#317 How Technology-Induced Disruptions Impact Societies (#6 of 6)

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.  

Occasionally I do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent standard “sense checks.”   Entries (#310-#313) broke from conversation format.  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are in the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.”   

Scene: Jordan’s office, Washington, DC.  Continuing conversation with Gelly, Jordan’s assistant.  Conversation began Entry #308.

092615_2031_Characters7.gifGelly:  “Seems to me we have two open topics – (i) if the invention of the automobile changed society; (ii) to what extent do product life cycles influence societal change.  But I need to get out of the office soon, so no blabbering on, please.”

Jordan:  “So diplomatic.  OK, I’ll try to keep it short…”

Gelly:  “…and simple.”

Jordan:  “Let’s start with autos.  Recall I said the iPhone…really the smartphone…seemed to be more integration of existing components than an invention.  Without question, since introduction the iPhone has had a major impact on societies worldwide.  But, to me the iPhone should not be categorized as a major technology breakthrough.”

iPhone3Gelly:  “Your analysis surprised me before the break and still surprises me.  I always thought the iPhone was some big invention.  Invention or not, what does the iPhone have to do with the automobile?”

Jordan:  “The introduction of the automobile, in many ways, fits in the same category as the iPhone – more integration than invention.”

Gelly:  “Your comment just seems to counter-intuitive.  Why do you say the automobile was more integration?”

Jordan:  “What was the nickname that most people called early automobiles?”

1903 OldsGelly:  “Horseless carriage, right?”

Jordan:  “Yes.  And what did the early automobiles look like?”

Gelly:  “A carriage without horses.”

Jordan:  “Now, think about the key components of an early automobile.  Obviously horse-carriage components were around.  If fact, for the early years, automobiles used wooden frames and wooden wheels – wheels, not tires.  The engine for the automobile had been around for a while, too.  Both the steam engines and the gas engine had been used in farm tractors.”

Model T AssemblyGelly:  “What about the assembly line.  Didn’t Henry Ford invent that?”

Jordan:  “Not really.  An assembly line required parts to be standardized so each part fit the same way on every car.  While Ford was probably the first auto company to use an assembly line, rifle manufacturers had been making standardized parts for decades.  Ford was smart and adopted the same assembly-line technique to increase production and reduce cost of the Model A.”

Gelly:  “Gee, I always thought automobiles were a technological breakthrough.  Now you’re saying autos were more like an iPhone.”

Jordan:  “True, but I also have a confession.  Always knew that Henry Ford borrowed the idea of an assembly line but until this conversation, I never really thought about the development of the automobile as being more integration than invention.”

Gelly:  “Well, well.  Jordan makes a confession.  Now, next topic – how do product life cycles affect societal change?”

Jordan:  “Stick with autos to start.  The automobile life cycle has been very long…and still going strong.  While lots of things on cars have changed – design, interior, engine Baker Electricperformance, emissions, creature comforts – the fundamental technology in cars and trucks is the same as the early 1900’s.  I know that might sound odd, but it’s true.  Most people forget there were steam-powered cars and battery-powered electric cars in 1910.  See that picture on my desk.  That’s a Baker Electric.”

Gelly:  “You mean Elon Musk didn’t invent the electric car?  Yikes!  What will all those Millennials think?”

Jordan:  “Now, now, be nice.”

Gelly:  “I know what you mean.  If you see a car that was built around 1910, even earlier, everyone still knows it’s a car.  That’s not true for some major products from 40-50 years ago, or even 25-30 years ago.”

WhyJordan:  “So has the automobile life cycle affected societal behavior?  Yes, but has society been affected by the life-cycle of the automobile manufacturers?”

Gelly:  “Not sure what you mean.”

Jordan:  “The answer is no, society has not.  Let me tell you why.  And give me some leeway on the numbers.  They’re about right.  In the US in 1910 there were 200 or more companies making cars.  By 1920 that number had dropped to about 20.”

Gelly:  “Is that drop like one of those order-of-magnitudes you were talking about before the break?”

Declining ChartJordan:  “Yes.  Very good.  Then between about 1920 and the mid-1960’s, the number of manufacturers dropped from 20 to 4-5, depends on the timing.  However, did the decline in the number of manufacturers affect how societal behavior was affected by the automobile?”

Gelly:  “No.  Car sales kept increasing.  So the relative short life-cycle of most of the early manufacturers had no affect at all on the number of cars being produced.  In fact, even though the number of car manufacturers declined sharply, the number of cars sold increased sharply.”

Jordan:  “So now we’ve separated the influence of the technology from the influence of individual companies involved with the technology.”

Gelly:  “The number of auto companies in the US declined but then it increased again.  Right now there are a bunch of foreign companies selling cars in the US.  And many of those companies have assembly plants here.  Let’s see, there’s Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Mercedes, BMW…let me think some more.”

TurtleneckJordan:  “You’ve made your point.  There are at least 10 different auto companies with assembly plants in North America. They got here, in part, because in the late 1960’s and 1970’s and even in the 1980’s, the US companies were slow to respond to changing consumer tastes and the increased demand for more fuel-efficient cars.  Even if the Big 3 auto companies had responded more quickly, they probably could not have stopped all the imports.”

Gelly:  “So in the 1970’s the foreign-based companies start selling in the US…and have taken a big chunk of the US market.  But what I don’t understand is why did they build assembly plants in the US?  If Trump’s MAGA claim – Make America Great Again – had any validity, then why wouldn’t the various foreign manufacturers take the same approach?  Just build cars in say Germany or Japan and ship to the US.  Why not?

Trump DunceJordan:  “The foreign-based manufacturers built plants in North America to save money and respond to market demands more quickly.  What Trump seemed to overlook…more likely never understood…is the real cost and the long lead-times involved with building overseas and then shipping to the country where the cars are sold.  What he also probably never understood was that before 1920, the US auto companies set up assembly plants in a number of foreign countries for the very same reasons the foreign companies built assembly plants in the US.”

Gelly:  “Another example of dodo-bird reasoning in the Trump Oval Office.  Boy, am I glad Trump’s gone.”

Jordan:  “Speaking of gone, before you leave let me try to wrap us what we’ve been talking about.”

Gelly:  “Let me try instead, please.  Societies may experience major changes in behavior as a result of a new product.  There does not seem to be consistent pattern whether the product that precipitated the change was an invention, a spin-off of an invention or an integration of other products, like the iPhone or the automobile.  We also concluded it doesn’t really matter…other than to maybe a few academics…whether the primary product was the invention, a spin-off or some integration.”

Jordan:  “OK so far.”

Gelly:  “In addition, although we didn’t talk about it a lot, some products have a very long life cycle that continues to affect societal behavior – automobiles, for example.  Other products have shorter cycles that affect societal behavior – mainframe computers, for example.  Some version of the Question Animatedshorter life-cycle product might still be around but the period of influence – its life cycle – is over.  I think I understand…but the answer seems so messy.”

Jordan:  “Agreed.  There doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut answer whether a technology per se, products based on that technology, or some product which integrated that technology precipitated societal change…let alone did the societal change contribute to a societal revolution.”

Gelly:  “One thing is clear, I need to get out of here.  Good-bye, Jordan.”

Jordan:  “Good-bye, Gelly.”

(Topic over for now.  Will likely revisit reasonably soon.)

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#316 How Technology-Induced Disruptions Impact Societies (#5 in Series)

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.  

Occasionally I do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent standard “sense checks.”   Entries (#310-#313) broke from conversation format.  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are in the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.”   

Scene: Jordan’s office, Washington, DC.  Continuing conversation with Gelly, Jordan’s assistant.  Conversation began Entry #308.

Jordan: “OK, Gelly, I’m back. On the break I thought more how to keep this discussion simple.”

Gelly: “Good. So where do we start?”

Jordan: “First step is to decide what’s a disruptive technology for society compared to a disruptive technology for a company or industry.”

Coffee cup StarbucksGelly: “Just looking at your coffee cup, I suspect the introduction of a paper coffee cup was a major disruption to the pottery coffee-cup makers.  However, it’s hard to imagine the paper coffee cup had a major societal impact. Is that what you mean?”

Jordan: “Exactly. Same logic applies to causes of the various revolutions in the US. The Great Depression in the 1930’s caused a major economic disruption for much of the population but there was no societal upheaval as there was with the other revolutions.  In fact, one might argue that during the Great Depression most of the US population came closer together rather growing than farther apart.”

Gelly: “Think I understand the difference. Now, how about looking at some technologies. Before the break I asked if computers and automobiles were technologies that caused disruptions to society.”

Jordan: “Computers seem to be easier to analyze…but be prepared because the discussion might get a bit messy.”

Gelly: “OK. If computers really started to change society, then when did the change start?”

IBM MainframeJordan: “In the 1960’s when IBM introduced what were called mainframe computers. Granted, by today’s standards, the mainframes were big and slow. There were special air-conditioned rooms to handle all the extra heat from the computers. Plus, for a lot of applications, you had to transfer information to punch cards before you could use the computer. While those computers were clunky and dumb by today’s standards, the machines were breakthroughs for the time — offering at least a couple of orders of magnitude better data management and analysis.”

Gelly: “I said to keep the discussion simple, please. What’s an order of magnitude?”

Chart RisingJordan: “Each order of magnitude represents a tenfold increase. One order of magnitude would be 10x higher than the previous number. Two orders would be 100x higher – 10x the previous number which also was 10x higher. Three orders would be 10x10x10 or 1,000x higher.  Look at this chart and then imagine the line going up faster than what’s shown.”

Gelly: “So you think the computer increased data management and analysis by say 100 times, maybe 1,000 times? Wow.”

Jordan: “Wow is right. The gains didn’t apply to everything but they did to a lot of analysis. However…and this problem still exists today…you had to make sure input data was good. Otherwise, it was GIGO — garbage in, garbage out.”

092615_2031_Characters7.gifGelly: “Did IBM just one day decide to invent the computer or was something else invented that allowed the mainframe to be developed?”

Jordan: “Very perceptive question. The first so-called computers were even larger than the ones I described. The early computers used vacuum tubes and were not very practical. Have you ever seen a vacuum tube?”

Gelly: “Think so.  My grandmother kept a radio from her childhood. She took the back off one time and all I saw was a bunch of tubes. What I remember most is one time I touched a tube and it was really hot.”

Semi-ConductorJordan: “What changed to allow IBM…and a few others…to make practical mainframes was a way to eliminate vacuum tubes. The invention was the semi-conductor. Think of a semi-conductor as a computer chip or the SIM card in your phone. The early chips were not nearly as powerful as today.”

Gelly: “So getting rid of vacuum tubes was the breakthrough?”

Jordan: “Yes along with being able to store data on magnetic tape.”

Gelly: “With semi-conductors, IBM could make machines more powerful but smaller and cheaper, right?”

Jordan: “Yes. And now back to the question, ‘Does a certain technology become the driving force for societal change or merely a catalyst for societal change?’”

Know NothingsGelly: “If I understand correctly, the invention of the semi-conductor did not cause societal change per se. The societal change occurred only after products were developed using the semi-conductor. So, in deciding how a society adapts or manages technology-induced disruption, does it really matter whether the invention is the driver or the catalyst for the change? Deciding which might be a good academic exercise but does anyone else care?”

Jordan: “You’re right, it probably does not matter whether the technology is the driver or the catalyst. The semi-conductor could have been invented but then put on the shelf and never used. That’s happened to who knows how many inventions.  And some of those shelf sitters might be as important for society as the semi-conductor.”

HorseGelly: “Jordan, are we looking at the issue from the wrong end? We’re trying to find the cause of the societal disruptions. Would a better approach be to ignore the cause and analyze how the  technology disrupted society…and, if so, what kind of disruption?”

Jordan: “Mmm, you might be on to something. Keep talking.”

Gelly: “Say if some company like IBM had not used the semi-conductor, we might not have laptops, internet, or smartphones.”

Jordan: “Good point. Let’s not get hung up on who or what technology caused the disruption. Let’s look at the change that resulted.”

Gelly: “Go back to IBM. My uncle used to work there. If family stories are anywhere near correct, IBM quickly became a behemoth company, making lots money for many people, including my uncle.”

Jordan: “So how long do you think the IBM growth spurt was? Just for fun, let me do a quick download of IBM sales over time.”

Gelly: “OK.”

18 11 24 IBM Growth Yr-to-Yr 1007214-13999302201478128-Peter-E--Greulich_origin_LIJordan: “Take a look at sales after WWII and the hand-drawn blue line.  The company had positive sales growth virtually every year from right after WWII to almost 1990 – 45 years.”

Gelly: “Some of those year-to-year gains don’t look like much.”

Jordan: “Take another look at the scale on the left side. There were a lot of years when sales increased 15% or more over the prior year. That kind of gain for one year is good. To achieve that kind of gain year after year after year is phenomenal.”

Gelly: “So what happened in the early 1990’s? Sales declined for several years…and doesn’t look like they’ve really bounced back since.”

Laptop 1990Jordan: “What IBM missed was the shift to the personal computer – desktops first, then laptops. Even though the PC was not as powerful as the mainframe, it was easier to use.”

Gelly: “I’m beginning to appreciate what you mean by the analysis being complicated. The semi-conductor gets invented, then voila, a bunch of new electronic products are introduced – mainframe computers to portable radios – and society begins to change behavior.”

Jordan: “As semi-conductors become more powerful, more products are introduced – personal computers, e.g. – and a new set of players dominates the scene – Apple, Microsoft and Dell. IBM’s still around but no longer the really big dog.”

Gelly: “Then the internet comes along and we have another set of players. By the way, wasn’t the internet some kind of Defense Department project?”

Jordan: “It was.  DoD worked with a small number of universities to set up a commutations network to make it easier to exchange data between computers. I’ll bet that in their wildest dreams these guys never thought how the internet would grow and be used today. Who could have imagined the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon?”

Gelly: “So, if I step back and try to decide if society was changed by electronic products…and the answer is ‘yes’…then the base technology that allowed the change as the semi-conductor. But without products that used the semi-conductor – mainframes, laptops, portable radios, cell phones…and who knows what else – the semi-conductor would not have been a game changer.”

TurtleneckJordan: “Now you can see why trying to figure out how much society was changed by a specific technology is a messy exercise. Some products that influence societal behavior, at least in my estimation, don’t even qualify as technology breakthroughs. Others are breakthroughs but don’t get credit.”

Gelly:  “OK, Jordan, cut the gibberish and tell me what you mean.”

Jordan:  “Some so-called breakthrough products are really integration of existing components, albeit very sophisticated component integration but still integration.”

Gelly: “By integration you mean like picking and choosing parts from other products and then creating a new product? Sorta like Italian food. Spaghetti, linguine, angel hair have essentially the same base ingredients but are configured differently.”

iPhone3Jordan: “That’s a different way of looking at it but a good example. Let me give you one of my favorites. Not sure everyone on the original development team would agree, but I think the iPhone was a very clever and sophisticated integration of components from cell phones and laptops.”

Gelly: “Alright, but even if some products are integrations, so what? Can’t these products change society?”

Jordan: “Absolutely. And there’s another yet aspect of how a technology can change societal behavior – that is the life cycle of a product.

Gelly: “We can talk about life cycle.  But before we do I have a question for you.”

Jordan: “Which is?”

Miracle on 34th StreetGelly: “Near the end of the movie ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ when they’re driving down some the suburban street, Natalie Wood shouts something. Remember what she shouted”

Jordan: “You mean, ‘Stop Uncle Fred, stop!’”

Gelly: “That’s what we’re going to do now – stop.”

(Continued)

#315 How Technology-Induced Disruptions Impact Societies (#4 in Series)

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent standard “sense checks.”   Entries (#310-#313) broke from conversation format.  

Scene: Jordan’s office, Washington, DC.  Continuing conversation with Gelly, Jordan’s assistant.  Conversation began Entry #308.

Jordan: “OK, Gelly, got my coffee refill. Ready to talk more about how societies cope with technology-induced disruptions?”

Gelly: “Yes, but as a reminder, keep it simple, please. I’m just trying to understand the basics. Not trying to become a PhD candidate.”

Jordan: “Not to worry. Besides, I’m not a PhD.”

092615_2031_Characters7.gifGelly: “Maybe not but you have lots of study time…and a bunch of experience in the real world using economics stuff. Remember, KISS, okay?”

Jordan: “Let’s go back and look at how artificial intelligence (AI) is being used. Another example is your iPhone. Ask Siri a question.”

Gelly: “Siri has artificial intelligence?  And I thought she lived in my iPhone. OK, ‘Hey, Siri, what was the score of last week’s Michigan-Indiana football game?’”

MichiganJordan: “When Siri tells you Michigan beat Indiana, that’s a form of AI.”

Gelly: “I understand that part…I think. Siri hears the question, does a quick search of available databases, finds the answer, and then repeats the score. That easy enough to understand. Not saying easy to make happen, just easy to understand.”

Jordan: “You’re right, not easy to make happen. Now ask Siri to tell you a joke.”

Confused Clip ArtGelly: “How does she do that?”

Jordan: “When the question is more abstract, like ‘Tell me a joke,’ it’s the same procedure as looking for the score of the football game. However, for more abstract questions, sometimes the answer is reasonable and sometimes the answer is off the wall. Remember that AI is more effective when parameters of the task are defined. The Michigan-Indiana score is quite specific. So is picking up boxes, which we talked about earlier. Accuracy of AI also improves as more information is added to the database and algorithms refined.”

PhoneGelly: “So for Siri, Alexa and their siblings, they’re best at providing quick access to available information. At the same time, the working stiffs most affected by Siri and siblings are people employed to provide information. The example might seem a bit  dated but as a kid I remember being able to pick up the phone and have the operator get someone’s number, right?”

Jordan: “Right. Another example is society’s need for newspapers. For a couple of centuries newspapers were a primary source of information for all kinds of activities. People used to buy a paper for say just the sports section. That need has changed. Siri just told you the score of the Michigan-Indiana game. And, if you wanted, you could get real-time updates on your smart phone. Even if the game is not broadcast in your viewing area, you can ge an app on your phone to watch the highlights of the game and a bunch of other games as well.”

Legal ClerkGelly: “What about AI replacing some functions of what lawyers do, or at least law clerks do? Same with some portion of information gathered when visiting a doctor. Seems as if a lot of people could be replaced, or maybe have been replaced already by some form of Siri and siblings. What about using AI for tasks that are a lot more complicated than say picking up boxes or searching a database?”

Jordan: “You mean like people who used to paint cars or weld frames or even lay bricks being replaced by robots?”

Gelly: “Yes, but also tasks that seems even more complicated…like sewing clothes. You might not appreciate it but there are lots of steps in sewing. Lots of turning fabric and moving it back-and-forth. Making even simple clothes requires a lot of steps and precise hand-eye coordination. It’s not easy.”

Sewing MachineJordan: “Well, some clothes are already being made 100% or nearly 100% by machines. And over time, machines will make clothes that require more steps.”

Gelly: “That’s what I still don’t understand. What does happen to all those people in low-cost countries that are making clothes? If they lose their jobs, what happens? By the way, has anyone ever studies what happened to all those telephone operators, or guys that were painting cars?”

Jordan: “Your concern is spot on. What does happen? Unfortunately, the people who are most negatively affected by a disruptive technology, AI or otherwise, have little or no recourse when their job is eliminated. If they’re lucky, some get a handshake and severance pay but in developing countries, these people are SOL.”

Poor PersonGelly: “Another case of the working stiff getting screwed?”

Jordan: “The key for the country is whether the leadership begins adopting new technology and creating new jobs. If not, the country will continue to fall behind.”

Gelly: “How often do these technology disruptions happen? Seems like much faster today.”

Jordan: “Faster today…maybe. But we forget some of the objects or equipment we consider mundane today were really technology disruptions when introduced.”

Gelly: “You mean like the printing press, telegraph, the tractor and combine?”

Jordan: “Think about what was introduced between say 1850-1950. Electricity, cars, planes, trains, repeating rifles, motion pictures, radio, television…and that list doesn’t include any medical advances. So whether change is faster now is debatable. But the same problem exists – what do you do with people replaced by technology?”

Gelly: “OK, what does happen to society? I remember you talking one time about Argentina and the US having roughly the same GDP per capita in 1900. Then 100 or so years later GDP per capita in the US was almost 4x Argentina.  Argentina fell way behind.”

TurtleneckJordan: “Excellent example. I’m impressed you remembered.”

Gelly: “Thank you. Now, what happens in these countries?”

Jordan: “Remember when we first started to talk about the patterns of revolutions in the US?”

Gelly: “You found that there was a pattern of a revolution roughly every 50 years.”

Jordan: “The word ‘roughly’ is the key. Major changes in societal behavior do not follow some precise timeline. People who want to develop a more predictive model are always disappointed in how squishy the approach is.”

Gelly: “There seems to be a reasonable pattern for revolutions. Is there some kind of pattern or technology disruptions?”

Jordan: “There seems to be but the problem is trying to figure out if and how other factors affect the cycle.”

dude-with-questionGelly: “Now I’m starting to get even more confused.  What happened to KISS…keep it simple, stupid?”

Jordan: “Let me say after technology moves out of the lab and first becomes commercially viable, there’s a period of very rapid growth in companies and countries that use the technology. After a while the growth associated with the technology slows and, eventually, the technology and companies mature and decline.”

Gelly: “OK, a new technology is introduced, companies grows fast, and then decline. How long is the cycle?”

Jordan: “Without any of these other interruptions, 50 years more or less like a reasonable number. Keep in mind, if the data about revolutions are squishy, data for technology cycles are really squishy. I think there’s a pattern but the timeline for that pattern likely varies.”

Gelly: “Have you got a couple of examples. What about the auto industry? You know a lot about that? What about computers?”

Jordan: “What about another break, then we’ll talk more. I promise to try to keep it simple. As I said, the data and cycles are a bit messy.”

(Continued)

#314 What’s Artificial Intelligence? What’s Going to Happen to Working Stiffs? (#3 in Series)

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent standard “sense checks.”   The previous four entries (#310-#313) broke from conversation format.  Characters return with this entry.

Scene: Jordan’s office, Washington, DC.  Continuing conversation with Gelly, Jordan’s assistant.  Conversation began Entry #308.

092615_2031_Characters7.gifGelly: “The last lesson we had on economics, professor, was about how tariffs usually don’t work. As a result, when tariffs are imposed it’s often the working stiff that ends up…well, getting screwed.”

Jordan: “Where’s this conversation headed? And, please, no more of the ’professor’ stuff.”

Gelly: “Alright, no more name calling. But I would like to learn more about AI.”

Jordan: “For AI, you talking about ‘artificial intelligence’ or ‘artificial insemination’?”

Gelly: “You know which one – artificial intelligence.”

Trump DunceJordan: “You mean artificial intelligence…like Donald Trump’s intelligence — artificial?”

Gelly: “Get serious, please. A lot of people are talking about AI and I really don’t know what it means or how it works.”

Jordan: “First, I’m not an expert on AI and don’t know exactly where it’s headed. But I’m not sure anyone does. What’s even more confusing is the term ‘artificial intelligence’ gets applied to a broad range of what seem to be not overly sophisticated software applications.”

dude-with-questionGelly: “I’m also confused about what I hear people calling ‘machine learning.’ Is machine learning the same as artificial intelligence or part of artificial intelligence?”

Jordan: “Let’s try to simplify the entire category. I know some techies would probably go apoplectic if they heard this explanation but we’re not trying to prepare you to write a thesis at MIT. To get started, think about AI as using more advanced software. And there are a lot of applications. At the same time, the software is designed for…”

Gelly: “Let me try, please. Rather than software for say Excel or Word, the software for AI is a designed so some kind of machine can learn to do things?”

Jordan: “That’s a good way to think about it.”

Gelly: “But does the machine end up writing its own software program? How does it learn?”

Hammer NailJordan: “Think about how you learn to do some task. Could be learning to use a computer. Maybe something easier like hammering a nail. What’s the first step?”

Gelly: “Usually you watch somebody do it.”

Jordan: “Then what?”

Gelly: “When you first try you’re usually not very good at it.  So you have to practice and practice. If you’re lucky there’s a teacher around to help correct your mistakes. Eventually you get better and do whatever it is on your own.”

Jordan: “You just described how a machine learns.”

Boxes in WarehouseGelly: “So, if somebody shows the machine how to say pick a box off a shelf and load it on a cart, then the machine can learn to do that?”

Jordan: “Basically, yes. The person demonstrates to the machine how to find the box, pick up the box and load it on the cart. The machine records the movements — say with some kind of camera.  Then the machine tries to repeat the movements.”

Gelly: “What if the machine makes a mistake?”

albert-einsteinJordan: “Good question. That’s what different about today’s machine learning and attempts in the past.  In the past, the limitations were software and computer processing. To get the machine…a robot…to do something required a lot of very precise programming. Plus the capacity of machine ‘memory chips’ was limited…intellectually challenged…so the robot couldn’t really do much.  Today’s chips are like Albert Einstein compared to earlier chips.”

Gelly: “I know computer chips have gotten more powerful. But can a machine learn a more complicated task right away?  How would it do that?”

Jordan: “The power of the computer chips is a key.  Let’s say the machine response is not quite right.  The person can do another demonstration and the machine can correct itself.  But let’s say the task is a lot more complicated.  The demonstration can be broken into smaller steps.  The machine then learns each step.”

SuccessGelly: “If I understand correctly, by learning a set of small steps, the machine can adapt  if some part of the task changes.  For example, if the first box is small and the next box is larger, the machine could pick-up either size box and load on the cart.  I understand there’s some range of sizes but, as long as the machine has been taught to pick up a bunch of different size boxes, the machine can pick up any size box within that range.  Right?”

Jordan: “You got it.”

Gelly: “What else can these machines be taught to do?”

drone-manJordan: “That’s the question that seems to be scaring a lot of people. As computer chips continue to be more powerful, the capabilities of the machines will continue to increase.”

Gelly: “Guess the machines are like children. As they get older, they can learn to do more things. But people seem to reach a limit as to what they can learn and do. What about machines? Will they reach a limit or will they keep on learning…and maybe outsmart humans?”

Jordan: “No one knows for sure. When I hear that question, I go back to a fundamental of learning, whether learning for humans or machines, but especially machines.”

Gelly: “You mean GIGO – garbage in, garbage out?”

Jordan: “Exactly. People need to think about what machines are being trained to do. And then think about what happens if the machines turn against the trainers.”

Gelly: “If we go back to machines picking boxes in a warehouse, what kind of bad things can the little robot do? At most, some people lose their jobs. Not nice for the people but not a societal crisis. If we talk about some sort of robot war machine that seems like a lot more risk.”

TurtleneckJordan: “That’s the point. War machines are a different story. While it seems like a bit of science fiction, very sophisticated war robots could decide to turn around and attack.”

Gelly: “Now, that does seem scary.”

Jordan: “A rogue war robot…or even worse an army of rogue robots…is still an abstract idea. Because the idea of a rogue war machine is still abstract and not yet a reality is why we need to start thinking through what we’re training machines to do…and start now.”

Gelly: “Back to the more mundane. Seems as if machines can replace lots of people, even some who are considered highly skilled.”

Jordan: “Yes these robots can and probably should replace some of these people.”

Gelly: “What does society do with all the people who end up losing their jobs to machines? If a bunch of people lose jobs, won’t that negatively affect the economy?”

Steam Engine Old RenderingJordan: “Yes, but countries having to manage the transition from an existing to a disruptive technology is not something new. Countries worldwide have faced this very problem for centuries — what about the introduction of steam engines, planes, cars, telephones, internet…and the list goes on. Some countries have managed the transitions well, other not so well.”

Gelly: “Seems to me the United States has managed well so far. But I’m not so sure going forward. Trump’s whole theme seemed to be attracting people who had been or likely to be negatively affected by new technology. Then after Trump, we had another upheaval with the Revenge Revolution. How do we manage going forward? Now, I’m getting nervous.”

Jordan: “Hold on, Gelly. Let me go get a coffee refill, then we’ll talk. Or maybe that coffee robot could get a coffee refill for me.”

Gelly: “Funny, Jordan. But I really am concerned.”

 

#313 “I’m So Proud of My Son. He Lies, Cheats, Steals and Discriminates.”

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent standard “sense checks.”   The last four entries, including this one, break from the conversation format.  Characters will return soon.

What a proud moment for any parent. Being able to proclaim, “I’m so proud of my son. He lies cheats, steals, and discriminates. Exactly what I wanted him to be.”

Proud FatherIf you’re a parent, or have a brother or sister, wouldn’t you be proud to be able to make such a proclamation? Well, you can make such a proclamation if you support Donald Trump and his Republican enablers.

Put aside your political party and look at the behavior. Do you want your child or sibling to be known for lying, cheating, stealing and discriminating?

If you said “yes” unequivocally or said “yes” but included a list of caveats in your answer – such as “You need to look at what Trump has accomplished” – then read no farther. You are someone who is willing to let the ends justify the means, no matter how unethical the means and no matter how questionable the ends.

Ten CommandmentsIf you’re religious…if not pretend you are for a few minutes…then show me where in your religion is a list of basic tenets indicating acceptable behavior includes lying, cheating, stealing, discriminating. Even if your religion “forgives” such behavior, doesn’t the person being forgiven need to stop such behavior first?

Trump has not stopped lying, cheating, stealing or discriminating. So why do you support him? (If you think Trump doesn’t steal, dig deeper into how Trump and family have repeatedly cheated on income taxes due. His cheating, by the way, means you are paying more in taxes.)

ConstitutionLet’s put religion aside and talk instead about the oath of office taken by the president. The oath, which is part of the US Constitution, reads, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Notice the oath includes “…preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” So, why do you support someone who thinks he has the power to change the Constitution at will — such as the 14th Amendment?

We know Trump didn’t attend civics classes and certainly has never read the Constitution. But if you’re a Trump supporters who made it past 6th grade, then you should know the way to modify the Constitution is not some half-assed Executive Order but ratification by 2/3 (67%) of the House and Senate, then ratification by 3/4 (75%) of the states.

Gee, you say, don’t be so picky. Its election time. Everyone distorts the truth. Quit being such an elitist liberal.

PinocchioNo, I won’t get over it…and neither should you. By latest count, Trump has been lying at least 30 times a day with the rate of lies increasing with each day closer to the mid-term elections. And those 30 lies per day are the ones known to the public. How many more lies does he tell inside the White House? Trump supporters – would you tolerate your child lying 30 times a day?

Fellow Americans, like it or not, the president’s words and actions matter. The president’s words and actions help set the tone of behavior and dialogue for the country. Think of the president having the same type influence on many people as a parent’s behavior influences a child.

If you think behavior does not matter, look at families where one or both parents is abusive and/or lies constantly and/or steals and/or discriminates. How does such a toxic atmosphere affect the behavior of children? Compare the long-term behavior and success of children raised in such a toxic environment to children raised in more stable environment where parental behavior is open, honest and encouraging. Which atmosphere do you want your children or grandchildren to be raised in?

Trumpsters, forget brining up examples of people who end up thriving despite a toxic home environment as a child. Such individuals should be praised for their success…but they are outliers, the exceptions. For every one who has been able to overcome the effects of a toxic environment, there are probably 100 who, unfortunately, have not.

Voting LineMaking a choice about what type behavior you want from the president and other political leaders is not difficult. Do you want someone leading the country and/or representing you who lies, cheats, steals, and discriminates? If you would be proud of such behavior by your child or sibling, then Trump and his gang of enablers are for you.

Just keep in mind continuing to support such unethical behavior by Trump is a sure-fire path to having the Revenge Revolution sooner than later…and a sure-fire path to making the Revenge Revolution more intense. Trumpsters, it’s your call.

 

#312 Republicans Have Given Away Their Soul…and the Country’s Soul. How Do We Get It Back?

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent standard “sense checks.”   The last three entries, including this one break from the conversation format.  Characters will return soon.

Ever notice how many adults seem to take statements at face value, never asking, “Why do you make that statement?” or “What’s the source of your data?” The lack of curiosity seems particularly prevalent around elections and among those who quit reading newspapers regularly and rely primarily on the internet and/or specific cable channels for what is often opinion disguised as news..

Hear Speak See No EvilHow many people do you know have joined a “political tribe”?  And as a member of that tribe, no longer question even the most outlandish statements of tribal leaders?  Think about how passive these tribal members have become.  Do you know of any self-respecting four year-old who would take your statements as gospel and quit asking “why?” Chances are you’ll have a hard time finding a four year-old who fits that category.

dunce capsI know some blog readers think that lately I’ve been beating up the Republicans too much.  Maybe so, but given the behavior of the so-called leaders of the Republican Party, such criticism seems more than justified.

For starters, has anyone in the Republican Party asked “Why do we so ardently support a president whose actions are seemingly contrary to everything the Party has promoted the past decades?”  Maybe the Republicans should start to act like that self-respecting four year-old and ask some questions.  Here’s a start on a list of questions:

  • Why are we…yes, we Republicans…supporting a guy who coddles known enemies, starting with the Russians but including a host of other bad characters?Putin
  • Why are we no longer supporting free trade, a bedrock of the Republican Party for decades?
  • Why are we trashing our best allies in favor of known enemies?  (Ever think about the implications of alienating countries that we might need later?  Do you behave this way toward your friends?)
  • Why did we knowingly and enthusiastically pass tax legislation that transfers more money to the wealthy, takes away money from the middle class and is already resulting in ever-larger and unsustainable budget deficits?
  • Why are we following Trump and effectively promoting violence against certain groups within the US?
  • Why are we ignoring a basic tenet of most religions to treat thy neighbor as thyself?
  • Why are we barring refugees from entering this country legally?  (Yes, refugees have a right to enter.)
  • Why are we cutting funding for public education, which has been the bedrock of economic growth for decades?School Bldg
  • Why are we encouraging companies and people to pollute when there are numerous directives in the Bible to leave the earth a better place?
  • Why are we encouraging discrimination against people who are gay?  (Look folks, nearly every family has someone who is gay.  Get over it.)
  • Why are we ignoring a key provision of the Constitution by not letting citizens vote or making it extremely hard for citizens to vote?  (The Republican Party has produced no evidence in any location in the US of voter fraud.)
  • Why are we ignoring the 1st Amendment right to a free press?  (Yes, a free press is protected by the 1st Amendment.)NYT Logo
  • Why are we supporting claims that a free press is the “enemy of the people” when such claims are used by dictators?  (Need some evidence aside from Trump’s outright statements that the media are the enemy?  Start with the killing of Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi government…and the tepid, if not bizarre, response by Trump.  If that’s not chilling enough, please read some history about how Hitler and others claimed the media was the enemy as part of their plan to help create dictatorships.)
  • Why are we accepting and even cheering “trash talk” and “name calling” by the Duncepresident when such talk from your children would result in punishment?
  • Why are we going to great lengths to support someone for the Supreme Court who lied under oath to Congress?
  • Why are we supporting a president who, after a mass shooting in a synagogue, says the synagogue should have armed guards?  (And, who was wounded at the synagogue — a mere four police officers who were heavily armed.  Do you think all religious institutions should have armed guards? )
  • Why are we trying to take away individual rights of women (Roe v Wade) yet insist on individual rights for gun owners?  (The gun-owner argument is based on a wild exaggeration about rights granted the 2nd Amendment.)    pants-on-fire
  • Why do we support a president who is a serial liar and lying more frequently each day?
  • Why do we support a president who cheats on taxes and then appoints someone to head the IRS who will minimize the likelihood of any serious audit of Trump’s taxes?
  • And the list goes on and on and on.

The questions are not political questions.  No one is challenging whether an individual has the right to be a Republican and/or conservative and/or fundamentalist Christian.  The questions are ethical and directed at making sure Republicans understand the core values of a democracy.

ScreamWhy have Republicans decided to abdicate truth in favor of Trump?  Why have Republicans decided to abdicate core values of a democracy for a guy who openly courts leaders hostile to the US?  Why have Republicans given up having America be the shining light worldwide for fairness and moral standards?

I am baffled why Republicans support such behavior.  I have no clue other than thinking the  Republicans have been brainwashed.  Whatever the cause of the brainwashing, giving away one’s core values, as have Republicans, is like giving away one’s soul.  And what did all but a handful of Republicans get in return?  Think hard because the answer is “You got nothing.”  Even if you got a bunch of money, whatever amount you got likely wasn’t worth your soul.  Further, once the trade for your soul has been made, getting back the soul will be very difficult, if not impossible.

fife-drum%201 (Just to be clear, Democrats are not completely clean…but the behavior by the Republicans in supporting Trump overwhelms any bad behavior by Democrats  Claiming the behavior is equal is a false equivalency.)

So what’s the consequence of Republicans selling the country’s soul to Trump and his cronies?  Unfortunately, so many Republicans seem to have sold their soul, the only way the country can likely start to get back on the right course is with a revolution — aka the Revenge Revolution.  And, even with a revolution, the road back will be very long and very bumpy.  Not a pleasant thought, I know, but one all of us should be thinking about.

#311 Why I Left the Republican Party…Rather It Left Me

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I break from the normal formatting and do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent standard “sense checks.”   

This is second consecutive unanticipated entry.  In entry #310, “Will Kavanaugh Accelerate the Revenge Revolution?” I indicated I had voted for Republicans in the past.  A reader asked me to elaborate on why I left the Republican Party. This entry addresses the question.

abraham_lincoln_clip_art_15515As noted in #310, my reference point is a Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln, Everett Dirksen and Jacob Javits. The attitude of that Republican Party could best be described using a slogan from Bush 43’s 2000 presidential campaign, “compassionate conservatism.”

Why that reference point for the Republican Party? I grew up in Illinois with very early years on the north side of Chicago but formative years in Central Illinois. Central Illinois is an interesting mix of agriculture and manufacturing with the center-point the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. For those unfamiliar with the area, the soil is stunningly productive for farming – corn, soybeans and many other crops. Throw in a seed and a plant grows.  They soil color is coal-black and crumbles easily in your hand. The soil is not gray, not reddish-brown but black.

The farms ring a number of medium-sized towns that provide the center of commerce for farmers. For many years, the towns were supported by manufacturing plants, and in some cases corporate headquarters — Caterpillar in Peoria, for example. Populations for most of these towns ranged from 25,000 to 75,000. Population mix was mostly western European and a smaller percentage of blacks, many of whom had migrated from the south. Religions leaned more toward Protestant than Catholics and some towns had a surprising number of Jews. In our neighborhood grammar school, for example, about 20% of students were Jewish.

School BldgIn our particular town – population approaching 50,000 – the public school system was top-notch with quality teachers in all grades. High-school students had a choice of three tracks and could switch between tracks for a limited number of classes – college prep, general education, technical training. The town produced a disproportionate number of famous and successful people in a wide range of occupations – education, entertainment, medicine, military (early astronaut), science and industry.

Like most school districts years ago, busing was limited to outlying areas that could not support a school. Most everyone attended a neighborhood grammar school and a middle school that was reasonably close. There was one very large, well-equipped public high school (and a parochial high school). And guess what? As a student, you needed to figure out how to get to high school on your own.

As far as fiscal attitude – conservative. If a family was wealthy, it was expected to be discrete about displaying wealth. Everyone was expected to share with others to the extent possible. A description for sharing can best be described by Nike’s tagline – just do it…and keep quiet about it. Shouting and bragging were definite no no’s.

This town was part of the ellipse in Illinois where Lincoln spent most of his time before heading to Washington.   While the area was solid Republican, the voters were not tribal Republicans. Most people, from what I recall, voted a split ticket.

And, no, the town was not Mayberry II, although there were many of these same attitudes. The town did have its problems. Most blacks were clearly on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. While doubtless discrimination existed, I do not recall the discrimination being overt and certainly no signs at restaurants, drinking fountains and other public places. Further, different groups seemed to work together to address problems.

Shake HeadSo that’s a description of the Republican Party I grew up with and use as a reference point for those running for political office. Such a Republican Party no longer exists. When I hear a Republican call it the party of Lincoln, I shake my head and want to scream. Most of today’s Republicans have no clue about the values of the party of Lincoln.

Back to the reader’s question, “What made me leave the Republican Party?” Based on my reference points for the Republican Party, I didn’t leave the Party, it left me. While I’m still a compassionate conservative – compassionate socially and conservative fiscally – I’m now branded a screaming liberal. What happened to Republicans’ social conscious and fiscal conservatism? The party now can be described as bi-polar…and not taking medication. The Party has shifted to the extreme ends for social issues and fiscal recklessness.

The slide from fiscal conservatism started under Ronald Reagan. How can that be, you say. Reagan was a fiscal conservative.

buffettI share the view of many economists that a very good way to assess the potential impact of debt for a country is to measure outstanding debt as a percent of GDP (gross domestic product). Think of it this way. Pretend you’re a banker. Two people walk into a bank and want to borrow $25,000,000. One of them is someone like you…and the other is Warren Buffet.   The bank decides on loans based on income and assets. For someone like you, the $25,000,000 is likely to be multiples higher than your income and assets. For Warren Buffet, the $25,000,000 is considered chump change. Thus, a large amount of debt isn’t necessarily bad if you have a large income and/or large asset base, which the US does. The US government owns lots of land and buildings.

ReaganFollowing WWII and up to the Reagan Administration, debt as a percent of GDP declined. During the Reagan Administration debt as a percent of GDP increased from about 30% to about 50% — a relative increase of 60%. Under Reagan, the relative increase in debt was only somewhat less than experienced during the New Deal under FDR. Under Bush 41 relative debt percent increased over 25% beyond Reagan. Under Bush 43, relative debt increased over 40% from the Clinton years.  Under Trump, despite a very strong economy the Federal debt for FY2018 was the highest in 6 years. The deficit under Trump is expected to balloon to over $1,000,000,000,000 annually because of the gigantic tax cut that reduced taxes primarily for the wealthy.

Debt and GDPWhat about debt increases under Democrats? They were even worse, right? Well, no. Throughout the Clinton Administration, debt as a percent of GDP decreased a little over 12%. During some years under Clinton, the US ran a surplus. Under Obama, relative debt climbed about 35%, even with the combination of fiscal stimulus required to avoid another Great Depression and the introduction of the Affordable Care Act. Debt under Obama, despite all the cries from Republicans increased less than under either Regan or Bush 43. So, which party is more fiscally conservative? If you look at fiscal policies under Republicans, one term comes to mind – red ink.

Let’s look at social policies since Reagan. Policies to concentrate wealth, as have been implemented by Republicans, negatively affect the general well-being of the populace. Tax cuts primarily for the rick, aka “trickle-down economics,” does not work, nor has any Republican provided any empirical evidence of it working in any developed country. As more wealth has flowed to the top, there has been less wealth in the middle.

Minimum WageFurther, Republican have resisted increasing the minimum wage. When Reagan was inaugurated, the minimum wage in real terms (adjusted for inflation) was about $10.00 per hour. Today’s minim wage is $7.75 per hour, a decrease in real terms of more than 20%. The decrease reduces further the ability of lower-skilled, entry-level workers to earn enough to exceed the poverty line. What happened to the “compassion” of the Republican Party?

Adding to the lack of “compassion” is the effort by Republicans to take away individual rights…at least for people who don’t buy into the Republican doctrine. According to Republican right, the US is a Christian country – just forget why the Pilgrims left England. Therefore, all laws should follow what the religious right believes. Take Roe v Wade. Forget the rights of the mother, she does not matter. Forget that the baby cannot survive outside the womb until much later in the pregnancy. All abortion must be banned…despite the First Amendment.

ConstitutionJust in case today’s Republicans have not read the Constitution, as is abundantly clear from listening to President Trump, the First Amendment reads as follows, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press (see the press is not your enemy but protected!), or the right of people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

While Republicans want to deny individual rights with regard to abortion…and ignore the First Amendment…Republicans insist that the Second Amendment is all about individual rights.  Well, individual rights are OK as long as guns are involved. The Second Amendment reads, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

What does the Second Amendment really mean? The wording allows individuals to own firearms. In Central Illinois, most households, including ours, had some type of firearm. In fact, I have the same rifle I purchased at about age 14.

WashingtonAt the time the Constitution was written…for all the “Constitutionalists in the crowd” that was 225+ years ago…the United States had a very small “standing army.” The defense of the country relied on “well-regulated” state militia – think National Guard. Members of the well-regulated militia were “citizen soldiers” and expected to provide firearms, as implied in the Second Amendment. Over time the US created a permanent military for “the security of the free state,” thus the standing army eliminated the need for citizen soldiers.

With the advent of a standing army, a strict interpretation of the 2nd Amendment might have banned citizens from owning firearms. But citizens have been allowed to retain firearms. With a standing army there is absolutely no need or justification for military-grade weapons to be held outside the “well-regulated” standing army. Weapons such as military-style assault rifles and higher-caliber rifles, especially a .50 caliber rifle, are designed to kill as many people as possible.

These weapons are not designed for deer hunting or target shooting. Yet, thanks to the NRA and some politicians, an individual is able to own a military-style assault weapon, and even worse, a .50 caliber rifle. For those not familiar with these weapons, a .50 caliber rifle will blow a hole in the side of a brick building. You don’t need that much firepower to take down a herd of charging elephants, which are not common in most US neighborhoods. If you want to go play with these type weapons, then go join the US military.

Now, what about consistency? Republicans state that since one must register and get an ID to drive, have an ID get on an airplane, have ID cash a check, and probably register your dog, plus who knows how many other instances, then one should have to register and show an ID to vote. All the registrations and ID are for your safety. OK, then following that same line of thinking, surely Republicans would support mandatory registration of individual firearms – for your safety, of course.  Mmm, so what’s the big objection?

I could go on but it should be clear why I no longer vote Republican. The Republican Party of today is not compassionate, not conservative…and not consistent… and certainly does not hold the same values of Lincoln, Dirksen and Javits. Your comments welcome.

#310 Sense Check: Will Kavanaugh Accelerate the Revenge Revolution? Is There a Moderating Force?

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I break from the normal formatting and do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent standard “sense checks.”  

This “sense-check” entry was unplanned. What precipitated this entry was the confirmation process to have Brett Kavanaugh become a SCOTUS justice.

fife-drum%201As a result actions during the confirmation process, I increased the chances of a 5th US revolution to “highly likely.” However, my reasons for changing to “highly likely” may be different from what many others have stated or written about the Kavanaugh nomination/confirmation process.

Some background – the Constitution states the president shall nominate candidates to be SCOTUS justices. The Constitution requires Senate approval of the nominee. The Constitution does not provide many guidelines. For example, the Constitution does not prohibit a president from nominating someone whose views or interpretation of laws are considered to be extremely right or left, and therefore likely outside the views of the populace. Nor does the Constitution require the nominee be a current member of the judiciary. The nominee could be a dishwasher at a restaurant.

ConstitutionFurther, there is no requirement that the president nominate, or the Senate confirm, candidates to ensure a balance of opinion on SCOTUS. While the situation unlikely, say if all liberal-leaning justices left the Court during the term of one president, the president could nominate and the Senate could approve, justices so the entire Court supported rulings considered far right.

With that background, my assessment of the likelihood of a 5th revolution associated with the Kavanaugh confirmation has little to do with Kavanaugh’s political views or interpretation of the law. What I believe is the wedge that will almost ensure a Revenge Revolution is the attitude and actions of key members of the Senate – most notably Senators McConnell, Graham and Collins. Most of the balance of this entry is directed at the behavior of Senator McConnell, whose actions I believe have deepened the chasm between parties to such an extent that it might be another 50 years or more before the Senate functions as it should. The chasm will exist even if the US experiences a Revenge Revolution.

(And readers, if you think I’m a bitter hard-core liberal, you are sadly mistaken. For years I was a “thinking” Republican, in the vein of Lincoln, Dirksen and Javits. But the Republican Party has shifted far right and key members of the Party seem to have lost their ability to think and reason. There is no room for me in today’s Republican Party. In today’s Republican Party, Lincoln would be considered a screaming liberal, if for no reason other than he liberated “those people.”)

Supreme CourtOver the decades, what has allowed SCOTUS rulings to be recognized as law of the land by the populace? Obviously not everyone has supported every decision but why have even controversial decisions become the law of the land? Trust by the people in the objectivity of the justices.   In parallel, the Court’s decisions likely have been moderated to a degree by public opinion. Justices have recognized the need to create trust and acknowledge public opinion so the vast majority of SCOTUS rulings have not been too far left or right.

What’s changed with the Kavanaugh nomination? McConnell blindly led the charge to confirm a candidate that far less than half the American public supported. What’s even more puzzling, McConnell stated achieving the confirmation for Kavanaugh was “…his greatest achievement (again).”

McConnellLet’s take a closer look at McConnell’s greatest achievement. The initial phase of this latest “great achievement” was McConnell denying president Obama the right to have the Senate consider a nominee to fill an open seat on SCOTUS. According to McConnell the vacancy should be filled “after the people vote.” Forget the Constitution, forget precedent, McConnell alone should decide when a vacancy on SCOTUS should be filled.

Waiting for the people to vote applies only to nominees of Democratic presidents and not Republican presidents. Following Justice Kennedy’s retirement after the 2017-2018 term, McConnell flip-flopped. The hell with the rationale used to deny Obama his rightful pick by never having a hearing re Merrick Garland – and instead let’s push for a shorted confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh. This time the Senate should confirm the nominee before the elections. Now McConnell thinks the people shouldn’t speak. Just to make sure any thinking Senator couldn’t make an informed decision about Kavanaugh, McConnell (through Senator Grassley) withheld a vast number of documents written by Kavanaugh during the Bush Administration.

Dig HoleTo further build public trust…or maybe that’s distrust…in Kavanaugh, McConnell (this time thru Grassley and Trump), stonewalled efforts to dig deeper into Kavanaugh’s past. Charges ranged from sexual assault to excessive gambling. Rather than let the FBI explore a series of allegations fully, the Judiciary Committee allowed only one key witness to testify – yes, only one – Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.   Kavanaugh followed Dr. Ford and managed to create even more concern about his truthfulness and demeanor as publicly insulted Senators seeking answers to some basic questions and even lied about what he should have dismissed as youthful indiscretions.

Just to make sure even more trust in Kavanaugh was eroded, McConnell, again through Grassley and Trump, restricted a supplemental FBI background check. The FBI investigation was limited to basically asking if Kavanaugh regularly kicked his dog in public. There were no follow-up interviews with either Ford or Kavanaugh. Equally baffling, 40 or more witnesses who could have provided more insight into Kavanaugh’s past were never interviewed. Let’s see Mitch, the FBI was not allowed to interview Dr. Ford, Kavanaugh…or anyone who possibly had relevant information. Great way to build trust in the FBI report. And, one more thing – remember Mitch the Judiciary Committee hearing was not a trial. It was a job interview. People with demonstrated nasty dispositions are usually not hired for positions of public trust.

092615_2031_Characters12.gifWhile those on the political right might view with great satisfaction McConnell’s tactics of attempting to hide the truth about Kavanaugh, thereby giving the finger to the left, how would the right react if a nominee from a Democratic president had the same questionable background and exhibited the same rude behavior as Kavanaugh? I can hear the cries now, “Lock him up! Lock him up!”

Among people who actually think about issues and people’s behavior…yes, there are such people…hypocrisy and lack of trust are major negatives. Among people who think, the end result does not justify unethical means to achieve.

I’ve said in several entries that many Republicans appear to be brainwashed. I continue to be dumbfounded at how seemingly intelligent people make incredibly stupid decisions. Under the Trump presidency the brainwashing seems to have been especially effective on Republicans in Congress.

CollinsSenator Susan Collins is among the brainwashed or brain-dead. Collins gave a 45-minute talk justifying support of Kavanaugh. Her remarks included some truly nonsensical statements. For example, she claimed that as a sitting judge, Kavanaugh has consistently supported legal precedent…unless he considered the precedent wrong. Huh, Susan? In real speak that means precedent plays no part in Kavanaugh’s decisions. Why would anyone ever make such an inane claim? Collins was also interviewed on “60 Minutes” the day after the confirmation. Based on her comments during “60 Minutes,” no one would ever accuse her of being a deep thinker. Enough about Collins.

GrahamThen we have Senator Lindsey Graham. Graham’s behavior of late could be compared to that of Stormy Daniels in one of her movies – constantly taking on new positions and new partners, including cuddling up to president Trump. At least Stormy Daniels has been straightforward with the public about her beliefs. No so for Graham. Say Lindsey, do you not remember any lessons from John McCain?

McConnell’s claim that his greatest accomplishment was getting an unqualified, unpopular nominee who lied to the Senate, approved for SCOTUS sets the stage. Mitch baby, if you think Kavanaugh is your greatest accomplishment, then your value system is highly skewed in the wrong direction. Worse still, you are a perfect complement to Trump. Neither of you has any principles.

Goes Around Comes AroundAmong people who have principles, there is an adage that most learned early in life. Mitch you must have missed the class…again and again and again. The adage is, “What goes around, comes around.” The follow-on part of that adage is when it comes back, the intensity is usually much greater. My suggestion Mitch? Be on the lookout because your life is about to begin heading down a very steep hill.

Where does all this lead? The Revenge Revolution seems “highly likely.” What’s worse, with the Revenge Revolution there may be far more bloodshed than any “revolution” since the Civil War. Just as a reminder, entry #1 in this blog talks about a roughly 50-year cycle between US revolutions. Some of those revolutions have been military and some social. The last great social upheaval in the US began with the events of 1968. If I do my math, 2018 is just about 50 years later.

John RobertsIs there any hope? Yes, there’s some. While we probably can’t avoid the Revenge Revolution, the intensity could be moderated by one person – Chief Justice John Roberts. Roberts is a smart guy. Roberts knows his legacy will be determined by how credible the public views decisions of SCOTUS. Roberts also knows he’s got two justices who are considered illegitimate by many people – Thomas and Kavanaugh.

What can Roberts do? Move left on a number of high-profile cases, making sure the decisions are more balanced. Roberts is likely to twist some arms and seek some 6-3 or 7-2 decisions. People understand not every decision will be what they want. But thoughtful decisions that consider the concerns of groups left and right will help maintain credibility of SCOTUS.

Thanks for your time reading this entry. As always, comments welcome.

#309 Can We Talk Economics? Do Tariffs Really Work…or Does the Working Stiff Get Screwed Again? (#2 in Series)

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I break from the normal formatting and do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent “sense checks.”  Your thoughts are welcomed and appreciated.  Thanks for your time and interest…and comments, please.

Scene: Jordan’s office, Washington, DC, start of workday.  “Can We Talk about Economics” conversation began Entry #308.

092615_2031_Characters7.gif

Gelly: “Professor Jordan, now that you’ve had a break, ready to explain more economics?”

Jordan: “Professor, hardly, but yes, let’s continue. Any topic in particular?”

Gelly: “I’d like to know more about tariffs. I think I understand the concept but not sure how effective tariffs really are, especially for worker bees.”

Jordan: “OK, tell me your understanding of tariffs. Why would a country implement a tariff?”

Shaking HandsGelly: “First, let me make sure I understand the idea of trade between two countries. I get the part where one country might have stuff the other country needs, or makes some product more efficiently than the other country. That all seems logical. What also seems logical is that trade should be fair. Maybe I’m being naïve but shouldn’t trade between countries be like what we were all supposed to learn as kids…you know, treat your neighbor as you want to be treated?”

Jordan: “Gelly, how do you boil complex issues down to such basic ideas? You’re right, trade should be fair to both sides.”

Gelly: “Like most any relationship, sometimes trade probably gets out of whack and one country has an advantage that needs to be adjusted. Is that what tariffs are supposed to do? Provide a balance? Or maybe protect some industry or set of products?”

Jordan: “Yes, that’s the theory. However, for trade to work long-term, the industries being protected should be considered ‘critical’ for some legiimate strategic reason.”

Coffee Bean GuyGelly: “Critical such as growing and exporting coffee beans might be critical to the economy and welfare of the people of say Costa Rica? Coffee’s probably a big deal to Costa Rica but hardly of any importance to the US…other than maybe Hawaii.”

Jordan: “Right.  Because coffee has such a major impact on its economy, Costa Rica could add tariffs to any coffee imported from say Brazil or Columbia in order to protect its economy.”

Gelly: “I get that part.  Then what impact would a tariff have on exports from Costa Rica? People in Costa Rica can’t drink all the coffee grown there. If Costa Rica added tariffs to products imported from other countries…and those countries then added tariffs to Costa Rican coffee…wouldn’t that hurt exports? Tariffs seem like a two-edged sword to me.”

Poker PlayersJordan: “For countries with only a few products to export and where those products do not have much competition, tariffs might work. But, for most countries, tariffs are a high-risk poker game. While coffee can’t be grown in every country, in can be grown in many countries. Unless your country is a real big dog for that product or commodity, the country adding tariffs runs the risk of losing exports.”

Gelly: “For countries with lots of different kinds of products – Germany, Canada, China, the US – tariffs seem a lot more complicated.”

Jordan: “I said earlier you were becoming an economist. Keep talking.”

Gelly: “Isn’t trade between countries also affected by currency rates?”

Jordan: “Yes, but put currency rates aside for a few minutes. We’ll cover that later.”

Gelly: “OK, so if the US say claimed China was selling steel at too low a price, the US might put a tariff on steel made in China or goods produced with steel made in China. But what really happens after the tariff is implemented?”

CornJordan: “Well, for one thing, China can then decide to add tariffs to some goods imported in China from the US – say corn or soybeans, which is exactly what they did after Trump put tariffs on Chinese steel.”

Gelly: “Those tit-for-tat tariffs can go on for a long time. And what do they accomplish?”

Jordan: “Good question.  To answer your questions let’s look at what happened after Trump put tariffs on raw steel and aluminum from China…and Canada, of all places.”

Gelly: “Did the price of Chinese steel increase after the tariffs?”

Jordan: “Yes.”

Gelly: “Did American companies start selling more steel?”

Price IncreaseJordan: “Some but the US steel companies did what often happens in the US when tariffs are implemented – the US companies immediately raised prices.”

Gelly: “C’mon, how much could that increase really cost a company? Couldn’t have been that much, could it?”

Jordan: “Soon after the tariffs were announced, Ford said tariffs on steel and aluminum would increase their cost at least $1,000,000,000 per year. And that’s the cost to just one company.”

Gelly: “This might sound dumb but if a company’s costs keep going up, wouldn’t the company raise prices? For Ford, they would have to increase prices of cars and trucks, right?”

Jordan: “You got it.”

ScrewedGelly: “Then, unless I’m missing something, the tariffs really end up being a tax on consumers. The government might collect revenue from the tariffs but the consumer – the working stiffs – are the ones who gets screwed.”

Jordan: “Now, remember what happened to the corn and soybean farmer after Trump put tariffs on Chinese steel and then China retaliated?”

Gelly: “The Chinese didn’t stop consuming corn and soybeans…but the Chinese began buying corn and soybeans from other countries. So the tariffs caused US farmers to lose exports to a major market…and the same farmers ended up paying more for their tractor and pick-up truck. So why do tariffs like the ones Trump imposed seem so stupid?”

Confused Clip ArtJordan: “A lot Trump’s tariffs were head scratchers. In fairness, sometimes trade between countries does get out of whack. And tariffs can help resolve the issue. But tariffs are like a Band-Aid, for small wounds and to help only temporarily. There’s a better way to solve issues when trade gets out of whack…and a better way to manage trade.”

Gelly: “You mean like trade agreements? Agreements such as Nafta or whatever Trump tried to rename it?”

TurtleneckJordan: “Yes, trade agreements. The agreements usually include what you might call a trade court.  That court helps revolve issues and avoids tariffs.”

Gelly: “I’m interested in learning more but need to put this conversation on hold, please. I’ve got a conference call in a few minutes and need to get ready. Let’s continue later, OK?”

Jordan: “Deal.”

(Continued)

#308 Can We Talk? What Economic Policies Should the Federal Gov’t Really Implement, Please?

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I break from the normal formatting and do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent “sense checks.”  Your thoughts are welcomed and appreciated.  Thanks for your time and interest…and comments, please.

Scene: Jordan’s office, Washington, DC, start of workday

092615_2031_Characters7.gifGelly:  “Good morning, Jordan.  Sorry I didn’t make it back from the conference yesterday.  Long day.  How was your visit with Walt?”

Jordan:  “Visit was great.  His thinking seems to have returned to normal.”

Gelly:  “So his ‘de-brainwashing’ of Trumpism really helped.  The whole idea of brainwashing someone or some group seems a bit odd to me but it must have worked.”

BrainwashedJordan:  “Worked on Walt and millions of hard-core Trump supporters.  Say, what’s with the sling on your left arm?”

Gelly:  “That’s why it was a long day yesterday.  On the way out of the conference, I slipped on something and landed on my left elbow.”

Jordan:  “Yikes that must have hurt?  Go to ER?”

Gelly:  “Yes, it did hurt.  Fortunately my doctor’s office is close to where I fell.  Went to the office and got an X-ray.  PA said my elbow was fractured.  Then I got this cast.  Well, not really a cast but keeps me from moving my elbow.”

TurtleneckJordan:  “Any idea how long in the sling?”

Gelly:  “Apparently 6-8 weeks.”

Jordan:  “Can you work at all?  Seems as if we should get someone in here to help…at least for a couple of months.”

Gelly:  “Some help would be great.  As far as work?  I can hold a cup of coffee in my left hand but not much else.  Serious typing, trying to file or even moving anything is out for a while.”

Jordan:  “OK, then let’s get somebody in here no later than tomorrow morning.”

Gelly:  “Now, back to business.   At the conference there was a lot of discussion about the effect of government economic policies.”

Jordan:  “Such policies as…?”

Gelly:  “The topic for one of the sessions was Federal government economic policies following the Revenge Revolution.  A couple of speakers kept touting that Trump’s economic policies in the first two years in office were highly effective and should be the basis for future government economic growth.”

Tear PaperJordan:  “You mean such policies as tax cuts for the wealthy, tearing up trade agreements with other countries that the US drafted after WWII, efforts to severely restrict immigration and then allow only people with money to get green cards and finally citizenship.  Those kinds of policies?”

Gelly:  “Yes, but the speakers seemed so convincing.  In the past I’ve heard you debunk those policies.   What I’d like to learn is a simple, but meaningful way to decide which government economic policies are appropriate for certain conditions.  Can you help me?”

Know NothingsJordan:  “Of course.  I have three guidelines – really basic questions that might help you.  The first question is about tax policy.  Ready?”

Gelly:  “Yes, have on my thinking cap.”

Jordan:  “If the Federal government is going to use personal income and taxes to help spur economic growth, to what kind of people should it direct most of the effort?  Who, for example, is likely to spend say $1,000?  A person or family making $35,000 per year with little savings or a person making say $235,000 with a decent stock portfolio?”

Gelly:  “The person or family making $35,000.  That person probably has 5-10 things the money could be used for.  The person making $235,000 will likely never notice the $1,000 and just leave the money in the bank.”

Unemployment2Jordan:  “Question #2.  If the Federal government wants to stimulate employment, which policy would be more effective – trying to create even more new jobs when unemployment is already low or trying to create new jobs when unemployment is high and a lot of people ae looking for work?”

Gelly:  “Why would the government try to create more jobs when unemployment rate is already low?  That makes no sense to me.  Create more jobs when unemployment is high.”

Jordan:  “Question #3.  If you’re the Federal government, when is a better time to save money and pay down the Federal debt?  When Federal tax revenues are high and maybe likely to grow or when federal tax revenues are falling and likely to fall more?”

Money BagsGelly:  “When tax revenue is high.  That’s when government should pay down debt and save for a rainy day.  When the economy starts to get bad is when the government should start spending more money and create more jobs.”

Jordan:  “Gelly, you are on your way to becoming an economist.”

Gelly:  “Those questions and answers seem so basic.  But the left-over Trump supporters kept spouting exactly the opposite of what we just discussed.  They kept taking about more tax cuts for the highest income people. Their argument was if the government doesn’t reduce taxes for people with the most money, they won’t invest, build new plants and create more jobs.  A lot of people seemed to buy in to that argument.”

Jordan:  “Here’s another question.  Say you own a business and the government just reduced income taxes…but mostly for very wealthy people.  And let’s say your factory produces chocolate candy bars.  Are you going to increase production of candy bars in hopes that people will eat more chocolate?”

StupidGelly:  “No, that would be stupid.  Sounds like a waste of money.”

Jordan:  “When would you add production capacity and hire more workers?”

Gelly:  “When I kept having to produce candy bars on overtime and it was hard to keep up with demand.”

Jordan:  “You’re right.  The idea of ‘build it and they will come’ works only in the movies.”

Gelly:  “Then why did Trump promote all those economic policies that seem illogical?  And, even worse, why did the Republicans in Congress pass the legislation?”

Me FirstJordan:  “Short answer is greed.  The Donald was never, ever for anyone but the Donald.  He did not care how economic policies affected the country as long as he and his family could make more money.”

Gelly:  “What about the Republicans in Congress?  Could they have been brain-washed like Walt was?”

Jordan:  “Some maybe.  I think the old adage about ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ applies to Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and some of the committee chairs.”

McConnellGelly:  “When you mentioned McConnell you know what popped in my head?  The scene from ‘The Graduate’ where Elaine is in Benjamin’s rented room near Berkeley, she’s just screamed and the landlord is headed toward the room and turns to Benjamin.  The landlord says to Benjamin, ‘You are scum.’  Seems to fit Trump, McConnell and some others.”

Jordan:  “I’ll buy that.”

Gelly:  “Have you got time to explain more economics to me, please?”

Jordan:  “Of course.  Keep in mind not all economics is as basic as we just discussed.  And some parts are counter-intuitive.  We can talk more about fundamentals…after I refill my coffee.”

Gelly: “OK and I’ll call the temp agency.”