Will Our Future Be Little More Than An Endless Succession of Pandemics?

You get to go home, but it’s Ground Hog day for medical workers!

Well, yeah. It’s looking that way. Since the beginning of the 21st century we’ve lived through MANY pandemics. We just haven’t noticed all of them. It’s like asking a fish, “Do you know you’re wet?” Do fish even know what it’s like to not be wet? Pandemics have become a part of our way of life.

In the past, most of what you saw, what you ate, and the people you knew were… local. It was too expensive and time-consuming to regularly travel the world. Immigrants may reminisce about the food they had in the old country, but you learned to like American foods. Apples, strawberries, and melons may not be the same as the ones from your childhood, but it’s too expensive to ship fresh fruit halfway around the world. Besides, it would rot before it got here.

In the 21st century, however, we are global. Travel and transportation is cheap, reliable, and fast. Instead of taking months, strawberries could arrive from Europe in a week or two. If you must have some super-premium fruit, you could get it the next day via air-express.

Mountains, jungles, oceans, different climates… are all barriers. Barriers used to define our world, and prevented people, animals, and plants from easily spreading. In the 21st Century, these barriers are melting away. Not just strawberries, but bacteria, viruses, molds, insects, and other dangerous “hitchhikers” can arrive in any one of the 200 million cargo containers that reach U.S. every year. A scrap of leaf, a half-eaten sandwich, or an infected passenger can easily carry a new and deadly pathogen to America.

If pandemics are so common, why aren’t they headline news every day? Because not every pandemic kills humans, and some pandemics only take a toll years after the victims are infected. Pandemics also devastate plants and animals. In the 1950s, the “Panama virus” killed off the world’s commercial bananas. It took decades, and cost billions of dollars, to find a virus-resistant replacement. But that virus has continued to mutate. New versions are appearing and farmers expect that the banana industry could be wiped out in as little as 5 or 10 years.

A few decades earlier, America had 3 to 4 billion Chestnut trees. Chestnut was the primary wood for making furniture in the early 20th century. Except for a few thousand trees, the American Chestnut has gone extinct, killed by a fungus from imported Chinese Chestnuts. This “hitchhiker” innocently brought to the U.S., shows how easily Pandemics can start.

An industry-destroying bacteria from China arrived in Florida in the 1990s. Florida was renowned for its citrus fruits, supplying 80% of America’s orange juice. Today the “greening virus” infects every citrus grove in Florida, and was recently spotted in California. The virus doesn’t kill citrus trees, but it makes their fruits inedible. The only option for a citrus farmer is to burn infected trees. Florida’s share of the orange juice market is now barely 40%. If the greening virus continues to spread, the U.S. citrus industry may only last another 10 years.

China has no monopoly on pathogens. It’s merely that as physical barriers between nations go away, China is still on the other side of the world. Many diseases in China and Asia are nearly unknown in the Western hemisphere. Without previous exposure, our plants and animals have little or no immunity to these foreign invaders. But that is rapidly changing, which is why Pandemics are on the rise.

While plant diseases can destroy an economy, they are unlikely to infect a human being. Cows, pigs, and poultry, however, are more closely related to us and fatal animal diseases can “cross-over” to infect humans. A few years ago this happened with Mad Cow disease. Mad Cow may have originated in goats, spread to cows, and then infected humans through diseased meat. When infected cows acted strangely, their diseased meat wasn’t sold as human food. Instead, it was sold as cat food. Soon, cats were also acting strangely, alerting health care officials that something strange was going on.

Millions of heads of cattle were killed to stop the spread, but the real culprit was a new “efficiency” in farming. When a cow died before it was butchered, it was ground up and fed to the rest of the herd. But because we were alerted by those cats, only a few hundred Americans and Europeans died from Mad Cow disease. If not for those cats, millions would have slowly gone insane as the disease ate through their brains.

American farming practices may be dangerous, but they are considered to the be most efficient (and profitable) in the world, making American-style farming the model that other nations want. What exactly is our system? Think of a “chicken coop”. Do you have an image of a dozen chickens running around a farm, living in a small shed? Not quite. American poultry farms could have 20,000 chickens in just one coop. Chickens never leave the coop, and rarely have enough space to even turn around. Movement is minimized to reduce the calories burned. That provides maximum profits.

When so many animals are packed into so little space, animals frequently get sick and die. That’s bad for profit. The solution is to use large quantities of antibiotics and other medicines. However, the more drugs we use, the faster diseases gain immunity. Drug-resistant diseases are often more virulent. It is only recently that we learned that different types of viruses and bacteria teach each other their immunity tricks by exchanging DNA. This speeds up the cycle of drug-resistance. If that “super-bug” infects a human being, we have the start of a Pandemic. Not a good thing, if our most effective medicines lost all of their potency on a farm.

This process of population crowding, high levels of drugs, and the rapid spread of dangerous diseases is the foundation of American agriculture. The profitability of this model has made China very interested in replicating it. China has bought some of our largest pig and chicken farms to accelerate their conversion to this model. This will massively increase the potential of cross-over diseases. SARS and Bird Flu outbreaks started in poultry farms. Swine Flu came from pig farms. But our agriculture system rapidly turned an animal disease into human pandemics.

Interestingly, the same conditions that make farms superspreaders of pandemic diseases, also exist in the American healthcare system. Hospitals take individuals with infectious diseases and put them in very crowded environments where they are then given massive amounts of antibiotics and other drugs. Many of the patients have their skin broken by needles, IVs, and other devices that provide access to opportunistic diseases. Not surprisingly, hospitals around the world are rapidly breeding deadly diseases that can resist every drug we have.

Staphylococcus was a major killer in the early 20th century. Staph is making a big comeback. Simply put, Staph turns your flesh into oozing pus. You dissolve. Before antibiotics, all a doctor could do was slice away chunks of flesh and muscle, arms and legs, faster than the infection could spread. MERSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) is 21st century Staph. MERSA has been spotted in hospitals around the world, with newer more deadly versions being reported. A few antibiotics still work (sometimes), but MERSA could soon turn into a death sentence. Tuberculosis and pneumonia are following this same deadly path of evolution.

This is our world of Pandemics! Our excessive use of drugs in farms and hospitals forces killer diseases to evolve and mutate. Once that process gives birth to a true killer, our global transportation network then provides a highway for people and products to swiftly move around the world… with the next Pandemic hitchhiking along.

For over 100 years modern medicine, advances in transportation, and an incredibly productive agriculture system served us well. We cured diseases that would have killed millions of Americans, and fed a nation. But when miracle drugs got mixed in with high volume agriculture and a lax medical system, we started an age of Pandemics. Can we overcome the flaws in the systems we’ve created? Or will the spread of American-style agriculture make Pandemics even more frequent? Tell us what you think! What does the future look like to you?

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Will We Ever Learn The Secret of India’s Ivermectin Miracle?

Something happened in India’s most populous state. Was it Ivermectin?

Have you heard about the “miracle” in India? Since the start of the Pandemic, India has been featured in a lot of doomsday discussions. It’s the second-most populous nation on Earth, with a vast number of poor. India could be devastated by COVID. They night suffer more deaths than the rest of the world combined. Or so the discussion goes.

Unexpectedly, in the most populated state in India… Uttar Pradesh, with over 200 million citizens… the rising level of infections drops to almost zero. COVID infections and deaths just stop. Yet in other states, infections continue to rise. COVID cases in Uttar Pradesh are less than 1% of other Indian states. And that, dear readers… is miraculous! If it’s real.

If the numbers are true, and they do appear to be, something very important is happening. The “problem” is that many, including officials responsible for managing the COVID crisis in Uttar Pradesh, attributed the miracle to Ivermectin. That’s right the “horse paste” that kills parasites. So, we have believers on one side that are now sure that Ivermectin is a cure for COVID and skeptics on the other side that say it will take a miracle for them to believe this story. Let’s dive in and see what’s really going on.

The Internet is filled with stories about miracles, which often prove to be false or missing key information. Yet, there are cases where the most unlikely explanations are true. If there is even a slight chance that there is a super cheap and effective drug that is available today, then we should be at least testing it. The problem is that there are a lot of ethical concerns about giving patients an untested medicine. Even if it does not harm them, it may stop them from taking approved medicines, like a COVID vaccine. But in India where the potential of death from COVID is so immense… should the rules be a bit different?

This was the thinking in Uttar Pradesh. They don’t have a big budget for the Pandemic. They don’t have enough vaccines for everyone. And Ivermectin is well known, well understood, and legitimate medical treatment for parasites (worms, lice, scabies). It may or may not help, but it’s not likely to kill. And the same is true with some other possible miracle cures. So the government of Uttar Pradesh sent around a box of miracles to everyone in the state, and one of the miracles in that box was Ivermectin. What else was in the box? We’ll get to that in just a little bit.

Just to be clear, there is no evidence, not a single legitimate study that shows that Ivermectin can help COVID patients. There is one study that looked like it could support claims that Ivermectin was a legitimate therapeutic drug for Invrmectine, but it was withdrawn earlier in the year when it was found to have been faked.

Is the lack of data for Ivermectin a problem? Not necessarily. For decades, universities and Pharmaceutical companies have examined studies on older and established medicines to see if they can do… more. This practice, called drug repurposing, can be cheaper and quicker than traditional drug development for developing breakthrough drugs. Researchers examined notes from old studies on heart medicine. Patients were reporting interesting side effects, which led to Viagra, the world’s best-selling drug for erectile dysfunction. Minoxidil (Rogaine) began life as a treatment for heartburn. But buried in the notes were reports of hair growth.

We should also note that modern healthcare is HIGHLY dependent on “off label” use. Have you been told by a doctor, “While it’s not one of the official uses, this is frequently used by patients like yourself. It’s not toxic. It has few side effects. And other patients tell me it really works. Would you like me to write up a prescription?” As much as 20% of all prescriptions Americans use are off-label.

A medical researcher I know developed a database that shows the research behind every medical procedure and drug used in America. It shows which treatments are off-label (no official research), which are “double-blind” (the gold standard), and which fall somewhere in-between. Only 10% to 20% of treatments in the US are supported by double-blind studies. Telling Ivermectin supporters to go away and spend a few years doing a double-blind study does seem just a bit hypocritical. It’s good advice, but it may not be reasonable advice for any family that contracts COVID.

You can’t fault researchers for digging around for new ways to use existing drugs. Especially if it can save millions of lives. But you also can’t fault medical regulators for not prescribing medicine for 7 billion people, when no one even knows what dosage they need. In the past, there were accidents in medicine that were so horrifying that we created all of these rules about testing.

For example, Thalidomide was a popular sedative in Europe after WWII. Taking advantage of a strong dollar, many Americans honeymooned in Europe. Newly pregnant American women took Thalidomide to calm morning sickness. Months later, a wave of armless and legless children was born in America. Imagine the horror and the guilt of the mothers of those children. If they had known the result they might have just taken some other prescription, or suffered through their morning sickness. A cure for COVID just might justify some pretty dire consequences.

What did happen in Uttar Pradesh? There is a lot of missing information, a lot of assumptions, and a ton of bad and misleading statements. Normally, I’d footnote the key facts, but the sources are too fragmented and there are too many contradictions. So, this is my attempt at a reasonable reading of the facts…

  • The Miracle In Uttar Pradesh: On May 12th (2021), India Express (along with other newspapers), reported that Uttar Pradesh was free of new COVID cases and death. The local government credited the results to the “prophylactic and therapeutic” use of Ivermectin. On November 8th (2021), the same officials reported that rates of infection were still low. But, they no longer attribute the reduction to Ivermectin, and no longer advise the use of Ivermectin for COVID.
  • No Miracle In Goa: Goa is India’s biggest vacation spot. The governement feared that vacationers would spread COVID around India. So, Goa officials gave Ivermectin to everyone in the state… a year before Uttar Pradesh. The result? Nothing. The miracle in India only happened in Uttar Pradesh. If Invemectin failed in Goa, why should we assume that it will work anywhere else?
  • The Magic Box: Ivermectin was just one thing in the “magic box” that was sent out in Uttar Pradesh. Along with the Ivermectin tablets, there was Doxycycline (an anti-biotic), multi-vitamins, gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer. What about those multi-vitamins? Millions of people believe that suceptability to COVID comes from chronic undernourishment. And then there’s…
  • Doxycycline: This is an antibiotic that some beleive treats COVID. Yet, medical officials haven’t found any link between Doxycycline and COVID. Since antibiotics have no effect on viruses, Ivermectin supporters dismiss it. But Ivermectin is only proven to kill parasites; shouldn’t it too be dismissed? If a single drug that can’t kill a virus can be dismissed, should we instead take TWO drugs that can’t kill a virus? That’s what supporters of Ivermectin PLUS Doxycycline believe.
  • Gloves and Masks?: Uttar Pradesh had an ample supply of masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. Why not credit this combo for the lower infection rates? Just by giving these to everyone, behavior may have been changed. Like social distancing. Americans prefer a personal space of 1-2 feet (or more). In India, people stay closer together. That’s perfect for spreading COVID. But masks and gloves might remind people to stay apart.
  • Vaccines Rates: Ivermectin failed in Goa but succeeded in Uttart Pradesh. What could have been different? Maybe it’s the high vaccination rate a year later in Uttar Pradesh. More than 50% of the population is vaccinated. And they use a mix of vaccines – one created locally, one from Europe, and the Sputnik vaccine from Russia. The mix of vaccines is constantly changing, depending on avaiability and cost. Maybe Ivermectin only works if you’re already vaccinated?
  • Invemectin Experts: Have you heard that William Campbell, one of the discoverers of Ivermectin, said that it was effective against COVID? It’s all over the Internet, but this is false. Campbell has repeatedly said that it is a fake and has never recommended that the drug he discovered can be used for COVID.
  • MERCK: Merck is the company that makes Ivermectin. Needless to say, Merck has sold a LOT of Ivermectin recently. What does Merck say about using their drug for COVID? They say that there is no scientific evidence that it does anything for COVID, and that we shouldn’t use it.
  • Uttar Pradesh Speaks (again): Months after officials in Uttar Pradesh announced their support for Invemectin they recanted their support. They’ve found no evidence that it reduced infections or provided any other benefit. Instead, local officials believe the Miracle is a result of intense monitoring. Devoting a large amount of resources to identifying the infected, following up with vaccines, quarantining the sick, educating families, and providing enough masks, gloves, and sanitizer… results in far fewer COVID infections. That’s the miracle.

When information is sketchy everyone can (and will) believe what they like. Ivermectin just doesn’t have the facts to support its claims. It failed in Goa, authorities that once supported it have abandoned it, its inventor says “wait for the research”, the manufacturer says it has no proof that it works, and there are no theories as to how an anti-parasite drug can explain the Miracle in India.

Repurposing existing (and inexpensive) drugs is not a crazy idea. But as in all drug development, most drugs fail to perform somewhere during the testing process. Drug repurposing is a powerful tool, but when drugs appear just when we need them to do just what we need… be skeptical. When it looks too good to be true, it usually is.

What do you think? Are you holding off on vaccination because you’ve heard of a better solution? Has Big Pharma made so many mistakes in recent years that you can’t trust them? Do you see mainstream medicine as the best way to deal with COVID and future global health issues? Share your opinions with us!

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Happy Thanksgiving to Hard Working Americans Everywhere!

Target will permanently stay closed on Thanksgiving. Is this a sign of happier days for overworked Americans?

Did you have a happy Turkey day? Or at least a day off? Did you get a chance to spend time with your family? Believe it or not, there was once a time in America where everyone expected a (paid) day off on at least Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. Your family’s major holidays may differ, but Americans used to believe that everyone needs some time off, and we all have family obligations. National Holidays and paid time off were a way that we all connected. When we did get back to work, “what did you do for Thanksgiving” was the subject of water cooler talk for weeks to come. Holidays and paid-time-off (PTO) was an acknowledgment from your employer and your customers that it’s OK to have a life outside of work, it is even desirable. An overwhelming number of workplace studies agree!

Today, let’s see how our view of how time off (and time in general) has changed at work. So, sit back. Have a hot chocolate. And grab some leftover turkey (or tofurkey if that’s your thing), and let’s see how our time at work has changed and will continue to change.

The US view of work was formed before the US was created. A century before the American Revolution, the Pilgrims were translating Biblical verses into the legal restrictions that we call, the Blue Laws. All religions have calendars that in some way tell you what you are supposed to do and when. In cities and states across America, communities put restrictions on what you could do on a Sunday. This usually limited which businesses could be open, or at least could be open BEFORE church services were over. Hospitals can stay open on Sunday, but most businesses will close.

In the earliest days, Blue Laws ensured that you could attend Sunday services. Later laws ensured that the workforce was well-rested and sober by Monday morning. By the mid-1970s, most Blue Laws were either repealed or o the way out. Working on a Sunday became common, but it only affected a few workers, mostly in cities. But by the early 80s, suburban shopping centers were everywhere. It made economic sense for businesses to pay for one more workday in exchange for more customers from nearby cities. Blue Law restrictions in cities helped to grow the malls that spread across America.

However, smaller businesses near malls weren’t that keen on adding another workday. Sure, malls might attract customers from the city. But small stores outside of the malls wouldn’t benefit nearly as much, yet would still need to pay as much for extra labor. Small businesses were aware that it wasn’t a real choice. If small stores stayed closed on Sundays, Malls would steal even more business. Maybe it didn’t matter. In a few years, local retail stores would be shuttered by Mega-Stores like Walmart, Best Buy, Barnes & Nobel, and Toys R Us.

If that wasn’t enough, Black Friday wrote this consumer culture into the bedrock of America. A big sale directly after Thanksgiving and before Christmas had been around for years, under different names. But by the late 1980s, Black Friday became a part of our language. Soon, small business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and other sale days joined in. Soon, Black Friday sales tried to start earlier in the holiday season, making all of November and December one gigantic sale, and kickstarting a new “work all the time” culture.

Up until now, longer work hours was a result of strategy. New corporations wanted more businesses, so they changed how they worked. But by the late 20th century, technology took these changes even further. In the mid-90s a humble online used-book store created the model for an online marketplace that would eclipse the malls and the big box stores. This new player, Amazon, would grow into the world’s largest retailer and the last generation of biggest and best would scramble to keep up. And so too would America’s workers.

To differentiate themselves from the shopping experience in brick and mortar malls, online shopping introduced free shipping and 24 x 7 shopping. Delivery “soon” became 2-day delivery, which became overnight and Sunday deliveries. Today, Amazon owns a fleet of air carriers and is considering delivery by drone.

The online revolution didn’t come cheap. It is quite literally not humanly possible to keep up with the delivery schedule Amazon created. Automation, computers, and a LOT of robots are needed to keep the goods flowing and make Amazon’s mega-warehouses function. The technology that Amazon funded, and the pace of change at work that resulted, is now moving into the rest of the world. This new consumer age may have been started by our craving for $400 sushi knives at 3 o’clock in the morning, but it made us want more immediacy in everything. Evermore capable ATMs made 24×7 banking possible, but mobile phone banking meant that YOU are whatever service you want whenever you want it. Airlines, employment services, real estate agents, insurance, streaming media… even the post office… are now online.

Many more innovations… especially automation and outsourcing… pushed us towards greater efficiency and higher productivity. 20th-century factories dealt with the same issue of management wanting more productivity without higher wages. But unions could negotiate with company owners to set new production goals, and it would be a part of negotiations over wages and work conditions.

But unions have all but disappeared in America. And the never-ending onslaught of mergers and buyouts… with their promises of higher profits… require ever more productivity from workers. After a merger, workers may keep doing the same work, but will often become “contracted workers”, losing their benefits and paid time off.

And so it was, until COVID hit. Frontline workers became heroes. We all had a lot of time at home to rethink our priorities. Maybe we expected more respect at work. Maybe we just want to be told that we went above and beyond, when we didn’t need to. But, after a lot of COVID-inspired soul searching, millions of American’s are refusing to go back to work.

Amazon has not just become an advocate of the $15 minimum wage, they offer health insurance, tuition payments, and other benefits. This may be the biggest signpost ever that we’re now leaving the land of too man billionaires and entering the land of too few workers.

A year from now, I’d like to hear that all of you have paid time off for the Holidays. But for now, just tell me what you’re thinking. Are you about to join the great resignation? Share your ideas and opinions with the rest of us. And make a little room for that extra slice of pie on Christmas!

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The Infrastructure Bill: President Biden’s Quiet Fight For American Housing

All Rights: zimmytws/stock.adobe.com

Biden’s Infrastructure bill is being debated in Washington. Make that debated, and debated, and debated. The bill has become a Rorschach test for Democrats and Republicans, who each see something different. Does a line item look like vitally needed Infrastructure? Or does it look like political pork? Infrastructure is indeed in the eye of the beholder. Still, the debate is getting a lot of politicians to reconsider what “infrastructure” actually means.

Politicians generally agree that roads, trains, and airports are Infrastructure. And they agree that Infrastructure often requires government funding. Not just in the US, but other nations as well have deep government involvement in building out Infrastructure.

Of course, a business might build a road or two on their own property, or a few businesses could get together to build a bridge or two to make it easier to move goods in and out of a city. But beyond that, they’re not interested. Infrastructure projects are just too expensive, and few companies have business interests in every city or every state.

Difficult as it may be to believe today, the government once spent considerable time and effort thinking about the future and funding the right Infrastructure to support economic development. A century ago, the Federal government realized that America’s poorest regions had the worst infrastructure. Improve the infrastructure and you just might lift an entire region out of poverty.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is a great example. In the 1930s, half of Tennessee was swamp and untamed wetlands. Paved roads were few and far between. With virtually non-existing Infrastructure, corporations were reluctant to invest in the area, and well-paid jobs were scarce. The TVA was formed to fix all that. Dams were built to generate power. Swamps were drained. Millions of acres of new farmland became available and cheap hydroelectricity attracted new industry. It took time, but the TVA slowly erased the image of Tennessee residents as barefoot hillbillies.

We should also consider President Eisenhower’s 1956 Federal Highway Act. This was the most expensive building project in the history of the USA. In today’s dollars, the Federal Highway Act cost $500 billion. That’s in the same ballpark as Biden’s Infrastructure plan.

Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in WW II. He spent considerable time in Germany and was impressed by their highway system, the Autobahn. Germans could drive faster and more safely than their US counterparts. Eisenhower realized that the lack of good roads was holding back the US economy. Big but underdeveloped states like California, Texas, and Florida could grow dramatically with a better road system.

The Highway Act added 41,000 miles of high-quality paved roads and tens of thousands of bridges. California, one of America’s most car-dependent states, grew from 10 million residents in 1950 to 40 million today. Analysis of the project shows that every $1 invested in the Highway Act delivered $6 in economic benefit. Infrastructure spending doesn’t just develop the economy, it pays for itself.

While most of Biden’s Infrastructure bill will fund roads, bridges, power stations, we also need to invest in innovative ideas that ensure future economic growth. Biden’s most innovative investment idea could be… low-income housing. Huh? Housing? What has that got to do with the economy? Housing may be important, but it’s usually considered a social issue. Not an economic issue. And certainly not infrastructure!

The TVA and the Highway Act were both visionary and successful! But at that time they had their detractors. Some could not see the value of projects that take decades to complete. Others say business issues should be handled solely by businesses. And, of course, we have individuals who see any big government projects as pure socialism. This brings us back to housing.

America has been dealing with a low-income housing crisis for at least 50 years. America built a lot of homes and luxury apartments, but young workers just entering the workforce need low-income housing. They can’t afford much, and they probably need to pay off student loans and start saving money if they want to have children. Compared to 1990, twice as many adults 25 to 34 years old share their living space with roommates, and nearly twice as many live with their parents. Young and entry-level workers have had a declining standard of living for decades.

You might say, “That’s unfortunate, but housing is not really an economic issue or an Infrastructure issue. Young workers are just making the wrong choices. Wrong college degree, wrong job, wrong place to live.” Maybe. But if this is a national trend… and it is… then how will your company get the people you need if those people cannot afford to live anywhere near your business?

It’s not just about the workers that you personally hire. Every worker in a factory or corporation depends on other workers. For example, teachers and daycare workers to look after the children of employees. For workers to be fully focused on their work, they need nearby supermarkets, and restaurants when they have to work overtime. And an army of other workers to provide basic services. Without that, you’re going to need to pay workers a lot more, especially couples and single mothers.

If you don’t think it takes that much time to manage household responsibilities, you need to understand how much the workforce has changed. Back in 1960, only 25% of family households had dual incomes. Today, dual-income earners are 50% to 60% of all households. Today’s families order take-out or eat out much more often. They also use more cleaning services, babysitters, 24 x 7 pharmacies, urgent care, and other “support services”. These services in turn need a LOT of entry-level workers. No low-income housing means no support workers. Ultimately that means no workers for all of the factory and office jobs we’re supposed to create with the Infrastructure bill.

Some readers may think this is too theoretical. Of course, talented young workers will continue to go to college, and build up crippling school loan debt, for a chance to get a high-paying job at a big corporation. Maybe, but not for much longer. The Great Resignation, a massive wave of resignations in just about every industry, will roll on for years to come. The COVID pandemic did not create today’s job market, but it did make it a bit worse and it gave a lot of employees a chance to think about what matters to them. Employees no longer agree with Employers about the future of work. Or how housing should work.

If we look at San Francisco, we may be able to see the future of housing in America. San Francisco has grown dramatically. SF’s “silicon valley” attracted high-tech companies that paid staggering compensation. It made SF the city with 3rd largest number of billionaires. All of that successful capitalism pushed up the cost of housing, by as much as 500% over the last 30 years. That’s good for retirees who want to sell their homes and move out of the area, but what about workers who want to move in?

Other cities may currently have more affordable housing than San Francisco, but they are on the same path as SF… building very little low-income housing. And it’s understandable. If a real estate developer has an opportunity to build on a piece of land, low-income housing is usually the least profitable option. Not just in the US, but in virtually every nation on earth. If you want low-income housing, you need some sort of support form of government support.

San Francisco shows us what happens when low-income housing is in short supply. In SF even highly paid professionals cannot afford housing. One study showed that only 30% of doctors can afford a house. Perhaps doctors could afford housing if they would settle for something less desirable? But if you are a doctor, why not just leave and set up shop somewhere else? What about first responders? Only 2.4% can buy a house. Only 0.7% of teachers and 0.1% of restaurant workers can buy a house. That’s pretty much an invitation to move somewhere else.

That’s why Biden’s Infrastructure bill includes $300 billion for low-income housing. There’s a pretty good argument for building the housing we need to ensure that the US workforce can grow. And history tells us that it is also a good investment. As the Great Resignation continues, issues like housing could determine which parts of America will prosper and which won’t.

What do you think? Do you consider housing as vital a part of our Infrastructure and roads or bridges? Is housing important, but not quite as important as other Infrastructure, or is putting housing in the Infrastructure bill government over-reach?

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Navigating The New Standards of Beauty; Lessons From Victoria’s Secret

Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 2017 Photo: Corey Tenold

The highest-earning salespeople are often the most attractive. It’s a difficult metric to quantify but study after study confirms the relationship between appearance and income. Are attractive people drawn to positions where good looks earn them more money? Perhaps these individuals aren’t that attractive, but they invest in better clothes, expensive haircuts, and frequent grooming?

That’s certainly the message from the fashion and beauty industry, and it’s how they sell their products. From clothing, to hair products, to plastic surgery, our pursuit of looking our best has become a massive industry. But what happens when the image of beauty becomes so rare, so aetherial, that no mere mortal can achieve it? No other company can tell us more about that pursuit of impossible beauty standards than Victoria’s Secret, and their army of Angels!

Beauty has always mattered to human beings. The Egyptians were famously fascinated by beauty and largely created what we now call cosmetics. The word cosmetics is derived from a Greek term for “dress and ornament” and “skilled in arranging”. If you’ve ever seen models getting ready for a strut on the catwalk, you can see the art of make-up is about more than dumping some production on your face. Different models or different venues require different make-up.

Of course, beauty changes with the times. A couple of centuries ago and beauty (and celebrity) was defined by royalty. Who else had the prestige, the wealth, the magnificent jewelry, and the fantastically expensive clothing to capture our imaginations? Famous artists pre-dating photoshop created paintings and sculptures of unearthly beauty. At a time when your next meal was not always guaranteed, Rubens celebrated a plumber, curvier standard of female beauty that carries his name even today… Rubenesque.

Male beauty was not completely overlooked. Consider Franz Liszt, a 19th-century composer and pianist. His secret to filling concerts hall was partially his extraordinary artistic skills, and partially his dramatic good looks. As portraiture gave way to photography, lesser celebrities defined the male image. War heroes were picked up by newspapers, Broadway stars, Hollywood actors, and Rock Stars. They all had talent or at least accomplishments, but becoming a superstar meant having a certain attitude and the right looks.

Free But Profitable: In the 1990s, something new happened. Blame it on cable TV, and later the Internet. Fashion shows have been around since before the 20th century. But they were for industry insiders. Watching models walk from one end of a stage (the catwalk) and back, then go backstage, change, and repeat…. wasn’t exactly thrilling. But the nightly news might… on a slow news day… take a minute or two to talk about some outrageous fashion trend. But fledgling cable channels were struggled to fill up their air time, and (at least in the beginning) it didn’t cost anything to broadcast a fashion show.

Celebrity Without Talent?: While some models can act, sing, or dance most just have the right genes to be tall and slender, proportions to fit into fashion clothing, and the talent to walk without tripping. I’m not trying to be harsh, just realistic. Models today have changed. Many do have talents and abilities for their NEXT career. But modeling? Fit into the clothes, walk down the catwalk with a bit of attitude. And, of course, stay thin.

As cable networks expanded, fashion shows became popular. Models evolved into Super-Models, which was a big deal! Super Models could demand unheard-of fees. A SuperModel franchise is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But modeling has a dirty little secret. The ideal proportions of a model are those of a thin adolescent. No matter how you starve yourself, very, VERY few modeling careers can survive past the early twenties. But a Super Model might convert their celebrity into a Hollywood career, a music career, or some other area where good looks can make you rich.

Underaged Models: Let’s go back to that “ideal” body. At age 16, the female body is not fully grown, but the bone structure is largely complete, providing an “adult look” to the face. Supposedly, modeling careers start at 16, but many Super Models started at 12… or younger! Past 16, women will continue to fill out and gain weight, especially around the waist and hips. Usually, designers do not want models that emphasize these areas. It doesn’t take super-human effort to stay this thin, it takes eating disorders. Or some truly unusual genetics…. but mostly eating disorders. Typical super-thin models have too little body fat to be healthy. This causes life-long health issues for teens trying to break into modeling..

Super Models Go Mainstream: Let’s return to Victoria’s Secret. VS is not that different than other fashion houses. They were just a bit ahead of their competitors in making fashion shows more accessible and consumer-friendly. But over the next 20 years, they managed to associate themselves with a highly unrealistic form of feminine (and sometimes masculine) beauty.

One of Victoria’s Secret’s innovations was creating an army of branded models. One 6 foot tall, 120 lbs model is… a statistical anomaly. But churning out an army of just too tall and too thin to be human models was something new. In 1998 VS turned the volume up to 11, when they renamed their models… “Angels”. Just to make sure that we got the message, their models began wearing elaborate feathery wings on the catwalk and at other events. Taller and thinner than normal (6′ models weighing under 120 lbs), these Angels did have an other-worldly look, so… Angels? Why not.

Another big innovation by VS was marketing to men. Men? Yep! Roy Raymond, the founder of Victoria’s Secret, started the firm in the 1970s just when malls were becoming a staple of American life. He realized that men were lost in malls, especially in the “lady’s department”, which was not men friendly. According to Wikipedia, Raymond wanted, “a store in which (straight) men could feel comfortable buying lingerie.” While the culture has changed a lot since the 1970s, a male-led lingerie firm explains a lot about the evolution of the VS body type, the look of their fashion shows, and the latest projection of $90,000,000 to settle sexual harassments suits.

New Technology: The latest issue, perhaps the last straw was Photoshop. Super Models can be unusually tall and thin. So tall and thin that their proportions are exceedingly rare. Still, these rare individuals actually exist in the real world. But even Angels have small imperfections. Perhaps a model’s eyes are not perfectly symmetrical, or that smile is a bit crooked, or there is a small blemish on your arm or leg. Enter Photoshop. Blemishes disappear, symmetry returns, and waistlines become ridiculously tiny. But fans noticed that popular models had morphed into big-eyed Japanese anime stars. A firestorm on social media soon followed.

What Is “Realistic”: After years of pressure from health and youth advocacy groups, the fashion world started has begun to hire models with realistic body types. Of course, “realistism” in the fashion world is… special. The industry standard for “Plus-Size” starts at size 12, yet the average American woman is size 16. Fashion may always exist in an alternative universe, but it is a small step down the catwalk of fashion reform.

Models will never… can never… look like average Americans. Fashion models are supposed to look better than the rest of us. If not, why buy fashion and beauty products? The real question is if models can at least look healthy. To its credit, Victoria’s Secret is hiring models with more realistic bodies. After all, the standards for beauty do change over time. But what is the next standard for Super Models?

New Beauty Standards: Beauty and rarity tend to go hand in hand. Not everything that is rare is considered beautiful, but What are the rare qualities that we value today that can translate into the next standards of beauty? Well, Americans have never been as overweight and under-exercised. Perhaps our next standard of beauty will be “athletic”? Athletic perfection would still be rare. Not everyone will be able to look like an athlete. But a young adult aspiring to run faster, jump higher, or spend more time in a gym, might be a lot healthier than trying to meet today’s beauty standards.

Victoria’s Secret seems to get it. There are still a lot of Angels on the VS payroll, but so too is soccer star Megan Rapinoe. VS also wants to hire more diverse models. Like Priyanka Chopra. To me, the most fascinating thing about Priyanka is not her Indian background, but her more diminutive height (5’5″) and her age (39 years old), both of which would have disqualified her from becoming a VS model just a few years ago.

What’s Next?: A lot! Victoria’s Secret knows it’s time for a change. They’ve told the media that they want to change. Unrealistic body types and “Angels” are out. Diversity, realistic body types, and “Ambassadors” are in. Angels were supposed to be the beauty customers aspired to. Ambassadors are … I think… examples of the natural beauty that all women have. Politically correct, but is that what beauty products are about? Getting the looks you already have? Then why do you need VS? Being both realistic and hyper desirable is not an easy catwalk to tread!

And diversity creates another big hurdle. Like everyone else, VS wants to conquer the Chinese market. Both for diversity in the US and for moving into the Chinese market, expect to see more Chinese and Asian models. But the latest Super Models in China, models that have been hired by VS, appear to be even thinner than Angels. China (and Japan, and South Korea) is not on board with the American idea that beauty should be realistic… if only some of the time.

Can American have a diverse and realistic standard of beauty? And is that what customers really want? What do you think? Share your opinions with your fellow readers!

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We Need To Fix The Police, Not Destroy Public Trust

What do police actually do with their time? (“Intelligence-Led Policing”, by Jerry Ratcliffe)

As you can see, from the graphic above, Police departments perform a wide variety of functions. Not surprisingly, different people want the police to focus on different tasks. On the conservative side, there is a demand for Order. Keep it quiet, keep the streets clean, keep teens from hanging out on the streets. On the liberal side, the demand is for Justice. Understand the history of each neighborhood, but ensure that all requests and complaints are addressed respectfully… regardless of race or sex.

Balancing both sides is quite a task. San Francisco, known for seeking social justice, unintentionally created “tent cities” with thousands of homeless living on the streets. Some towns that believe in strict order, can have police departments that kill a disturbingly large number of their citizens. Often those killed are minorities. And almost no police are sent to jail or even lose their jobs.

Both sides believe that police departments are broken. Unfortunately, police departments… good or bad… are caught in the middle. But police will not be able to solve these problems until WE (the citizens) decide what we want from the police. For example…

HISTORY: WHAT a police force does depends on WHEN they do it. After the Civil War, millions of southerners became economic refugees, migrating to the industrial North seeking work. In the 1930s the combination of the Dust Bowl and the Depression created more economic refugees. Early 20th Century police spent a great deal of time making sure that these migrants… moved on. Enforcing vagrancy laws became very important in those dangerous and violent times.

Overlapping with all of the problems above, was the rise of organized crime. The 18th Amendment (the Prohibition) banned the sale of alcohol, but as alcohol became harder to obtain prices skyrocketed, making bootlegging highly profitable. Police militarized, creating special “anti-Mafia” units, but the newly rich Mafia fought back. In 1971, the “War on Drugs” followed the same plan the price of drugs rose, providing vast profits to international drug cartels. Violent cartels now had the money to go to war with drug enforcement agencies. Drug dealers soon became a common sight in major cities.

21st century America is different. We still have homeless individuals and families, it is domestic violence and mental illness are the usual reasons. Violent crimes and robberies have almost disappeared. Cybercrimes are on the rise, but these crimes are rarely handled by local police. In many cities, police deployment is no longer aligned with the needs of the community. Consider…

STANDARDS: America has nearly 18,000 separate police departments. There are no national standards for training, job performance, or pay. On average, police spend 500 hours in training. Smaller and poorer police departments often receive MUCH less training. The most common form of training is on how (and when) to use a gun. While gun training averages 60 hours, compare that to de-escalation (how to deal with a tense or potentially violent situation) which gets just 8 hours of training… IF they receive any of this training at all.

For this discussion, the most important part of gun training is WHEN to use a gun. How aggressively should force be used? It’s hard to compare training, but it’s much easier to compare results.

New York City is generally considered a difficult city to police. Yet, NYC’s police kill only 1.2 out of every 1 million citizens. Compare this to 16.9 in St Louis. Or 10.4 in Oklahoma City. In one study, 100 US cities had higher rates of killings by police than New York. Why would so many cities have police that kill so many citizens? Could it be…

TRAINING: American police have far less training than counterparts in other developed nations. Basic training in England lasts 2,500 hours. Australia and Germany spend 3,000 to 4,000 hours, and Finland requires over 5,000 hours of training. That makes our 500 hours of training look pretty inadequate.

But more training doesn’t always mean better results. In America, about 1,000 citizens are killed annually by the police, and tens of thousands more are shot or injured. That’s 35 of every 10 million US citizens. The comparable number for Australia is just 12. In Germany it is 2, and in England it is less than 1.

Better training and management would save some of these lives. Why don’t US police departments adopt the training used in every other developed nation? Well, in the US we often say that we’re different because we have a special problem with…

VIOLENCE: The height of violent crime in the US was in the 1990s. New York City was called, justifiably, “Crime City”. In 1990 NYC had 2,262 homicides. But by 2020 homicides dropped to just 468. Robberies fell from 100,280 to 13,108. That’s a drop of 85%. Burglaries fell from 122,055 to 15,478. These are unprecedented declines in crime! Most American cities saw similar declines in violent crime. But most police departments still act (and train, and staff) as if violent crime is still a major issue.

Let’s go back to the graphic at the beginning of this article. If we combine assaults, burglary, homicides, even rape it’s just a small part of the total police workload. As violent crimes go away, how should cities adjust the way police are trained and armed? However, there is another type of violent crime that deserves special notice…

DRUGS: In 1971 President Nixon declared a “War on Drugs”. This war has raged for 50 years, costing $50 billion every year. Yet, after 50 years, Americans consume more drugs, of higher potency, and greater addictiveness, resulting in far more deaths from overdoses than before the “war” began. Since just 1999, deaths from opioids are up 600%, deaths from heroin are up 750%, and deaths from Amphetamines are up 3,000%.

But this flood of drugs did not start in Columbia or Mexico. Instead, it originated in the boardrooms of some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. After nearly 30 years, the FBI finally charged these firms (especially Purdue Pharma, Insys), and courts have issued multi-billion dollar fines (alas, the US rarely imprisons executives when they commit the same crimes as drug cartels or the Mafia).

These crimes are pursued by the DEA, the FBI, and federal law enforcement agencies. There is little if any room for participation by local police. As street drugs decline, how are police redeploying these resources? What are drug and vice units doing now that these crimes are leaving the streets? Perhaps, police should spend more time on…

SAFETY: Police always had a responsibility for citizen safety. Paramedics have more medical equipment and training, but some police departments are trained in CPR or wound care. It makes a big difference, especially because police are highly visible and well distributed throughout the community. Simply keeping an individual alive until they can receive medical care would make a big difference.

By one estimate, 100,000 to 200,000 lives could be saved every year if more people were trained to deliver CPR. In other developed nations, police already save the lives of overdose victims by using Narcan. This nasal spray disrupts overdosing and prevents the often fatal side-effects of an overdose. If the police were trained and equipped with Narcan, some of the 71,000 deaths from overdose could be avoided.

CYBERCRIME: According to the Harvard Business Review, America (and the world) are going cashless. Most Americans have credit or debit cards, and many also own BitCoins or other e-cash. Paper money is the least secure form of payment and the most vulnerable to crime. Less cash means less robbery, fraud, pickpocketing, and bank robberies.

Technology eliminates many crimes. Cameras are everywhere. They document crimes and track criminals to their hiding places. Databases and DNA tests provide conclusive identification of criminals. Electronic ignitions, security systems, and GPS tracking make it more difficult for criminals to steal a car, and easier for police to find car thieves. It may soon be common for police to remotely take over a stolen car. Traditional crimes no longer pay.

Of course, new crimes arise all the time. Individuals and major corporations are the targets of e-criminals. Ransomware, stolen identities, and password thefts have become common. Cyberextortion is probably more common than we think, since corporations that admits to failed security, will almost surely see their stock prices plunge.

HOMELESS: Big cities will always have homeless individuals, or people who are just “passing through”, but have no money. Migrations from the Dust Bowl and the Depression created something like today’s homeless crisis, especially if your city had railroads or one of the few highways of that time. Even in the 1920s and 1930s there were “tent cities”, but today’s homeless are very different.

Today there are as many as 500,000 log-term homeless in America. Nearly a third of these individuals are families, and half of the homeless are fleeing domestic violence. 45% have mental illnesses. Telling the homeless to move along, or waiting for the economy to improve doesn’t have much impact. Solving these issues requires specific skills and training, that few police departments possess. Yet, police are often held responsible for “controlling” homelessness.

For police to be EFFECTIVE, and to avoid potentially deadly altercations, police, shelters, and hospitals must be trained together and work together in teams. A true team requires significant training… for months or even years. That team would including police, housing, shelter, and hospital members. They would perform daily patrols, and track homeless individuals over time. It might make sense for this to be a separate unit dedicated to this issue, but it could be managed in any number of ways.

CONCLUSION: As you can see, police departments have many duties, which constantly change. While many 20th Century crimes have faded away, few police departments have updated their mandates and training. This has created a mismatch between the actions of the police and needs of the community.

Police departments can become less dependent on guns. The number of citizens killed by the police every year can be reduced. It all comes down to what we, America’s citizens, want and what we are willing to pay for it.

What do you think? Should America’s police follow the same plan as England, Germany, Scandinavia and other developed nations and create national policing standards and a police training curriculum? Should police shift their work to match new forms of crime? How responsible should the police be for maintaining public safety? Tell us what you think!

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Trump Uncovers Massive Election Fraud!!!

Suspects Rounded Up for Arizona Voter Fraud!

The Arizona recount… or is it the re-re-recount?… I’m losing count of the recounts! Anyway, the Arizona recount is headed towards its conclusion. Many theories have been aired, such as suspicious ballots made from bamboo, which would “prove” a conspiracy by China. Wow. Crazy and yet racist at the same time! Can conspirators be smart enough to subvert our voting process and yet be stupid enough to ADD bamboo fibers to their fake paper ballots? Hopefully, auditors have also checked if the ink on the ballots contains panda blood.

Arizona has finished counting almost all the ballots, so we hear the results any day now! Yep… any day. What can we expect? Well… a lot! Aside from the meaningless rumors, the group leading the investigation, the Cyber Ninjas (doesn’t that name just fill you with confidence?), appointed Wake Technology Services to do the actual audit. And… what’s that? WTS quit? OK. So some other guys that they called in at the last minute, with a more ummmm… flexible?… view of what an audit is, has been hard at work. Yep… any day now.

But as President Donald Trump told us last year, this is a massive conspiracy. The 2020 election is only part of the picture. To understand the scope of the conspiracy, we need to go back to the 2016 elections.

It’s easy to get lost in the wave of conspiracy theories that President Trump said were waved against him. Conspiracies about Russia, conspiracies about porn stars, conspiracies to make him look bad, and so on. But if we go all the way back to the beginning of Trumps Presidency, he was quick to point out that the 2016 Presidential election was rigged! Wait a minute! Didn’t he win that one?

Yes, he did. But while Trump won in the Electoral College, he lost the popular vote. Or did he? What if over 3 million votes were fraudulent! What if these were votes for Trump INSTEAD of Hilary Clinton? Most importantly, if millions of votes were stolen in 2016, doesn’t that mean that we should accept that a few thousands of votes could have been easily stolen in 2020? And as President of the United States Trump had four years to use the power of his office to provide incontestable proof of this fraud. Hmmm… what’s that? Trump’s supporters say that it would be unfair to provide this proof before Trump completes his 2015 promise to release his tax records. OK, when will his tax records be released. Hey… Where did everyone go? Well, evidence is just so much Democratic socialist blather, right?

Besides, we have more pieces of this puzzle. In early 2016, candidate Donald Trump ran against Ted Cruz in the Iowa primary. And lost. Donald Trump saw what no one else could. The primary was rigged! Trump stated that the election was a, “rigged, disgusting, dirty system… based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified”. WOW! Even the Republican primaries have been corrupted. Good thing we have Trump to point his out, since no one else had the intelligence, the perseverance, and the high quality hair needed to detect this fraud.

Still not convinced? Then brace yourself for the greatest evidence of all! Only a few elected positions are at the Federal level. When we count state, and local positions over 100,000 officials are elected. Most of these elections are small and are won with just a few thousand votes. How can it be possible that Donald Trump, who we know received over 70,000,000 votes for President, did not win a single one of these elections!

Sure, there are some left-leaning naysayers that have feeble excuses, like, “Ummmmnnn… Trump wasn’t running in any of those elections!” But I think that true Trump supporters know that this isn’t the point.

The point is that Donald Trump believes there is an organized effort to undermine his Presidency by the Deep State. How Deep is his State? His own appointees… Bill Barr, the head of the Department of Justice, the head of the FBI, the Department of Homeland security, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (created by Trump), along with the court systems of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania… all agree that the elections were fair, and were not tampered with.

ALL agreed? When was the last time you saw a bipartisan agreement on anything! Suspicious. Very suspicious. And all the so-called “whistleblowers” pointing out illegal actions or violations of the Constitution by Trump. Who are these whistleblowers and who gave them whistles? Do you know how annoying it is to have whistles blowing all the time? Trump does. And he’s not going to put up with it!

But there is one last piece to this puzzle. And that piece is Donald Trump himself. Every time Donald Trump is riding high, someone points out some embarrassing gaff, from misunderstanding how the Constitution works, to his lack of scientific knowledge, to basic geography. It is inconceivable that anyone could become President of the United States and be so completely ignorant. Unless… Unless President Trump was intentionally tripped up by the one person with the power to make him look like a fool… Donald Trump. Yes, Donald Trump is part of the Deep State… dedicated to the destruction of Donald Trump.

It is a fact that Trump never listens to anyone else or follows instructions. That is irrefutable evidence that Trump is not only part of the Deep State, but TRUMP IS THE HEAD OF THE DEEP STATE. After leaving office, theoretically with no position in the government, the entire Republican Party declares Trump their leader, and falls in behind him. Former leaders of the Republicans (such as Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, or even Republican Superstar John Bolton) are all being rejected by the party, because of their resistance to Trumpism. If that’s not Deep State, what is?

After all, what possible alternative explanation could there be? That Donald Trump is just mean-spirited, incompetent, unable to say he made a mistake, and not a team player? Obviously not! In the words of Ted Cruz, “This man is a pathological liar, he doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies … in a pattern that is straight out of a psychology textbook, he accuses everyone of lying, and whatever lie he’s telling, at that minute he believes it … the man is utterly amoral… Donald is a bully”.

Whoops! Sorry, that’s a 2016 quote. Completely out of date. Let’s see. Hmm a lot of quotes about Trump and Venereal Diseases. Ahhh… serial philanderer… connected to the mob… sniveling coward… kookey…. the old Ted Cruz sure was a firecracker! OK. Cruz may still be bent out of shape by Trump accusing Ted’s father of assassinating John Kennedy (perhaps a slight misstatement). But like the rest of the Republican Party, Ted Cruz has learned to bend the knee and take orders. Why can’t America? After all, isn’t absolute obedience to a single authoritarian leader what American Democracy is all about?

What does the future of Democracy look like to you? Let us know!

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Biden’s Infrastructure Deal And The Future of Construction


If President Biden’s infrastructure plan is approved, it will be a big deal. A trillion dollar deal! Literally the biggest American infrastructure project… ever! And we need it. One hundred years ago we began building the infrastructure of America. Bridges, giant buildings, the electric power grid, telephone lines, railroads, interstate highways, and airports. Consider the New York’s Empire State building, or San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. They’re icons of American progress, and they’re nearly a century old. Many of our monumental structures are old. Few are aging well. If we want to compete with China and other rising economies we MUST repair our crumbling infrastructure!

The nature of work has changed. In the early 20th Century, our economy was driven by the move from agriculture to factories. It took a lot of government funding, but America became “the factory of the world”. In the later 20th Century, we had a new challenge. How to move from an industrial economy to a service economy. We managed the transition and became the world’s super-power. But we made the move largely by piggybacking on existing (and aging) infrastructure.

Meanwhile, other economies began their own journey from agriculture to service industry., but because they started later they used newer, more advanced technology. They could leapfrog the old copper wire technology America was built on and go straight to wireless. Countries that were relatively undeveloped a couple of decades ago now have better internet and mobile phone speeds than the US. That’s why the speed of America’s mobile phone services is rated at #18 in the world, while China rose to #4.

Some of our infrastructure is simply old and failing. We all have a “favorite” state or federal highway filled with potholes or worse. There have been 26 bridge collapses since 2000. Not all bridges are large, and some collapses were at least partially due to oversized or overweight trucks. Still, nearly a third of America’s 600,000 bridges are in urgent need of repairs. Obsolete bridges and roads are not just unsafe, they are slow. Better infrastructure will speed up traffic and make a region more productive.

Rail roads were a big part of early 20th century productivity. High-speed rail could be as important to the 21st Century as old generation rail was to the 20th Century. China has over 37,000 kilometers of high-speed rail in service and another 32,000 planned. America has 1,700 kilometers., with plans to build

But we need more than patches for our old infrastructure. We definitely need roads and telephone lines, but we also need a new generation of infrastructure to support the continuing growth of our economy. As previously stated, America’s high-speed communications are no longer competitive with top-tier nations. Under the added load of home-based workers, we all saw our internet connections sputter as the COVID Pandemic lumbered on. In lower-income neighborhoods, many students were unable to maintain a connection with their schools. Meanwhile, corporations that failed to keep their software updated and their data safe repeatedly surrendered to international gangsters, paying out ransoms to keep their operations online.

America requires advanced technology to keep the economy running. Today, internet connectivity and data security are as important as telephones and railroads were a century ago. Nations like China have very advanced firewall technology that prevents (or mitigates) ransomware and other cyberattacks. Crime and war are shifting to the virtual world, and America’s cyber defenses could definitely use an upgrade. However, China’s firewall strategy comes with two BIG caveats for American culture.  

First, the “Great Firewall of China” is also pretty good at preventing the citizens of China from saying anything negative about China. The price of our future safety may be a lot higher than just the cost of equipment and software. Second, if a major Chinese corporation or government institution is successfully hacked, it is highly unlikely that China will publicly admit this sort of failure.

America is hacked millions of times every year. We assume that most hacks are small, but there is growing evidence that these hacks happen far more often than we believe… or are told. Public corporations are legally required by the Security Exchange Commission (SEC) to report all attacks. But front-page news of a big corporate security failure could shave billions of dollars off of stock valuations. From the technician who first detects the breach to the approval of a public announcement by the Board of Directors, not one will want to be associated with this failure.

Trucks and cars will inevitably be self-driving. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe later. But even today a lot of the functions in cars, trucks, trains, ships, and airplanes are at least partially controlled by computers and can be directed remotely. Our transpiration systems are increasingly linked via the Internet. Something could go catastrophically wrong. Whether it is a failure of the technology or weakness in security doesn’t really matter. As more of our lives are linked to technology, we need better infrastructure to make it all work together.

And more technology is being linked together! In relatively controlled areas, such as ports, mines, and logging roads… self-driving vehicles are taking over. These are all privately owned roads and workplaces, as opposed to state or federal roadways. If a truck drives a route 1,000 miles long, it may pass through hundreds of municipalities, federal highways, state-managed bridges… and each of these organizations may have separate rules for how self-driving vehicles can operate. Anyone municipality that is on a critical route may be able to block or challenge self-driving vehicles. There are 30,000 municipalities in America.

But a dedicated, privately owned timber road or mining site can have much more limited forms of traffic, making the area easier to manage and making the software easier to write. It won’t be quite as predictable as a factory, but it will be easier to run a pilot for autonomous vehicles than attempting to drive robot cars in the middle of a city. Private roads and worksites are the testbeds for work in the larger world. Autonomous vehicles (and other work robots) are operating on private property today, without any human operators.

Just as cars and trucks are turning autonomous, commercial airlines, railroads, and ships are also being automated. As the world became global, the cost and time to move freight around the world have become a key factors in the world’s economy. Some items, such as fresh fruit, can only last a certain amount of time. Other goods represent a financial loss if they are stuck in transit for too long. And of course, more international executives are interested in investing in another nation if it is convenient for them to get there.

Modern commercial airlines are very efficient and have a lot of automation features. The last propeller-driven commercial airliner was the Lockheed Constellation, which held 65 to 90 passengers, had a cockpit crew of 5. Early jets followed this staffing pattern. Through the years automation has increased. A 787, carrying 300 passengers, can fly a route with as little as 2 pilots. That’s a remarkable change, from 1 crew member for every 15 passengers to one for every 150. That’s a key issue in airline profitability.

Another key element is our aging radar system. When you are on a flight, have you noticed all of the “turn to the right, turn to the left” maneuvers your plane takes? On the ground are is a network of radar towers. For safety reasons, planes must fly routes where they can be monitored by radar. But these towers don’t cover every square mile of America, and even with all of the commercial radar systems in the world, much of the world’s oceans are out of radar range. A satellite-based radar system would increase passenger safety, and… by eliminating these gaps… reduce the time and length (and time) of domestic flights by a third. That not only increases passenger comfort, it reduces the cost of flights, as well as reducing the carbon footprint of the airline industry.

Will Biden’s Infrastructure initiative support the development of “pilotless” passenger airlines and satellite radar? Or will it just focus on just rebuilding traditional copper, steel, and concrete infrastructure? No matter what the answer is, there’s going to be a lot of building going on. Interestingly, even before the pandemic, there had a labor shortage. Especially for entry-level workers.

In the 1980s and 1990s, America tapped its last great unused labor pool. Women workers. Today more college students, more new workers, and more new managers are women. As tens of millions more women attended college or engage in work, who was left to clean the house, cook dinner, or mow the lawn? This employment vacuum led to rising illegal immigration. The approximately 3 million illegals in 1990, became over 12 million by 2015. America now views immigration far more negatively. Yet, we are still desperate to fill the jobs that deported immigrants have vacated.

This “Perfect Storm” of too many jobs and too few workers will surely lead to massive automation. In the past, the main driver for automation has been the lack of labor, rather than the desire to cut costs. But a few years later, when the economy dips, a bit of automation becomes a Tsunami of automation that can completely eliminate certain jobs. Construction work has been a major entry point for the American Dream for many young Americans.

But America’s huge infrastructure project (and the money that comes with it) is likely to eliminate many of today’s 4 million truck driver jobs and 11 million construction jobs. But if we don’t create a more automated cost-effective construction industry, it will not only negatively affect US businesses, it will make it very difficult to compete for international construction work. As Asia and Africa continue to develop economically, trillions of dollars of new buildings and infrastructure will be needed.

So, what will it be? Will Biden get sign-off on a transformative infrastructure bill? Or will America be overtaken by China and other nations that are more willing to invest in the infrastructure of the 21st Century? Tell us what you think!

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China & Genocide: The Development Of China’s Western Territory

Assimilation in America's Old West

Every nation is unique, yet they all follow a well-worn path to development. Nations must define their identity, create symbolism (languages and culture), and somehow pay for the migration from agriculture to industry and beyond. Young developing nations often lack the wealth to make the leap to a modern economy. America paid for its development because it had a nation full of free resources, timber, and empty land for new settlers. Uhhh… empty land if you forget about millions of Native Americans. For more than two hundred years America tried to either assimilate or kill natives. They were “in the way” of economic expansion. Today, China is now following a surprisingly familiar path in developing its own Western frontier. Does economic development always require… Genocide? Let’s dive in and see.

Genocide is surprisingly common in human history. The 19th and 20th centuries run red with the blood of native people and minorities. Sometimes, the pages of history run white, as indigenous people are forced to assimilate and disappear as a people. This isn’t just a “new world” phenomenon. Europe developed on the backs of displaced and murdered minorities. It just happened so long ago that massacres became ancient history, and ancient history became legends and myths. Myths like the Tales of King Arthur and the fall of Camelot. It is a tale of romance and adventure, but if you look a bit deeper you see that King Arthur’s people become the minority, were butchered at first, and finally assimilated into what would become England.

Rome was famous for conquering generals and legendary battles. When Rome conquered new lands, they gave local farmland to retired soldiers, who often married local women. Eventually, the locals were assimilated. At the height of the Roman Empire, France and England assimilated so well that they were more roman than Rome. But it took a lot of killing before the locals accepted the Roman way.

In America, genocide is more recent, and in some ways still ongoing. The conquering of America’s West is so recent that some of what happened was recorded in photographs. While Europe went through most of it’s genocidal phase in the distant past, there were always next-door neighbors that became fellow citizens after a war or two. And there were many wars in Europe in the last 200 years.

In the last two thousand years, between the time of the Roman Empire up to just a few years ago, the global human population (and wars) were limited by the availability of food and land. The more fertile land, the more we could grow, which fed a rising population, and supported larger armies. Cycles of growth, war, and recovery limited the human population to between 300 to 500 million. Then, the industrial revolution broke this cycle. New strains of grain, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, railroads, barbed wire, harvesting machines, and tractors changed everything. We could grow more food, in poorer land, that was farther away. The population skyrocketed, and crowded city dwellers left in droves to find their fortunes in undeveloped territories.

Whether in China, America, or elsewhere in the world, the central government is considering how they want to manage this situation. Obscure “alien” people have a claim on the land, but they aren’t interested in exploiting the land, or accelerating the economy. For the nation as a whole, the locals are… inefficient. On the other hand, there are people in the developed areas who have big plans to sell the timber, dig mines, build factories, lay rail lines, and make money. Of course, these “settlers” don’t speak the local language or follow their customs. It would be SOOOOOO much more convenient to just get your brothers, sisters, cousins, and anyone from your home town to fill the new jobs you’re going to create.

Governments usually side with development over native rights. Even with good relatively intentions, settlers usually favor bringing in more of their own kind (language, ethnicity, religion) rather than providing all but the lowest level jobs for locals. And then resentment builds up. Locals feel that their land is being stolen and that people who are s supposed to develop the economy are keeping all the best jobs (and eventually homes, schools, restaurants, stores, villages, etc.) for themselves.

It begins with an argument, perhaps with a labor strike. Maybe there is an altercation. Resentment by locals grows, and settlers say that local anger is another reason why they need to be excluded from work and public life. Local police escalate their aggression, then national police replace the local police, and these are eventually joined by the military.

In China’s western territories, in Xinjiang where 12 million Uyghur people live, this was the way that things were developing up to around 2000. Then the U.S. experienced its worst terrorist attack on 9/11. We now know that this caught China’s attention. They began to wonder if the Uyghur people, who are Muslim, were truly loyal to China. And at that time there was a spike in protests in Tibet, over religious beliefs. The government decided to ramp up surveillance, and arrests.

In 2014 there were bombings at train stations, knife attacks, and other acts of terrorism. At least that’s what China called it. Without any context, you could call it terrorism. Not surprisingly, the Uyghurs in China and the Uyghurs just on the other side of the Chinese borders began having more and more discussions about a “Uyghur national movement”. With the majority of Uyghurs living in China, it sounds like a plan to carve our a piece of China and make it a new nation.

Now China really turned up the heat, passing laws that largely make being Uyghur illegal… religious services are monitored, use of Uyghur language makes you a “suspect”, owning a passport or communicating with relatives outside China is a “terrorist” act, all phone calls and texts are monitored. This is in addition to the national firewall, and perhaps 600 million surveillance cameras across all of China. That’s a lot of cameras, but in Xinjiang the density of surveillance cameras is supposedly several times higher than anywhere else in the nation.

By themselves, those cameras are a powerful weapon of oppression. But China has massively invested (and in many cases stolen) facial recognition technology that can track individuals from camera to camera, can identify generic Uyghurs and track their individual actions, such as crossing the street against the light. Supposedly, by the time you finish crossing the street, you have received a ticket on your phone.

All of this is managed by increasingly efficient Artificial Intelligence software. Attempts have been made around the world to predict crimes, just like the movie, “Minority Report”. So far, the results have been underwhelming, but the software is learning. And as more and more of the world’s events are picked up by surveillance cameras, and profiles are compiled for every citizen, thinking about a crime may someday be the same as committing a crime.

With its technologically enhanced ability to find criminals, China has been on a building spree, adding perhaps as many as 1,000 prisons and one million prisoners. China, however, is quick to point out that these are not prisons, they are education centers where individuals have their minds re-programmed to get rid of bad thinking and replace it with good thinking and good citizenship. Maybe something is lost in the translation, but that pretty much sounds like a prison… or worse.

It’s not a good time to be a Uyghur. The techniques and technology that China develops and perfects will soon undoubtedly be sold to other countries or at least used by China’s business partners in other countries. Africa is a key market and source of resources for China, and African development will son be accelerated by China’s ambitious Band and Road Initiative (BRI) or New Silk Road. China is the largest investor in Africa, and their expansion of ports and rail systems throughout Africa may make it resemble China’s Western Frontier, but many times larger.

Are the Chinese more self-aware, or morally superior to the empires that preceded them? Are they morally superior to the US or Europe? If not, we may HOPE that China will find an alternative to genocide… but can we EXPECT that they will do better and be more humane than all the Empires that came before them? Is the Western World willing to make compromises with China in other policy areas, in exchange for more humane treatment for the Uyghurs? At the moment, we in the West have been willing to point at the Uyghur problem, but we don’t seem ready to take action.

What do you think? Can China be convinced to accept a more diverse nation, with more cultures, and less centralized authority? As China exerts ever more economic control around the world, will they seek to shape the world to look like China? Tell us about your ideas, readers would like to know what you think!

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It’s ALIVE! The New Republicans!

Trump Republicans: A little bit of this, a little bit of that?

Trump has left Washington, but everyone is still abuzz about the future for the Republican party. What happens after Donald Trump? Will the Republicans be stuck in limbo until Trump says otherwise? Well, year, probably. Trump’s core followers are not typical Republicans, but whatever their politics, they are firmly behind their candidate. As these… Trumpublicans?… pull the Republican party in one direction, old-school Republicans are trying to hold the party somewhere near the center. It took long enough, but “center” Republicans are beginning to get organized, and a few have talked about creating a new party. What’s next for the Republicans, and America’s future elections?

Democrats used to be the party of big government programs, small military budgets, regulation, support of unions, anti-globalization, and anti-outsourcing. Meanwhile, Republicans supported small government, big military, and business. Republicans wanted unfettered capitalism. Republicans said that corporations had the right to work as they liked. That meant few if any tariffs, the ability to move factories wherever they liked (usually to third world countries), and big-time anti-union. Democrats were the guys who opposed offshoring because it would cost American jobs. But now, Republicans… super right-wing Republicans… seem to be mouthing the rhetoric of the Democrats.

If you listen to the “white anger” of the MAGA crowd, you’ll notice that these older, white, (mostly) men, are idealizing a time when labor unions offered high-paying jobs (with benefits) to adults who didn’t have college degrees. The MAGA crowd may have been conservatives or liberals when they were young, but many are old enough to know that it was the Reagan Revolution that killed off unions… starting with the air traffic controllers union.

In 1960, 30% of American workers belonged to a labor union. Unions meant good pay AND benefits. Today just 11% of jobs are union. If we eliminate Government unions, such as postal workers, just 6 percent of private-sector jobs are with a labor union. Not so coincidentally, today’s healthcare crisis is really an insurance crisis. The reason America has so many uninsured workers is closely related to the decline in union jobs, and benefits.

The old Republican party stood strong in ignoring global warming, air pollution, plastic in the environment, the melting of the arctic, and annual fires in California and the Amazon. They did this because the Republican party was synonymous with big oil and petroleum.

Republicans have also stood tall on having a big military. Which is VERY confusing considering the last 50 years of Republican policy. Trump has said that he is 100% against America’s “Forever Wars”, which just happen to be wars in the Middle East. Y’know, that place with all the oil? And the big oil companies have been known for massive donations to Republicans, for which they expect support for… international trade, reduced environmental protection, pro-oil policies, and a large military presence in the Middle East. America’s dependence on Saudi oil is rather connected to our support for nations with massive human rights violations.

Unions? Believe it or not, before WW I, when factories were still o the rise, many Republicans were “progressives”. They believed in civil rights, good working conditions, the right to form unions, voter rights, even the rights of women to vote. Back then, it was the Democrats who mercilessly suppressed voter rights and barely believed in Democracy.

But after Kennedy became President, and the Democrats became the party of human rights, Southern Conservatives left the party in droves. By the time that Ronald Reagan became President, the South became a solid Republican voting bloc. Consider Mitch McConnell. Go back 100 years, and it would have been unthinkable for the Republicans to be led by a conservative from Kentucky. Now a political map of America’s South is almost solidly Republican.

Hmmm… so the Republican party has “flipped” in the past, is it that significant that it is doing a 180 once again? Well, yes it is! By and large, the Reagan Republicans won. Almost all of their policies are now the policies and culture of America. When Bill Clinton became President, his policies were largely a watered-down continuation of Reagan policies. The big difference between the days of Reagan and today is the Cold War. The most important issue of Reagan’s day was the cold war, which is over. (P.S. We won.) But what about the rest of the Reagan Revolution?

The Cold War divided up the whole world between Capitalism (led by America) and Communism (led by the Soviet Union). It was a conflict of militaries and weapons, but it was secondarily an economic conflict. International alliances are key. Under Trump, the New Republicans are not just uninterested in global alliances… military, economic, and environmental… they are actively against them. Reagan wanted to get rid of tariffs. Trump has tariffed our closest allies, and not particularly cared how they reacted to new tariffs.

All of these alliances, with America at the forefront, meant that America was the leader of the world. Apparently, “Make America Great Again”, doesn’t include a day when America is seen as a beacon of Democracy and Hope. There may well be some that agree with Trump on this, but there are a lot of Republicans who will not see this as a positive change.

One of the other major win’s for the Reagan era was the American transition from smokestack to service industry. Reagan wanted the US to lead the world in technology. We would have the most advanced industries with the most educated workforce. Old style factories and industries would be retired. Coal, steel, and factories would be replaced by computers, aerospace, and finance. And that’s what happened. The Republican plan worked.

The New Republicans are a bit too comfortable identifying and ostracizing internal enemies. Don’t think so? Consider the enemies list of the last 4 years: Senator John McCain, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Attorney General Bill Barr, Former Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Senator Liz Cheney…. the list goes on and on. Even his Vice-President, Mike Pence, shouldn’t hold his breath if he expects the nod from Trump for a Presidential run.

Of course, that’s just Trump’s basic, but growing grudge list. What about the goals of MAGA, to “Make America Great Again”? Does that mean roll America back to… 2000? Naaaa… that was after the Clintons, and MAGA seems to have a real hate for the Clintons. Back to 1980? Before Reagan? If the goal of the New Republicans is to roll back the gains of the Old Republicans, how do you do that without a witch-hunt for unrepentant Old Republicans?

It’s this packing of contradictory ideas, and grudges old and new, into a single political party that makes the Trump takeover so questionable. Here’s a thought experiment. Consider Milburn Pennybags. He’s the guy on the Monopoly box with the Top Hat and the handlebar mustache. He’s the image we have of a banker, the guy who owns all of the property. So. Is he a Democrat or a Republican? I think everyone will say, “Banker? Owns a lot of property? Must be Republican!” Or at least he donates to Republicans. But will Mr. Pennybags be happy donating to the new Trump Republican party?

And how about you dear readers? Are you a Democrat? Have recent events made you say, “DAMN! I should switch to the Republican Party?” If you’re a Republican, are you thinking, “I made the right decision!” Most importantly, if you’re an independent… independents are now the majority of voting Americans” are you Planning to lean more towards the Republicans or further away? Tell us what you think!

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