Saturday, November 29, 2014
I am pasting in an op-ed in today's WSJ that will umbrella my blog on the strategic nature of the world's most traded commodity; Oil! Read the last paragraph slowly, please!
Nov. 28, 2014 6:59 p.m. ET
America’s unconventional oil boom continues to yield major benefits—economic and geostrategic. The latest evidence is OPEC’s decision on Thursday to defy expectations and maintain its current oil production target despite the steepest price decline since the 2008-2009 recession. The price of Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, plunged as a result to about $70 a barrel, continuing its decline from a peak of nearly $116 in June.
Not too many years ago the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries might have cut production to maintain higher prices. The cartel’s countries have long sought to keep prices high at a level consistent with a growing global economy, not least to keep the revenue flowing into government coffers. Rogue states such as Venezuela and Iran desperately need the cash flow.
But the cartel has lost much of its pricing power thanks in part to the revival in U.S. oil production. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing—business innovations done mainly on private land—have pushed U.S. oil output to its highest level since the 1980s.
The Energy Information Administration says U.S. production reached more than nine million barrels a day this year and is expected to keep climbing. OPEC is afraid that demand for its crude will keep falling as U.S. supply continues to grow and more of it makes its way to the global market as American export barriers fall.
One way to read the OPEC decision is therefore as a price war to shake marginal U.S. producers from the market. The U.S. shale boom and high global oil prices have encouraged new areas of production with widely varying break-even price levels. Much of such proven areas as the Bakken Shale in North Dakota can remain profitable even at $50 a barrel, by most estimates. The Eagle Ford Shale in Texas also has a relatively low break-even. But newer areas with higher exploration and development costs could suffer if prices keep falling.
That’s how markets are supposed to work, with supply and demand rather than a cartel of dictatorships setting prices. A lower oil price will mean pain for some U.S. producers, and it is showing up in lower share prices for energy companies.
But no boom lasts forever, and lower prices will discipline American drillers to focus their investments on the most promising areas and innovate further to reduce costs. A shake-out might have long-term benefits if it doesn’t go too far.
Meanwhile, lower oil prices are an unmitigated boon to American consumers. The average gasoline price per gallon in the U.S. fell to $2.79 on Friday, down 50 cents from a year ago. That’s a big difference to the average family filling up the SUV each week, especially wage earners who haven’t had an increase in their standard of living during this entire economic expansion. Consumers who feel less pinched might open their checkbooks for non-energy purchases.
Lower prices will also add to the economic pressure on some of the world’s worst dictators, notably Vladimir Putin . Russia doesn’t belong to OPEC but it has benefited to the extent that the cartel’s production controls have kept prices high. Already under pressure from EU and U.S. sanctions, Mr. Putin’s ability to buy domestic political support will decline along with oil prices.
All of these benefits are flowing from a U.S. oil boom that government didn’t predict and had almost nothing to do with. The political class has force-fed subsidies to renewable energy with little economic benefit. The new oil order is a reminder that markets and American ingenuity are better economic pillars than all the schemes of government planners.
Oil is like tires; nobody wants to talk about it and have nothing to do with it until you need it; the is a classic analogy of what is defined as a "commodity" plus keep in mind that a commodity is something that in and of itself add little value but add it to a more sophisticated platform, like tires, oil, bearings, etc, to a car, then the value of the commodity heads north quickly on price. As I have watched the current Administration do all it can to kill the Keystone Pipeline project, pour hundreds of billions of dollars into artificial forms of energy potential to basically no avail while at the same time attacking the means of extracting oil is absurd to me. But then, there are other absurdities I will choose to step over on this blog about Oil.
The world, I learned yesterday, produces 64,000,000, that is nearly a 100 million automobiles globally each year with China being the largest market for automobiles. Let that massive number sink in for a minute. Our global population is roughly at 7 billion and will surpass 9 billion in twenty years. Think about the strategic implications just in the auto industry hanging in the balance of the discussion of Oil.
Oil has been far too long a weapon used against the United States from the brilliance, NOT, of our initiative to create OPEC in the last 1970s; that is right, We the US drove that organization into existence. As as the Embargo of 1973 led to rationing, gas lines, riots, I remember oh so well, now the table is turned, finally. Gasoline in this nation is still far too expensive given the rules of Supply and Demand but keep in mind that the greater portion of gasoline price has nothing to do with Supply and Demand but rather taxes by every level of government on each gallon pumped. It is far worse, the taxation per gallon, in Europe so you can know.
But my point today is that sanctions, whining, decrees, hopes, military exercises, etc are all part of a facade to cause a nation to change its sinister ways such as Russia and recolonization of the Empire but the price of oil will do it for you. I read recently that Russia is losing roughly $200 billion per day in Gross Domestic Project due to the low cost of crude oil on global markets. Add to that the black market selling of oil by ISIL in Euro and not dollars and you have yet another body slam at Mother Russia. Thus Oil is a geostrategic weapon more powerful than a B52 if properly targeted and used. But this Administration seems clueless but trying to kill any semblance of increasing oil production as well as coal production in this nation. I find that sad and, well, STUPID, frankly but then go back up and read the red print from the op-ed.
We need oil and given the oil hungry emerging nations and the mature oil-based nations doing bad things, we need an ever increasing flow of oil production to combat strategically these rogue states and warlords. Hitting people in the pocketbook is much tougher than a bullet to the brain for there is a whole nation hanging in the balance via a hit to the national checkbook. .
I am more convinced that at the core of Mr. Obama is that he is a great speaker, intellectually solid but has fallen into the trap of surrounding himself with too many telling him what a great job he is doing and if they do not feed that, Hagel for latest instance, they will be shown the door. It is amazing to me, not really, that it seems nobody will step up to the plate to replace Hagel; SECDEF four under Obama; a new first for American Presidents.
Oil is a weapon; how it is used and to whom it is used on determines the real value of the weapon. It appears we are getting this one right in spite of Mr. Obama and his team; term used loosely I wish to add.
Thursday, November 27, 2014
Guess that title will get some attention in light of the last few months. I, like many Americans, are tired of the Battle of Ferguson and all the talking heads, pundits and bobble heads denouncing everything about the prosecutorial process, the grand jury, the water and the hamburgers. I am making light to get to a point. Last night I decided I would go newsless after an amazing Thanksgiving service at my church but, like trying to not watch a car wreck in progress, my fingers did the walking toward channel 1350; CNN on HD. BUSTED I was!
But as the shotgun blasts about all white people hating all black people continued and how Michael Brown has become a martyr and using the term "murder" to describe a police officer doing his work by the book as proved by the evidence; all of which is discounted because the Brown kid was black and all the nut job organizations like the American Communist Party, the infamous Black Party and dozens of other inflammatory groups all decided to make Ferguson a battle ground. To watch blacks destroying other blacks lives and livelihoods is beyond just wrong; it is criminal. But in the midst of the noise, I saw a snippet on CNN that did bring a moment of smile to my consternation..
Mark O'Meara, the defensive attorney in the Trayvon Martin case is now on CNN. This contributor, a black guy name Lamont something or other, loves to hear himself chatter on about "whitey" and hating all blacks thus throwing gasoline into the fire. When I see him I go to Everybody Loves Raymond. Mr O'Meara calmly posed a simple question of Lamont in the middle of another jumbled rant by asking quietly, "do you think Michael Brown carries even a modicum of responsibility for what happened given the evidence we now have?" From that moment on I found humor in realizing Lamont was trapped on national TV in having to think instead of rant to answer the simple question which, of course, he never did and Don Lemmon quickly went to commercial to rescue him is my thought. CASE STUDY in the state of race and reporting in this 24/7 new cycle. Get a bit and find a way to explode it into a hour in the machine needing more and more hype and distortion.
It is Thanksgiving Day and should be a day of rejoicing but I cannot escape the reality of the deep sores and crevices in our nation, my nation, on this issue of race. We have come to a place where all policemen are brushstroked with the same venom by all the poor black people for the police are the Gestapo that apparently get up each morning planning to go out and shoot some innocent black person; as sick as that sounds. If I did not spend hours each month in a county jail and see week after week after week of groups of nearly 40 men and women in chapel services nearly always with 80% plus percent blacks, I might have a different perspective so I am colored by what I see and hear and watch for I project that into the macro society. America has a black criminal issue that cannot be wall papered over with racial rants, threats or diversions.
Giuliani made a very profound comment last night when he spoke about why are there so many police calls into black communities and ghettos; it is easy; they are killing each other so why would the police not predominately be called to these communities? I have to tell you, I am a pretty gutsy man and consider myself rather bravoein the midst of adversity but give what we are seeing each day and night, you have to back up and ask the question, why would any policemen knowingly enter a black neighborhood on a call knowing what potentially awaits and any action he or she might take will be ballooned into a racial attack. That is a generalization but it think you get my point. Perhaps a sick solution is for the police to just ignore calls to come and then measure the death statistics that arise!
We are a nation of laws and laws are worthless unless enforced and it is the police that are charged and challenged to enforce those laws. We have seen rampant, intentional and blatant breakage of laws which are now being allowed to continue by police in some cities, Cleveland for example, because they do not want to inflame a situation. Snarling traffic for hours is a public safety breakage of law and I feel the Police Chief that, on camera, acted like a timid lamb in light of the blatant breakage of the law should be fired for the poor example set on live news cameras. It was embarrassing and all because of the Battle of Ferguson.
I am a sixty-six years old man and I am white and am educated and was raised in the South and have lived and worked all of the world and now reside in the North and love it. I remember all too well the segregated everything, met George Wallace on four occasions; enough of my credential as a qualifier for my comments! We are a nation that is sick and I believe the sickness has gone from a cold to pneumonia due to national leadership inciting the flames that have exploded into this global spectacle that is embarrassing as a nation, demeaning to a People and I do not think represents the true America. So I believe our fearless (smile) leader, POTUS, and the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security and others have in their own way contributed to this disaster and I would love nothing more than to sit in a room with them all and have a good Q&A to address this with them.
If you play with fire, you will get burned. This nation is being burned in so many ways and I think that is crimina but then I think Benghazi, VA, IRS, ACA, etc are all criminal so I guess you see where I think the stake in the ground actually resides; 1600 Pennsylvania. I am an American, I am white, I love my country but I do not love what is happening in this my country I have careered in, worn the warrior cloth for and had been hopes for our nation. I believe Satan is loving every bit moment of this whole unfolding of the fabric of that nation that once stood for greatness.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
We have all watched in shock, horror and disgust at the unfolding, never ending news out of this small hamlet in Missouri since August 9. Many of us watched the prosecutor read his final non-indictment report which, to me at least, sounded credible, astute and well documented and mountains of proof and forensics to support the proof. I breathed a slow sigh thinking, well, just maybe, we can move on to other nice things like ISIL or Russia or Ebola or, something, please! But alas, on CNN, the media went immediately to this female black former prosecutor CNN commentator, Sonny somebody, that immediately assailed the prosecutor, the "proof", the process. See, I realized a few days ago that it mattered not what the grand jury would finally decid, the "crowd" did not want justice; they wanted a head on a stake. And that would never have been enough either!
To make matters even more sickening to me was watching the unfolding of events immediately following the assault on the "process" turn to fires, overturned vehicles, over 150 documented shots fired at the assemblage of police, bottles, looting Baghdad-style and the media, as far as I am concerned, Don Lemmon, Chris Cuomo, etc, were slanted and inflammatory of the events around them thus fanning more poisonous flames. Nothing bothers me more than when "news" reporters stop reporting news and become pontificants of their opinion and slant of what they think they are seeing or worse, think they are hearing, they think.
For me, night two was most concerning as other cities found themselves in the throws of the "non violent protests" that, for some reason, rarely remain "non violent." More troubling to me was watching live television out of Cleveland at the 5 pm traffic rush to see an entire main artery choked down by chanting protesters with traffic backed up for miles and watching Cleveland police allow that to go on as meek sheep including the Chief of Police mulling around shaking hands and back patting the traffic blockers. There was no question the mayor had instructed the Chief that there would be no Ferguson in Cleveland so let the protesters shut down traffic and be "calm and peaceful." How about those thousands of stranded drivers trying to get home paying taxes for those police to do their job which they blatantly were not doing!
The cameras were rolling on a crowd in LA tearing away at a fence obviously being torn down to facilitate access by the "non-violent protesters" to shutdown an Interstate highway you could see just past the fence. I kept thinking of images I saw on safari in Kenya a few years ago of hyenas and lions attacking their kill for some reason in watching all of this unfold; wonder why!
As I went to bed last night I climbed into my helicopter and pulled up to about 10,000 feet to see the bigger view and the image of Tarir Square in Egypt began to come into view for me for if you look at all the "non violent protesters" (cynicism intended) across America coming out of the woodwork, one can begin to realize none of this is ad hoc but rather part of a master, underground plan, organized to disrupt using the First Amendment as justification. So perhaps this is the American version of the "Arab Spring" beginning to unfold.; Time will tell!
We are in dangerous times made more dangerous by our elected officials and police being neutered and impotent as exampled last night. We saw clearly when Hussein toppled and the police in Baghdad left thus nonexistent, what resulted. Police control the civilian population; THAT is there job. I saw little of that last night. Interestingly, the force build up in Ferguson prior to the prosecutor delivery was criticized as too strong, too militarized, too inciting but then when reality hit, those same leaders and forces were again criticized for not being strong enough, militarized enough and too impotent to stop the violence and blatant intent to destroy a way of life. We talk about ISIL and their killing and destroying their own people; how is this any different?
This morning, my wife and I again prayed for God's Hand of peace to spread across our Land and for our leaders to lead. I believe this is all part of God letting us have a taste of life without Him for we, as a nation, have turned so far from Him. Lord Jesus, come quickly!
Thursday, November 20, 2014
I have just watched a Charlie Rose interview with Chuck Hagel, America's Secretary of Defense and in that interview being pressed hard by Rose on the role and purpose and process of elimination of ISIL, Hagel stated that, "Charlie, you must know that we are watching a new world order being built right before our very eyes day by day ..." Wow, I found that intriguing in so many ways.
We have all been literally taken aback by this thing called ISIL in how the cancer has grown so fast and so brutally and I think we collectively have thought there would be this magical moment or event when that dirty old thing, ISIL, would be destroyed and we could all go on with our busy lives. Well, in watching this evolution of this cancer and its brilliant, yes I said that, brilliant prosecution at will in swallowing swaths of Iraq, Syria and soon to be other vulnerable Middle Eastern states, the reality is, I now realize, ISIL has become the metaphor for this New World Order. Bush 41 spoke of this New World Order in the early days of justifying Persian Gulf 1 but I do not think anyone really internalized what NWO meant assuming we were capable of internalizing. Persian Gulf 1 came, we overwhelmed a weak and dishevelled Iraqi military, we declared victory and came home heroes. Life is good!
But in the ensuing period of post Hussein, we began to realize that there were centuries of tribal blood simmering for revenge and looking for a trigger to allow the evening of the score for these years of abuse by dictators and tribal chieftains. 9/11 was the triggering mechanism that rattled the world, in retrospect, that something big, bad and uncontrollable by traditional means had been unfurled. We did not know how to name it, find it and fix it for the lines kept changing and the advent of social media accelerated the visibility of this ghost of something nobody understood and many sought to bury our heads in the sand, pun intended, and thinking in our late 20th century mindset and paradigm, that we would wake up one day next week and things would all be normal.
We, here it is 2015 looking into the shaded and obfuscated binoculars at a horizon that is jagged, smoking, moving and undefinable; a New World Order. And with this NWO the most striking reality for Americans and for the world addicted to America is that America no longer has the secret formula. We can blame politics, which is abominable. We can blame social media and technology, which will only grow and improve. We can blame the POTUS, and he deservedly is worthy of that criticism. Yet, all the blaming on earth will not change the nuclear fission we are witnessing that the atom of calm is unleashed on an unsuspecting and unprepared world; voila, a New World Order. Therefore, I believe ISIL is the perfect storm driven by strategic direction, funding, recruitment, vision and doggedness to a cause; again I say, brilliant, strategically.
So the real question now is not how but what must this NWO truly be and how must it lead the soon to be 9 billion global villagers? My old adage, if you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten and doing it faster is the definition of dumb. It is time America and the modern world, whatever that means, stops doing what we have always done. As oil prices which have been the Claymore mine of change since the OPEC Oil Embargo in 1973 have been, oil seems to be less the currency of change in our world. I am not a magician nor do I have a crystal ball but my assumption is that the next currency of change in our world will be the matter of Water supply. Perhaps that is the medium of exchange, money if you will, that world leaders can grasp hold of and begin to work the levers of change in trying to manage the dynamics which, at this stage, seem unmanageable.
Let me finish by stating clearly what I believe about the global view of a world gone made; the world has gone mad! There, is that clear? The world has gone mad for I believe in my heart We the People, God's People and Creation have so dramatically pulled away from the clarity of the Scriptures in our societal norms and mores. I believe We the People have disappointed our Creator and we are tasting the fruit of God pulling back and we are witnessing the spoils of our own making. Perhaps that sounds simplistic or even naive but that is what I believe at the aggregate of this whole global morass and headed toward a global debacle led by the onslaught of this thing like ISIL. Remember, ISIL is supposedly only an army of roughly 30,000 which if that is all ISIL has, it could be militarily obliterated in about a week with enough resources and commitment. But I think the cancer ISIL represents has an force multiplier far, far greater than that number. I believe ISIL is an ideology that few in the world understands and there is not enough energy or drive to want to understand. It is hard to defeat an ideology for you cannot measure it nor grasp it.
So as the blood continues to flow and the heads continue to be severed and as the crucifixions mount and we worry and ponder and plan and hope, what we need to be doing is a global return to God seeking his forgiveness for choosing to allow the forces of evil to prosper. And yes, I do believe it is just that simple. We have allowed things like the ACLU to tear down the walls of what Scripture clearly says is right and wrong. There are no solid absolutes anymore and the concept of right and wrong has to be wrong for everything has a gray, middle ground. NO, it does not! If you do not stand for something, you will fall for anything and that is exactly what I am seeing daily in so many, too many, ways and places.
In closing, my question I will pose to each of you reading this; what do you stand for? Ponder that please. I believe the fix for ISIL and all it metaphorically represents is a powerful return to the God that made us, loves us and wants us to live by His principles clearly outlined in His Holy Bible. It is not about fairness, negotiation of boundaries; it is about living in a world of absolutes with each other and in our relationship with our Creator. That will yield a New World Order in God's image but please remember, He created the first and best World Order and it is We the People that have managed to scar His landscape, right?
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Selah is a term that is used at times at the end of certain verses in the Bible that has always intrigued me but I have not really invested any time in researching it. This past Sunday I was part of a Jail Chapel service for forty women inmates and one of the ladies I would honored to work with spoke to the group of inmates about their time of Selah while incarcerated. In a flash for me, the term took on great gravity and I have found myself pondering Selah ever since that worship service.
The term, basically, connotes to "take pause" thus to reflect on what you have just read in the Scripture. When put in the context of people in a holding pattern in their life, for example in a jail cell, Selah becomes extremely meaning. As I took over the worship leading in speaking to the gathering, the Selah concept kept finding its way into my comments. Since that Sunday afternoon as I sit here on a very cold Tuesday evening, I have found myself listening more deeply, reading more thoroughly and seeking to understand in more depth what is being said to me as I journey through the hours since that jail service.
I have decided to blog the concept for I think there is more than ample example in our busy-crazed world where fewer and fewer people even think about pausing to reflect and thus to consider and ponder the next step of their journey. Perhaps the hit to the head with Darleen's comment about Selah was made more imperatively in learning of a female inmate the previous Thursday night trying to killing herself by hanging inside the jail. Today as I attending my weekly Bible study from Luke, the amazing Scripture recording Zecharias' comments at the day of circumcising of his miracle son, John. I found myself reading and rereading during the Study in wanting to plumb the amazing gravity of John's father's words to those in his family that came to the ceremony. That is an example of how my mind has been affected by the power of Selah since Sunday.
In a world seemingly gone mad, and it has, we must find time to take pause to ponder many questions we face as to direction, investment, decision, choice, for ourselves and others that depend on our decisions and choices. For example, I watch student loan debt in this nation spiking annually as the quality of education and value of the education deteriorates and just scratch my head. I have seen far too much example in my decade of university teaching of a significant percentage of students coming to college that are not motivated to perform or, frankly, are not academically skilled to take on that responsibility. That is but one example where the concept of Selah should be forced to take place before that costly and wasteful decision to attend college is made.
My assumption at my age and stage of life is that truly using the toolbar of Selah in one's life coming after passing a gate of maturity. It matters not the age of the person but the events that have crafted that person and the ensuing life that has been charted with good and poor choices. I stand as witness to that sentence with raised hand!
Selah! Wow! Selah! My challenge to each of you reading this is that you will take a season and truly seek time and pause on life decisions but more especially to seek God's Will in and for your life via those decisions; and we all face them don't we?
So in closing, Friends ... Selah on your moments ahead! If you are reading this you can know you are special to me and for whatever the reason at this very moment, that specialness is made even more acute.
Thank you for allowing me into your world for a few moments. I am blessed!
Friday, November 14, 2014
How to Respond to a Disordered World
Richard N. Haass
Richard N. Haass
RICHARD N. HAASS is President of the Council on Foreign Relations. Follow him on Twitter @RichardHaass.
In his classic The Anarchical Society, the scholar Hedley Bull argued that there was a perennial tension in the world between forces of order and forces of disorder, with the details of the balance between them defining each era’s particular character. Sources of order include actors committed to existing international rules and arrangements and to a process for modifying them; sources of disorder include actors who reject those rules and arrangements in principle and feel free to ignore or undermine them. The balance can also be affected by global trends, to varying degrees beyond the control of governments, that create the context for actors’ choices. These days, the balance between order and disorder is shifting toward the latter. Some of the reasons are structural, but some are the result of bad choices made by important players -- and at least some of those can and should be corrected.
The chief cauldron of contemporary disorder is the Middle East. For all the comparisons that have been made to World War I or the Cold War, what is taking place in the region today most resembles the Thirty Years’ War, three decades of conflict that ravaged much of Europe in the first half of the seventeenth century. As with Europe back then, in coming years, the Middle East is likely to be filled with mostly weak states unable to police large swaths of their territories, militias and terrorist groups acting with increasing sway, and both civil war and interstate strife. Sectarian and communal identities will be more powerful than national ones. Fueled by vast supplies of natural resources, powerful local actors will continue to meddle in neighboring countries’ internal affairs, and major outside actors will remain unable or unwilling to stabilize the region.
There is also renewed instability on the periphery of Europe. Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia appears to have given up on the proposition of significant integration into the current European and global orders and chosen instead to fashion an alternative future based on special ties with immediate neighbors and clients. The crisis in Ukraine may be the most pronounced, but not the last, manifestation of what could well be a project of Russian or, rather, Soviet restoration.
In Asia, the problem is less current instability than the growing potential for it. There, most states are neither weak nor crumbling, but strong and getting stronger. The mix of several countries with robust identities, dynamic economies, rising military budgets, bitter historical memories, and unresolved territorial disputes yields a recipe for classic geopolitical maneuvering and possibly armed conflict. Adding to the challenges in this stretch of the world are a brittle North Korea and a turbulent Pakistan, both with nuclear weapons (and one with some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists). Either could be the source of a local or global crisis, resulting from reckless action or state collapse.
Some contemporary challenges to order are global, a reflection of dangerous aspects of globalization that include cross-border flows of terrorists, viruses (both physical and virtual), and greenhouse gas emissions. With few institutional mechanisms available for stanching or managing them, such flows hold the potential to disrupt and degrade the quality of the system as a whole. And the rise of populism amid economic stagnation and increasing inequality makes improving global governance even more challenging.
The principles informing international order are also in contention. Some consensus exists about the unacceptability of acquiring territory by force, and it was such agreement that undergirded the broad coalition supporting the reversal of Saddam Hussein’s attempt to absorb Kuwait into Iraq in 1990. But the consensus had frayed enough over the succeeding generation to allow Russia to escape similar universal condemnation after its taking of Crimea last spring, and it is anyone’s guess how much of the world would respond to an attempt by China to muscle in on contested airspace, seas, or territory. International agreement on sovereignty breaks down even more when it comes to the question of the right of outsiders to intervene when a government attacks its own citizens or otherwise fails to meet its sovereign obligations. A decade after UN approval, the concept of “the responsibility to protect” no longer enjoys broad support, and there is no shared agreement on what constitutes legitimate involvement in the affairs of other countries.
To be sure, there are forces of order at work as well. There has been no great-power war for many decades, and there is no significant prospect of one in the near future. China and the United States cooperate on some occasions and compete on others, but even in the latter case, the competition is bounded. Interdependence is real, and both countries have a great deal invested (literally and figuratively) in the other, making any major and prolonged rupture in the relationship a worrisome possibility for both.
Russia, too, is constrained by interdependence, although less so than China given its energy-concentrated economy and more modest levels of external trade and investment. That means sanctions have a chance of influencing its behavior over time. Putin’s foreign policy may be revanchist, but Russia’s hard- and soft-power resources are both limited. Russia no longer represents anything that appeals to anyone other than ethnic Russians, and as a result, the geopolitical troubles it can cause will remain on Europe’s periphery, without touching the continent’s core. Indeed, the critical elements of Europe’s transformation over the past 70 years -- the democratization of Germany, Franco-German reconciliation, economic integration -- are so robust that they can reasonably be taken for granted. Europe’s parochialism and military weakness may make the region a poor partner for the United States in global affairs, but the continent itself is no longer a security problem, which is a huge advance on the past.
It would also be wrong to look at the Asia-Pacific and assume the worst. The region has been experiencing unprecedented economic growth for decades and has managed it peacefully. Here, too, economic interdependence acts as a brake on conflict. And there is still time for diplomacy and creative policymaking to create institutional shock absorbers that can help reduce the risk of confrontation stemming from surging nationalism and spiraling distrust.
The global economy, meanwhile, has stabilized in the aftermath of the financial crisis, and new regulations have been put in place to reduce the odds and scale of future crises. U.S. and European growth rates are still below historical norms, but what is holding the United States and Europe back is not the residue of the crisis so much as various policies that restrict robust growth.
North America could once again become the world’s economic engine, given its stable, prosperous, and open economy; its 470 million people; and its emerging energy self-sufficiency. Latin America is, for the most part, at peace. Mexico is a far more stable and successful country than it was a decade ago, as is Colombia. Questions hovering over the futures of such countries as Brazil, Chile, Cuba, and Venezuela do not alter the fundamental narrative of a region heading in the right direction. And Africa, too, has a growing number of countries in which better governance and economic performance are becoming the norm rather than the exception.
Traditional analytic approaches have little to offer in making sense of these seemingly contradictory trends. One conventional route, for example, would be to frame the international dynamic as one of rising and falling powers, pitting China’s advance against the United States’ decline. But this exaggerates the United States’ weaknesses and underestimates China’s. For all its problems, the United States is well positioned to thrive in the twenty-first century, whereas China faces a multitude of challenges, including slowing growth, rampant corruption, an aging population, environmental degradation, and wary neighbors. And no other country is even close to having the necessary mix of capacity and commitment to be a challenger to the United States for global preeminence.
U.S. President Barack Obama was recently quoted as brushing off concerns that things are falling apart, noting that “the world has always been messy” and that what is going on today “is not something that is comparable to the challenges we faced during the Cold War.” Such sanguinity is misplaced, however, as today’s world is messier, thanks to the emergence of a greater number of meaningful actors and the lack of overlapping interests or mechanisms to constrain the capacity or moderate the behavior of the most radical ones.
Indeed, with U.S. hegemony waning but no successor waiting to pick up the baton, the likeliest future is one in which the current international system gives way to a disorderly one with a larger number of power centers acting with increasing autonomy, paying less heed to U.S. interests and preferences. This will cause new problems even as it makes existing ones more difficult to solve. In short, the post–Cold War order is unraveling, and while not perfect, it will be missed.
THE CAUSES OF THE PROBLEM
Just why have things begun to unravel? For various reasons, some structural, others volitional. In the Middle East, for example, order has been undermined by a tradition of top-heavy, often corrupt, and illegitimate governments; minimal civil society; the curse of abundant energy resources (which often retard economic and political reform); poor educational systems; and various religion-related problems, such as sectarian division, fights between moderates and radicals, and the lack of a clear and widely accepted line between religious and secular spheres. But outside actions have added to the problems, from poorly drawn national borders to recent interventions.
With more than a decade of hindsight, the decision of the United States to oust Saddam and remake Iraq looks even more mistaken than it did at the time. It is not just that the articulated reason for the war -- ridding Saddam of weapons of mass destruction -- was shown to be faulty. What looms even larger in retrospect is the fact that removing Saddam and empowering Iraq’s Shiite majority shifted the country from balancing Iranian strategic ambitions to serving them, in the process exacerbating frictions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims within the country and the region at large.
Nor did regime change have better results in two other countries where it was achieved. In Egypt, the American call for President Hosni Mubarak to leave office contributed to the polarization of the society. Subsequent events demonstrated that Egypt was not yet ready for a democratic transition, and U.S. withdrawal of support from a longtime friend and ally raised questions elsewhere (most notably in other Arab capitals) about the dependability of Washington’s commitments. In Libya, meanwhile, the removal of Muammar al-Qaddafi by a combined U.S. and European effort helped create a failed state, one increasingly dominated by militias and terrorists. The uncertain necessity of the intervention itself was compounded by the lack of effective follow-up, and the entire exercise -- coming as it did a few years after Qaddafi had been induced to give up his unconventional weapons programs -- probably increased the perceived value of nuclear weapons and reduced the likelihood of getting other states to follow Qaddafi’s example.
In Syria, the United States expressed support for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad and then did little to bring it about. Obama went on to make a bad situation worse by articulating a set of redlines involving Syrian use of chemical munitions and then failing to act even when those lines were clearly crossed. This demoralized what opposition there was, forfeited a rare opportunity to weaken the government and change the momentum of the civil war, and helped usher in a context in which the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which has declared itself the Islamic State, could flourish. The gap between rhetoric and action also further contributed to perceptions of American unreliability.
In Asia, too, the chief criticism that can be levied against U.S. policy is one of omission. As structural trends have increased the risks of traditional interstate conflict, Washington has failed to move in a determined fashion to stabilize the situation -- not raising the U.S. military’s presence in the region significantly in order to reassure allies and ward off challengers, doing little to build domestic support for a regional trade pact, and pursuing insufficiently active or sustained consultations to shape the thinking and actions of local leaders.
With regard to Russia, both internal and external factors have contributed to the deterioration of the situation. Putin himself chose to consolidate his political and economic power and adopt a foreign policy that increasingly characterizes Russia as an opponent of an international order defined and led by the United States. But U.S. and Western policy have not always encouraged more constructive choices on his part. Disregarding Winston Churchill’s famous dictum about how to treat a beaten enemy, the West displayed little magnanimity in the aftermath of its victory in the Cold War. NATO enlargement was seen by many Russians as a humiliation, a betrayal, or both. More could have been made of the Partnership for Peace, a program designed to foster better relations between Russia and the alliance. Alternatively, Russia could have been asked to join NATO, an outcome that would have made little military difference, as NATO has become less of an alliance in the classic sense than a standing pool of potential contributors to “coalitions of the willing.” Arms control, one of the few domains in which Russia could lay claim to still being a great power, was shunted to the side as unilateralism and minimalist treaties became the norm. Russian policy might have evolved the way it has anyway, even if the United States and the West overall had been more generous and welcoming, but Western policy increased the odds of such an outcome.
As for global governance, international accords are often hard to come by for many reasons. The sheer number of states makes consensus difficult or impossible. So, too, do divergent national interests. As a result, attempts to construct new global arrangements to foster trade and frustrate climate change have foundered. Sometimes countries just disagree on what is to be done and what they are prepared to sacrifice to achieve a goal, or they are reluctant to support an initiative for fear of setting a precedent that could be used against them later. There is thus decidedly less of an “international community” than the frequent use of the phrase would suggest.
Once again, however, in recent years, developments in and actions by the United States have contributed to the problem. The post–Cold War order was premised on U.S. primacy, which was a function of not just U.S. power but also U.S. influence, reflecting a willingness on the part of others to accept the United States’ lead. This influence has suffered from what is generally perceived as a series of failures or errors, including lax economic regulation that contributed to the financial crisis, overly aggressive national security policies that trampled international norms, and domestic administrative incompetence and political dysfunction.
Order has unraveled, in short, thanks to a confluence of three trends. Power in the world has diffused across a greater number and range of actors. Respect for the American economic and political model has diminished. And specific U.S. policy choices, especially in the Middle East, have raised doubts about American judgment and the reliability of the United States’ threats and promises. The net result is that while the United States’ absolute strength remains considerable, American influence has diminished.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
Left unattended, the current world turbulence is unlikely to fade away or resolve itself. Bad could become worse all too easily should the United States prove unwilling or unable to make wiser and more constructive choices. Nor is there a single solution to the problem, as the nature of the challenges varies from region to region and issue to issue. In fact, there is no solution of any sort to a situation that can at best be managed, not resolved.
But there are steps that can and should be taken. In the Middle East, the United States could do worse than to adopt the Hippocratic oath and try above all to do no further harm. The gap between U.S. ambitions and U.S. actions needs to be narrowed, and it will normally make more sense to reduce the former than increase the latter. The unfortunate reality is that democratic transformations of other societies are often beyond the means of outsiders to achieve. Not all societies are equally well positioned to become democratic at any given moment. Structural prerequisites may not be in place; an adverse political culture can pose obstacles. Truly liberal democracies may make for better international citizens, but helping countries get to that point is more difficult than often recognized -- and the attempts often riskier, as immature or incomplete democracies can be hijacked by demagoguery or nationalism. Promoting order among states -- shaping their foreign policies more than their internal politics -- is an ambitious enough goal for U.S. policy to pursue.
But if attempts at regime change should be jettisoned, so, too, should calendar-based commitments. U.S. interests in Iraq were not well served by the inability to arrange for the ongoing presence of a residual U.S. force there, one that might have dampened the feuding of Iraqi factions and provided much-needed training for Iraqi security forces. The same holds for Afghanistan, where all U.S. forces are due to exit by the end of 2016. Such decisions should be linked to interests and conditions rather than timelines. Doing too little can be just as costly and risky as doing too much.
Other things outsiders could usefully do in the region include promoting and supporting civil society, helping refugees and displaced people, countering terrorism and militancy, and working to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (such as by trying to place a meaningful ceiling on the Iranian nuclear program). Degrading ISIS will require regular applications of U.S. airpower against targets inside both Iraq and Syria, along with coordinated efforts with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey to stem the flow of recruits and dollars. There are several potential partners on the ground in Iraq, but fewer in Syria -- where action against ISIS must be undertaken in the midst of a civil war. Unfortunately, the struggle against ISIS and similar groups is likely to be difficult, expensive, and long.
In Asia, the prescription is considerably simpler: implement existing policy assiduously. The Obama administration’s “pivot,” or “rebalance,” to Asia was supposed to involve regular high-level diplomatic engagement to address and calm the region’s all-too-numerous disputes; an increased U.S. air and naval presence in the region; and the building of domestic and international support for a regional trade pact. All these actions can and should be higher administration priorities, as should a special attempt to explore the conditions under which China might be prepared to reconsider its commitment to a divided Korean Peninsula.
With Russia and Ukraine, what is required is a mixture of efforts designed to shore up Ukraine economically and militarily, strengthen NATO, and sanction Russia. At the same time, Russia should also be offered a diplomatic exit, one that would include assurances that Ukraine would not become a member of NATO anytime soon or enter into exclusive ties with the EU. Reducing European energy dependence on Russia should also be a priority -- something that will necessarily take a long time but should be started now. In dealing with Russia and other powers, meanwhile, Washington should generally eschew attempts at linkage, trying to condition cooperation in one area on cooperation in another. Cooperation of any sort anywhere is too difficult to achieve these days to jeopardize it by overreaching.
At the global level, the goal of U.S. policy should still be integration, trying to bring others into arrangements to manage global challenges such as climate change, terrorism, proliferation, trade, public health, and maintaining a secure and open commons. Where these arrangements can be global, so much the better, but where they cannot, they should be regional or selective, involving those actors with significant interests and capacity and that share some degree of policy consensus.
The United States also needs to put its domestic house in order, both to increase Americans’ living standards and to generate the resources needed to sustain an active global role. A stagnant and unequal society will be unlikely to trust its government or favor robust efforts abroad. This need not mean gutting defense budgets, however; to the contrary, there is a strong case to be made that U.S. defense spending needs to be increased somewhat. The good news is that the United States can afford both guns and butter, so long as resources are allocated appropriately and efficiently. Another reason to get things right at home is to reduce American vulnerability. U.S. energy security has improved dramatically in recent years, thanks to the oil and gas revolutions, but the same cannot be said about other problems, such as the country’s aging public infrastructure, its inadequate immigration policy, and its long-term public finances.
As has recently been noted in these pages, American political dysfunction is increasing rather than decreasing, thanks to weakened parties, powerful interest groups, political finance rules, and demographic changes. Those who suggest that the country is only a budget deal away from comity are as mistaken as those who suggest that the country is only one crisis away from restored national unity. The world can see this, and see as well that a majority of the American public has grown skeptical of global involvement, let alone leadership. Such an attitude should hardly be surprising given the persistence of economic difficulties and the poor track record of recent U.S. interventions abroad. But it is up to the president to persuade a war-weary American society that the world still matters -- for better and for worse -- and that an active foreign policy can and should be pursued without undermining domestic well-being.
In fact, sensible foreign and domestic policies are mutually reinforcing: a stable world is good for the home front, and a successful home front provides the resources needed for American global leadership. Selling this case will be difficult, but one way to make it easier is to advance a foreign policy that tries to reorder the world rather than remake it. But even if this is done, it will not be enough to prevent the further erosion of order, which results as much from a wider distribution of power and a decentralization of decision-making as it does from how the United States is perceived and acts. The question is not whether the world will continue to unravel but how fast and how far.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
It is 4 am here in NE Ohio and I awoke with that powerful thought running through my brain from the Book of Esther which states:
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?"
It is an amazing, intriguing and insightful story in the Book of Esther with destruction, fear, consternation all folded into the narrative for it is a story of a decision to step forward and face possible death and a story of extinction of a race of people if you choose to remain in the shadows of history. Every time I have studied this Book and this story I find myself pondering deeply the applicability of that context for our world today.
It is an amazing, intriguing and insightful story in the Book of Esther with destruction, fear, consternation all folded into the narrative for it is a story of a decision to step forward and face possible death and a story of extinction of a race of people if you choose to remain in the shadows of history. Every time I have studied this Book and this story I find myself pondering deeply the applicability of that context for our world today.
I was singing to a wonderful group of older people Tuesday night and in the middle of one of the songs this whole story of Esther came to me so vividly. During the night this night I was reminded of this message for each of us triggered, I supposed, by watching some family video from 1987 when I was the age of my children now with hair black, still agile with the basketball and filled with some really wonderful and some really tough memories in watching the DVR drill into my mind and my heart. So when the words, For Such a Time as This, blip on my internal radar, I am challenged to assess what it is I am doing in and with my life and for whomever is it being done? So I sit here this early, cold morning trying to keep lights down so my wife can sleep, to put my words into a readable form for my benefit but you can read as well if you wish.
Each day I read the obituaries and realize most days that those faces and those stories used to be about really old people in their eighties plus but it seems more and more those photos and stories are more my age and much younger. I learned yesterday a great childhood friend, a year older than me, left this world. George French was one of those boys in my youth that I literally was with every single day playing football, basketball, fighting the Germans in our backyard citadels, watching war movies at noon on Channel 13. We would laugh, we would share, we would live as young neighborhood friends in the1950s and 60s did knowing all the time George would flourish with whatever path he took. He was smart, well read and a walking dictionary and more than anything, he was my friend. He is gone from this earth and I think processing that surprising loss, for me has taken me down a reflective pathway on Esther's reality; she was put in that situation for such a time as that to be part of the existence of the Jewish race. Wow, think about that!
My eyes are a bit blurry as I write this but it is important to ponder that simple question, what is it that you are involved in that clearly reflects why you are here and at this specific time in your life journey? Being around elderly people in this region watching the aging process do its dastardly work of permanently altering vibrant lives, spousal separations, watching families either bond or pull farther part is part of my time now. Singing and speaking to large groups of the seasoned veterans of the battles of life about Jesus and Heaven is a blessing beyond measure to me. I have become part of their families and many just want to talk, to have me listen to their worries about grand kids, siblings and the dark world of loneliness that abounds for some as they know their clock is ticking toward eternity. Many are happy yet far too many are simply sad and regretful. I was told by a precious lady, Ms Leona, Tuesday night after a few minutes with her after the concert that I was there at her facility in her life "for such a time as this" so that refreshed in my heart the inevitable onslaught of time and what each of us can do to ease the worries and fears of that approach into eternity's air terminal.
For me, and I can only speak for myself, I do believe singing has become a powerful gift and force and opportunity to soothe some weariness and lift some heaviness to thousands each year be they white haired in assisted living homes, in Adult Bible Fellowship classes at my church or in the never ceasing mountain of jail and prison inmates I serve each year. I must admit that in the beginning, perhaps a decade ago when it all began, there was ego in the mix but I realized as the realities of this ministry began to unfold in seeing worsening physical and mental condition happen in such a short period of time since the last time you saw these precious people, I was being affected by the challenges of aging. It was from this transformation of singing for the joy of singing to singing for the joy of providing a solace and enjoyment to hurting and worried people, that the singing became ministerially driven for me and it thus began a major change in my own heart.
So at sixty-six, getting to touch the lives of thousands of men and women year after year in singing and speaking about Christ and his Home prepared for the Christian, seeing loved ones again, being in a heavenly choir, rejoining with family again and seeing tears joy and smiles of understanding; that is why my calendar continues to reflect the belief in me that I am doing what I get to do for such a time as this. I realize there are many opportunities presented me to do other things, a blessing, but in so doing would pull me from away from this work so I have given this work a high priority in my time availability.
So my challenge to you this day; for such a time as this whatever your "this" happens to be, are you fully embracing that as your life's meaning and work? See, I fundamentally believe that for the Christian, you are provided gifts from God which can be many and varied or one or two but in that gifting, you are expected to utilize that gift for God's Glory in and through others. In believing that, I am absolutely convinced that singing is a gift God gave me years ago but has enhanced the drive to do my best on every song and word I speak, not for myself nor for the compliments of others, but to see the gentle touch of the Holy Spirit on a frightened, worried or downtrodden man or woman facing mountains so rugged they cannot imagine or the eminence of death coming very soon. So yes, I am getting to do what I realize with each event that I believe I am here for such a time as this in touching so many via music and word. Wow, that is powerful stuff when viewed in the context of my heart now in words. Now I understand why I was awakened thinking of Esther colored by seeing myself thirty years ago and the journey and travail that was yet to unfold in my life and in my family to bring us to this time in our lives now with grandchildren the ages of my children thirty years ago recorded in the video.
Please know this early morning, now nearly an hour since this writing began, I have never felt more blessed nor more honored to get to do what God provides for me to do. With me, I can be insatiable in getting involved and invested in things and in people but in this day about to unfold for my family, I feel so humbled by the ministries God has crafted for me .... for such a time as this I believe! Can you say that about your own life and arsenal of stuff and activities? Take an internal inventory and assess your life through that lens!
Saturday, November 8, 2014
With the turmoil of the recent midterms and the pundits squawking and spewing about the 2016 elections, I have pretty much chosen to not listen. We have a do-nothing Congress with an apparent get-nothing-done President so why should we really expect much better now with a truly lame duck POTUS, right? But the great news, we are living in a nation where each of us get to be part of putting representatives of what we believe into chairs of influence. I think that is pretty great and I still swell at the thought like I still cry when I hear the National Anthem if done properly and not disrespected with terrible singing, renditions, etc, (subject for another blog some time).
Yesterday a long standing concern I have had and have spoken to many times was rekindled against the context of our great nation and We the People that are blessed to inhabit this Land. Yesterday I was reminded that today, with a national population of approaching 315 million citizens, about 1% of that total serve our nation in military uniform. I find that statistic not only striking but downright shocking when you project what that is really telling us. In the early stages of World War II, the ranks of the US military swelled quickly via volunteers and conscription to roughly 6 million. So if you look at percentages, you can readily see the tremendous disparity in our national investment in the protection of our nation versus what it was.
My point is not to make comparison between 1940s and 2014 militarily but rather to again turn the light on the fact that America, as a nation, had not "been at war" since WWII. What I mean by that is that the last real military victory our nation has undeniably experienced came as a result of not only the uniformed scores but of an entire nation invested in the effort to support those in uniform. That meant that an entire way of life was altered measurably so, in essence, the entire nation was fighting the Axis power in industrial output, no new cars, no student loan debt for nobody was really going to college, rationing of essentials, etc.
That paragraph is a contextual rendering to get me to my core point this morning ... less than 1% of our entire nation's population is invested in protecting our nation. And that number is comprised of people volunteering to serve while the remaining 99% continue with the butter of our lives thinking only about what our stipends to pay the 1% to do our dirty and dangerous work when the news turns the cameras on. If you then add to the fact that Americans are "weary" of war then there is this mental disconnect for me. "Boots on the ground" has become a disdainful metaphor for actually putting our nation's military treasures into harm's way WHILE the remained of us stay home going about whatever it is we do which is NOT being part of defending our nation.
I have never been a proponent of the volunteer force that emanated from the poorly executed and elongated slogging in Vietnam. That was our first known "war" where the strategic levers were pulled continually in Washington and not by the prosecuting generals who were too many times hamstrung for political reasons. It is 2014 and we see the ISIL threat still unchecked and growing for the very same reasons; a reluctant national leadership to fully engage a global threat. I mean, just watch the news, you pick the station, and it becomes dizzying at not only ISIL but many other affiliate thugdomes vying for the lead dog in the world of terrorists. In other words, this, in my humble opinion, is yet another example of kicking cans down the street due to upcoming elections, too much debt, not wanting to hurt some group's feelings, etc, etc and all the while our troops are being sent in minimal numbers to do our bidding.
"War weary" means when an entire nation is tired of the sacrifice and investment in blood and treasure to defend our nation so when I hear that term today, it is laughable really when you realize, looking at the numbers, the only people that are weary are our troops and their families while the rest of us sit on the sidelines watching NFL games five nights a week (my wife tells me), watching our societal values dissipate into a mist each day, prisons overflowing due to too many men and women fundamentally having nothing to do thus bored and turn to drugs and crime, etc. etc.
So here is my restated point and I will restate this from my own personal perspective and life. I believe in my heart that in a great, modern nation like America that every male and female at the age of 18 should be required by law to serve our nation in some capacity for two or three years with the military being one of the very few options. Other nations in the G20 and more do exactly that so you can know. I believe our nation deserves to be serviced by the fruit of this nation for we the citizenry owe this nation part of our lives I believe in my heart. This approach would generate a level of accountability far too many eighteen year olds miss completely in their life's arsenal of tools to be successful as their life unfolds. Is there danger? Absolutely but I rarely recall a time when being successful did not require a modicum of risk and danger.
Many will dispel my thoughts as too harsh, too bold, too whatever but when I see daily that our 1% we are paying and paying well as compared ot previous militaries are rotating multiple times into and out of combat zones because of lack of human reserves trained for combat, it causes me to grow very frustrated. That is blatantly unfair to the troopers and their families. We are a great nation but not enough of the greatness of our nation are willing to invest some of themselves into being part of this greatness. I find that disturbing. I see the evidence too often that Ipods are much more beneficial than the effective use of and M16 while parents whine abou why their kids are not more involved. Really! Do you wonder why that is? (cyncism intended)
I learned a long time ago about consulting which is so very true in this context, that until a client "gets skin in the game" if seeking advice, the client will never fully invest into the consultation. If the citizenry do not invest themselves into the protection of this place where they were born and will career, the depth of devotion of the nation and its protection will be that of a dis-engendered third part instead of a full invested citizen. There used to be pride in serving our nation; I sense that was a time lost and that is very sad; very, very sad and dangerous. Why the politicians choose not to embrace this still baffles me but then I remember, politicians live by currying favor; not boldly going where no man or woman has gone meaning into unpopular fields that if navigated would be an amazing boost for our nation.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
I did not sleep too well for some reason so got up at 4 am to get my first dose of electoral results from yesterday. Nothing I have seen surprised me meaning the Republicans have dominated the political landscape nationally and at state levels. There will be much jubilation and wound licking in the next day or so and even greater angst spewed at Obama in his first six years as what I will term, The Big Fizzle, which is well deserved but that is not where my heart is this morning. I believe the election results, at the aggregate, are a referendum on how badly our nation has moved from our global role as leader, protector, beacon of hope and mountaintop of opportunity.
For me perhaps the most telling and most disturbing thing I saw through this last twenty-four hours is an indictment on this POTUS was an in depth interview and discussion on Charlie Rose with Mark Halperin and another man that works with Halpein that co-chair a new political program for Bloomburg News. I have watched Halperin often and find him credible as I do Rose; so I listen to their insight. Rose asked the question of the two talented, connected me what they felt Obama needed to do and would do in his remaining two years as POTUS assuming, then, the Republicans took over the Senate and strengthened the House which, we know now, is what has been rendered? The dialog was not only disappointing but absorbingly worrying for fundamentally both men felt Obama would not go into a passionate mode in this new reality, build relationships he has chosen to not do in his first six years and that they doubted Congress nor the nation would see much difference for "Obama just does not want to nor sees the need to be that way."
Remember when George W. took his infamous "thumpin"? He made light of it, stepped back, changed course and sought to build bridges, to his credit, he did to some degree. At least he saw the need to do something different and embarked on a journey to change course and behavior for the sake of the Nation. In other words paraphrasing the comments last evening, the apparent Obama arrogance and intellect will preclude any additional effort to be part of fixing this morass he has helped create but will stand on the sideline with Executive Order ink being spilled far too much thus bypassing the hard Constitutional work of working with Congress! That is sad and borders on criminal if correct and I can only believe from what I have seen that that prediction will in fact be correct.
I wanted to see this early morning how the Asian markets were reacting to the Obama Thumping and sure enough, the US dollar strength has escalated against the Yen to a seven year high and the Dow Futures show a markedly improved performance meaning the Dow in America should reflect well by higher numbers while gold and oil remain unique low in price. All that translates by the markets in Asia liking the Thump in belief America will now be a better partner for progress to which I say, we will see!
See, for me, I am perfectly neutral on the implication of the predictable election results. Americans are scared and jittery and have lost faith in our POTUS; I have admittedly for I have seen next to nothing from this POTUS that causes me to be proud or happy and joyous about what I have watched. I have seen arrogance, disconnect, miscues, pull back, placating and what I believe is a lifestyle too lavish. There will still be some reading this that will rationalize my comments as the age old and now worn out Racism excuse but Obama's own electorate have soured and gone to the mattresses with such blatant poor performance and politicking over leading behavior. I know I certainly am exhausted in wondering just what can get messed up next instead of like watching a Peyton Manning lead a team knowing he will do something to make the win a reality. I think America longs and yearns for a"quarterback" that wants and can win the big games regardless of pressure, crowd noise, etc. THAT is what true leaders do; THEY AVOID THE NOISE and find a way to win.
My concern, now, is that Obama is tired, wants only to burnish a historical Presidency on its hard to find merits and just get the whole thing over. My as well concern is that the Thumping by the Republicans will turn into an all out war with the Republicans turning cannibalistic with their adversaries as well as their own ranks. NOW is the time for Boehner and McConnell to be the big boys in the house and embrace, drive, change; be the winners I believe and hope they can be and in a partnership with Obama. So we will see won't just how long this party lasts for the world and our enemies are watching!
America is not better this morning just because of yesterday. America is sick, hurting and disjointed for lack of political leadership. So yesterday prayerfully will be a wake up call for a new light on the hill top that both parties will light and keep shining brightly for the world to navigate as ISIL grows, our values debase, our citizenry divided. My plea is for the leaders to embrace the differences that are many and blatant and LEAD THIS COUNTRY!
Monday, November 3, 2014
I teach my students strongly that whoever owns your debt, owns your future. In today's Wall Street Journal, I have pasted in below, is a mind-blowing editorial on the phenomenal global increase in debt. It is a most worthy read and each that read should do an inventory of their own economy and calculate the percentage of debt your family is attempting to carry. For many, it will be startling as it should be.
I still just have to scratch my head on the matter of student loan debt in the ease to obtain and the amazing degree of misuse of those borrowed funds by far too many students to purchase cars, computers, "toys" having little to do with education. Then, a new phenomenon is this general sense by far too many students that feel so real gravity of responsibility to actually pay off the mounting debt that will scar credit reports for decades. It is conundrum that does not get near the ink or camera lights of warning it deserves. Some of my former students will not like that paragraph but many, too many, if they process it will agree to my context on this matter.
At the aggregate of the whole matter is that we, the global villagers, are enjoying the cocaine-type euphoria of living beyond our financial means thus bridging the addiction high by borrowing more and more. A vicious cycle is a gross understatement!
Here is what is most concerning to me; for years I have believed and taught that people only fear that which they do not know or understand. Once the light of understanding is brought into the cave, fear dissipates. I see less and less fear on this matter of debt for it has almost become accepted and in the mainstream of reality so why worry about it. I mean, look at our own United States government and try, you cannot by the way, to imagine the immeasurable debt our own government is stacking up via borrowing from foreign nations as well as continuing to print money that is basically worthless. That bubble will burst and it will be a flood of blood that will spill from that bubble. Japan is a great, small, example of what this can lead to which not enough people are seriously studying I sense.
This very article below speaks about Japan's newest Prime Minister choosing to pull out all the stops by injecting Keynesian economic logic meaning more and bigger taxpayer funded government bureaucracies at the Japanese debacle; the miracle of the 1980s as I studied when I was in graduate school. My greatest concern about these last six years of our own nation is that same direction of more government to fix fundamental issues. Remember, in our world today, the US government is the largest employer in the world; tax funded. Think about that! Oh how quickly things change in the wrong direction!
Debt begins with one person choosing to not go down that minefield for their are unexploded mines abounding. Debt, like life, is a choice! Choose well for generations are in the balance. Read the article please and reflect.
Missing the Prime Suspect in the Global Slowdown
World-wide debt as a percentage of GDP has jumped 36% since 2008, to a record high of 212%.
‘You want quantitative easing? I’ll show you quantitative easing!” That’s the message Japan’s central banker Haruhiko Kuroda sent to global securities markets Friday, spurring the Dow to a record high. He announced that he will boost asset purchases by up to one-third, snapping up even more debt paper than the Japanese treasury is issuing.
Mr. Kuroda believes he is fighting deflation, an idea that seems to be contagious. The European Central Bank (ECB) also has been buying bonds to stir the continent out of its torpor. And President James Bullard of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank urged the Fed to extend its QE purchases of government securities beyond the planned October shutdown last week, advice the Federal Open Market Committee chose not to take. Mr. Bullard told an interviewer that he feared “inflation expectations” were too low, a concern cut from the same cloth as Mr. Kuroda’s fear of deflation.
Many people think low inflation and inflation expectations are a good thing. U.S. consumer prices barely budged in September and the consumer-price index (CPI) was up only 1.7% from a year earlier. Motorists are enjoying the lower cost of filling gas tanks.
But the Fed wants higher inflation, targeting a rate of 2%. That would have certain beauties for the government if not for consumers. Inflation devalues debt, and of particular moment is federal government debt, which has soared well over $4 trillion in the past four years to $17.9 trillion. Inflation expectations are believed to stimulate spending as consumers try to get ahead of price increases, a presumed effect that appeals to the Fed’s Keynesians.
Central-bank worries about deflation may be misplaced. Couldn’t it be that it is the mounting global debt that is dragging down economic growth, not a lack of fiscal or monetary stimulus? Yet central banks seem wedded to the so-called monetary stimulus course set by the Fed after the stock-market crash of 2008.
The rising debt burden was detailed on Sept. 16 in the annual Geneva Report, vetted by an international assemblage of 70 central-bank officials and other monetary specialists under the aegis of the International Centre for Monetary and Banking Studies (ICMB). The report concluded that central banks “should be slow to raise interest rates” because of the continued and disturbing expansion of global debt. There would seem to be an element of illogic in that advice. An outsider might think that raising interest rates would be the correct way to curb debt excesses, but then outsiders also think that inflation is bad, not good.
The Geneva report is titled “Deleveraging, What Deleveraging?” It says that after the debt explosion of the 2000s contributed to the 2008 crash, there was a widespread expectation that governments, households and businesses would shed debt, or “deleverage.” But that hasn’t happened. While American households have de-leveraged, world-wide debt has continued to grow rapidly, thanks in large part to governmental deficits. According to the report, global debt (excluding that of the financial sector) as a percentage of GDP has risen 36 percentage points since 2008, to a record 212%.
At the same time, “world growth and inflation are also lower than previously expected,” creating a “poisonous combination” of rising debt and slow growth. The growth slowdown makes deleveraging harder while at the same time high indebtedness exacerbates the economic slowdown, a phenomenon the report describes as a “vicious loop.”
Governments are big contributors to the debt boom. The U.S. ratio of public debt to GDP has climbed 40 percentage points to 105% since 2008. The report cites studies showing that high debt levels increase vulnerability to financial crises and give rise to “moral hazard” issues deriving from borrower expectations of government bailouts.
The Geneva report reflects the anxiety that afflicts central bankers around the world at a time when the most important central bank, the U.S. Fed, seems to be at sixes and sevens about where to go next with the highly unorthodox monetary policy it has practiced since 2008 with so little positive effect.
As the global economy slows from an already low rate of growth, despite recent signs of life in the U.S., it should be clear that artificially suppressed interest rates have done little to stimulate growth. They have discouraged saving, hence retarding capital formation, and have encouraged borrowing, adding to the economic burden of debt service. If, as some economists argue, the Fed is keeping inflation in check despite zero-bound interest rates by exercising its Dodd-Frank powers over bank lending, the equivalence of that to central planning can hardly be considered healthy.
The Fed well remembers what happened in 2006 when belatedly raising rates to a normal level caused pumped-up housing prices to fall. But it perhaps forgets that the most important factor in the 2008 crash was that falling house prices exposed the frailties of the many billions of dollars of toxic securities in circulation, held by the likes of Lehman Brothers, that were based on subprime mortgages engendered by government affordable-housing policies. Had it not been for those faulty debt instruments, the debt bubble could probably have been deflated with relatively little damage.
As the Geneva report suggests, central bankers are now motivated by fear, no doubt hoping that the day of reckoning for the continuing global rise of debt will occur on someone else’s watch. But what if it doesn’t? Might it not be better to take more sensible measures now, like allowing interest rates to rise to a level that would bring saving and borrowing into better balance?
Mr. Melloan, a former columnist and deputy editor of the Journal editorial page, is the author of “The Great Money Binge: Spending Our Way to Socialism” (Simon & Schuster, 2009).