#401. Here We Go. The 5th US Revolution Has Begun.

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.  Entry #400 was the most recent “sense check.”

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

Beginning #378 the entries began focusing on a post-Trump administration and a post-Coronavirus world.  We’re headed to a post-Trump world and post-COVID world, even if post-virus is a ways away.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

ENTRY #401: Blog entry #400 was a “sense check addressing whether a 5th US Revolution was likely, or even possible. Well, we didn’t have to wait long for confirmation.

On January 6th, in a rally outside the White House, Trump egged on a group of supporters to go to the Capitol and disrupt the counting of the Electoral College votes by the Senate. The Trump mob, many with either a Confederate flag or a banner with Trump’s picture superimposed on an American flag, then stormed the US Capitol.

The group overwhelmed the Capitol Police and broke into the House and Senate chambers. Some proceeded to damage artwork and then ransack offices, most notably the office of the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.  A number of people were injured and 5 killed, including a Capitol police officer.

Trump’s reaction? He claimed the seditionists were really patriots. Reactions of high-profile Republicans? Some were genuinely outraged but many seemed to shed crocodile tears. A surprising large number of Republican Representatives and Senators have continued to support Trump, while criticizing the Capitol Police for failing to hold off the mob.

When the House and Senate reconvened in the early evening of January 6 to resume counting electoral votes, did Republicans continue to object to the votes certified by states, even if the certification was by Republicans?  Of course they objected.  Republicans claimed that the ballots supporting Biden were fraudulent, even though those same ballots resulted in the election of those protesting.  Only in Trump world could one use such logic.

These Republican Representative and Senators continued with Trump-world logic.  Comments went along the following lines, “What did Trump do that was so bad? I mean, the last time anyone invaded the Capitol was in 1812. And it was the British.  They burned the Capitol to the ground.  Trump’s group merely protested and rearranged some papers and furniture in a few offices.  No big deal.  All you liberals quit whining.”

Even more frustrating than the logic of the Trump Republicans in Congress was the reaction of some supposedly educated people I know. I have purposely maintained Facebook friendships with some hardcore Trump supporters. Several of these people I’ve known for many years and decided not to let some idiot like Trump ruin a friendship.  In addition, viewing their posts does provide some idea of how Trump supporters think.

The posts following the storming of the Capitol were interesting as well as baffling. One person claimed that the insurrectionists were not really Trump supporters but liberals trying to make Trump look bad. She had proof that one participant had been at a climate change rally on the West Coast. Not only was her “proof” quickly refuted – the alleged “climate change” participant was a hard-right group member – but apparently it never occurred to her that one or more participants at the Trump rally might have tried to disrupt the climate change rally. Oh no, Trump supporters would never do that.

Reaction from another friend was more drawn out. I received an unsolicited email from the individual stating the Trump should leave. I responded by agreeing, then discussing how Trump’s behavior could accelerate the split in the Republican Party, with more principled Republicans leaving the party and forming a third party with members of the Lincoln Project.  The “Lincoln” Republicans could gain considerable influence by aligning with more moderate Democrats. Such an alignment would effectively render the far right of the remaining Republican Party as a non-entity politically.

The reaction to my rather straightforward comments? No direct response. Instead, the response focused on Democrats, stating that Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters, and Stacey Abrams were evil.  Not sure why they are considered evil, especially Abrams who currently holds no political office.

The next day I received another email with a link to a right-wing blog.  The author of that blog, of course with no data, proved the media had caused the US population to split politically. 

While the logic stream in the emails was confusing at the least, one point was true. The media have contributed to the split in the population.  But not the media the writer intended. The split has been caused in large part by Fox News, Limbaugh and some social media sites rather than the media the writer considered.

Like a few Facebook friends, Trump couldn’t stop and think.  He continued to tweet, encouraging supporters to protest at state capitols and protest during the Inauguration of Biden/Harris.  Trump made sure supporters knew he would not attend the swearing in.  Implicit in Trump’s tweet, “Have at it boys.  Fire away, I won’t be nearby.”

The adults in positions of power have reacted to Trump’s insurrection.  The House is preparing articles of impeachment. Pelosi contacted the Joint Chiefs about making sure Trump could not order use of nuclear weapons without additional review.  Twitter has banned Trump from ever having an account.  Other social media sites have banned Trump as well. 

Some people in Congress have suggested not pursuing Articles of Impeachment.  “Why bother since Trump is so close to leaving office?”  In an interview on PBS News Hour, Representative James Clyburn, D, SC and the House Whip, was quite clear.  I’m paraphrasing, “If someone breaks the law, they need to be held accountable.  It does not matter whether there is one day left in their term.”   

As far as the 5th Revolution, if storming and occupying the US Capitol is not the act of revolutionaries, I’m not sure what is.  How long will Trump be able to lead the revolution?  Likely he will fade rapidly once out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

There may be a Trump-incited rally or two over the next month or so but that will be it.  Like most bullies who lose power, he’ll become a nobody.  Plus, the minute Trump leaves office he faces significant legal and financial challenges.  And no pardon can protect him at the state level.  The icing on the cake might be the town of Palm Beach enforcing a prior agreement that limits the number of days he can stay at Mar-a-Lago.  If the agreement is enforced, he’ll have to find another place to stay.

With Trump out of the White House, with no Twitter account and with no real financial resources, Trump supporters, especially the insurrectionists, will be seeking a new spiritual leader. No one is on the horizon. Cruz and Hawley are anything but charismatic. 

What may be the most concerning, however, is actions of small bands of Trump crazies to punish alleged enemies.  Targets could include Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, state officials considered “unfriendly’ to Trump – governors, secretaries of state, e.g. – and Federal judges who dismissed Trump’s lawsuits claiming fraud. Even VP Pence, a Trump lapdog for 4 years, is on the persona non-grata list of the hard-core Trumpsters.

As the US military has learned repeatedly, trying to prevent small groups from attacking specific targets is exceedingly difficult.  Such attacks would cause widespread angst among public officials and citizens.                

As noted in some other entries, the 5th US Revolution — the Revenge Revolution — will include some major cultural shifts. More about cultural changes in the next few entries.  Hang on. The upheaval in decade of the 2020’s could easily rival the upheaval of 1960’s/early 1970’s. 

#400 Sense Check. 5th US Revolution Still Possible?

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.  This entry is a sense check.  

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

Beginning #378 the entries began focusing on a post-Trump administration and a post-Coronavirus world.  We’re headed to a post-Trump world and post-COVID world, even if a ways away.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

ENTRY #400: SENSE CHECK. The first entry in this blog was the fall 2013, just over seven years ago. The theme of the blog evolved 9-10 years ago when I began drafting a thesis for an unfinished degree at the University of Michigan.  The degree was a masters of liberal studies in American culture.

I started the degree program a few years after we relocated to Michigan. The degree courses were interesting and unlike any I’d taken in undergrad or graduate school. One of the benefits of the program was becoming much better at the TV show “Jeopardy.”

I finished the thesis and submitted to U of M.  Then learned I was a couple of courses short.  After a number of years in Michigan, we had moved to California, then to Charlotte.  I hadn’t been enrolled for some time but thought the coursework was completed. Although U of M indicated the two courses could be taken on line, I decided enough formal education.

However, I didn’t put the thesis on the shelf.  When researching material for the thesis, I “discovered” the US seemed to experience a revolution about every 50 years. I assume like many discoveries, this “discovery” was quite by accident.

The working title of the thesis was “The American Revolution.”  “The American Revolution” didn’t refer to the traditional American Revolution but a tagline from an old Chevrolet commercial.  Much of the content of the thesis focused on how to rebuild US manufacturing (yes, long before the Donald made such a claim), with particular emphasis on how Southeast Michigan could leverage knowledge of the auto industry to become a worldwide center for other products.  One example was leveraging skills in product design and electromechanical engineering to develop computer-aided prosthetics, which thankfully are now coming to market.

Because of the title, I wondered how many revolutions had America experienced.  Obviously, the American Revolution and the Civil War, but were there others?  As an early Baby Boomer, I considered the changes in music, hairstyles, attitudes toward sex, etc. in the late 1960s, early 1970s as a “cultural revolution.”  In addition to cultural change, that period included domestic violence with the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK as well as major civil disruptions in Newark, Detroit and Los Angeles.

After a bit more analysis, I decided there have been four (4) revolutions so far in US history with each occurring roughly every 50 years.  Since the mid-point of the last revolution was about 1970, if the 50-year cycle was correct, then the fifth US revolution would be sometime after 2020. (More information about the four revolutions and how the timing was calculated in Entry #1.)

Well, here we are just having finished 2020.  Time to have a sense check and ask, “Is a 5th US revolution likely?” Unless you’ve been in a cave or on Mars the last few years, I think most people would say “Yes, a revolution of some type seems likely.”

The country seems as divided emotionally and politically as any time since the years leading up to the Civil War.  The Donald and the Trump Administration with all the craziness were contributors to this split.  But the divide in the country started long before Trump. 

OK, Trump was outlandish, arrogant, stupid, childlike and a host of other psychological “isms.”  Despite the behavior, Trump was not the first to cause the split.  There’s always been some split but the movement toward a chasm started with Ronald Reagan. 

Reagan kept proclaiming, even after becoming president that “government is the problem, not the solution.”  Reagan would also promote private industry as the solution.  While government is clearly not the solution to every problem, private Industry is not the solution to many problems either.

How many private companies would be willing to develop a product or build a system for which there was no known market?  The answer is zero, nada, none.  So, then how did railroads, the highway system, air travel, ground and satellite communications systems and the internet get funded?  Mmm, must have been that incompetent government. There is not a single company that would risk the capital necessary for the development and introduction of these larger scale programs.

At the same time, at some point the government needs to get out of the business it helped develop and let the private sector take over.  While one can debate the timing, the government has been diligent about allowing, even encouraging, private industry to take over these industries.

One of Reagan’s strength was communications – after all he was an actor.  Reagan should be given an Academy Award for convincing so many Republicans he was a fiscal conservative. In truth Reagan was a spendthrift whose administration ran up huge federal budget deficits. By the end of Reagan’s term in office, federal debt as a percentage of GDP had increased about the same relative amount as under FDR’s New Deal program in the 1930s.  (There are number of entries in this blog with more charts and explanations supporting the contention that Reagan started the split in attitudes among the populace.)

Another factor helping split the country was the introduction of cable news, then the internet.  Cable news and the internet, combined with a decline in the circulation of daily newspapers, resulted in the proliferation of alleged credible news sources, with emphasis on “alleged.”  Unlike old-line mainstream network TV channels and mainstream newspapers, the cable and so-called internet news outlets were not subject to the same FCC standards. 

The lack of oversight has allowed supposed news outlets to either radically distort the truth or simply create stories with no basis whatsoever in fact.  Without another source of information – daily newspaper, e.g. – many believe the cable channel or social media.  Worse still is many people cannot seem to separate commentary from the talking heads on these channels and the real news.  Further, some high-profile cable channels, notably Fox, until recently were openly distorting the news to support a certain political position and ignoring the truth.  For most of the last four years Fox should have been labeled “Trump TV.”

Back to the sense check about the possibility of a 5th US revolution.  If the past pattern holds true and there is a revolution in the next few years, then what form of revolution is going to take? Cultural? Shooting? A bit of both?

Almost certainly there’s going to be a cultural revolution.  Just as the Baby Boomers created the cultural revolution in late 60s, early 70s the now teens and twenty-somethings – Generation Z — are going to force cultural changes.

What the Vietnam War was for the Baby Boomers, climate change is for Gen Z. And unlike the Baby Boomers, where jobs were relatively plentiful, most everyone in Gen Z faces a bleak job market, even for many who are college educated.

Gen Zers feel trapped economically and trapped by an ever bleaker outlook for the environment. And some in Gen Z point the finger at Baby Boomers for making these problems worse.

The coffee shop I visit most every morning is staffed with many Gen Zers.  One young lady, an excellent college student, said the other day when we chatted about solving social problems, “We’ve got to get rid of these old politicians. They’re too rigid and set in their ways.”

If you are a Baby Boomer, or even a bit older, watch out. The light at the end of the tunnel is a Gen Z freight train that is picking up speed.

The Gen Zers are not alone.  High-school grads, whether recent or older are frustrated as well.  Where do they find employment in this new world?

Covid-19 demonstrated that many critical societal jobs are being filled by less-educated, lower-paid workers. All of a sudden, the US seemed to depend on those previously invisible grocery-store clerks, hospital aides, delivery-truck drivers, transit staff, etc.  But what else can these workers do?

Covid-19 also demonstrated how vulnerable other entry-level jobs were, especially in restaurants, hotels, retail stores and office buildings. Their jobs disappeared almost overnight. And, even with the Covid-19 vaccine, it may be a decade or more before many of their jobs return.

Such service workers, along with lower-paid manufacturing workers, seem to be the most likely to be involved in an armed revolt. By revolting, what does a group have to lose?  As a group, they are underpaid; they have no real prospects for upward mobility; they are not adequately educated for, and therefore not qualified for higher-paying technology-focused jobs.  

What about support from the political parties?  Interestingly, many in this group have been ardent Trump supporters.  Yet, Trump and the Republican Party have repeatedly dumped on this group economically. Just this past week Republicans in the Senate refused to consider bumping up the Covid-19 stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000.  Did the same group of Senate Republicans resist providing more Covod-19 funds to business? Of course not, the Republicans were glad to do so.

When this disadvantaged group finally wakes up, they will be angry and want revenge. That’s why I labeled the anticipated 5th US revolution as the Revenge Revolution.  This group will seek revenge for past injustices.  As noted in previous entries, many in this group are well-armed.

When there is a group that feels deprived, has no savings, has no job prospects, and has nothing to lose, and that is well-armed, you have an ideal core for starting a revolution. My take on the probability of a revolution?  The Gen-Zers will drive a cultural revolution for sure.  Probability the deprived start an armed revolution of some type?  75%.   To be continued.

#399. The Donald and Charlie. Two Peas from the Same Pod. (Part #4)

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.   Next Sense Check will be Entry #400.

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

Beginning #378 the entries began focusing on a post-Trump administration and a post-Coronavirus world.  We’re headed to a post-Trump world and post-COVID world, even if a ways away.  The premise of a 5th US revolution in the 2020’s decade has not changed.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

ENTRY #399: The past few entries have attempted to understand the cause of and whether to attempt to solve cognitive dissonance among many Trump supporters. The issue is not about different political philosophies. A democratic society should have at least two strong political parties. The difference is trying to understand why so many Trump supporters are willing to sacrifice the basic tenets of democracy for a known wannabe autocrat.

What does Trump offer that has created a cult-like following? When one steps back and analyzes the data, the Trump cult is getting nothing in return for following the Donald. So why follow the Donald? What is the appeal; what is the quid-pro-quo?

Despite no obvious benefit, at least to rational thinkers, why does the Trump cult do whatever the Donald wants? The Trump cult supports his actions even when the actions are contrary to the best interest of the followers.

It’s as if Trump is like the Great Oz, “I say the coronavirus is like the flu. You don’t need a mask.” And the followers don’t wear a mask. Or the Great Oz says, “Send money to me to help fight a stolen election.” And the cult sends money. Or the Great Oz says “Support a gigantic tax break for the wealthy and the benefits will trickle down to you.” And the cult believes in voodoo economics, even though the Federal deficit has ballooned and the children/grandchildren of the cult will be paying for the wealth transfer.

In some ways Trump reminds me of Charlie. Reminds me not of Charlie Tuna, although Trump’s body profile looks similar. But reminds me of Charlie Manson. Often times Trump seems as maniacal and crazy as Manson.

If you think the comparison to Manson is extreme, consider Trump’s actions to suppress efforts to control the pandemic. Also, consider the claims about the White House intentionally distorting info from CDC re the severity of the virus. Now, count the number of unnecessary deaths by Trump’s actions and compare the number to Charlie’s death toll. Still think the comparison is unfair?

As far as members of the cult, at least the women who hung around Charlie Manson, got satisfied sexually. Those who hang around Trump only get screwed economically.

How does the US society begin to address and re-educate members of the Trump cult? I don’t think we should waste our time. The cult members have been brainwashed and the major protagonist will fade away by late spring 2021. Unfortunately, the essence of Trump’s message may not fade as quickly.

Post inauguration, Trump will act like many bullies when their perceived power is taken away. He will melt like the Wicked Witch of the West. Oh, Trump might hold a few pep rallies and generate some noise, but nothing of any lasting consequence.

If Trump understands one thing well, that one thing is how to take other people’s money. When he was in debt for the failing casinos, he declared bankruptcy and walked away leaving the banks with the debt. Since no US-based bank would deal with him, beginning in the late 1990’s, early 2000’s Trump turned to sources outside the US to fund purchases of golf courses and hotel properties. While in Charlotte, NC to visit one of the Trump golf courses, Don, Jr. bragged that the Russians had become Trump’s primary funding source. And you still wonder why Trump’s nice to the Russians?

A recent example of using other people’s money was when it became clear that he was likely to lose the re-election to Biden. At that point Trump formed a PAC that was promoted to help him get re-elected in 2024 and to help finance the legal cost of lawsuits associated with what Trump kept promoting as the “rigged” 2020 presidential election.

The reality is the PAC is Trump’s new piggybank. Donors likely didn’t read the fine print. After a small percentage is allocated to the RNC and some for legal costs for the frivolous lawsuits, Trump gets to keep the rest. The money will stay in the PAC although Trump will control the disbursement of funds, including use for personal expenses. Keeping funds in the PAC should protect the PAC from creditors, who will likely force Trump into bankruptcy when the $400+ million loans on his properties come due in the next few years.

Whether the PAC funds can be protected from judgements for fraud is problematic. The State of New York has been investigating the Trump organization and Trump personally for tax fraud and possibly other crimes. The investigations may lead to indictments soon after Trump leaves office. State crimes are not overridden by a presidential pardon. Oops.

To convince cult members he will keep promoting his message, Trump has claimed he will create a new cable channel once out of office. The claim seems to be another ploy to attract funds from the ne’er-do-well supporters, who can least afford it. Trump will need an outlet since most credible media, save a couple of bloviators on Fox, have started focusing on the Biden administration’s plans to address mounting economic and social problems.

Like Charlie Manson’s followers, some of Trump’s supporters will stay in the cult no matter the circumstances or the evidence against the cult leader. Most followers, however, soon will migrate to another fringe Republican candidate who probably will be more charismatic than Trump but spew the same BS.

The biggest problem for the Republican Party is Trump’s legacy and how to recover from it. The damage to the credibility of government and the democracy caused by Trump’s corruption, cronyism and complacency has been significant.

For the Republican Party in particular, how long will a substantial portion of the Party believe the dis-information and fantasies, whether promoted by Trump or a follow-on Trump? How can the Republican Party put forth a credible platform of governance beyond “Just Say No” to whatever Biden or Democrats propose? Without a more reasonable platform the appeal of the Republican Party will continue to shrink.

A shrinking and ineffective Republican Party could become a major contributor to a 5th US Revolution, aka the Revenge Revolution? On the optimistic side it will take 10-15 years to repair the damage to the Federal agencies and the credibility of the government caused by Trump and complicit Republican Senators, Representative and state governors. During the period of repair, the chances of unrest increase. Trump cultists could be persuaded to revolt, whether or not Trump is still around.

For many years a small group in Texas has promoted secession. That group and the Trump cultists appear to share many of the same characteristics. The secession movement could move beyond the obvious candidates of former Confederate states. A broader secession movement could find support in the upper Midwest – for example in the northern part of Lower Michigan – as well as a number of other Midwest and mountain states.

The secession movement could grow even stronger if Biden steps down after one term, which seems likely, and Kamala Harris then is elected president. Given the harassment and death threats by Trump loyalists of the female elected officials, especially in Michigan – Governor, Attorney General and Secretary of State – the Trump loyalists likely would consider stronger action against a Black female president.

As noted periodically in these entries, a well-coordinated widespread guerilla-warfare like attack could cause significant damage to property and result in a number of deaths. Think of Charlie Mason’s Helter-Skelter attack but on a much larger scale. The disruption would create significant angst among the general population. Once the guerilla warfare started, unless the federal and state governments quickly quelled the attacks, the country could start to spin out of control.

More about the possible Revenge Revolution in entry #400.

#398 Overcoming Cognitive Dissonance of Trump Supporters (Part 3)

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:

Beginning #378 the entries began focusing on a post-Trump administration and a post-Coronavirus world.  We’re headed to a post-Trump world and post-COVID seems possible, if a ways away.  The premise of a 5th US revolution in the 2020’s decade has not changed.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

ENTRY #398: The previous two entries discussed the seeming inability to connect two dots of 1/3 or more of the American voting population. Well, let’s make that the inability to understand one dot.

I vowed that entries would look past the election and Trump’s absurd claims of voter fraud. But what I cannot look past is the continued cognitive dissonance of Trump supporters.

Trump is the quintessential con man.  How many honest real estate developers do you know? The con man recently formed a PAC, with funds supposedly to be used for: (i) legal fees to fight fraud in the 2020 election; (ii) his re-election bid in 2024. To help fund the PAC, Trump sent a series of emails and letters to likely supporters. Since the election, roughly one month ago, how much has Trump raised for the PAC, mostly small donors? Not $10 million, not $50 million, not a $100 million but $200 million plus and counting.

What are the PAC guidelines for using the funds? A portion goes to the RNC, maybe 25%. The rest can be used by the Donald however he wants, including paying himself a salary, using funds for living expenses, legal fees, clothing, haircuts or whatever.  Folks, the con man is not going to run again.

Then, why did he start the PAC?  Dollars to donuts the PAC money is legally separated from Trump’s personal funds. If so, Trump created a separate source of money protected from future lawsuits against him.

In the next 12-18 months the Trump organization is faced with repayment of loans apparently totaling more than $400 million.  Many of the Trump properties were bleeding cash before the pandemic.  Likely worse now.  The problem for Trump is he personally guaranteed most, if not all the loans.  Thus, whatever personal assets he owns are at risk.

Will Trump pay?  Of course not.  He never pays his debts.  When the loans are due, he’ll claim the lenders are out to get him and his only way to get even with the deceitful creditors is to declare bankruptcy…yet again.  Although in bankruptcy he might lose rights to various properties, what does he care?  He’ll walk away without debt.  He also won’t be broke since he’ll have access to $150 million of PAC money. 

If he declares BK, won’t he lose Mar-a-Lago?  Probably not.  Under Florida law one’s “homestead property” is considered an asset exempt from the bankruptcy trustee.  Now you understand why he moved to Florida from New York, which has no protection provision.  So, with all the financial shenanigans, Trump still walks away with no debt, Mar-a-Lago and $150 million.  By any standard a very good con.

In the end, who got conned? Lenders, although most were foreign, especially Russian, and may have been repaid in other ways while Trump was president, and his supporters, many of whom have very limited funds.  (Take heart.  The State of New York seems to be readying a tax fraud case against Trump and family.  Assets exempt under BK law may not be exempt under a tax fraud case.)

Why can’t people understand the obvious? Forget the part about declaring bankruptcy, and just consider Trump asking for money.  He’s claiming the money would be used for his re-election bid. Such a claim should be enough by any standard to raise questions about his credibility.  Plus, there was ample media coverage, save possibly Fox, that most of the contribution to the PAC could be used any way Trump so desired, including personal expenses.

In the US, there have always been con men.  Recall part of Lincoln’s quote, “…you can fool some of the people all the time…”  With so many people are falling for the con, including supposedly educated people, how are we as a society to avoid such a huge con in the future?

In the last entry I suggested children could be taught to think critically by expanding educational focus from STEM to SMELT – Science, Mathematics, Engineering, Liberal-arts, and Technology. SMELT classes would start as early as possible, including kindergarten.

What do we do to educate adults during the years when children are in school and learning to think critically?  What about the adults who cannot understand one dot, let alone connect two or three dots? I confess, I don’t have any concrete suggestions.  Adults are not required to go back to school. As long as no laws are broken, adults are pretty much free to do whatever they want.

With these adults, logic does not seem to work. If you haven’t done so, try and reason with a Trump supporter. Evidence and facts do not matter. Even though the very same behavior would be excoriated if Trump were a Democrat, his followers fully support Trump’s actions as a Republican.

An alternative approach to education is to form another party with values similar to the pre-Trump Republican Party. Maybe values of a pre-Reagan Republican Party.  Reagan began the mantra that government is the problem, not the solution.  Imagine if Reagan had been president during WWII. 

The new Republican Party would appeal to disenfranchised Republicans, many independents and even some Democrats.  A concern is how long before the new party can became a formidable political force.  My initial guess was 4-5 presidential elections.  Then on second thought, I changed to maybe 1-2 presidential elections if the new party were formed around the Lincoln Project. 

A democracy needs at least two strong parties. Right now the US has a cult party, aka Trump Republicans, and a Democratic Party, which has a large umbrella covering a mix of ideas and some anti-Trump Republicans. A new “Lincoln Party” would be a draw for moderates, whether leaning left or right.

Is there a different way to break the Trump cult? The Biden/Harris administration’s commitment to work with both parties will be a start. My cynical side suggests Trump supporters are so brainwashed the Biden/Harris approach will fall on deaf ears.

People who belong to cults are not logical. Even acknowledging Biden as a legitimate president would require the Trump cult to admit a mistake. Since Trump never admits a mistake, why should the Trump cult members admit a mistake?

Okay, enough for this entry. A new “Lincoln Party” seems to be a reasonable solution to rebuilding a democracy that has two viable parties. If you have another idea, please let me know. I’m all ears.

#397 Those Who Smelt It Can Think Critically. (Need to Rebuild the Education System 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:

Beginning #378 the entries began focusing on a post-Trump administration and a post-Coronavirus world.  We’re headed to a post-Trump world and post-COVID seems possible, if a ways away.  The premise of a 5th US revolution in the 2020’s decade has not changed.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

ENTRY #397 continues the discussion on cognitive dissonance.

A recent example of a high-profile educated person being unable to connect two dots was the remarks by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito at a Federalist Society meeting (11/12/20). Justice Alito, a supporter of individual rights, stated that while the coronavirus pandemic was a major health issue, government had no right to mandate wearing masks.  (20 11 14 NYT Alito Speech to Federalist Society)

Alito, apparently was an epidemiologist before turning lawyer, offered no plan to control the spread of the virus. Sam, in case you haven’t heard, there is no vaccine yet available and the country continues to set records for infections. And where are the most infections per capita?  Yes, in counties and states that voted for Trump.

Based on your remarks, apparently you are willing to let people decide, “I don’t need no stinking face mask ‘cause I ain’t infected.”   Please tell your dude friend he might be infected even though his symptoms are not yet severe. And, if infected, he’s also infecting people all around.   But, hey, that’s okay, right?  People need to be free to do whatever they want.

Here we are a couple of weeks after Alito’s inane remarks at the Federalist Society.  Since his remarks claiming masks were an intrusion on individual rights, the number of coronavirus cases has more than doubled to 200,000+ new cases per day with total cases 13,000,000+, 1/3 of those in the past month.

Justice Alito, I’m glad you weren’t around during World War II when people on the coasts were forced to block out lights during the evening to avoid giving the enemy easy targets to bomb. Glad you weren’t around when the EPA decided that lead in gasoline was dangerous and retarding mental development in children.  Glad you weren’t involved in the FAA decision banning passengers from carrying loaded concealed weapons on airplanes.  Those were bad decisions because some folks lost individual rights, right?

Further, according to the “New York Times” article about your remarks, you were insulted that President Obama mentioned during a State of the Union address that the Citizens United decision by SCOTUS would lead to unlimited spending on elections.  And who was correct?  Obama, but you didn’t need to be a constitutional lawyer to figure it out.

On the eve of Thanksgiving, in a decision released just before midnight, Alito apparently convinced four other SCOTUS justices that connecting two dots was only for liberals.  The court ruled 5-4, with the three Trump appointees voting as a block, that state governors did not have a right to limit the number of people gathered in one location, with special emphasis on allowing religious institutions to conduct services as they saw fit. 

Let me get this logic straight.  The Trump administration specifically mandated that the management of the pandemic was the responsibility of the governors.  Yes, the governors must be in charge.  That mandate was perfectly acceptable for governors of red states, most of whom did nothing.  But don’t let a Democratic governor issue any mandates.  Those mandates must be deemed too restrictive and overturned by SCOTUS.

The illogic of the SCOTUS decision proves once again that, if you’re a Republican, connecting two dots is difficult, if not impossible for you.  Part of the problem seems to be letting political ideology get in the way of common sense.

On another “can’t-connect-two-dots” front, Trump is still claiming voter fraud and that he really won the election.  By last count Biden won by more than 6,000,000 votes, and Trump was the clear loser.  And all states have certified election results.

What’s really disturbing is not Trump’s behavior.  Yes, Trump’s behavior is childish but he’s acted like a child his entire life.  What’s really disturbing?  Based on a credible survey, more than 70% of registered Republicans believe Trump won the election. Huh? 

Call me whatever you want, but folks if you believe Trump won you’re either the dumbest person on earth or you’re brainwashed. Surely you can’t be serious and think Trump won.

Unfortunately, I think they are serious. As noted occasionally, I have a number of friends on Facebook that could be considered far right politically. While their posts are sometimes comical, but often maddening, the posts do provide some idea what people are thinking, or at least how they’re reacting. The insight is helpful and at the same time frustrating.  Somehow they reached a conclusion but clearly there’s a deficit in their thinking and logic.

If 70+% of Republicans believe Trump won the election, that means 30+% of the voting population is effectively brainwashed.  According to Lincoln, “You can fool some of the people all the time…” Apparently 30+% of the population can be fooled all the time. 

30+% of the population being brainwashed makes it extraordinary difficult, if not impossible, to address and solve real societal Issues.  If that many people are so easily swayed, then we need to educate future generations to avoid being so easily swayed.

How do we avoid widespread cognitive dissonance?  Recent emphasis in education has been on “STEM” courses – science, technology, engineering, mathematics. These type courses are excellent for teaching how to solve certain kinds of problems.  Most decisions in STEM classes tend to be binary, either “yes” or “no.”  

While a binary decision is ideal for many situations, the answer in many other situations in life is not so clear-cut. Often two answers can include a portion that is correct and a portion that is not correct. In such situations which one should one choose?

Being forced to choose between “fuzzy” non-binary answers helps develop critical thinking skills.  To come to a conclusion, one must weigh the variables and decide the importance of each variable. 

To ensure students have the opportunity to learn critical thinking and reduce the likelihood of cognitive dissonance, my suggestion is we expand STEM to SMELT – science, mathematics, engineering, liberal-arts, technology.  Further we should start basic SMELT instruction in kindergarten and no later than first grade.

In the real world, children are faced with “fuzzy” decisions all the time. Let’s make sure our education system teaches them “how to” decide when faced with such a situation. The teaching would be “how to” decide and not “what to” decide. Teaching “how to” decide will reduce the likelihood of being brainwashed.

Teaching “how to” decide will also result in people who can at least consider and understand someone else’s perspective. In the binary world, if you don’t agree with me, you’re wrong. In the “fuzzy” world we can both agree on some things and work toward a more reasonable and practical solution. 

Biden is a critical thinker.  There is hope we can start to make a change. 

#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.