#396 The Need to Rebuild the Education System (Part 1)

Readers: some of the dialogue in this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Entries addressing events in the the future assume there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1.

Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.  Most recent sense check, ENTRY #387.  

Some of the entries are part of a series.  Several series are available as easy-to-read booklets for download:

Prelude to the current series of entries: I’ve concluded Trump is a lunatic and the administration filled with lapdogs save a couple of people at CDC.  Instead of wasting time commenting on actions by Trump, I thought it more productive to begin discussing what happens in the US once the coronavirus is more under control.  #378 began the series. At this point not sure how many entries.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

ENTRY #396: In Entry #395 and in the booklet titled “Technology Tsunami,” I outlined why the US needs a more in-depth and broadly available public education system.  My rationale was for the US to remain competitive worldwide, the workforce needed to prepare to use ever advancing technology. 

However, the US may be faced with two fundamental problems.  The second problem became increasingly apparent with the 2020 presidential election.  The problem is cognitive dissonance in an alarmingly high portion of the US population.  The cognitive dissonance seems to exist even among allegedly educated people.  The people in question cannot seem to connect two dots, let alone three.

While there has always been some portion of the population that suffers from cognitive dissonance – Lincoln’s famous quote, “You can fool some of the people all the time…” – and Lincoln’s quote applies to some portion of both political parties, cognitive dissonance seems to have overtaken most in the Republican Party. 

Republicans seem unable to look at a basic set of facts and draw any logical conclusion. An example: assume there are two columns of facts.  Both columns are critical to making a logical decision.  Further the decision at hand is affected by the data in both columns. 

Yet, a huge percentage of Republicans seem to view facts in column A and facts in column B as completely separate, even though inextricably linked.  This group seems unable to look at column A and look at column B and see any need for integrating the two.

In a couple of earlier blog entries I suggested that Trump supporters seem to be brainwashed. Being brainwashed could be a plausible explanation given how some of Trump’s supporters accepted his behavior as appropriate but rejected the same behavior when exhibited by others.

The cognitive dissonance seems extreme among some self-proclaimed born-again Christians. Let’s take just a couple of the Ten Commandments, a tenet of Christianity, and Judaism, and look at Trump’s Behavior. Example #1: don’t lie.  Trump lies multiple times per hour and the rate ratcheted up during the campaign. 

Trump has the distinction of telling more lies than any other president by several orders of magnitude. And, it’s not as if these lies are hard to fact-check.  Example #2.  Don’t steal.  Like his habit of lying, Trump has managed to divert government funds to his own pocket while President, clearly in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.  The most high-profile examples of financial diversions are at the Bedminster Golf Club, Mar-a-Lago and the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

So what are those on the religious right thinking while supporting Trump?  Okay, people can be forgiven for choosing Tramp initially.  Many voters claimed not to like Hillary and considered Trump the lesser of two evils.  Any kind of research would have highlighted Trump’s pattern of behavior but let’s give the initial Trump voters a break.

But with four years of behavior that is contrary to the tenets of Christianity and virtually every other religion, why choose him again?  Did the 2nd-time Trump supporters ever ask themselves, “Would I want my spouse to act the same way as Trump?  Would I tolerate such behavior in my children?  Would I have any kind of business or personal relationship with someone who acted like Trump?”

My guess is the answer is a resounding “No!” to each question.  Yet, why did they support Trump…again? 

After I finished an initial draft of this blog, I thought, maybe education is not the issue.  Really, the issue is a breakdown in what is considered moral behavior.  Rather than education, maybe there was a breakdown in the commitment to duty, honor, country.

Then, with a bit more thought, I went back to the problem being lack of a good educational foundation.  Without a good foundation, what once was considered immoral behavior can become acceptable.  What once was considered a commitment to duty, honor, country can be twisted so those who live by such a code were labeled by Trump as “suckers.”

For all the 2nd-time Trump supporters, why don’t you take a hard look at the cemeteries at Normandy of all those “suckers” who died to save Europe and the US.  Take a look at the Vietnam wall in Washington.  Take a look at the memorial at the Trade Towers for those who died trying to save others.  After you take a hard look, ask yourself, “Why did I vote for a guy who claimed to be 4F to avoid the draft because of a bone spur in his foot?  And then couldn’t remember which foot had the bone spur.”    

The illogic of voting for Trump a second time is so overwhelming to me I cannot fathom anyone having done so.  Yet, an example is a friend on Facebook, who shall remain anonymous.  The person is college educated, overtly religious and yet was wildly enthusiastic about supporting Trump in 2020.  There seems no explanation other than cognitive dissonance.  The Facebook friend seemed unable to connect two dots, let alone three dots.  And now the FB friend is in Maslow’s second stage blaming all those “liberals” in Pennsylvania and Michigan for illegally stuffing the ballot box for Biden.    

The behavior of my FB friend is not unique.  Take behavior with respect to the coronavirus.  In the past week new cases have exceeded 100,000 per day.  Where were most of the new infections occurring? Yes, the preponderance of new infections were in counties that voted for Trump. It appears that many, if not most, of residents in those counties viewed wearing a mask as political statement.  Not wearing a mask showed one’s support for Trump. 

Folks, the benefit of wearing a mask for protection is based on science and medical evidence, not politics. You’re following advice from a guy who got his degrees in epidemiology and immunology from Trump University, aka BS University.

If we look at history, one reason America was able to separate itself from the rest of the world was by offering residents a free, quality public education.  Such an education enabled families, within one or two generations, to transition from members having a very limited education to children graduating from college. 

The system also provided a solid, well-rounded base education for high-school graduates.  My father is a perfect example.  He had to turn down a free college education to be able to continue to work to support the family during the Depression. Yet, with that high-school education he was well versed in a number of subjects.   World geography was one of his favorites. I admit, his knowledge of geography put me to shame.

He was also a crossword puzzle aficionado. His favorite and most challenging day was Thursday, when the crossword puzzle was completely blank.  The crossword had only word clues.  With all squares initially blank, you needed 3-4 correct words just to get started.  

Like many others of that generation, he was a lifelong learner.  In retirement and virtually every day until he died, he read from cover to cover “The New York Times” and the local paper. 

Fast forward to today.  How many people actually read a real newspaper? How many really understand what’s going on in the world?  How many people can connect two dots?

If a contributor to cognitive dissonance is a shortfall in education, which it appears to be, then how do we fix the problem?  The first step would seem to be that “we,” that is societal we, need to come together. We need to put away the political labels; put away the “us versus them” mentality; put away the blame game. We need to look in the mirror and ask that tough question of many religions, “Are you treating your neighbor as you want to be treated?”

In his speech 11/07/2020 following declaration of becoming president-elect, Biden took a great step forward in asking the nation to come together.  Some of us remarked the speech reminded us of an old Alka-Seltzer commercial – “Oh, what a relief it is.”  Let’s hope he and VP-elect Harris can be effective in leading the charge getting US society to start acting as one again. 

The level of difficulty facing the Biden administration could be compared to what the US faced in the 1960’s with the race to the moon.  While the challenges in the 1960’s were mostly technical, a major hurdle was convincing Congress and the American public to support what would be an extraordinarily challenging, costly and dangerous series of missions. 

JFK spoke to Congress in 1961 and then to the public in 1962 at a speech at Rice University to address the challenges.  A portion of that speech seems appropriate as inspiration for the challenge that we face in rebuilding the education system in the US. 

 “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win…”

Read JFK’s remarks again.  More discussion about education in the next blog entry, including designating First Lady-elect as “Educator-in-Chief.”

#395 Post COVID-19 — How Do We Repurpose Human Capital? (Part 2)

Readers: some of the dialogue in this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Entries addressing events in the the future assume there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1.

Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.  Most recent sense check, ENTRY #387.  

Some of the entries are part of a series.  Several series are available as easy-to-read booklets for download:

Prelude to the current series of entries: I’ve concluded Trump is a lunatic and the administration filled with lapdogs save a couple of people at CDC.  Instead of wasting time commenting on actions by Trump, I thought it more productive to begin discussing what happens in the US once the coronavirus is more under control.  #378 began the series. At this point not sure how many entries.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

ENTRY #395: What has happened to unemployment during the Coronavirus? How severe is unemployment?

Counting the number of people who have filed unemployment claims paints a grim picture. Beginning March 2020, claims per week jumped dramatically.  Toward the end of March, new claims for unemployment for just one week  totaled nearly 7 million.  New claims per week have fallen since but seven months after the peak in March new claims are on average more than 3x higher than earlier on 2020.

Keep in mind these numbers are new claims. The numbers represent new people who are now unemployed. Obviously, some people who filed claims will be called back to work or find another job, but the net amount of those unemployed keeps increasing.  Further, throughout the 2020/2021 winter, the number of weekly new claims for unemployment is likely to remain extraordinarily high by historic standards.

What about the people who are self-employed?  You know, 1099 contract workers, consultants, musicians, even undocumented workers?  What’s happened to their workload?  They all pay taxes.

Contract, or gig workers, have seen jobs dry up as well. There is a provision in the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) that enables gig workers to file for a limited amount of economic relief.  The program is administered by states, which makes tracking claims nearly impossible. 

Nevertheless, if we add the number of gig workers seeking  CARES-based income supplement to those filing unemployment claims, the total likely exceeds 1,000,000 every week since early March 2020.  Like those employed by companies, the number of gig workers working fewer hours will increase during the winter.

Some may comment, “Is unemployment really that bad? I mean, the unemployment rate lately has been less than 10.0%. And it bounced back fast following the spike in the Spring.  Early in the Obama Administration, unemployment reached 10.0% and it took years to decline. What’s the big deal?  Trump’s done much better than Obama ever did.”

How Is the Unemployment Rate Calculated?  The unemployment rate is the ratio of those unemployed and looking for work to those in the workforce – those employed and unemployed.  Let’s say there are a thousand people in the workforce. 100 are unemployed and actively looking for a job and 900 are working. The unemployment rate would be 10.0%, or 100/1,000.

Now let’s assume that 50 of the 100 unemployed get discouraged and quit looking for a job. The new unemployment rate would be 50 actively looking for work / 950 (900 employed + 50 actively working), or 5.3%.

What happened to the unemployment rate?  The rate dropped from 10.0% to 5.3%, even though the only change was 50 people became discouraged and quit looking for work.  

What Else Does the Unemployment Rate Not Count? Let’s say that of the 900 people working, 200 are being forced to work part-time because their employer reduced their hours.  Even though working part time, the 200 are counted as “fully employed” when calculating the unemployment rate.   

So what’s the real unemployment/underemployment rate when one considers those who are only working part time and those who are so discouraged about finding another job they quit looking for work?  We know the rate is not 5.3%, which would be the official government number. 

The real rate is more like 30.0% — 200 underemployed, 50 unemployed and looking and 50 unemployed but who’ve quit looking.  In our example, there are 300 out of 1,000 who are either unemployed or underemployed and looking for more work.

If the numbers in this simple example seem ridiculously high, the 30.0% rate probably understates the true underemployment rate the US experiencing in Fall 2020.  Even for professional economists, calculating a reasonable estimate of unemployment/underemployment is nearly impossible because the Trump Administration refuses to disclose what most of us would consider any credible information about many parts of the economy.

As stated in Entry #394, the unemployment problem will not go away post COVID-19. During the initial lockdown to control the virus, organizations began to understand how to conduct operations with far fewer people than in the past. Consumers also began to think differently.

The change in thinking will affect some sectors of the post-COVID-19 economy more than others.  Portions of the service sector will be particularly hard hit.  Even with a vaccine, how many people will be willing to attend sporting events if there are thousands of other people jammed next to one another? How many people will be willing to eat in crowded restaurants, travel on crowded airplanes, ride jam-packed trains/buses, stay in unfamiliar hotels, go to amusement parks, etc.?  While we won’t know the extent for a number of years, assuming a 25-30% loss of pre-COVID-19 travel-and-entertainment-related jobs would be a reasonable estimate. 

Manufacturing output should rise post-virus but the number of jobs in manufacturing will continue to erode relative to output.  The trend will continue to replace workers with more automation, use of sophisticated software and robotics.

What’s the Solution? After mulling over this problem for a number of months, my conclusion is a two-pronged solution is necessary.

  1. WPA-like programs that focus on building/rebuilding critical infrastructure throughout the United States. Yes, such programs require lots of manual labor.  And no, such programs are not a long-term solution.  However, WPA-like programs will employ a portion of the workforce that will have an extremely difficult time transitioning to a digital-based economy. Plus, WPA-like programs will address much of the US infrastructure that needs repairing and upgrading.
  2. Repurposing many existing jobs.  Initial repurposing training for some jobs could be completed in 10-12 weeks.  The basic training would be followed by a job using the skills learned and additional on-the-job training (OJT). 

Will some of the jobs after basic training be considered “make work”? Yes, but any kind of training includes time to practice and expand basic skills.

When I joined General Motors following undergrad (many moons ago), I worked at Cadillac HQ in Detroit.  At the time the Clark Street Cadillac facility was huge, including two assembly line, paint shop, welding, full engine machining and a bunch of other stuff.  The campus totaled nearly 50 acres and included many buildings with 3-4 stories. Who knows how many million square feet of floor space.  For someone who likes cars and manufacturing, the facility was like one giant candy store.

My initial assignment was in a department called “Project Control.”  The department’s primary function was to evaluate various proposed expenditures – new equipment in Engine Machining Department, e.g.

Truth be known, most of my early assignments really were “make work,” since the guys in the department who’d been around awhile already knew the answer. But I’d be given an assignment and off I go to find some department located in this huge complex. 

The purposes of these assignments were: (i) can he find the way out to the department and back without getting lost too many times; (ii) help me begin to understand the breadth and depth of the complexity involved in manufacturing a car/truck; (iii) can he understand the scope and purpose of the proposed project and write a coherent recommendation?

What do I remember from those early days on the job? Frankly I do not remember any specific project. What I do remember is beginning to understand that manufacturing components for a vehicle and then assembling that vehicle is an incredibly complicated task, but also one that fascinates me to this day.

I also remember discovering all kinds of places in the plant to eat. One cafeteria, for example, had great pastrami sandwiches every Thursday. I also remember finding vending machines that dispensed ice cream bars. The bars would just fit inside the canister for the plant-wide pneumatic tube system.  While on these assignments one of my tasks might be to send ice cream bars back to the office via the tube system.

While some of those assignments were make-work, I think the learning from those assignments served me and GM well for my entire career. I’ve also applied many of the lessons learned to situations post GM.

Now back to the problem at hand.  How do we, societal we, train people to transition to a more digital economy?  First, we need to understand and appreciate that the training will not be completed overnight. We also need to understand that some of the projects, especially those early in the training cycle, will seem like make work. And, we also need to understand that some people will not be able to make the transition as effectively.

However, if we don’t start transitioning now, then the US will continue to fall behind countries with more advanced or more disciplined education systems and/or fall behind countries that have fully committed to a digital economy.  How do we truly make America great again?  To be continued, including some discussion about changes in approach to education, from K through grad school.

#394 Post COVID-19 — How Do We Repurpose Fixed Assets and Human Capital? (Part 1)

Readers: some of the dialogue in this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Entries addressing events in the the future assume there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1.

Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.  Most recent sense check, ENTRY #387.  

Some of the entries are part of a series.  Several series are available as easy-to-read booklets for download:

Prelude to the current series of entries: I’ve concluded Trump is a lunatic and the administration filled with lapdogs save a couple of people at CDC.  Instead of wasting time commenting on actions by Trump, I thought it more productive to begin discussing what happens in the US once the coronavirus is more under control.  #378 began the series. At this point not sure how many entries.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

ENTRY #394: Note: Yikes, the craziness of the Trump administration has continued the last couple of weeks. Trump and a substantial portion at his staff contracted the COVID-19.  After a few days hospitalization at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and after taking a host of unapproved drug cocktails plus some steroids, Trump claimed that he was feeling better than any time in the last 20 years.  Must have been a rough 20 years.

Then, in only Trump fashion, he claimed getting COVID-19 was a blessing from G_d. Of course, who else would G_d choose to save the world from this scourge? Mother Teresa? An epidemiologist? No, the Harvard/MIT grad, Trump. Well, maybe Trump didn’t go to Harvard or MIT but just ask and he’ll tell you he’s a stable genius and one of G_d’s favorites.

A bit of irony was part of Trump’s treatment at Walter Reed included cells obtained from an abortion. Where was the outrage from Trump and the far-right about stem cells from an abortion? Cat apparently got their tongue.

More seriously, and the focus of this entry is the major restructuring of the US economy that’s going to occur whether or not there is a vaccine or even cure for COVID-19. The US is faced with an economic upheaval that may rival what occurred during the first and second phases of the Industrial Revolution.

Industrial Revolution Phase I started in earnest around 1800 with the introduction of machines and devices that replaced handcrafting. These machines could complete a task in a fraction of the time and with higher precision than the work done by hand.  Phase I also benefited from the refinement of the steam engine, which allowed the engine to power such mobile devices as a locomotive.  The locomotive enabled the creation of a railroad network to deliver goods to more locations.  Steam-powered tractors used in agriculture resulted in significantly higher output per man-hour of labor.

What I’ve labeled as Phase II of the Industrial Revolution started about 1900.  Two major breakthroughs: (i) introduction of the internal-combustion engine, which was smaller and lighter than a comparable output steam engine, and (ii) standardization of parts. Standardizing parts, originally developed by the rifle manufacturing industry for easy replacement in the field, was later adopted by manufacturers of transportation – automobiles, locomotives and aircraft.  Standardization enabled the use of assembly lines, which lowered labor cost per unit and increased quality.

Phase II also resulted in workers shifting from agriculture to manufacturing jobs.  The shift required workers to have a different set of skills, although for most workers skills required for jobs in manufacturing were limited and could be learned on the job. 

The vast majority of manufacturing companies, especially automotive, were based in the Northeast and Midwest, both of which experienced a major influx of immigrants and southern blacks leaving the farm.  While the manufacturing companies made enormous profits, hourly workers were not well paid until the companies faced work stoppages as the UAW and other unions gained membership.  Following WWII the economy steadily improved and wages for factory workers increased to the point that many enjoyed what could be called a “middle-class lifestyle.”

The plethora of well-paying manufacturing jobs began to erode in the 1980’s with the introduction of: (i) companies shifting production of goods to plants outside the US; (ii) robotics and somewhat later, artificial intelligence-based programs.

Rather than the disruption being caused by a change in required job skills, as seen in Phases I and Phase II of the Industrial Revolution, jobs were shifted outside the US due, in part, to: (i) US tax laws on corporations, which ended up favoring job shifts rather than penalizing job shifts; (ii) erroneous analysis of costs by the employer.  Shifting jobs outside the US accelerated further in the 1990s and by the early 2000s, a substantial number of manufacturing jobs had been shifted outside the US.

The analysis of costs justifying the shift to plants outside the US often focused primarily on labor costs per unit rather than a more holistic approach that accounted for all costs associated with manufacturing.  High labor costs were blamed on union contracts and therefore the only way to keep costs down was to move jobs to a different location.  But were labor costs really too high? 

Following is an example I experienced personally.  While the story is a data point of one, my experience is the thinking of the Board was fairly typical among many companies, large and small. 

One of my jobs post GM was running a company in northern California that assembled electric scooters.  When I took the job the Board said to shift assembly out of northern California (Sonoma County) to China, where labor costs were much lower.  I resisted and within seven months we had increased productivity (with virtually no capital expenditures) to a level where we could double the labor costs in California and pay the Chinese workers zero and it would have been cheaper to continue to produce in California.  Why?  When all related costs were considered, producing in Northern California – in the middle of wine country, no less – was cheaper.  Such a holistic approach to calculating costs apparently was not considered by many companies. 

In addition to being affected by jobs shifting elsewhere, many assembly and other semi-skilled workers in the US are facing another growing threat — robots. The increased use of robotics and AI represents a fundamental shift in how goods are designed, manufactured, assembled and processed for shipment.  The shipment of these goods to the buyer’s location is going to be disrupted as autonomous vehicles migrate from testbed demonstrations to daily use.    

As if implementation of technology were not enough of a formidable threat, these workers face yet another threat caused by COVID-19. To control the spread of the virus, many employers mandated that staff work from home. COVID-19 restrictions also forced many businesses to close, at least temporarily, although more and more businesses are closing permanently.

Within the service sector, the great unknown is to what degree travel and entertainment and supporting businesses will be changed post-COVID-19.  By the time the threat of the virus subsides, will a substantial portion of the population have become less interested in traveling on crowded airplanes, sailing on petri-dish-like cruise ships with hundreds of others, eating in crowded restaurants, or attending sporting events with tens of thousands of others? 

If so, then many assets supporting travel and entertainment will become obsolete – airplanes, hotels, restaurants, theme parks, cruise ships, large athletic stadia, etc.  Some of the buildings can be repurposed but what does one do with a surplus jet liner, cruise ship or football stadium? 

In the retail sector, the shift toward on-line shopping in not new.  For several decades, the brick-and-mortar retail sector has been facing disruption.  The shift toward internet sales, both personal and business, started to take hold in the late 1990s, early 2000s. While some of the shift to internet sales replaced transactions previously completed using 800#’s, most of the shift has been new.    

Restrictions associated with COVID-19 have been like a rocket ship propelling the shift forward.  In a manner of months, forced isolation may have accelerated on-line shopping patterns an amount that otherwise would have taken 10-20 years to achieve.  The shift to the internet and the number of store closings generate the question, “What to do with all the empty retail space?” 

Thus, any plan to stimulate the economy post-COVID-19 needs to address job creation as well as how to repurpose many assets associated with the service sector.  One assumption seems certain – the mix of output in US economy will be different post-COVID-19 than pre-COVID-19.  Making America great again will not be looking in the rear-view mirror and trying to recapture what once was.  The Pre-COVID economy and valuation of assets is as long gone as Wally and the Beaver.    

The US, and many countries worldwide, will have a blob of dislocated assets that have little or no value in their current configuration. Repurposing some of the fixed assets could be fairly straightforward.  Office buildings, shopping centers, many factories could be converted into housing, assisted living facilities and schools.  Converting shopping centers to housing seems ideal to help address the shortage of affordable housing in many cities. 

What do we do with surplus airplanes and cruise ships?  Beyond scrap metal, there’s not much use.  What about surplus infrastructure supporting the air-travel industry?  Some surplus airfields could become ideal recreation centers.  Or, the airfield could be reforested to support wildlife and help address global warming. 

The more difficult problem is how to repurpose human capital.  Without significant training, how do you take someone who was in a semi-skilled job – say an assembly plant or sewing clothing – and have the person perform in a job requiring a more advanced skill set?  How does society repurpose service workers, especially those in travel-related Industries? 

Even many semi-skilled, white-collar workers will be displaced post-COVID-19.  As organizations adjust to more remote working, some middle management jobs likely will be eliminated.

Repurposing the human assets is a daunting task for government and organizations.  In terms of required job skills, Phase III of the Industrial Revolution will be the opposite of Phases I and Phase II.  In Phases I/II new jobs often required less skill, or a skill that was relatively easy to learn on the job. 

Phase III job skills will be more advanced.  Robots and AI-based machines can replace many existing lower-skilled jobs.  OJT will be very difficult.  An example.  There is a company in Fort Wayne, IN that makes exhaust systems for many auto OEM’s.  The plant runs 24×7.  Despite the high output, the plant has few employees.

At first glance, bending pipe a few ways for an exhaust system seems simple enough.  However, the exhaust system might be different for the same model car/truck with a different engine.  Plus there are at least three different auto OEM’s serviced by this plant, which complicates production schedules. 

Bending pipe is a bit more complicated than it seems.  When pipe is bent, one side becomes thinner and the other side of the bend tends to crinkle. 

The Fort Wayne company’s solution to pipe bending and complicated production schedules is a highly automated process to bend the pipe and to change configurations automatically.  Most workers at the plant are skilled in computer programming.  There are no manual “pipe benders.”  The only non-skilled jobs are the lift-truck operators moving raw material to the beginning of and off the end of the line.  In a few years, the lift-truck operators could be replaced by autonomous lift trucks. 

For the US, post-COVID-19 the training of unemployed workers for new skills will be more difficult than repurposing fixed assets.  How do we approach solving this problem? More thoughts in the next entry.  For some guidance, see the existing write-up titled “Technology Tsunami.” (https://usrevolution5.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/tech-tsunami-booklet-with-supplement-1.pdf)

#393 Can One Person Destroy a Large Organization or Country?

Readers: some of the dialogue in this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Entries addressing events in the the future assume there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1.

Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.  Most recent sense check, ENTRY #387.  

Some of the entries are part of a series.  Several series are available as easy-to-read booklets for download:

Prelude to the current series of entries: I’ve concluded Trump is a lunatic and the administration filled with lapdogs save a couple of people at CDC.  Instead of wasting time commenting on actions by Trump, I thought it more productive to begin discussing what happens in the US once the coronavirus is more under control.  #378 began the series. At this point not sure how many entries.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

ENTRY #393: Note: This entry was written before the White House announced president Trump tested positive for Covid-19, then hospitalized.  The content of the entry continues to be relevant, whether or not Trump recovers and whether or not the president is a Republican or Democrat.  However, behavior of the current president is the issue at hand.  As you read the entry mentally substitute “Trump administration” for “General Motors.”  

For those who think one person cannot destroy a large, seemingly well-structured organization with significant checks and balances, think again.

A lesson we can learn from industry is how one person destroyed what was the largest, most consistently profitable organization in the world, General Motors. If you are not familiar with the history of GM, between roughly 1920 and the early 1980s, GM could have been the US Treasury – GM was so profitable it might as well have printed money.

As a company, GM was enormously large and yet, maintained very high profit margins on many of its products.  For example, variable profit on some car and truck models was 60%, and in some cases even higher.

How did GM become so profitable, even remaining profitable during the Great Depression? The key to GM’s success was the leadership of Alfred P Sloan.  Under Sloan’s leadership, General Motors operated following three basic tenets.

  1. Set clearly defined roles for operating divisions – Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, etc.  The products of each division were distinct in appearance and content.  There was no confusion, for example, between a Chevrolet and a Buick.
  2. Hire highly qualified people.  Sloan viewed his role as providing general direction and then getting out of the way and letting the managers do their job.  Under Sloan, the divisions operated with an incredible amount of autonomy.
  3. Strict adherence to a simple but powerful financial metric.  The metric allowed GM to make money even when sales declined sharply. Inside GM, the metric was known as “standard volume.”  Standard volume was equal to 70% of rated capacity.  If an assembly plant had rated capacity of say 200,000 units per year, standard volume was 140,000.  Budgets were established so the operating unit would break even at 70% of rated capacity. In addition to ensuring GM would be profitable during recessions, the standard volume metric allowed GM to become even more profitable as the economy improved.

What changed at General Motors? Why is GM no longer the juggernaut in the auto industry?  In 1980, then GM chairman Thomas A Murphy retired and was replaced by Roger B Smith.  Unlike Murphy, who was warm, generous and unassuming, Smith was cold, rude and narcissistic. Smith seemed to suffer from an inferiority complex.  He was physically short, had a ruddy complexion and a high voice. Inside GM, at least on the financial staff, Smith was known as “Squeaky.”

During Smith’s autocratic reign of terror – 1980-1990, he made every effort to reshape, some say destroy, most every aspect of what had made General Motors so profitable. My view, having worked on the financial staff for a good portion of my career – Smith was a wannabe Alfred P. Sloan. 

Sloan was, and still is, highly regarded worldwide.  Sloan’s name is associated with among other things academic institutions (The Sloan School at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York, and the Sloan Foundation, which makes grants primarily to support original research and education related to science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and economics. 

 Despite experiencing Smith’s management first hand and now 30 years following his retirement, I have yet to understand why he took the approach he did.  One of the most baffling strategies was to divert funds from product development – one of the keys to GM’s money machine – to buy companies that added little or no value to GM.  Electronic Data Systems (EDS) was outside GM’s core competency.  Same with Hughes Aircraft.

Smith also eliminated the standard-volume budget and the discipline associated with that budget.  In addition, he allowed the operating divisions to begin to encroach on each other’s position in the marketplace.  Smith viewed as unnecessary the cost to keep Buick distinct and separate from say Chevrolet.  As a result, Smith began to force the operating divisions to share parts and platforms. 

Sharing, according to Smith, would save money.  And, the customer would never notice those parts that were shared.  Well, guess what?  The customer did notice. One of the most memorable was the disclosure that a more expensive Oldsmobile shared the same engine as the less expensive Chevrolet.  The Oldsmobile was labeled a “Chevmobile.” 

Smith also reorganized GM.  Rather than being an autonomous operation, the divisions were grouped.  The groups were: (i) Chevrolet, Pontiac and GM of Canada, aka CPC; (ii) Buick, Oldsmobile and Cadillac, aka BOC.  (The grouping is not dissimilar to how the Trump administration has grouped staffs at say CDC.) 

Two examples associated with the reorganization.

  1. Because of my job at the time, I was part of a small group interviewed about whether the company should be reorganized and, if so, how.  It was obvious during the interview by McKinsey & Co that the interview was perfunctory; my opinion didn’t matter and the decision to reorganize had already been made.

At the implementation kickoff, the “justification” for the reorganization was presented to about 100 executives.  Following the general meeting we broke into groups.  There were 10 people in the new Buick-Oldsmobile-Cadillac group.  At the beginning of the BOC group meeting, I asked a simple question to the head of the new BOC group, “What are we trying to accomplish with the reorganization?”  After what seemed to be an eternal pause, the executive responded, “Let’s get on with the implementation.” 

During that meeting and later, no one was able to answer my simple question.  (For reference, at the time Buick Division, which was by no means GM’s largest operating division, generated more revenue than say the worldwide operations of Goodyear Tire.  Why combine so many functions with another operation whose products have been distinct for decades?)  

The result of Smith’s reorganization and other actions was GM lost market share and significant earning power. Between 1980 and 1990 GM market share declined 10 points — ~45% to 35%.  The loss equates to far more than all Honda’s sold in the US every year. 

In 1992, just two years after Smith retired, GM was technically bankrupt.  GM avoided declaring bankruptcy by borrowing money from its finance subsidiary, GMAC.  GM has never fully recovered from Smith’s reign of terror.  While the current management has made impressive gains in product design and innovation, GM remains a mere shadow of its former self.   

2) Smith also demanded loyalty. Smith’s mantra was simple, “My way or the highway.”  To ensure loyalty and no dissent, Smith handpicked the staff that would support his decisions, whether or not the decisions were in the best long-term interest of General Motors and shareholders. He also tried to pack the Board of Directors with “yes” men. 

One problem, when Smith bought EDS, Ross Perot became GM’s largest individual shareholder and joined the Board.  Perot was good at asking tough questions.  Smith became so irritated he paid Perot $750 million for his stock (~$1.8 billion in 2020$) and kicked him off the Board.

What can the US learn from the experience of Smith as CEO of General Motors?  First the similarities in personality and management style between Smith and Trump are remarkable.  Many of the approaches taken by Trump to “break the mold in Washington” are similar to what Smith did with General Motors.

And the results of Trump’s actions are very similar to what happened to GM. Trump eliminated significant revenue potential to the federal government with a 2017 tax cut.  The tax cut created no jobs and ended up being a transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest Americans. Plus, the tax cut cost the government revenue and, as a result, the Federal deficit balooned.

Like Smith, Trump demands absolute loyalty, surrounding himself only with people who bend to his wishes.  Those who challenge Trump are broomed out. 

C’mon, you say, “How can you even compare GM to the Federal government?  GM was large but not that large.” 

“Do you really believe one person can ruin a country? A country that has been a beacon worldwide for openness, honesty and integrity? A country that was founded on the principles outlined in the Ten Commandments. Do you really think it is possible one person could bring it to ruin?”

My short answer is, “yes.” Yes, a country can be ruined by one person. And the US is on its way to ruin unless the approach to governing is changed quickly.  If there were any question about how Trump’s radical approach to governing is negatively affecting behavior in the US, then one should look no further than the so-called stalwarts of the Republican Party. 

These so-called stalwarts, who claim to believe in the core values of Christianity.  Who claim to believe in duty, honor, country.    

Duty, honor, country?  No, according to Trump, that’s only for fools.  Be proud, says Trump, that before Justice Ginsburg’s body was cold you Republicans were able to disregard what you claimed was necessary when Obama was President. Be proud you are able to throw away your ethics and ignore all teachings of your supposed religion.

So, stalwart Republicans, with all that kowtowing, what did you get in return?  What you got was a Supreme Court Justice nominee who will disregard what is good for the country.  Disregard what you claim you stand for and disregard what’s good for the American people.

Instead this nominee for SCOTUS will support laws that give more power to a few that already have too much power.  This nominee will vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act, and then replace it with, well, nothing.  And who will suffer?  The very constituents you supposedly represent.

When history books are written about the end of the great democratic experiment in America, the text won’t assign all the blame to Trump.  In fact, most of the blame won’t fall on Trump.  Trump’s personality and style has been familiar to anyone who spent one iota of time searching. 

Most of the blame will fall on the weak-kneed Republican who enabled his behavior.  So-called adults who were afraid of some tweet from Trump.  So-called stalwart Republicans, go look in the mirror and ask yourself, “With such behavior am I worthy of any recognition or reward?  Am I worthy of being called an honorable citizen?”  And then ask yourself, “After all that kowtowing to Trump’s whims, what did I get for my constituents in return?” 

#392. “Mommy, Why Is that Big Teddy Bear in Our Backyard? He Looks Angry!” (#14 in Series)

Readers: some of the dialogue in this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Entries addressing events in the The future assume there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1.

Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.  Most recent sense check, ENTRY #387.  

Some of the entries are part of a series.  Several series are available as easy-to-read booklets for download:

Prelude to the current series of entries: I’ve concluded Trump is a lunatic and the administration filled with lapdogs save a couple of people at CDC.  Instead of wasting time commenting on actions by Trump, I thought it more productive to begin discussing what happens in the US once the coronavirus is more under control.  #378 began the series. At this point not sure how many entries.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

ENTRY #392: In a couple of earlier posts, I noted I was working with a group of MIT alumni on actions to address the impact of climate change. Some of the alumni in the group are recent grads and some, like me, graduated seemingly eons ago.

The group is very much trying to be apolitical and focus on science and practical solutions. Such an approach is complicated by the Trump Administration’s refusal to make any meaningful decisions on a scientific basis.  All decisions, regardless of the topic, are based on politics.

How urgent is the need to address climate change?  Even if beginning tomorrow we could somehow reduce net CO2 emissions to zero, existing CO2 would have a warming effect on earth’s temperature for several hundred years.

The MIT group understands there is no silver bullet to address the problems with climate change.  Thus, the need to take a multifaceted approach that can: (i) implementing what technology is available today to begin to reduce emissions.  Even if the solution is not sufficient long term, a number of actions can be taken today that will reduce CO2 emissions.  Using biodiesel can reduce tailpipe emissions up to 75% in heavy trucks; (ii) what technology needs to be improved or even invented to reduce emissions to zero; (iii) what’s required to remove CO2, thereby shortening the time for the earth’s temperature to return to normal.

As a group, we spend virtually no time discussing whether climate change is man-made or a natural phenomenon. The point of such a debate is moot. Even if a natural phenomenon, we as a society need to take steps to mitigate the effect for future generations.

For those who think climate change has not been exacerbated by industrial activity, take a look at the chart CO2/ppm and the Earth’s average temperature. The change in temperature is significantly faster than any “natural change” in earth’s temperature.  The slope began to change with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and has accelerated since.

Okay, you say, but what’s a few degrees? Some years are a little warmer than others, some years a little cooler.  So it’s getting warmer. Relax propeller head, a few degrees is no big deal.

Well Bubba, the last time CO2 parts per million was this high was about five (5) million years ago. Yes, that’s 5 million. And who was the big dog on the block then? Not man. Although T-Rex was gone by then there were some really mean and nasty animals and reptiles.  And some of these guys were real bad asses.

And what else? There were palm trees in the Arctic Circle. Oh, I forgot the ocean was 45-50 feet higher.

That’s where we’re headed if we don’t make a major change…now.  The oceans already are rising quickly and will continue to rise for several hundred years. Even an increase of 10-15 feet, which seems more likely than not, would wipe out many coastal cities, cause huge population disruptions worldwide and create havoc for agriculture.

Still think climate change is a hoax?  Just look at the all the fires on the West Coast. Our old house in Sonoma County was burned a few years ago in a major fire.  And taking Trump’s suggestion about sweeping the forest floor won’t have any impact.  Mmm, sweep the forest floor.

Here’s what life will be like for your grandchildren and their children and grandchildren.  Much higher temperatures, little or no ice in the Arctic, and maybe one of the kids yelling “Mommy, why is that big Teddy Bear in our back yard?  He looks angry.”  “Honey, that’s a very hungry and very angry grizzly bear who’s looking for dinner.  Let’s hope we’re not it.”

Think about such a life for the next week or so.  And also think about Trump and his band of climate-change deniers refusing to take any meaningful action to address what contributes to climate change.  Are you going to be satisfied with some lame non-scientific-based proposal and some even more lame excuse that blames someone else for not taking action?

More on climate change next entry.

#391 They’re Coming to America. Well, Not Any More. (#13 in Series)

Readers: some of the dialogue in this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Entries addressing events in the The future assume there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1.

Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.  Most recent sense check, ENTRY #387.  

Some of the entries are part of a series.  Several series are available as easy-to-read booklets for download:

Prelude to the current series of entries: I’ve concluded Trump is a lunatic and the administration filled with lapdogs save a couple of people at CDC.  Instead of wasting time commenting on actions by Trump, I thought it more productive to begin discussing what happens in the US once the coronavirus is more under control.  #378 began the series. At this point not sure how many entries.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

ENTRY #391: At the end of Entry #390 I wrote the next entry would be a discussion about actions to affect climate change.  Wait one more entry.

I decided to change the topic because of two events.  One was this past week’s reality show claiming to be the Republican National Convention.  The reality show pointed out just how far the country has regressed from its core principles, especially the Republican Party.  Ethics?  Why bother?  Respect for others?  Why bother?  Self-respect?  Why bother?  Duty, honor, country?  What’s that?  If I’m not the center of whatever is occurring, then I’m not interested.

Maybe more telling, at least for me, about how far the country has strayed, was the second event that occurred this past week.  While walking back from the coffee shop, I finished a podcast and decided to finish the walk listening to some music.

The song that first played I’d heard many times before but not recently.  For some reason, this time I paid more attention to the words and less to the music.  By the end of the song I was really sad and asked myself, “What have we done to this country?  What can we do to return to the country to what it once was?”

The song was Neil Diamond’s “America.”  Below are the words.  Read them carefully and as you do, think about the America being described in the song – written in the mid-1980’s – and compare that America to the America of today.

With Trump we have a president and administration with policies that are the polar opposite of the America described in the song.  If Trump and supporters want to make America great again, they should start by studying the words of “America.”

“America” by Neil Diamond

Far
We’ve been traveling far
Without a home
But not without a star
Free
Only want to be free
We huddle close
Hang on to a dream

On the boats and on the planes
They’re coming to America
Never looking back again
They’re coming to America

Home, don’t it seem so far away
Oh, we’re traveling light today
In the eye of the storm
In the eye of the storm

Home, to a new and a shiny place
Make our bed, and we’ll say our grace
Freedom’s light burning warm
Freedom’s light burning warm

Everywhere around the world
They’re coming to America
Every time that flag’s unfurled
They’re coming to America

Got a dream to take them there
They’re coming to America
Got a dream they’ve come to share
They’re coming to America

They’re coming to America
They’re coming to America
They’re coming to America
They’re coming to America
Today, today, today, today, today

My country ’tis of thee
Today
Sweet land of liberty
Today
Of thee I sing
Today
Of thee I sing
Today

Do yourself a favor, go back and read the words again, slowly.  Then ask yourself, “How far have we as a country strayed from our core principles?”  Now ask yourself, “What am I and what are we going to do to make America the country described in the song ‘America’?”

#390: Bring in the Repair Crew to Fix Trump’s Damage (#12 in Series)

Readers: some of the dialogue in this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Entries addressing events in the The future assume there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1.

Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.  Most recent sense check, ENTRY #387.  

Some of the entries are part of a series.  Several series are available as easy-to-read booklets for download:

Prelude to the current series of entries: I’ve concluded Trump is a lunatic and the administration filled with lapdogs save a couple of people at CDC.  Instead of wasting time commenting on actions by Trump, I thought it more productive to begin discussing what happens in the US once the coronavirus is more under control.  #378 began the series. At this point not sure how many entries.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

ENTRY #390:  One of the more positive events the last couple of weeks was Snoopy’s birthday. Yes, that Snoopy.  You know the great philosopher whose many friends and admirers include Lucy, Woodstock and Linus.

More seriously, the past weeks have been mind-wrecking. Coronavirus aside, Congressional Senate Republicans have all but disappeared from the landscape. Based on different credible news sources, no Republicans in the Senate, especially Mitch McConnell, were involved in the now stalled negotiations to extend government support for those whose economic well-being has been hit hard by Covid-19.

Trump became the de facto Republican negotiator. The outcome was no surprise.  Trump has proved repeatedly – in private and public life – to be one of the world’s worst negotiators. He maintained that pattern during these negotiations.

Always wanting someone to blame rather than working with someone to solve a problem, Trump and his brain-dead band of Munchkins refused to cut a deal with house Democrats.  Trump claimed the Democrats were at fault even though the House passed phase two of an economic recovery package in May.

McConnell, who may star in the sequel to “Dr. No,” refused to have any hearings on the House-passed bill or participate in negotiations.  Ah, isn’t it wonderful to play the fiddle while Rome burns?  Dilbert recently coined a new Covid-19 phrase that could be applied to McConnell’s behavior, “What a maskhole!”

So as McConnell fiddled instead of negotiating, Trump again declared himself king.  This time the self-declared king signed several half-baked Executive Orders that will do nothing to help those in need but seemingly will reinforce Trump’s image with his base as “solving the economic recovery problem.”  If his base only understood as much about economics as most 4th graders understand.

One half-baked Executive Order of his was to suspend Social Security withholding tax.  First, people who are working are not the bulk of the problem.  People who aren’t working or working very little need economic assistance. At least those working have an income.  Second, the withholding tax was to be “suspended” not eliminated.

As president, Trump has no power to change the tax law, especially with an Executive Order. So what does a “suspended withholding tax” mean? The money that should have been withheld from paychecks needs to be repaid. Thus, Trump’s Executive Order gave workers an opportunity to loan themselves money that they must repay.  Let me repeat, if his base only understood as much about economics as most 4th graders understand…

Suspending withholding tax seems fair, right? Mmm, maybe not.  Let’s see, workers get a loan they must repay while business owners get a loan from the federal government to pay workers and use for other expenses, but that loan doesn’t have to be repaid.  No such gift for the workers.

If you completed a survey of how many Trump supporters understood how Trump’s Executive Order really affected them, I’ll bet the total would be less than 5%. Why they continue to support actions by Trump that are not in their economic best interest is beyond me.

Trump’s nonsensical behavior and the abdication by Republican Senators of any responsibility to help the public does not bode well for the US post- 2020 election.  A Trump re-election would likely result in ever more dictatorial tirades. Some of his claims of late, as one reporter noted wryly, would make North Korea’s Kim Jung-un blush with embarrassment.  Attorney General Bill Barr seems equally bent on promoting an authoritarian-led Trump regime.

If Trump is re-elected and Republicans hold the Senate, another US civil war seems certain.  Yes, civil war with armed conflicts and attacks on segments of society deemed to be “Never Trumpers.”

If Biden wins, he and Kamala Harris will have an incredibly tough road ahead, even if the Democrats win back the Senate. The damage done by Trump, Barr, Pompeo and their cronies can be repaired, but…

Think of how long it takes to repair something – house, car, relationship – compared to the time it takes to cause the damage. What’s the time difference between time to break and time to repair? To repair takes probably ten times as long, or longer.

So, if Trump is re-elected and the US experiences a severe Revenge Revolution, or if Biden is elected and the US experiences a mild Revenge Revolution, the country is going to face a decade or possibly two decades before the damage from Trump can be repaired.  Repairing damage to some international relationships could take even longer.

Compounding the repair efforts will be demands to address societal issues caused by racism.  Effectively addressing issues caused by racism may be more complex than repairing Trump-related damage.

People who think some government actions or more laws will make racism disappear are being foolhardy. Racism, and not just racism directed at blacks, has been around for thousands of years.  For centuries, people outside one’s circle – immediate family, local community, ethnic background, religion, etc. – have viewed others with suspicion and often discriminated against them. No law is going to change such attitudes.

The demands that something be done right now to address issues caused by racism are understandable but very likely those demands will divert time and valuable financial resources from the effort to repair the economy, educational system, political system, infrastructure and other critical items which need to be repaired now.  In fact, one could argue rationally that without significant progress in repairing the Trump-caused damage, efforts to address racism will be for naught, and could even backfire.

The best solution for minorities to address the effects of racism, seems to be as it has always been for minorities – education, Education when supported by one’s community begets economic opportunity.  Consider the recommended approach racist if you want.

My view is members of the black community need to take the initiative to help one another.  The Black Lives Matter and other movements would do well to study the pattern of how every other ethnic group that migrated out of poverty.

There are many wealthy blacks who can support such an effort, from athletes to entertainers to business people. We need fair and equal enforcement of the law for sure.  But, it is also time for blacks to look in the mirror and begin to take charge of their destiny.

Significant progress might take two or even three generations. A journey of a 1,000 miles begins with one step.

As far as demands for reparations, my view is be careful what you ask for and especially be careful of what you demand.  Reparations might make some people feel better in the short terms.  Keep in mind reparations are a superficial solution that does not solve the underlying problem. A good sense check for reparation would be to research the lives of lottery winners for say 5-6 years following their so-called lucky day.

Real change takes time.  Real change takes commitment to change.  Real change takes hard work.  Respect must be earned.  Respect cannot be legislated.

Next time: discussion of actions to address climate change post-Revenge Revolution.

#389. Where Do We Go from Here? (#11 in Series)

Readers: some of the dialogue in this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Entries addressing events in the The future assume there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1.

Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.  Most recent sense check, ENTRY #387.  

Some of the entries are part of a series.  Several series are available as easy-to-read booklets for download:

Prelude to the current series of entries: I’ve concluded Trump is a lunatic and the administration filled with lapdogs save a couple of people at CDC.  Instead of wasting time commenting on actions by Trump, I thought it more productive to begin discussing what happens in the US once the coronavirus is more under control.  #378 began the series. At this point not sure how many entries.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

ENTRY #389: We are approaching the end of July 2020. Fewer than 100 days until the presidential election.  What’s happening? Just a bit.

  1. Coronavirus remains unchecked in many locations
  2. No clear strategy from the White House yet addressing the Coronavirus
  3. Growing effort to ban the Confederate flag and to remove statues honoring generals who fought against the US
  4. Growing effort to rename buildings, sports teams, schools, organizations and brand-name products that some group might consider offensive
  5. Sending non-uniformed federal troops to various cities to arrest often peaceful protestors.  Trump ordered the troops “to protect the cities from destruction.”  Of course, troops were sent only to cities with Democratic mayors.  None of the mayors asked for the troops.
  6. Sputtering economy that may beginning to backslide.  Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are so divided they cannot come to agreement on a stimulus package.
  7. Cancelling the Republican Convention in Jacksonville, Florida that Trump insisted on moving from Charlotte, NC because the NC governor had mandated rules for wearing masks and limiting the number of people who could gather in public places.
  8. Icing on the cake is both humorous and tragic.  Last week Trump was bragging to Fox News about how he “aced” a test designed to detect likely onset of Alzheimer’s.  His remarks were pathetic but memorable.  Trump claimed remembering five words, “Person, woman, man, camera and TV,” qualified him as an incredibly smart person.  Donald, I hate to tell you, a 5-year old can do the same thing, and the 5-year old can also identify an elephant.

Widespread uncertainty in any environment tends to lead to widespread chaos. No one in the White House, no one in Congress and certainly no one in the public, knows what’s next. Nor does anybody in the Trump administration seem to know how to fix the current problems, or even care about fixing current problems.

The most clear-cut answer to reduce the risk of contracting and to reduce the number of cases of the coronavirus comes from an epidemiologist who merely states facts – wear a mask and stay 6’ away from others.  However, even such a simple gesture from a highly trained professional has been met with strong resistance, starting with the Trump administration.  Finally, this past week, Trump suggested wearing a mask might be OK, although not for him.

In a series of earlier entries, I noted that many Trump supporters seem to be brainwashed. If there were ever a concrete example of brainwashing, the refusal to wear a mask is it.  One does not need an epidemiological degree to understand a face covering will slow penetration of inbound/outbound particles.

I wonder if any of these Republicans have ever watched the movie, “Lawrence of Arabia”.   Trumpsters, why do you think the guys riding in the desert on horseback and on camels covered their face with scarves? Without a scarf, blowing sand tends to get in the mouth and nose, and really doesn’t taste great.

Wearing a mask reduces the dispersion of particles when you breathe, cough or sneeze, thereby reducing the likelihood of contaminating others.  But since Trump has implied and even stated masks are for wimps, or at least he did so until only a day or so ago, no self-respecting brainwashed Republican wants to be seen wearing a mask.

In their brainwashed state, Republicans don’t need a mask because they are immune from the coronavirus. Only liberals need masks, and who cares if liberals are infected because of some Republican?

The two ends of “should-I-wear-a-mask?” spectrum were highlighted in a couple of recent Facebook posts. One post equated forcing people to wear masks in public locations as similar to Nazi’s forcing Jews to wear a yellow star. Not even remotely a legitimate comparison. But the guy who posted the entry is a hardcore Trumpster.

The other extreme regarding wearing a mask was lighthearted. The post was a quote, “Walmart is only asking you to wear a mask. You can still wear your pajamas and still leave your bra and your teeth at home.”

While Trump politicizing wearing a mask is baffling, even more baffling is the effort by the Trump administration to reduce funds allocated for testing the public for infection. Using Trump’s logic, if there are no tests, then the number of reported infections will decline. The decline in infections will prove that Trump has done a great job addressing the issue. Welcome to logic in Trump World.

Let’s put the brainwashed Trumpsters aside, and address the economy post coronavirus and post Revenge Revolution. The Coronavirus has been the catalyst for accelerating the shift to a new economic model.

In the post-coronavirus world, wealth will still be created the way wealth has always been created – integrating and/or processing individual components so the end product is more valuable than the individual components – aka, manufacturing. Manufacturing categories include a wide range of industries — farming, mining, automotive, software development, construction, etc.

The GDP also includes non-manufacturing categories, or “services.” Services include such industries as travel-and-entertainment – hotels, casinos, air travel, cruise ships – food service, retail, banking, professional services, including medical, and a host of other occupations. Think of services as “transferring money from one pocket to another.”  While many services are essential and generate many jobs, no societal wealth is created with the transfer of money between pockets.  However, services can result in individuals or companies becoming wealthy.

Like all past major shifts in the economy – agrarian to industrial, e.g. – some individuals and some companies will benefit. Other individuals and companies will be left behind and lose wealth. The shift often can be swift and brutal.  An example is the shift from steam-powered locomotives to diesel locomotives in the 1930’s.  Within a few years of introduction, diesel locomotives dominated and production of steam locomotives stopped.

Unfortunately, when these economic shifts occur, some in society will be hard hit.  If we use the experience of workers during the coronavirus shutdown as a proxy, then workers most at risk might be those in the middle – jobs above entry level that require some level of advanced education but not jobs that require skills for critical thinking.

During the coronavirus shutdown, many people in the United States got a surprise.  Critical workers included grocery-store clerks, sanitation workers, emergency-response teams, transit workers and other seemingly out of the limelight, lower-paid employees. While society was surprised about which jobs were “critical,” organizations discovered that many employees were in fact, “non-critical.”  Such workers included certain clerical staff, middle managers, sales staff, and other support personnel.

An open question in the post-coronavirus economy is what happens to central cities or other areas where offices are clustered? If people continue to work from home, and only need an office part-time, and if support staffs are reduced, what happens to all the office buildings in say Manhattan, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.? What happens to the infrastructure – subways and light rail – restaurants and other jobs dependent upon office workers?

People still need space to work and food to eat. However, will those working at home look for a somewhat larger house? Will those working from home begin to order in more meals rather than going to nearby restaurants?

While the future of the economy and future size and style of homes are uncertain, one certainty is the United States and other developed countries are going to face huge dislocations and changes to the norm. Covid-19 accelerated the arrival and intensity of the technology tsunami. The next decade is going to be a wild ride. (More about coming technology tsunami, Tech Tsunami Booklet with Supplement.)

One variable sitting on top of the economic and social changes post coronavirus is action required to mitigate the impact of climate change.  The argument is moot whether climate change is natural or man-made.  Climate change is here and is not going away.

Next blog entry we’ll discuss how some proposed actions to address climate change might cause further economic and social dislocations.  Stay tuned.

#388. Donnie’s Dudes Defect to Deep State (#10 in Series)

Readers: some of the dialogue in this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Entries addressing events in the The future assume there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1.

Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether in the next few years, a revolution in the US is still possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US.  Most recent sense check, ENTRY #387.  

Some of the entries are part of a series.  Several series are available as easy-to-read booklets for download:

Prelude to the current series of entries: I’ve concluded Trump is a lunatic and the administration filled with lapdogs save a couple of people at CDC.  Instead of wasting time commenting on actions by Trump, I thought it more productive to begin discussing what happens in the US once the coronavirus is more under control.  #378 began the series. At this point not sure how many entries.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

ENTRY #388: Many years ago there was a TV show with a segment called “That Was the Week that Was.”  The TV show, “Laugh In,” was the satire and a precursor to “Saturday Night Live.”

Well, this past week would have been ideal fodder for “That Was the Week that Was.” SCOTUS ruled 7-2 that POTUS was not above the law and must provide relevant information for certain legal proceedings. In the case at hand, the legal proceedings were a grand jury in the State of New York investigating possible tax fraud by Trump and/or the Trump organization.

The 7-2 majority included two justices appointed by Trump, Gorsuch and Kavanagh. When nominated and then approved by the Republican Senate, Trump had nothing but praise for the two justices.  Trump’s tune changed when the two justices joined the majority and voted to uphold a 250-year precedent that the president was not above the law. Immediately following the ruling Trump claimed the two justices were part of the “deep state” and out to get him.

I mean really Donald, can two guys who voted to uphold 250 years of precedent be part of the “deep state” (whatever that is)?  You think the law doesn’t apply to you? Apologies for the rhetorical question.

A day after the Supreme Court decision with Trump still fuming that the law doesn’t apply to him, Trump thumbed his nose at the justice system and commuted the sentence of Roger Stone.  Stone had been convicted on multiple felonies and faced at least a three-year prison sentence. Stone was also a well-documented liar, self-described “dirty trickster” and a long-time friend of the Donald.  Such nice friends the president has.

While slightly out of chronological order, the icing on the cake for the week could be the release of the manuscript of an upcoming book by Trump’s niece.  The book includes insights into many inner-workings of the Trump family.  The niece, Mary Trump, is a clinical psychologist and describes Trump’s behavior in a series of events over time. While the pettiness of the Donald’s behavior seems even more appalling in private, anyone with an ounce of gray matter has witnessed this type behavior from Trump while president.

One insight I found disturbing, but personally amusing, was Trump paying someone to take his SAT to get into undergrad. Another clear indication of a lack of confidence and lack of self-worth. Classic behavior of a ‘wanna be.”

What does always mean for the coming Revenge Revolution? As noted in last week’s entry, the 5th US Revolution seems to have started.

On the positive side for society, Trump’s personal behavior and his refusal to take meaningful action to address Covid-19, has convinced most Independent voters and many Republicans to pause and rethink whether Trump deserves a second term. Whereas some questioning Trump also are so-so toward Biden – as are many Democrats so-so – the idea of re-electing Trump is viewed as high risk to the long-term stability of the US.

Biden’s appeal could be enhanced considerably with a credible running mate — Senator Tammy Duckworth, for example.  A Biden-Duckworth victory could be the catalyst to encourage Congress and the public to come together and begin repairing damage done by Trump.

An open question is whether the Black-Lives-Matter movement will view itself as part of the effort to repair the nation or view itself as a separate movement.  Substantively addressing and solving the issues raised by the BLM movement will take time, in some cases decades.  If the movement cannot be folded into a larger effort to get the US back on track and the effort to repair the US’ reputation worldwide, then the Revenge Revolution may intensify and continue unnecessarily for years, rather than starting to diminish under a Biden administration. More to come.

#387. 5th US Revolution Possible? We’re In It!

Readers: The focus of this blog since 2013 has been if a 5th revolution in the US would occur around 2020, give or take a few years.   The caveat was whether the time between previous revolutions, approximately 50 years, would hold again.

The previous revolutions were: #1, the American Revolution, which ended with the War of 1812; #2, the Civil War: #3, the “industrialization and migration/immigration” revolution of about 1910-1915; #4, cultural revolution from 1965-early 1970’s. (For more explanation about the revolutions, Entry #1.)

Well, no need to speculate any more about a 5th US revolution. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, the 5th US revolution has started.

One might argue that a 5th revolution, which early on I labeled as the “Revenge Revolution,” began with the election of Trump. And Trump’s election might be a fair starting point.

Clearly many people were upset and thought someone with no political experience and no credible business experience could make changes they thought necessary.  (Trump supporters if you disagree with the statement that Trump had no credible business experience, do some research with good sources. You’ll understand why the statement is true.)

Trump became president because of a fluke in the Constitution. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 3 million votes.  Nonetheless, Trump gained the White House via the Electoral College.

Whether or not the Revenge Revolution started with Trump doesn’t matter for this conversation. The Revenge Revolution has started now, and on multiple fronts – economic, social, medical, and certainly political. The fronts are interrelated, although some discreet elements exist in each.

The coronavirus scourge seems to be the catalyst for the revolution. For starters, Covid-19 has demonstrated how disjointed, dysfunctional and discriminatory the US medical system is. Even if there are underlying genetic traits that make groups more susceptible to the virus – blood type A, for example – the treatment available to those needing hospitalization for Covid-19 has varied from adequate to warlike conditions where supplies are short and treatment has to be rationed.

Attempts to control the spread of the virus have also demonstrated how certain classes of workers could be classified.  Many highly educated workers were considered “non-essential” and therefore temporarily, if not permanently expendable.  Among workers considered “essential” were many less educated, lower-paid, minorities, often from Trump’s “shit-hole” countries list.  Mmm, how did so people from those countries become “essential”?  The Trump administration forgot to explain.

Attempts to control the virus also resulted in unprecedented closings of businesses, employee layoffs, and a record decline in GDP. While a percentage of people have been rehired, the rehiring could be temporary as the rate of infections accelerates in some areas.  The pattern of a quick uptick (in this case, employment) followed by a rapid decline sometimes is referred to as the “dead-cat bounce.”

The social leg of the Revenge Revolution has been simmering for more than 100 years. What brought the simmer to a boil was the video of the Minneapolis Police killing George Floyd.  Release of the video precipitated protests and some looting, not seen in such volume and intensity since the 1960s.

Unlike like many previous social protests, which often faded rather quickly, the current protest seems to be gaining momentum.  Actions being proposed range from reducing funding of police departments to eliminating statues of Confederate generals (these generals fought against the US after all) to changing the names of certain sports teams – Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians, e.g.

The Trump White House has taken a stand that ignores the growing Revenge Revolution. Trump claims repeatedly that the coronavirus will “just go away”; that the economy will bounce back stronger than ever; and that the protests are being led by leftist, fascist, thugs.

Donald and his supporters can think whatever they want about the revolution but the revolution will only gain momentum, which in turn will lead to even more change.  Exactly what will change is hard to predict.  No pattern has emerged other than a likely shifting of political power to Democrats following the November election.

Since today is Independence Day, I want to end on a positive note. Revolutions often result in major technological advances. After the US works through the Revenge Revolution, there could be a burst of Innovations in the industrial and medical sectors with the potential of generating significant employment gains and improvement in life span.

There’s a great opportunity ahead. We need the right people at the top to manage the transition and capitalize on the opportunity.  Stay tuned. More to come.

Other information. Some of the blog entries are part of a series.  Several series are available as easy-to-read booklets for download: