The real replacement practices

This concept of replacement theory where white workers are subject to a planned replacement by black and brown workers has been around for decades. In fact, the fascists in England were using this replacement theory in the early 1960s, of course, blaming Jews for its orchestration. In essence, the theory says white workers’ jobs are being systematically replaced by immigrants and those other people who don’t belong here. Sound familiar? Yet, this replacement theory well preceded the 1960s.

It is all subterfuge to create fear and blame others for your problems. Fear has been used to sell ideas and manipulate people for a long time. Overstating an inflammable cause is one way to do that. The fear of the other overlooks the deeper problems for loss of jobs and disenfranchisement. The key reasons for disenfranchisement are the actual replacement practices that we need to address. These are not some theory, but deployed routinely and recurringly in practice.

There are two key reasons, which impact all workers of all colors:

– technology improvements which reduce the number of workers needed, and

– CEOs chasing cheaper labor to lower the cost of production

The latter cause manifests itself in offshoring, outsourcing, or migration of factories. For example, the textile industry has left a trail of closed plants as the industry moved from England to the United States first in New England and then to southern states. Then in the 1980s, the heavy migration occurred to China and Mexico and eventually to Vietnam and Bangladesh searching for cheaper labor. One company that comes to mind went from 86,000 US employees in 1980 to about 4,000 today, with the rest abroad. That is not an isolated example and it is not just manufacturing work. It is call center, IT, analysis, etc. The US based insurance industry has been shipping claim forms for review to Ireland as the Irish were, on average, more literate than Americans, even before technology made it easier to get the Irish to review them.

The former cause has been occurring routinely as well, but has accelerated once again with the advancement in Artificial Intelligence (AI). Yet, a robot need not look like a humanoid to be effective. Computer driven machines and robotic appendages have evolved over time. I watched a “60 Minutes” episode about ten years ago, which demonstrated a programmable robotic machine that went for the price of a car to be used by small businesses. The tasks need not be complex to improve efficiency, so these cheaper machines could replace a half-dozen workers.

So, when you hear immigration is a problem, that does not address the main issues. Of course, the immigration system could be improved and opportunities to do so were not voted on after some agreement even by some of the most vocal critics. But, there are some industries and municipalities that need more workers. Those workers need to be trained or trainable, so some may come from abroad and some from here.

Where we need to focus our attention is working with new and old industries in transition and community colleges to train new workers. The coal industry has been on the demise for a dozen years, but some politicians have been clinging on to its protection. I have said several times, whether or not you like Senator Bernie Sanders, he was the only presidential candidate in 2016 to stand up in front of coal miners and tell them the truth – your jobs are going away, but here is what I plan to do about it.

In this vein, some towns are dilapidated by closed factories that moved. The forward thinking towns invested in bringing new workers from whereever they could. They developed initiatives to reinvest in the area using the brainpower of the new and old blood mixed together. They developed incentives to draw younger adults to their towns. And, it worked.

The issue of workers needing more opportunity and investment is where we need to focus our attention. This is a good example of a group of PR people coming up with an issue, blowing it way out of proportion as the problem, and putting it on a bumper sticker. “Build a wall” some might say as the panacea. Ironically, when the major proponent of that comment accepted a deal to get $25 billion for this wall in exchange for making DACA law, he was talked out of it. This was his number one issue, but he said no after saying yes. Why? He knew it would not solve the problems and his bluff had been called.

Our problems are complex and have multiple factors. One of the tenets of the book “Built to Last” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum is most of America’s major problems over time were solved in concert between some combination of government (federal, state and/ or local), venture capital, and private industry or philanthropy investment. We won’t solve our problems unless we identify them and their many causes. We won’t solve them by listening to opinion hosts and candidates who are trying to scare, who really don’t want to solve anything other than getting someone elected.

We will solve them by looking at the facts, coming up with a plan, getting buy-in and funding and making it happen. That is hard to put on a bumper sticker or define in a two-minute sound byte by an opinion host.

Comedians and Congress

The very astute and funny comedian Sarah Silverman said yesterday on a segment of The View, “Why is it we hold our comedians to a higher standard than our Congressional representatives?” She was responding to the trend for comedians to come under physical attack on stage and verbal abuse online. I want you to re-read the emboldened sentence of hers and let it sink in. Why, indeed?

If that is not enough to stew on, I want you to think of recent and not so recent comments by several members of Congress with names like Taylor-Greene, Cawthorn, Jordan, Gosar, Breitbart, Gohmer, Brooks, Gaetz et al. If that were not enough, fold in comments from folks like Senators Cruz, Paul. etc. Then we have the former president’s comments which take it to an even lower level.

These comedians make their living making fun of uncomfortable topics. Do they cross the line on occasion? Absolutely. Yet, we seem to vilify them more than we do for people who are supposed to represent our better angels as elected officials. I can disagree with a policy position of an elected official and that is OK. Yet, I want them to be respectful of the office they hold.

I disagree with Democrats and Republicans on various issues. I think some Democrats tend to forget we need to pay for things, e.g. But, the names I mention above are all Republican for a reason. They have a strident manner in dealing with opposing arguments. Name calling is not an argument. Parroting conspiracy theories is not an argument. Saying truly inane things does not make you more credible.

It is not ironic that the most touted leader in the world is a former comedian. President Zelenskyy of Ukraine has stood up against the invasion of Russian troops and rallied his country against the onslaught. To be frank, Vladimir Putin did not count on that stance thinking he could steam roll Ukraine in three days. He could not have been more wrong.

When I watch shows that are news centered comedy discussions, the more astute guests tend to be comedians. To be able to make fun of something, you tend to have to know what it is and why it could be funny. In this same vein, one of the best news shows on TV is actually a comedy show – John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight.” Invariably, his writers will have an in-depth discussion on issues that do not get air time elsewhere such as predatory tele-evangelists, predatory lending, predatory court fees, et al. Other new sources have actually complimented their efforts.

Since comedians seem to be more knowledgeable, maybe we should do like sports teams do. When an elected official is obviously not up to the challenge, like in a sporting event, let’s just replace him or her with a comedian. In my view, we will be far better off.

Wednesday wanderings in early May

What a great day for a walk about. So, as I walk today my mind will wander on various and sundry topics. In no particular order.

A draft Supreme Court ruling has been leaked which appears Roe v Wade may get overturned. The fact it was leaked may be due to the justices wanting to gauge reaction, which politicians do often. If the justices did this it would be highly disappointing as they need to be above politics. Or, it may be a leak by someone who is troubled by the ruling.

If this draft turns out to be the eventual ruling, some Republicans who voted for the recent judges are feeling betrayed – notably two females in Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. Yet, my first reaction was the Republicans who went along with this to garner the vote of evangelicals are now like the dog who caught the bus. My guess is women may rise up and squash them. While I personally would not advocate an abortion, I also support the right for a woman to determine what happens to her body and the limitations that exist provide sufficient governance.

What also frustrates me is measures that reduce abortions are also frowned on by the evangelical crowd. Holistic sex education (which includes abstinence and self-esteem discussions) with birth control approaches and tools being taught and made available, are proven to reduce unwanted pregnancies, reduce poverty and save healthcare costs. What also frustrates me is some people who are so against abortions also are in not in favor of helping people in time of need, not in favor of better gun laws and not in favor of doing something about climate change, water shortages or environmental degradation.

I realize this draft is not official, but I am curious how the justices may react to a groundswell of women who do not like this.

A few more vignettes for Hugh Curtler from his memorial service

As a few of us have written in tribute (Lisa and Jill), our friend Hugh Curtler passed away last summer. With the pandemic upon us, his wife Linda and family delayed the memorial service to yesterday, which included an online viewing. Several friends, relatives and students spoke in tribute. Here are a few of the poignant and funny stories about our friend:

Hugh was a teacher, coach and friend. Several of his former university students and friends spoke of his impact on their lives. A few said Hugh taught them how to think in his philosophy class. Other classes were more lecture and rote, so Professor Curtler’s stood out. A few talked of changing majors or minoring in philosophy. One spoke of his mentoring.

He also started the Honors program at the university, Southwest Minnesota State, and the women’s tennis team. One of his early tennis players spoke of how it all got started and the influence Coach Curtler had on their lives. On Lisa’s blog she has a video of Hugh speaking of the tennis program start-up and rise to prominence.

But, a few funny stories were thrown in that made us smile or laugh. One former student spoke of Hugh and him walking along the campus having discussions in a Yoda-like fashion, as if Master Yoda was one of the students there. A co-ed student said she and several of her friends saw them laughing and wondered what it was all about.

A long-time friend spoke of Hugh and Linda’s bird-watching hobby. He called them both one day when an unusual bird was in his front yard and left a humorous message. He said he saw this bird and called them, but since neither were there, he just shot it and threw it in the freezer to be identified later. They knew he was joking, but were not entirely sure.

One student spoke of several students dressing in formal attire for one of his classes to celebrate a milestone. The good professor walked in and was stunned, but continued the class to the elegantly dressed students. Apparently, he still had some of the champagne left when he passed.

His sister wrote a note to be read at the service. She spoke lovingly of her brother and mentioned their common love for watching the comedienne Carol Burnett’s show on Saturday night. That was one of their touchstones. Mine too, as I grew up doing the same.

Finally, the bird-killing storyteller spoke of a recurring joke he had with Hugh knowing his feelings about politics. He would pretend to be a campaign person from a candidate Hugh did not care for and call him to thank him for his donation. He used the name Sarah Palin as an example, since she is back in the news running for Congress. He knew he could always get Hugh going with such a ploy.

Hugh will be remembered well. I miss his comments as much as I miss his blog. His voice was a lot like our British friend Roger’s, who offers context and history. Please take a look at my previous blog which has links to Jill and Lisa’s more detailed ones.

Different, not less (an important story to repeat)

As we near the end of Women’s History Month, I want to repeat a post from just last year about a woman named Dr. Temple Grandin. It bears repeating as genius can be found in all kinds of people, if we just give them a chance to shine.

I spoke recently of a movie that caught my eye the other day which is well worth the watch – “Temple Grandin” starring Claire Danes as the title character with Julia Ormand, David Strathairn and Catherine O’Hara in key roles. It is a true story of Grandin who overcame her autism to get a Ph.D and become one of the foremost designers of cattle management systems. It is well worth the watch, but please pull out the Kleenex, especially when she first speaks up for autistic kids with her mother beside her.

A key moment in the movie is when her mother, played by Ormond is trying to find a high school that will help her daughter navigate a world with autism. To her credit, her mother defied those who said she needed to institutionalize her daughter back in the 1960s. A science teacher at the prospective school, played by Strathairn, hurried out to convince Ormond to stay as she was leaving with her daughter. He said, Temple is “different, not less.” Grandin had a brilliant mind, but understood better through visualization. She could see things we could not.

“Different, not less.” The line is so powerful, Grandin uses it later as she speaks to searching-for-answers parents of autistic kids. It reminds me of a similar line in a movie about a fictitious band from the 1960s, “Eddie and the Cruisers.” Michael Pare plays Eddie, the lead singer and driving force behind the band. He looks like a “cruiser,” but is well-read and intelligent. He drafts into the band an English major played by Tom Berenger, whom they call “Wordman” because of his profound lyrics.

During the movie as they are playing a college campus, Eddie tells Wordman these people are not like them. They are different. Wordman innocently replies, “they are no better than we are.” Eddie corrected him saying “I said different, not better.” Given the reference, this comment is the same as the above title and equally powerful.

We are different. It would be rather boring if we all thought, learned and said the same things. While we may be different, we are no better or worse than the next person. Grandin designed a system that is now used in over 50% of the cattle business, but she was laughed at because she was a woman and autistic. Her simple questions were pertinent, yet ignored. Her autism allowed her to see what the cattle sees and she factored that in her designs.

As for Eddie, we should always be careful with our first impressions. People dress differently, look differently, and act differently. Yet, Eddie was a deep thinker and knew literature. We are all different, but we have the same rights, responsibilities and need to be heard. My rights are no more important than yours and vice versa.

Both of these movies are worth the watch. They each will help us appreciate what others go through. Different, not less. And, not better either.

Saturday in the park – miscellaneous musings on March 12

In deference to the band Chicago, let me metaphorically meander this “Saturday in Park” with a few miscellaneous musings. In no particular order:

-one of the Republican primary opponents for a NC US Senator seat is running a commercial against the positions of the last GOP governor who is also running. The ad focuses on what the governor said in criticism of Donald Trump to show that the governor is not Republican enough. The irony is every word the former governor said in criticism is true about the former president and my wife and I both nodded our heads yes.

-the malevolent and untruthful acting autocratic leader of Russia is accusing the US of plotting with Ukraine a bio-chemical attack against Russia. This is vintage narcissistic behavior – brand others with the accusations being made at you. The aforementioned former president uses this narcissistic defense mechanism often, so we should not be surprised when one of his idols does as well.

-any US president is given too much credit and blame for the economy. The best they can do is provide some headwinds or tailwinds, a phrase I heard about ten years ago and agree with. Usually, presidents provide some of both. But, for those who believe that the last former president created and sustained a great economy, they should realize that his predecessor saw 91 months of economic growth, six years of 2 million per annum job growth and a more than doubled stock market. So, this line of thinking says Obama was better for the economy than Trump. By the way, inflation may be up, but the economy has recovered from the pandemic slump.

-the state of Florida has passed a law which is expected to be signed that limits what teachers and schools can teach and gives parents the right to sue and be recompensed for such lawsuits. It is called the “Don’t say gay bill” but that is just part of what it does. This comes on the tail of other school limiting laws in several states about not teaching critical race theory, a catch all term, to mean a narrative that looks at the maltreatment of black and brown skinned people in our US history. I feel we are building up to a “Fahrenheit 451” movement where books will be burned that do not suit the vanilla teachings of a white washed world, where people who are not viewed as mainstream get denigrated. Or, as the Rush song “Subdivsions” says “conform or be cast out.” One of the thoughts I have is why would any reasonable person still want to be a teacher if they know they are being watched and could be sued for uttering something that someone does not like?

If we do not learn from history, the good and the bad, we will repeat things we should not. I may pull out a few old posts, but in the meantime I want readers to look up the “Lavender Scare” in the US where gays and lesbians were uncovered and fired from government jobs. I want people to look up “McCarthyism” where people were accused of being communists and blackballed from employment in a country where it is not supposed to matter what political persuasion someone is. Or, worse look up “the Greensboro Four” or “Edmund Pettis bridge incident” or “Birmingham church bombings” or “Emmitt Till” and read about how blacks were maltreated and killed.

It frustrates me when we laws cater to a narrow-minded view. It frustrates me when people try to change history or pretend it did not happen, even history we saw first hand. It frustrates me when people make things up, not because it is right, but because it sells.

May I ask you a question?

Opinion hosts, politicians and people in general get in a habit of sharing phrases, labels or names meant to be shortcuts to get people to believe the speaker or writer’s point and dismiss another person’s. Far more often than not, these terms are denigrating in nature and are a form of lazy argument.

The name callers and labelers are actually hoping no one will ask them what this label means in this context. Because, they do not really know the answer. As an easy example, have you ever used a common acronym like NASA, HMO, PPO, ERISA, NATO, etc. and then someone asks you what the acronym stands for? And, you don’t know the answer. The same holds true when people use terms meant to be derogatory short cuts.

So, how do we remedy this? Listen and read, first. Converse in person or in writing. Then ask questions. What does that mean? Do you really believe that this is akin to (evil word)? And, listen to the answer. Then follow-up with another question, but do it in a manner to understand.

If you listen to people first, it gives you more license to follow-up. Yet, I would encourage people to do so in a manner that you want in return. In other words, treat others like you want to be treated.

I often use as an example Daryl Davis, an African-American man who has successfully talked over 200 KKK members into quitting and giving him their robes. He says he starts with conversation, often because he is a musician, and then asks them questions that make them think. Think about that. A Black man convincing a White supremacist to change his or her mind by talking with him or her.

If Davis can have those kinds of conversations, so can we. After listening to someone, I have been able to ask something like “Do you really believe that or are you just saying that cause it sounds good?” “Do you really believe asking someone to (insert issue) is akin to Nazism, Apartheid, Slavery, or Genocide?”

I don’t know about you, but those four things are heinous things that happened in our global history, so if something is going to be legitimately compared to them, it better be a heinous action. A mask mandate to protect people is not Nazism. Nazism led to the murder of over 6 million Jews, while a mask mandate is trying to protect the world from COVID deaths that now total 6 million. The contradiction is staggering.

Converse. Listen. Ask. Follow-up. Be nice. Treat others like you want to be treated. To be frank, if I had an opinion that was inane because I believed a source who disinformed or misinformed me with intent, I would want that inane opinion to be questioned. Diplomatic push back. Civil discourse. Those are the keys.

Failing to teach history

The following is a letter I sent into my newspaper. Let’s see if it will get published. But, please feel free to adapt and use with your newspapers.

It troubles me that so many state legislatures have passed laws to restrict public school teachers from teaching our bad actions in history under the premise it is bothersome. Slavery of African-Americans and its persecuting brother the Jim Crow era did happen. Genocide of Native Americans and stealing their land did happen. Firing gays and lesbians who worked in government jobs under the Lavender Scare did happen. Blackballing so-called Communists under the McCarthy witch hunts did happen. And, we did detain Japanese Americans in camps.

We may not have had a Holocaust in the US where 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, but Jews did get persecuted here, too. We must know these lessons. If we fail to learn history, we are destined to repeat it. And, that concerns me

Silence is golden – a lesson still needed

A song by The Four Seasons and covered by The Tremeloes in the 1960s had a wonderful chorus echo and title “Silence is golden.” There are broader lessons beyond the words written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio. Here are the words from one of the stanzas:

“A talkin’ is cheap, people follow like sheep
Even though there is nowhere to go
How could she tell he deceived her so well
Pity she’ll be the last one to know”

Words can make people do things they may not want to do if they knew the truth. Also, a person can be his or her own worst enemy if they he or she keeps talking. There are lessons in being strategically silent, which can benefit everyone.

There are many examples that come to mind. Here are a few to ponder on:

-Once the sale has been made or the recommendation accepted, don’t revisit the issue. In consulting, if the client’s CEO shuts his presentation book and agrees with the recommendation, do not reopen the book. I have seen decisions unwound or sales lost as a result.

-When dealing with a bureaucrat in a customer service role, do not offer information outside of their purview or superfluous to the mission at hand. Once you get a customer service person outside of his or her white lines, you will need to come back with more information.

-When someone is lying or does not know the subject matter, the person risks discovery when he or she keeps talking. A certain former president is very bad at this. Mark Twain said it is better to let people think you are a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.

-As a manager it is better to give employees enough input to do a job and then let them do it. My quotable old boss used to say, “our business is easy; hire good people and have them go see our clients.”

-Just because you think it does not mean you should say it. The best come backs to some personal arguments may be better left unsaid as they may be too hurtful or a bridge too far.

-Sometimes it is better to not to shout out the answer to a quiz show question as others like a chance to say the answer.

-Finally, as a parent, asking questions and then being quiet as your kids answer will both endear you and garner their thoughts. Plus, if you want them to hear you better, lower your voice not the opposite.

Let me know your reactions to this and please offer any other suggestions.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night – a Paul McCartney encore

I wrote the following post about six years ago. Sadly, it is even more relevant today with efforts to hyper-politicize issues to garner votes under the guise of critical race theory, book banning and strategic voter suppression.

The title is from a line of The Beatles song “Blackbird” which is a tribute to the struggle for African-Americans for their civil rights. The song was sung by Paul McCartney with writing credits to both him and John Lennon, although McCartney was the lead.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Here is what McCartney said about the origin of the song in an interview in 2002.

“I’ve got a poetry book out called Blackbird Singing…..I was in Scotland playing on my guitar, and I remembered this whole idea of ‘you were only waiting for this moment to arise’ was about, you know, the black people’s struggle in the southern states, and I was using the symbolism of a blackbird. It’s not really about a blackbird whose wings are broken, you know, it’s a bit more symbolic.”

I added McCartney’s quote as I wanted the clarity around what the song means. African-Americans are still fighting an uphill struggle for their civil rights. What has happened in Ferguson, Cleveland, New Jersey, Charleston, Charlotte and Baltimore is tragic, but evidence of the disenfranchisement of African-Americans. The lack of opportunity, the malaise, the maltreatment, the deterioration of the neighborhood, the lack of respect given to people of color in our country continues.

I have noted before that Warren Buffett has said he was born lucky. He was born a white male in America. All three components of that phrase are important – white, male and America. Yes, he worked hard, but he was afforded opportunities that African-Americans do not get.  Not only do many whites like me have a hard time knowing the challenges of being black, but we also do not fully realize the advantages of being white. As I wrote recently, as a white man, there are not too many places I cannot go no matter how I am dressed. But, there are far too many stories of how a black man can be dressed in his Sunday best, yet still be stopped by the police and think “be careful as this may be the last thing I do on earth.”

I would encourage three things. First, please do not look at those committing violence and rioting as indicative of the African-American community. The community knows this is not the path forward. Second, people who look like me need to do our best to understand the challenges we have in America for people of color, but also for all people in poverty. Third, as always, talk is cheap. These issues are complex and solutions have to address many underlying concerns. There are no sound byte answers as some politicians have espoused.

I mention this last point as we must address the wide disparity in American between the “haves” and “have-nots.” This is not just an African-American issue. It is an American issue, as most people on food stamps are white. Please re-read this previous sentence. Poverty exists in urban areas, in rural areas and even in the suburbs. We have to stop the “war on poor people” and make this a “war on poverty.”

We must invest in our infrastructure and deteriorated assets repurposing them. This will spawn jobs as well in places where it is needed. We must revise our minimum wage to be consistent with a living wage for one person, which varies, but is just over $10 an hour. We must invest in education at all levels. We must embrace the Affordable Care Act as it is helping so many people and fully implement it through Medicaid expansion in the remaining 20 odd states. For some politicians to say we have a poverty problem and be against the ACA is hypocritical and shortsighted, especially when it is working pretty well.

Remember McCartney’s words and lets help these folks with broken wings learn to fly. To do otherwise, goes against what our country is all about and any of the teachings found in religious texts.