Was 2016 A Bad Year? For The U.S.? For Us at MD Anderson?

Was 2016 A Bad Year? For The U.S.? For Us at MD Anderson?


Leonard Zwelling

         There is much in the press about how 2016 was a bad year. There were Brexit and the Trump victory by negative 2.5 million votes. There were natural disasters galore from fires to earthquakes. There were the usual plane crashes. And, of course, there are many areas of tragedy around the globe not the least of which is in Iraq and Syria. But was 2016 particularly bad or does it just seem more coarse and thus abrasive to our sensibilities rather than being truly any worse than usual?

         I am going to argue that it is precisely the bad that occurred that gives us so much reason for hope.

         Natural disasters come and go. If some of those this year derive from climate change and they convince even some of the naysayers and skeptics that global warming is for real, then that’s good. Maybe then we can get the collective will together to do something about it despite Mr. Trump arguing it is all a Chinese plot.

         On Mr. Trump and the Chinese, the fact that he had the courage (or lack of diplomatic niceties) to call the President of Taiwan and make the first contact with the leader of that island nation by a sitting or elected US President since 1979 is cause for celebration. Taiwan is a loyal ally and more than a few Americans of great stature and greater contribution comes from that place. Pretending that it is part of the Communist bloc to its west is ridiculous and while I was all for Nixon opening China, that should not be at the cost of our relationship with Taiwan. Who our allies are is our decision, not that of the Communist Chinese who seem to have no qualms about sending many of its people to get educated in the United States and sending even more goods to sell here.

         How can any year with Bernie be bad? You have to love a 74-year old Socialist running for and almost winning the Democratic Presidential nomination. Who knows? Maybe he could have beaten Trump.

         Brexit is a disaster for the UK. But like the United States, under the rules of its own elections, Great Britain will have to live with its democratically derived decisions.

         Many feel Mr. Trump is a disaster, too—even before he takes office. I was surely no supporter, but he won fair and square even if he got the minority of the popular vote. Mrs. Clinton was inevitably undone by her own record of misstatements and deceptive practices not to mention the one fact about her even Barack Obama got wrong. She was NOT likable enough, especially in middle America. As I have stated in this space before, Mr. Trump’s election was better than a revolution in the streets of America. We were getting close to insurrection unless someone in Washington began to pay attention to the plight of the great American middle class. Mr. Trump did and it was these folks who put him into office. What’s wrong with that?

 Now, as for MD Anderson, how am I going to paint  a bright picture of what has happened there in a year in which monthly deficits have reached $60 M and the electronic medical record is still providing headaches for the faculty? That’s why!

Finally, things that many of us who care deeply about Anderson, but who have been off the scene for a while now were concerned about, are becoming visible to the whole world. That’s the start to a fix.

My guess is that there will be a major layoff of personnel after January 1 no matter how good the numbers are for November. My recollection is that December is always a bad month due to days off and patients putting off visits for Christmas. It is likely that the year-to-date shortfall for 2016-2017 through the first four months of the fiscal year will exceed $100 M. If the leadership keeps requesting spending authority of the Regents to use patient care revenue for cell lines and consultations, that’s a deficit that no number of extra clinic visits can offset.  Just say for me that the leaders of the clinical enterprise are probably short timers as well and ought to be part of that layoff because I still cannot imagine the geniuses in Austin will realize what the current president is doing to the once great cancer center in Houston and make the most critical layoff of all.

So while the turn of the year may not portend great short-term promise, I believe the collective events of 2016 set the stage for progress in 2017. If Mr. Trump gets half of what he wants to get done, done, well maybe we all got him wrong. If he doesn’t, lets’ find out now and make him a one-term President.

Dr. DePinho has already lasted more than a four-year term. There is no doubt that he is not going to cure cancer in five years. Not even one cancer. He has developed no new therapies on his own as far as I can tell and the ones for which he takes credit were not really his at all.

I am going to count 2016 as a neutral year with the Cubs’ victory a positive even though I was rooting for Cleveland. At least Cleveland took the NBA Finals. Now if we could only get some really great movies again…

The Rolling Stones have a new album and albeit not original material, it is good to hear them crank it up on blues standards.

I think 2016 may turn out to be the beginning of real hope. Of course, I am retired and can’t be laid off. For some of my former colleagues, 2017 may turn out not so well.

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