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Commentary & Opinion

Confounding And Confusing Events 8/23/21

The Census Bureau recently announced that the percentage of white Americans was less than the percentage of non-white Americans for the first time in our history. The impact of this change will be sweeping over time and could well be the beginning of the evolution of American politics. It has long-been my belief that the key to a more democratic America is not through term limits, or even the elimination of gerrymandering, but rather, it will be through the natural progression of what one can hope will turn into virtually every Congressional and State legislative district becoming purple. This would allow the electorate to have far greater control over who their representative is, than any of the other potential reforms. As the population moves more left or right over time, you will get turnover from those periodic waves and force politicians to be more centered.

The veteran’s reaction to what is occurring in Afghanistan appears to be somewhat mixed. Although there are many who feel that the action we have taken is wrong, there are virtually an equal number who recognize, even if they do not like the fact that at some point this had to end, and when it did end, the result would virtually be the same. I don’t think there are any surprises to any veteran who has served in Afghanistan that the Taliban have come back. I think the only thing that causes surprise is the rapidity with which it has happened. Unfortunately, the Afghan military and government, due to its vast corruption has virtually no interest in standing up to the Taliban and fighting without the US in place, spending money and losing lives. If one hearkens back to the end of the Vietnam War, many of the scenes look very similar. There is blame to cast on the Biden Administration for the way in which it executed the withdrawal, but not the outcome. Our top priority should be to extract American citizens and troops, as well as those Afghans who helped us so that they should not be left at risk. We need to learn that we cannot wage this type of war which we have done in Iraq, Afghanistan, and years ago, in Vietnam and expect success. Actions or wars without specific strategic objectives make virtually no sense, result in significantly more death on both sides, and amongst the civilian population, it decimates countries, from an economic and cultural standpoint and leave us looking like the bad guys.

Retail sales fell 1.1% in July, led by a 3.9% drop in auto sales. An initial reading of the overall retail sales results would certainly not be good news for the economy, but when you take into account the decline in auto sales which is largely a result of a lack of supply, this is a much less threatening and negative report.

Continuing with the economy in general, China saw a significant drop in its economy, with industrial, consumption and investment activity falling. The question this raises, of course is, is the Chinese economy faltering, or is this merely the impact of weather in July, and the resurgence of the Delta variant? Of all the issues facing us on the economic front, whether in the United States or world-wide, the Delta variant poses the greatest short-term problem. The impact to the market was palpable when retail sales results were announced which was immediately followed with the announcement about the decline in Chinese economy. All-in-all, we need to watch these issues.

On the COVID front, we had the call for boosters for people who have immunocompromised systems which was quickly followed by a call for boosters for virtually everyone. There appears to be an adequate supply to accomplish this goal, and this, to me, makes a great deal of sense, particularly if you have health conditions which put you at risk. It will be interesting to see whether or not the increase in vaccination levels, which appears to be occurring will have any impact on the supply, and therefore, the ability to provide boosters. I suspect not, but we have hit so many bumps in this road that nothing should be a surprise.

New home starts declined by 7%, and permits for future construction rose slightly. Mortgage interest rates are rising incrementally, but are still well below 3% for a 30-year mortgage. These are areas of the economy we need to keep an eye on as we go through the resurgence of COVID as a result of the Delta variant.

Wild fires continue to burn out of control (some have tripled in size in the west), while at the same time water controls are being instituted, and on balance we are seeing what many people believe to be the impact of global warming. Conversely, in the east, we have had a reasonable amount of rain after a period of drought and our landscape continues to be green and there does not seem to be any long-term impacts that we are seeing, as yet.

Team Mobile announced that 40 million people had data stolen by hackers, this is just another in the long line of hacker incursions into databases. What is obvious is that few, if any, databases are actually secure, nonetheless, we are forced to provide the data in order to continue our everyday lives.

I was listening to BBC news once recent morning which reported that Boris Johnson effectively castigated the United States for the Afghan situation. We are hearing whispers of concern from other countries regarding our roll in the world. I would reiterate that we spent 20 years in Afghanistan, not exactly a whimsical approach to a difficult problem. I think it is a mistake not to fully analyze what we committed to and what we did in assessing our roll in Afghanistan. Nor do I think this should be construed as how we might respond under other circumstances. In any event, any future action that we take we should have a clear strategic goal and it should impact US national security interests (which I would note, could be wide ranging and differing set of views).

News reports you hear about the nature the Taliban movement demonstrate it is not one of tolerance as they see anyone who is not a right-wing Muslim as a danger to society and their rule. This is not unlike the Chinese government’s mentality or the communist government of Russia, nor Mr. Putin. It is about control and the fear that if there is any breakdown in that control, that the whole system will unravel. In no surprise to anyone, the Taliban’s promises of a more conventional government and interaction with its citizens is different than what’s actually happening on the ground.

Athletes now can earn compensation for their images and stardom that could very well benefit them as they complete their education, but also the schools for whom they play. How the NCAA manages this new era will be fascinating to watch.

The fed, last month according to its recently released minutes are on-track to begin reversing their easy money policies later in 21. I suspect that this will have to be assessed against the impact of the Delta variant on the economy overall, but in large measure, this seems like an appropriate end of a long-running policy that has done significant good, but in truth, needs to be reined in.

Canada calls Parliamentary elections to take place six weeks from now. Liberals are ahead several points over Conservatives with the NDP in third, likely leading to a coalition Government.

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