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Germany Is Delusional To The Point Of Insanity

global investingMy Comments: Assertive headlines such as what you see here are usually outside my comfort zone. For one it implies a pathology that I’m not trained to comment on and two, Europe and European values are different from mine, given that I’ve lived here in the US for the past 65 years. (Warning: this post is LONG.)

That being said, what goes on in Europe does influence what happens to our markets, and since investing money is an expertise I have, then knowing and trying to understand this sort of thing is important to me. And perhaps to you.

The Mercenary Trader / Jan. 21, 2015

“It is as if it’s accepted that the euro area’s modus operandi is to clear things with Germany, and for the ECB to constrain its actions to what is best for Germany.” ~ Athanasios Orphanides, former member of the ECB governing council

Most of the eurozone is experiencing deflation. Even the countries who aren’t – Germany etc. – are well below the ECB’s official 2% inflation target.

This is dangerous because deflationary conditions can tip into recession… and depression… and political extremism born of civil unrest. Deflation – or rather the extreme results of such, in the aftermath of harsh slowdown – brought us the Nazis in the 1930s. Post-Weimar economic implosion, not currency erosion, enabled the political conditions for Hitler’s rise to power.
Need we say more?

Apart from political unrest, deflation is like having no fuel in the emergency flight tank.

A lot of people will say “what’s wrong with deflation,” e.g. why is it so bad?

It’s important to clarify there is a big difference between falling inflation levels (disinflation) and inflation falling below zero. Think of a plane that stalls out.
When an economy goes negative, the risk is that the plane fails to overcome the stall… and crashes before it can pull up. Deflation (as opposed to disinflation) can lead to compounding “downward spiral” impacts, not unlike gravity’s increasing pull on a nosediving airplane.

The German attitude toward inflation, and debt, is pathological (indicative of mental disorder).

Germany is paranoid of inflation on a pathological level. Germany is also pathologically allergic to debt. Consider, for example, that Germany as a country has serious infrastructure needs… and there is real risk that Germany’s economy will slow in future. Right now, German interest rates hover above zero (or even dip below it). This is a historic opportunity for “good” financing… for logical spending on real needs, financed by incredibly low-cost debt.

Yet Germany is so debt averse, they aren’t willing to borrow for the future – not even for themselves – even with rates in the zero to one percent range. That’s almost the equivalent of turning down free money, even when it is badly needed for repairs… even when it has obvious strategic use. That is not frugality as a virtue, it’s more like a miser complex worthy of therapy.

Worse still, Germany is delusional about its own economy and dangers.

Think about this: What happens to the German economy when China really and truly slows? And what happens to the German economy when Japan goes “next level” in its competitive devaluation plan?

China is slow-motion imploding. No matter what happens, China has to switch from an infrastructure led economy to a consumer led one. This is very bad news for Germany, one of the world’s largest exporters. As is the increasingly competitive currency stance of Japan. Bottom line: Germany’s present economic strength could easily evaporate… for strong reasons that make logical sense. And how much cushion would they have in that event? None…

Bottom line: Germany would rather slit its own throat, economically speaking, than allow for a rational approach to inflation and debt.

That is a deliberately harsh phrase, it’s true. But the writing is on the wall. Germany’s commitment to austerity is not just pathological, it is economically suicidal.
The entire eurozone is at risk… and Germany’s own economy is too… and the lessons of history speak loudly. Yet Germany continues to live in a bizarro dream world where saving money has been elevated to a fetish regardless of surrounding circumstances.

We don’t choose to pick on Germany. We have friends who are German… family members and loved ones with German roots. It simply “is what it is.” The pathologies of a country, to the degree they go separate ways from rationality, are leading to economic disaster (and who knows what in the aftermath).

There are questions as to whether German provisions will “neuter” euro QE.

Draghi and the European Central Bank will announce some kind of quantitative easing on Thursday (sic). There is no question of it now. If they tried for another stall – more “wait and see” – European equity markets would simply go into freefall. Investors would start betting on accelerated odds of euro break-up.

But it remains possible that the “shock and awe” of euro QE will be neutered by German demands. Via the FT: To appease QE’s German opponents, which include the chancellor Angela Merkel herself, Mr. Draghi is expected to say that bonds bought will remain with national central banks, so losses will not be spread among eurozone members. But other eurozone countries, as well as the International Monetary Fund, fear the concession could reduce QE’s effectiveness…

OF COURSE giving Germany what it wants would reduce euro QE effectiveness!

• Germany wants to reduce fiscal exposure to weaker eurozone members.
• But establishing a united support front is the whole idea in the first place!
• The house is on fire and liquidity crisis measures (firehoses) are needed…
• But Germany wants to avoid charges for the water…
• And make sure any fires are segregated away from itself…
• Thus increasing the odds the whole thing burns down.

The German justification for not wanting to participate is ridiculous.

The stance of Germany is essentially, “Why should we pay for these bums? Why should we create more risk exposure for ourselves? We are savers, they are spenders… why should we waste money on them?”

The answer is that Germany should have asked those questions SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO. Saying “Nein!” to an insanely stupid monetary union would have been very logical, and the best thing for all… circa 1998 before the euro actually launched! But now it is too late to avoid responsibility for actions.

What’s more, it is no longer a “moral” question… but a question of WHAT THE RISKS ARE.

This is the other amazing / maddening thing about the German stance. Germany still acts as if there is room to say “no” on moral grounds… when the final question is what will happen, not what is right or wrong. When a course of action is highly likely to invite DISASTER, the question of right or wrong has to be put aside…

Because of Germany, we don’t know how euro QE will come across… but we are willing to short more FEZ against our euro position. Our EURUSD position has a sort of partial absolute hedge in short European equities. If Germany throws a spanner in the QE works, and “Super Mario” disappoints, EURUSD could spike in a big short squeeze. But European Equities (NYSEARCA:FEZ) would fall hard in that instance. Conversely, if Draghi and the ECB come through in a big way, the reverse could occur – EURUSD goes into freefall, FEZ rockets higher. So they act as de facto hedges of each other…

Another scary thing… even if Draghi gets his “big bazooka” QE… what good will it do?
The other frightening thing to consider: It may be too little, too late for Europe no matter what size of QE they get. There is little point in lowering eurozone bond yields (already pressing zero). And there is little real hope in stimulating bank lending. So the true point of euro QE would be… what? Making the euro a hell of a lot weaker to stimulate exports one supposes. What else is QE supposed to do?

One argument is that, once euro QE starts, it never stops… until it goes nuclear…
Some argue it doesn’t really matter how much QE the ECB starts with… because QE just gets bigger from that point no matter what. We can’t be sure this is true. Germany might try to stop a “failed” QE program. Then again, if things get really ugly – e.g. if Germany falls into recession too – then maybe it keeps going and going…
And the ECB finally winds up going “nuclear,” taking a page from Japan. Understand this: There are plausible scenarios where the euro goes to 85 cents before all is said and done. That outcome would not be too hot for risk assets. (Hello understatement!)

5 Republican Campaign Promises

My Comments: Campaign promises are usually pretty hollow expressions of what a candidate ‘would like’ to have you believe. If you win, then you can be held accountable. If you lose, then they are typically forgotten.

Last evening, President Obama gave us his 2015 State of the Union address. I did not watch it. My brain had been overly exercised earlier in the day and I simply didn’t have the stomach to participate in any more churning. From what I read this morning, I’m OK with who he is and where the country is at the moment.

As we start the new year, with an expectation that the news media will be rampant with gibberish from and about the various national candidates, here are five promises made by GOP hopefulls during the last cycle. They might wish them to be forgotten.

One can argue persuasively that ‘deficit reduction’ has not happened given the federal debt will increase by about $1T, but federal outlays vs federal receipts has improved significantly since 2010 ( $1,294B vs $483B in 2014 ). It is a significantly lower % of the Gross National Product than it was in 2008. That’s a very good thing.

Deficit Reduction

“We will curb Washington’s spending habits and promote job creation, bring down the deficit, and build long-term fiscal stability.”—2010 GOP Pledge to America.
When Republicans took control of the House in 2010, they repeatedly stressed that reducing the federal budget deficit was a matter of peak national importance. Which makes their repeated proposals to blow up the deficit by billions rather odd. But thankfully for the GOP, with President Obama and Democrats blocking budget-busting proposals like Paul Ryan’s tax plan, the deficit has steadily dropped throughout Obama’s presidency.

Economic Growth

“Well, if China can have 5 percent growth, and India can have 5 percent growth, and Brazil can have 5 percent growth, the United States of America can have 5 percent growth”—Tim Pawlenty, June 18, 2011
As Politico reported at the time, forgettable 2012 candidate Tim Pawlenty’s pledge to spur 5 percent GDP growth was “mocked by some economists and Republican critics as unachievable in a country this large.” But in the third quarter of 2014, the Obama economy hit Pawlenty’s benchmark (for their part, Republicans greeted the news with as much enthusiasm as they showed toward Pawlenty’s campaign).

Gas Prices

“I’ve developed a program for American energy so no future president will ever bow to a Saudi king again and so every American can look forward to $2.50-a-gallon gasoline.”—Newt Gingrich, February 22, 2012.
By Gingrich’s standards, President Obama has been stunningly successful: The national average gas price is now $2.32 per gallon, marking the lowest level since May 2009. Of course, gas prices have tumbled due to a wide range of factors, few of which involve Obama — but none of which involved bowing to a Saudi king.

Medicare

“Mitt Romney and I will protect and strengthen Medicare so that the promises that were made that people organize their retirements around, like my mom, will be promises that are kept.”—Paul Ryan, August 19, 2012
There’s some reason to doubt that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was sincere when he promised to protect Medicare, given that he has repeatedly proposed plans to end the program as we know it. But if the 2012 vice-presidential nominee does genuinely want to ensure that Medicare remains strong, then he’ll surely be glad to learn that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act has significantly improved the program’s financial outlook. Since Obamacare became law, Medicare’s Hospital Insurance trust fund’s solvency has been extended by 13 years.

Unemployment

“I can tell you that over a period of four years, by virtue of the policies that we’d put in place, we’d get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent, and perhaps a little lower.”—Mitt Romney, May 23, 2012.
Mitt Romney’s vow to reduce unemployment to 6 percent by the end of his first term in office was almost universally hailed as bold and ambitious. But under President Obama’s stewardship, the economy improved much quicker than Romney promised: The unemployment rate has dropped steadily since the 2012 election, and dipped to 5.9 percent in September. President Obama has also blown Rick Perry’s vague promise to create 1.25 million jobs out of the water.

Economic Data Releases

US economyMy Comments: These data points come from Guggenheim Partners. For some of you this is meaningless nonsense; for others, a quick review is intented to give you a glimpse of what is happening in the world, including the US.

To put some of this in perspective, I saw an article this weekend that compared the results of the DOW Industrial Average, from its theoretical inception in 1817, to now. When Obama became president in 2008, it was roughly 9,000. By the end of this past December, it was roughtly 18,000. The point was it took 190 years to get halfway to where it is now the other half happened since Obama was elected.

My point of this is no President is entitled to the credit for this nor is he entitled to the blame. It generally happens regardless of who is in the White House. However, I urge you to remember that market declines can happen and do happen regardeless of who is in the White House, and happen even when the economy is relatively strong. We are due for a correction.

Continued Strength in Payrolls but Wage Growth Falters
• Non-farm payrolls increased by 252,000 in December after an upwardly revised 353,000 in November.
• The unemployment rate fell by 0.2 percentage points in December to 5.6 percent, in part due to a lower labor force participation rate.
• Average hourly earnings slowed to 1.7 percent year-over-year growth in December, the slowest 12-month rate since October 2012.
• The ISM manufacturing index was weaker than expected in the December reading, falling to 55.5 from 58.7, a six-month low.
• The ISM non-manufacturing index missed expectations in December, falling to a six-month low of 56.2.
• Factory orders dropped in November, down 0.7 percent. Orders have now fallen for four straight months, the first such streak since 2012.
• The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Home Price Index showed continued slowing home price growth in October, with the year-over-year reading declining to 4.50 percent from 4.82 percent.
• Pending home sales rose 0.5 percent in November, slightly better than expectations.
• Construction spending fell in November for the first time since June, down 0.3 percent. Public construction spending led the drop.
• The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index ticked up in December, rising to 92.6 from an upwardly revised 91.0. The present situation index experienced a large gain, but expectations fell.
• The trade deficit narrowed in November, contracting to -$39.0 billion, a nearly one-year low.

Euro Zone Enters Deflation

• The euro zone Consumer Price Index fell into deflation in December at -0.2 percent year over year, lower than forecasts had expected. The core CPI inched up to 0.8 percent.
• The euro zone manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index was revised lower in the final December estimate, but still recorded an increase from the prior month at 50.6.
• Euro zone retail sales beat expectations in November, up 0.6 percent for a second consecutive month.
• Germany’s December CPI dropped more than expected on a year-over-year basis, falling to a five-year low of 0.1 percent.
• German industrial production unexpectedly declined in November, down 0.1 percent.
• German exports decreased for a second consecutive month in November, falling 2.1 percent.
• Industrial production in France was down 0.3 percent in November. Production has not risen since July.
• The U.K. manufacturing PMI unexpectedly fell in December, down to 52.5 from 53.3.
• The U.K. services PMI dropped much more than expected in December, falling to a 19-month low of 55.8.
• China’s official manufacturing PMI fell for a third straight month in December, reaching an 18-month low of 50.1.
• China’s non-manufacturing PMI ticked up in December, increasing to a four-month high of 54.1.
• China’s HSBC services PMI ticked up for a second consecutive month in December, reaching a three-month high of 53.4.
• The Chinese Producer Price Index dropped more than expected in December, falling to 3.3 percent year over year.
• Chinese consumer prices inched up in December to 1.5 percent year over year.

Hedge Fund Manager Who Remembers 1998 Rout Says Prepare for Pain

1994-2015My Comments: This is another example of an article that talks about what might happen to our investments in 2015. For many of us advisors, there is an increasingly pervasive odor surrounding the markets. It has nothing to do with the solid economy developing here in the US. The odor, however, is giving me an increased incentive to move clients away from the markets in general and place money where there is zero chance of a dramatic decline.

I’m reluctant to use fear as a motivator, but looking at the S&P 500 chart since 1994 suggests that something bad is likely to happen soon, if not in 2015. Couple this with the fact that all of us are older than we once were. What this means is we have less time to live through a recovery if it takes several years.

There are many people who have yet to recover from what happened in 2008-2009. For some, they are still traumatized and have money in Certificates of Deposit, or bond funds, thinking they are now safe.

Regardless of your circumstances, realistic choices can be made to minimize the upcoming pain. It may be caused by the current collapse of oil prices or something entirely different, but it will happen.

December 16, 2014 • Bloomberg News

Stephen Jen landed in Hong Kong in early January 1997 as Morgan Stanley’s newly minted exchange-rate strategist for Asia.

He was soon working around the clock when investors began targeting the region’s currency pegs, first felling Thailand’s in July. The rout spread through Asia before rocking Brazil and Russia. It led to the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management, an event that introduced the Federal Reserve-brokered bailout.

If the 48-year-old native of Taiwan, with a PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sounds a little jaded now, it’s not without some reason. He worries that many Emerging-Market analysts are too young to remember the late 1990s. Instead they learned the ropes in an era dominated by the rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China — a supposed one-way bet to prosperity.

“Many became EM specialists after the term ‘BRIC’ was coined in 2001 and don’t know any serious crisis,’’ says Jen, who now runs the London-based hedge fund SLJ Macro Partners LLP.

The youngsters are about to be schooled. Jen says echoes of 1997-1998 may be at hand.

Investors woke up today to Russia’s 1 a.m. interest-rate increase to defend the ruble. There’s the mounting likelihood of a Venezuelan default. Stocks from Thailand to Brazil are reeling. The Fed hasn’t even begun raising interest rates.

Jen is bracing for more pain. “At some point, the risk of fractures in parts of EM will rise sharply,” said Jen.

Currency Dangers
While unwilling to draw up a blacklist for now, he says exchange rates reveal emerging-market dangers. Russia’s ruble, Brazil’s real, Mexico’s peso, Turkey’s lira, the South African rand and Indoniesian rupiah have all hit the skids.

The biggest causes for worry, bigger than a recession in Russia or the oil-price plunge: the slowdown in China, which has already upended commodity prices, and the likelihood U.S. growth will propel the dollar higher and suck assets out of emerging markets.

Sounding a similar alert, the Bank for International Settlements has warned an appreciating dollar could have a “profound impact” on the world economy. It estimates that international lending to non-financial companies totalled $9.5 trillion at the end of June. Claims on China alone have been growing at an annual rate of 50 percent to reach $1.1 trillion.

International Monetary Fund economists also reported this month that the frequency of sovereign debt crises is 15 percent higher at the start of a U.S. monetary tightening cycle.

“My long-standing view on EM currencies is that they could melt down because there has simply been way too much cumulative capital flows,” said Jen. “Nothing the EM economics can do will stop these potential outflows as long as the U.S. economy recovers.”

The Joy of Being Older…

1942 RAK in hat@CuyuniMy Comments: It’s a cold, gray day here in Gainesville, Florida. The rest of the country, except perhaps the West coast, is suffering too but at least we have no snow. Maybe I can add a little levity to what has so far been a frantic week. BTW that’s me on January 1, 1942.

1. Sometimes I’ll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

2. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong.

3. I totally take back all those times I didn’t want to nap when I was younger.

4. There is great need for a sarcasm font on computers.

5. How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

6. Was learning cursive really necessary?

7. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on # 5. I’m pretty
sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.

8. The first testicular guard, the “Cup,” was used in Hockey in 1874
and the first helmet was used in 1974. That means it only took 100
years for men to realize that their brain is also important.

9. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t at least kind-of tired.

10. Bad decisions make good stories.

11. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment when
you know that you just aren’t going to do anything productive for the
rest of the day.

12. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after Blu-ray? I
don’t want to have to restart my collection…again.

13. I’m always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks
me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page technical report that
I swear I did not make any changes to.

14. I keep some people’s phone numbers in my phone just so I know not
to answer when they call.

15. I think the freezer deserves a light as well.

16. I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or
Saturday night more kisses begin with Miller Light than Kay.

17. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

18. How many times is it appropriate to say “What?” before you just
nod and smile because you still didn’t hear or understand a word they
said?

19. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team
up to prevent some jerk from cutting in at the front. Stay strong,
brothers and sisters!

20. Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get
dirty, and you can wear them forever.

21. Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car
keys in a pocket, finding their cell phone, and Pinning the Tail on
the Donkey – but I’d bet everyone can find and push the snooze button
from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time, every
time. Uh Huh!

22. Life just gets better as you get older doesn’t it? I was in a
Starbucks recently when my stomach started rumbling and I realized
that I desperately needed to fart. The place was packed but the music
was really loud so to get relief and reduce embarrassment I timed my
farts to the beat of the music. After a couple of songs I started to
feel much better. I finished my coffee and noticed that everyone was
staring at me…. I suddenly remembered that I was listening to my
IPod.

This is what happens when old people start using technology! So how was your day?

Healthy Customers Equal Good Business

My Comments:healthcare reform Here we are at the beginning of 2015 and virtually all of us want to experience good news as opposed to bad news. I suspect we will have some of both as the next twelve months appear.

Among the good news I’d like to experience is a recognition by the new Congress that it is in our best interest as a nation to have as healthy and productive citizenry as possible. That makes it more possible for our way of life and message to the rest of the world that we legitimately set the standard for civilization.

I really don’t want to listen to a bunch of whiners bemoan the Affordable Care Act and attempt to tear it down without a corresponding effort to replace it with something that will achieve the same outcome. How does it help us if we go back to a health care delivery system like what was in place in 2006? At the time, annual increases in premiums for health insurance pretty much matched the increase in health care costs, close to 8% every year. Sooner, rather than later, THAT would bankrupt all of us. My hope is that their time and effort will be to fix the obvious flaws and make sure as many people as possible have health insurance.

By Mark Roberts / December 5, 2014

Remember the phrase, “The customer is always right?”

If you listen to customer service reps in many companies, or go to a restaurant or retail store, that status is fast disappearing. Gone are the days when consumers had free range to demand satisfaction as part of doing business. Some companies get it right, but many do not.

In health care, satisfying the customer is even more important. As a matter of fact, it’s downright critical to your success and the customer’s financial and physical survival. A critical effect of the dynamic changes continuing to take place in health care — such as The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — is the rise of consumerism and, most importantly, the role of patient experience. Patient experience not only impacts consumer perception, but also clinical efficacy, as reported by Executive Insight magazine.

According to HealthExecMobile, in 2013, only 11 percent of traditional-plan enrollees were “not too” or “not at all” satisfied with their health plan overall, compared with 19 percent of consumer-driven health plan enrollees and 22 percent of high deductible health plan enrollees,according to a recent study by The Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Who’s happier with their health plan — those in “traditional” managed care plans, or those in so-called “consumer-driven” and high-deductible plans? The latest data from the nonpartisan EBRI) show that the overall satisfaction rate among CDHP enrollees is gradually increasing, while it is gradually decreasing among traditional enrollees.

Earlier this year, a study showed concerns over not having enough health coverage are driving down plan member satisfaction with health plans across the country, according to a survey by J.D. Power & Associates. According to the research firm’s survey of some 34,000 consumers, 41 percent of existing health plan members said they feel they don’t have enough coverage for routine visits, serious illness or injury, health and wellness programs, routine diagnostics and drug coverage.

The annual study measures satisfaction among members of 136 health plans in 18 regions throughout the United States by examining six key factors: coverage and benefits, provider choice, information and communication, claims processing, cost, and customer service.

Also driving down satisfaction, unsurprisingly, is health care costs. The study found that 55 percent of members indicate having experienced an increase in costs in 2013, which negatively impacts cost satisfaction. The average monthly premium paid in 2013 is $285. Additionally, the survey found that 35 percent of members said they received a notice of changes in their coverage, networks or rates from their health plan in the past 12 months.

J.D. Power’s study said that there are simple things to be done to improve satisfaction from plan members. Among them is timely communication and services — such as wellness programs — that increase member engagement. “Health plans must look for ways to promptly communicate both pre-approvals and cost in order to minimize member anxiety and mitigate concerns about access to care, ultimately increasing customer satisfaction.”

Medicare Advantage plans have an even tougher standard for customer satisfaction. HealthPocket, a free website that compares and ranks health insurance plans, studied several major customer service categories tracked by the government: overall call center customer service, dropped calls, on-hold time and accuracy of information received.

HealthPocket found, overall, more than 15 percent of the Medicare Advantage companies examined failed to meet the government standards for customer service through a call center. In this market, bad ratings mean less money. Not good for those who didn’t pass the test.

According to Executive Insight magazine, the more their experience elicits their desired emotions, the more patients value the experience and the more engaged they become. Yes, patients are consumers, and they know it, up to a point. Patients exchange money for services, and they want their money’s worth. But healthcare is much more than a financial transaction. It’s also highly emotional. And engaged patients have a better experience because it is psychologically and emotionally gratifying.

New analysis finds that carriers have hit a 10-year low in consumer satisfaction, and are the fourth least-liked industry, ranking…

It’s also important to understand that the impact of a patients’ visit doesn’t end when they walk out the door. The type of experience a patient has can also impact the decisions of their friends and family. On average, patients who are satisfied tell three other people about their positive experience while those who are dissatisfied tell up to 25 people. And, social media has multiplied this effect; instead of telling a handful of people about a bad experience, patients can now tell an ever-growing network with the click of a mouse.

A recent survey of more than 1,000 people found that about a third of consumers rely on social media, such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, for gathering or sharing medical information. Of that one-third, 41 percent said that social media influence decisions about their choice of a specific hospital, medical facility or physician, according to Lou Carbone, founder, president and chief experience officer of Experiencing Engineering.

Now that you know that your health care customer, insurance consumer, patient or employee are incredibly adept at complaining when things go wrong, it’s up to you as the primary decision maker to not ignore problems when they develop. And, you should work hard to prevent issues that are bound to develop if you don’t pay attention to the details of good customer satisfaction.

People like to complain when things don’t go according to their expectations. Once in a while you may get an “Atta Boy” if someone thinks you got it right. Although it’s virtually impossible to make everyone happy in health care, the best way to stay in front of the wolves is to make sure that you don’t give them cause to chase you. Customer satisfaction is healthy business.

Happy New Year! A Grand Illusion?

I apologize for being philosophical and rambling on, but I am prone to do that as my years accumulate and future years become less certain.

Today is January 1, 2015. It’s important for us to recognize this day, the first day of the calendar year. It is significant in human terms, celebrated across the civilized world as proof the old year is gone and a new one is beginning. In this context, it represents the start of a new term, a span of life that holds promise along with likely disappointment.

On another level, it is such a short span as to be essentially irrelevant, so indistinguishable from other time spans as to be almost an illusion. Is it real or is it just our imagination?

Astronomy and the cosmos have long fascinated me. Not as a scientist with expertise and authority, but as an observer and someone who chooses to spend some of that time referenced earlier thinking about the implications. Questions about why I am alive today, as opposed to millennia ago or at some point in the millennia to come. And in the grand scheme of things, how significant is a ‘millennia’ anyway.

On a certain web site I follow, articles about astronomy and the cosmos by a Phil Plait appear from time to time. Here is a link to what triggered my thoughts today: The Beauty of a Grain of Sand on a Cosmic Beach.

The writer includes this image of a distant galaxy, similar in size and shape to our own milky way galaxy. He says it is roughly 85 million light years away, has about a billion stars with probably an equal number of planets. He reflects that it is not unusual in any way, has been written about in astronomical literature only once that he can find, and suggests it is but another grain of sand on a cosmic beach.

If you’ve ever been to a sandy beach, or walked on sand dunes somewhere on this planet of ours, you know the immensity suggested by trying to identify a single grain of sand, much less grains of sand that might exist on other planets, spinning around an unknown sun, one of mega-billions that exist across the cosmos among billions of galaxies.

I’m very aware that shortly after I woke up this morning, I climbed out of bed, went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, got dressed and went for a walk. Something I do almost every morning. I was aware that it was January 1st, that I had gone to sleep before the magic moment arrived when the calendar shifted from 2014 to 2015. As I write this a couple of hours later, it all seems very real.

Until I start thinking about that image of a galaxy identified as NGC 1169. And on that level, my getting up and going for a walk, fixing a cup of coffee and reading the paper seems illusory. Did it really happen? Does it really matter? Why am I having these thoughts? Are thoughts like this real, or are they the figment of someone else’s mind? Are there life forms somewhere across those trillions of planets thinking about the same things we think about? For me that seems to be very likely. So on this level, what I seem to get done today, indeed this year, is essentially irrelevant.

But on our level, that is you and me, as two of several billion functioning human beings on what we call planet Earth, what we do this year is important. Knowing that existence for us can exist on different levels helps me eliminate the notion that what I do today is not an illusion, that it does matter. So I have some goals that I will try to achieve this calendar year.

And in the spirit of our existence as functioning humans on this spinning pile of rock somewhere in the cosmos, Happy New Year!