last minute highway bill which is better than nothing I suppose.

_9. Russia will continue to push the boundaries in the effort to expand its influence in the Middle East. They will take advantage of the lack of leadership in the West.
Grade B: I think this is sort of correct. I thought it would be more eventful, but Russia is taking every opportunity to play a larger role in that part of the world.

_10. The Best Movie award will go to another movie I have not watched, nor will I ever. (Unless it goes to Crazy Rich Asians…really good movie, two thumbs up)
Grade F: Green Book won and it is a great movie…which I did watch.

So now for those 2020 predictions…and you can take these to the bank.

_1. LSU wins the National Championship. Head Coach Ed Orgeron becomes spokesperson for the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association.

_2. Oil prices will remain stable. If there is any significant movement I think it will be downward.

_3. Climate Change Hysteria will increase. In this election year, it’s a popular drum to beat. Greta Thunberg wins a Nobel Prize.

_4. The Irishman wins the Academy Award for Best Movie. Robert De Niro's acceptance speech turns into a rant about Trump.

_5. I am picking the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers for the World Series match up. Astros win in six games. This is a lock. Bet the farm. Now.

_6. 49ers face the Ravens in the Super Bowl. Ravens win. No one cares.

_7. I am going to lose weight, again. 10 lbs minimum.

_8. Truck capacity tightens considerably. While freight volumes are likely to increase slightly, the major factor will be the exodus of smaller fleets from the industry. Insurance costs will be the final nail in the coffin for a lot of carriers. Expect rates to go up 5-7%.

_9. In the wake of Brexit, the U.S. and the U.K. reach an historic and HUGE trade agreement. Scotland decides to stay with the U.K. so they can sell more whiskey to Americans.

_10. And the Big One: The Democrats impeachment efforts will fail and then Trump will announce that he is NOT going to run for re-election. He won’t resign, he will just say he’s decided not to run. Mike Pence will be the Republican candidate with Nikki Haley as his running mate. It will be a close race. Once again, the Democrats win the popular vote, but lose on the electoral votes. I have no clue who will be on the Democratic ticket. It won’t matter. Trump will ride off into the sunset saying that he was responsible for the win and if he had run, it would have been a landslide…. and that he really was the greatest President ever. The Democrats will spend the next two years unsuccessfully trying to convict him of something….anything...there must be something…everyone knows it…right?

Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future, too.- Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of the Roman Empire 160-181 A.D.