Thursday, April 1, 2021

Corporate Diversity Policies | The Illusion of Inclusion

 

Image from Time Magazine
Demographics | Minorities Defined

For the purpose of this article on workforce diversity perspectives, the word “minority” will be used to describe any worker who is a non-Caucasian and/or female of any racial/ethnic background, non-heterosexual and handicapped.

Workforce Diversity | Failure to Launch

Despite the ground-breaking 1960s legislation that legally provided greater opportunities for minorities to obtain higher education and consideration for employment in private industry, the comparative present-day, 21st century figures are abysmal by any measure. If the government provided an equally favorable financial or tax-based legislation for any other reason and a private entity was unable to markedly increase profits and market share, the CEO and upper-management would have been fired.

The Curse of Educational Finance

When one barrier is lowered, such as formerly discriminatory admissions practices in higher education, another is erected such rising college tuition that is unaffordable to most minorities except with hard-to-secure generous scholarships or fellowships.

The following chart entitled Average Total Debt of Graduates Who Took Out Loans provided by US News, provides the disturbing increase in tuition costs over a 10-year period from 2009-2019.



Supporting the challenges of paying for a US university education the following chart entitled The US Has The Highest Tuition Fees provided by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and provided by Statista, an online statistical firm:


 

Furthermore there has been an emergence of a different type of student loan financing entitled “income-share agreement”. As articulated in The New York Times article dated 25 March 2021 entitled A Novel Way to Finance School May Penalize Students from HBCUs, Study Finds, the loan is paid through the deduction of a pre-established percentage of a student’s income after graduation for a fixed period of time. In this unregulated field the interest rates are not determined by the individual student’s ability to pay rather based on the collective of students in their community which means an African-American student might pay more interest than his Caucasian counterpart even if they have the same paying job.

For this reason many minorities have no choice but to pursue an undergraduate degree from less known and less prestigious universities with considerably lower tuition rather than apply to an expensive top-tier university. The post-graduation reality is that top companies strongly prefer graduates from top-tier universities which eliminates a large pool of intellectually qualified minorities.

Tuition costs represent almost insurmountable financial peaks. If one managed to climb Mount McKinley for an undergraduate degree, K2 is the graduate program. The number of scholarships and fellowships are so few as to be meaningless to make a difference. Let’s not forget the scandal in which wealthy Caucasian parents, many of them celebrities, paid far more to a “coach” to get their children into elite universities than the tuition itself. The practice is probably more widespread than reported.

For this reason, the pipeline of qualified minority candidates for upper management positions are dramatically dropping to a trickle because a graduate degree is a perquisite for the next level. It’s not that there’s a lack of minority candidates with experience and brains, rather the pipeline has already been deliberately sabotaged at the source.

As Dr. WPS Sidhu, Clinical Associate Professor at NYU School of Professional Studies for Global Affairs, and panelist stated in the 7 February 2021 in the “Confronting Race & Colonialism in World Affairs” webinar, “Inclusive in what? Classrooms are a place of privilege.”

The Corporate Serpent’s Silver Tongue | “Divide & Conquer”

It’s an open secret from the street to the penthouse that there are highly educated and experienced minority employees whose progress up the corporate ladder and careers have plateaued disproportionately to their Caucasian counterparts because private industry has deemed it so.

Even the definition of “minority” has widened the field to include the physically handicapped (of all races) and women. Insidiously this has increased the pool of Caucasian candidates under this revised definition and effectively “crowded out” and considerably reduced the odds for African-American and Hispanics because of the limited available upper-level positions. For this reason a Caucasian female and Caucasian handicapped or Caucasian transgender person “qualifies” under this definition leaving African-American and Hispanics on the outside looking in through an agonizingly transparent bulletproof glass ceiling.

The pool of non-Caucasian talent was never lacking rather the composition. For several decades the influx of thousands of Chinese students – over 200,000 in the US – has been a lucrative cash cow for higher education institutions who pay the full tuition price. As a double bonus these higher education institutions can statistically claim that they are achieving their objectives of minority enrollment. Meanwhile American-born students, specifically African-American, Native American and Hispanics without such sovereign state financial support are still in the back of the bus.

The failure of diversity programs has statistical support through a study by The Financial Times in their 1 April 2021 article entitled Share of Black Employees In Senior Us Finance Roles Falls Despite Diversity Push, as presented by the media platform Remarkboard. [The above link also includes a podcast of the article]. In brief “African-Americans account for 13% of all finance staff and the sector’s biggest ethnic minority.” However in senior jobs their share fell from 2.9% to 2.6% from 2007 to 2018. Meanwhile there are more executives of Asian descent in senior manager positions even though there are 50% more African-Americans workers in this sector.

The definition of “minority” is more inclusive which has increased the pie, but there are thinner slices for certain minorities specifically for African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans because corporations are favoring certain minorities over others.

Like the Covid-19 virus variants, higher education and private industry have their legal variants – a rebranding - to maintain the status quo and blatantly use “diversity theater”, the tactic of recruiting, hiring and promoting “the best & brightest” amongst minority candidates. These farcical beau geste public relations campaigns have historically been reactive and legally defensive, never proactive and socially progressive after protests on discriminatory practices began literally knocking on their doors - and sometimes smashing their windows. Symbolically the exterior windows of their venues are often broken and replaced but the interior bulletproof glass ceiling never cracks.

This is why corporate have disingenuously supported Black Lives Matter (BLM) shamelessly after-the-fact by tasking their behavioral specialists in public relations to construct a customized social umbrella liability policy with the intensification of protests, destroyed property and possible boycotts. This damage control campaign featured slick public relations productions brimming with mostly smiling non-Caucasian faces that supposedly confirm their commitment to diversity.

High profile positions occupied by minorities such as former President Obama and select Fortune 500 CEOs are notable but merely an illusion and clever imagery misdirection as signs of progress towards a nation of meritocracy. But composition of minorities in the “bread & butter” governmental and corporate decision-making positions are unchanged while controlling the trickle of qualified minority candidates for top level consideration.

Because the spigot of this pipeline restricts the number of qualified minorities available to vie for upper-level positions, the present-day few in number is not a threat. Those that don’t make the cut to the C-suite are “kettled” into pre-designated departments established as the new corporate diversity work camps, highly paid but with no decision-making “teeth” or resources to accomplish the department’s mission in search of not just unicorns, rather purple unicorns.

The creation of diversity positions and departments is an additional administrative layer for the purposes of misdirection and obfuscation of the corporate personnel structural problem.

Even when those minority candidates get on the so-called “short list” for final interviews, final selection at this level is qualitative, not quantitative because those on the “short list” are already qualified. A perfect case study is the exquisite theater of the absurd demonstrated by the continued hiring of Caucasian NFL coaches despite the surfeit of qualified and experienced minority candidates.

For this reason the simmering frustration and anger of minorities continue unabated and spillover to the streets as the pandemic has exposed the blatant and open governmental and private industry discrimination, corruption and record-breaking inequities as quantified by the Gini-index.

WORKPLACE | MINORITIES’ DOUBLE BIND

One standard practice for discouraging minority promotions to the upper-management ranks is unethical and discriminatory practices that are difficult to prove. It’s the corporate practice similar to law enforcement’s tactic of arresting a suspect who’s a minority under dubious circumstances. Although he’s eventually acquitted of all charges, he now has an indelible arrest record which prevents him from future employment consideration.

In the corporate work this creation of obstacles for promotions begins at the lower levels which represent the double binds. On one hand the supervisor gives a minority worker an assignment with a specific objective. During the project the worker takes the initiative and achieves beyond the objective of the project without utilizing more resources than allotted and well within any financial or legal risks.

Instead of congratulating the worker, the supervisor reprimands the worker not for exceeding the objective, rather by not following instructions and halting at the original objective. A slight variation is reprimanding the worker for trying to “reinvent the wheel” as the present system operates fine.

This perceived micro-“insubordination” might be communicated on performance reviews stating with the misleading comment that the worker doesn’t follow instructions despite the huge corporate benefits provided by the worker.

On the flip side the same minority worker who reaches the objective and halts is “reprimanded” because he didn’t take the initiative and achieve more with the allotted resources and within the financial and legal risks. Again the variation on this undeserved criticism by the supervisor is that one can’t continue to do things the same way and must be creative and innovative to achieve a greater competitive edge.

Once again this micro-“insubordination” is memorialized in the performance review stating that the worker is intelligent but fails to take the initiative. You can feel the discriminatory presence but cannot provide a definitive legal proof.

The performance review has always been an onerous and fatally flawed politically-laden tool, even when contested, that determines the employee’s company-specific and often career path. The performance review document, counter-signed by management at various levels, is the most hated and odorous pile of corporate excrement ever created.

This is one of many clever tactics that enables upper-management to forcibly sabotage the career trajectory of talented minorities. Instead they shuffle minorities laterally between departments, a perverse corporate purgatory, which is a far easier practice to justify nowadays as corporations have flattened their hierarchy thus conveniently reducing available upper-management positions.

The No-Win Double Bind Challenge | Career Check Mate

Quite a number of these minorities have professionally and diplomatically challenged their supervisor’s judgements by requesting them to explain the differences. Supervisors are flummoxed and tongue-tied because they’ve never been challenged in this manner. Just by engaging in this professional query is a career killer within the organization which takes various forms such as being sent off to corporate Siberia – literally physically set apart from everyone else – assigned to less challenging assignments. These are the consequences one pays for greasing the corporate mask that falls off and exposes their unfiltered and brutally ugly intentions.

CORPORATE OBJECTIVES

The reality is that the corporate supreme priority is not profit rather power & control which goes against the interests of the shareholders, customers and community. Profit is important but is incorporated into the shadows of power & control in a way that they’re almost indistinguishable. But when forced to make a distinct choice, power & control is the priority since profits can be regained later – a near-term cost of doing business on their terms - while loss of power & control is far more difficult to recoup.

Corporations maintain the status quo by engaging in creative personnel accounting by shuffling minorities to the back of the bus (back office) while including them in the overall head count to assuage governments and activist groups. If they hold up in public audits and demonstrate some measure of “best efforts” through recruitment then legally they’re protected even though they’re breaking the spirit of the law.

Cagey Corporate Conspiracies

The pitch-black side of diversity is when a corporation appears to be enlightened by hiring a minority at the highest level such as CEO at the tipping point when the corporation is about to face a crisis such as a suddenly turbulent marketplace.

This pandemic period is a perfect example of extreme stress and turmoil creating the ideal environment for a political set-up. A minority candidate is provided the opportunity to succeed yet lacks the usual resources and support in the pre-pandemic era to right a sinking ship which compounds the possibility of failure. When the firm crashes and burns the minority CEO suddenly becomes the fall guy and conveniently removed. This trend was astutely articulated in The NY Times article entitled Women in Power Are Set Up to Fail, published on 12 December 2008.

The Big Tech Terror on Diversity

Big Tech has become a powerhouse in an astounding short period of time dominating the early 21st century. Its exponential growth and demands for highly-skilled technical workers has resulted in a paucity of minority workers. As with the corporate finance sector, minority workers are heavily represented by those of Asian descent.

Interestingly one might assume that the Millennial aged leadership would be more progressive than earlier leadership generations who were unaccustomed to working and living amongst non-Caucasians Fascinatingly, the Millennial leadership mindset is little altered because minorities are disproportionately represented possibly lower than during pre-Civil Rights corporate America.

The broader picture and dramatical increase of dissatisfaction among all tech workers can be viewed in the following chart entitled Tech Workers Unite! provided by Collective Actions in Tech and presented by Statista.



The perverse irony is that Big Tech aggressively markets their products & services as unifying and egalitarian yet which are increasingly privacy-invasive. Further their steep prices are out of reach of many minorities particularly during the pandemic when many of these minority students were unable to attend school remotely. For this reason they fell even further behind their counterparts.

How It All Plays Out

Against the backdrop of explosive governmental debt, business bankruptcies, restructurings and downsizing, there will continue to be considerably fewer available middle to-senior level positions for minorities to compete. The snail’s pace increase in workplace diversity continues to lag further behind the faster paced demographics of a growing educated minority population in America. This means that the social pot will continue to boil at dangerous levels while big business waits for sufficient economic recovery and business confidence to create opportunities.


© Copyright 2021 Cerulean Council LLC

The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Searing Summer of Chaos

 

Image from CNN International
The Calm Before the Storm

First the good news. Distribution hiccups vaccinations are continuing along while the loosening of social distancing restrictions throughout the country results in more commercial openings. Furthermore the new administration is behaving normally (aka reasonably predictably) while the stock market is enjoying a powerful record-setting upward surge.

Now the bad news. These positive trends represent the calm before the storm as powerful undercurrents threaten to derail the economic recovery as America strives to achieve a modicum of pre-pandemic (new) normalcy. The troika of potential trigger-point events are as follows:

1.    Political Stability: a newly elected elderly president whose mental acuity has been justifiably questioned as far back as his nomination.

2.    Urban Security: the George Floyd trial is a lightning rod for potential urban explosiveness on America’s streets that might last for months.

3.    Food Insecurity: this fragile logistical system continues to function under enormous stress and any compromise or breakdown can result in civil unrest throughout the country.

POLITICAL INSTABILITY

When President Joe Biden officially took office in January he became the oldest US president in history at 78 years old. Even to an untrained observer, it’s doubtful that President Biden’s mental acuity meets the requirements of a Commander in Chief particularly during the most tumultuous period of American history since the Civil War. Managing a present-day hydra-headed crisis would be taxing even for the youngest, most intellectually and psychologically robust of former US presidents.

This is not a criticism of Biden’s experience and ability to lead particularly as Obama’s Vice President for 8 years. Rather he’s not the Biden from 12 years ago. His recent physical missteps in boarding Air Force One are symbolic of his health concerns. As the elderly elder statesman his ability may soon be limited to that of a cardboard cutout, which is not what America needs today. To put it bluntly, he’s the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The unspoken truth is that the Biden-Harris duo are not particularly popular nor widely adored – and this is just among Democrats. Their attempt to recapture former President Obama’s rockstar credibility, status and magic amongst the Democrats is not forthcoming and never will. Without it, they will struggle mightily to galvanize support and healing amongst America’s badly fractured political and societal elements.

Because of his elderly condition it would not be unreasonable that Vice President Kamala Harris could assume some or most of Biden’s responsibilities soon than later. It would not be surprising if the present-day President-Vice President dynamic was initially pre-planned as a dual-leadership dynamic while Harris undergoes an accelerated succession grooming program.

Should Harris rise to the presidency, whether in a temporary or permanent capacity, she will face a series of daunting problems, none of which has anything to do with the pandemic or economic recovery:

·         A woman (misogyny).

·         A woman of color (racism).

·         A woman whose parents were immigrants (more racism, nationalism) – accusations that she’s a foreign agent at the highest levels – a Trojan Horse to replace Biden at a moment’s notice.

·         A woman whose husband is Jewish (racism, anti-Semitism) and supported by any number of ludicrous Jewish conspiracy theories.

With respect to the far-right and nationalists, former President Obama was an unacceptable aberration. Should Harris assume the presidency or assume presidential tasks, her mere presence for the aforementioned reasons would send them over the edge.

Dieppe in DC

How this scenario might play out leads back to the January insurrection at the Capitol building. Tactically the assault was an overwhelming success in breaching security and merely a warm-up for things to come. The lessons learned by the mob which included many experienced (ex)-military, law enforcement and other security professionals parallels the Allies’ August 1942 Dieppe raid in France against Nazi German defenders.

In an historically little-known amphibious operation, the objective was to send 10,000 mostly Canadian troops to the northern port of Dieppe, France, hold it for 24 hours, disrupt German operations and return to the UK for the purposes of intelligence gathering particularly how the Germans respond. Although many men were lost in this limited pre-Normandy operation, valuable intelligence was obtained on German defenses than enabled the Allies to adjust and successfully launch D-Day 2 years later.

This doesn’t mean a future assault on the Capital building especially since security has been fortified and placed on high alert, rather on any other municipal, state or federal building with organized assaults and long-term occupation. Law enforcement has been struggling with on-going security “operations” on the Northwest urban battlegrounds where the more disenchanted members of the citizenry are now well-versed and experienced in violent tactics.

GEORGE FLOYD TRIAL | AMERICA’S WEIMAR GERMANY GENESIS

The trial of police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of murdering George Floyd, is heading full speed on the “road to perdition” as yet another American Shakespearean tragedy potentially on a massive scale. Although this is legally a local matter, the trial has powerful domestic and residual international implications that puts the American justice system on trial which is viewed or perceived as a moral bellwether.

As fictional hedge fund owner Bobby Axelrod in the TV series “Billions” explained, “No one leaves a negotiation happy.” Whatever the verdict all sides will claim that a gross injustice has been perpetuated by the fascist or Communist cabal of elites.

Protests on an unprecedented scale will follow throughout the country overwhelming law enforcement, and inevitably the National Guard, lasting for months throughout the summer and early fall.

The new trend is that there may be larger and more direct confrontations between large groups of politically diametrically opposed groups recreating a 1920s Weimar Germany in America with an aging late 70s President Joe Biden just as late 70s German President Paul von Hindenburg.

FOOD SUPPLY CHAIN | THE DELICATE LATTICE

This is the proverbial elephant in the room, an emerging dilemma that impacts everyone. The emerging confluence of fragile supply chains, dramatic food price increases far exceeding inflation and food waste against the backdrop of massive job losses creates a desperate situation for Americans. The February month-on-month employment figures comparing 2020 to 2021 indicates that the US is still short 9.5 million jobs which makes making food purchases a matter of survival, not just clever budgeting.

Global and domestic supply chains woes will continue with stark vulnerabilities despite vaccinations and easing of restrictions. It was just as fragile for many years before the pandemic thanks to demands for greater cost efficiency in providing highly-competitive pricing through “just in time” deliveries.

Disruptive forces such as a pandemic and record-setting meteorological storms severely compromise this delicate lattice of logistical operations causing extensive delays, increased costs, and eventually a considerable drag on economic recovery.

Back in the day, robust and efficient logistics were traditionally America’s strength however within a couple of decades it has become it’s Achilles heel.

According to the UN Food Security World Food program food insecurity in developing world nearly doubled to 265 million citizens in 2020. Not only are millions of Americans lining up at food banks but also in Western Europe, notably France, Europe’s second largest economy after Germany. The societal and health & safety crisis now parallels those same dilemmas in emerging countries.

The following chart entitled Global Food Prices on the Uptick provided by the Food & Agricultural Organization of the UN (FAO) and presented by Statista, an online statistical firm, underscore the shocking spike in food prices which are devastating to those suffering through job losses and with limited income.



Furthermore the above chart supports my prescient article on dramatic food price increases published 15 October 2020 entitled Tightening Food Supply Chain to Spike Prices.

Food price increases have been running well ahead of inflation, often into double-digits. More disturbingly food companies have shrunk the quantity of food within the same packaging with unchanged prices, far fewer choices and stubbornly low inventory. The inevitable meteorological disasters such as droughts in the food belt and wildfires in California pushed food prices upward even further. Finally the crisis is exacerbated by store closures dominated and dictated by agricultural behemoths turning food deserts into wastelands, areas where food availability was unaffordable and now could be unobtainable.

The following chart entitled The Enormous Scale of Food Waste provided by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to which the US is behind China and India.


Although China and India occupy the top two positions, it must be noted that they are the world’s most populous countries each with 1.4 billion citizens. The more revealing statistic (the figures highlighted in yellow) is the estimated food waste per capita. For the US when one converts 59 kgs to lbs the US wastes 130 lbs of food per capita.

Additional figures not in the chart but included in the Food Waste Index Report 2021 by the UNEP is that the US food service sector wastes 141 lbs of food per capita and 35 lbs per capita in the retail sector.

For this reason we see the disturbing disconnect between America as the world’s breadbasket while millions of Americans suffer from food insecurity while still wasting food. It’s like filling your vehicle’s gas tank with outrageously priced fuel with a leaky gas tank.

Against a landscape of food insecurity private agribusinesses and its affiliates are a de facto oligopoly providing donations and often directly or indirectly operating food banks. These are the same corporations that influence food prices and ironically force many low-income and newly low-income consumers to become dependent on food banks from which these agribusinesses receive exceptionally generous governmental tax benefits.

Because of the conflicting economics the food supply & demand formula fails as a predictive indicator of price and level of risk because food supply & demand are “managed” by the private-public partnership. For this reason, this arrangement erases any credibility of so-called official projections or assurances by private industry and government.

This flawed and technically corrupt operational and economic model endangers the public health & welfare and requires an overhaul requiring political will, something rarer than a do-do bird. These factors are a witch’s brew that could provoke violent civil unrest regardless of political affiliation as underscored in my article originally published almost a year ago on 28 April 2020 entitled Impending Food Shortage to Provoke Civil Unrest. The vaccines will assuage the fear of Covid-19 itself, but not the aftermath of a parallel man-made crisis

 

© Copyright 2021 Cerulean Council LLC

The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security with counter-intuitive solutions.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Texan Self-Made Energy Alamo

 

Background

Recently an Ice Age-like storm consumed Texas and pushed its electrical grid to the precipice. If not for the rapid reaction of energy operators to shut down these systems, Texans would have found themselves in a perilous Mad Max landscape.

Despite this near miss, operationally Texas was transformed into a temporary failed state leaving 14 million residents without safe drinking water whose source comes from 1,000 public water systems while millions more had no electricity. Shockingly with a bit of clever editing by even rank video amateurs, one could swear the photos of suffering Texans were citizens in war-torn Syria.

Mother nature took down the grid more effectively than any rogue or state sponsored hacker or terrorist. The destruction to infrastructure far exceeded Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Hurricane Sandy (2012) which were impacted more harshly because they were coastal communities from ocean-borne storms.

For this reason, Texas, as America’s energy mecca, in a present-day world of surfeit oil and natural gas inventories due to a paucity of economic activity, was unable to deliver limited energy within the state itself. It’s analogous to the scene in the iconic movie Chinatown (1974) when the coroner quipped to private investigator Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) the irony of the water commissioner drowning during a drought.

The following chart entitled Texas Struggles Amid Crippling Blackouts provided by PowerOutage.us and presented by Statista, an online statistical firm, is a state-by-state comparative analysis of customers disconnected during the nationwide winter storm.


Self-Made Energy Alamo

Texas’ electricity grid is called the “Texas Interconnection” of which 75% of its electricity is managed by the grid operator Electric Reliability Council of Texas (Ercot). Texas is the only state which does not have inter-state electrical connectivity, a status which Texans decided since the early 20th century. For this reason their grid requires no federal oversight. Furthermore this meant that like the infamous battle at Alamo that began 23 February 1836, the winter storm which ironically began around the same time on 14-15 February 2021, no one could come to their rescue.

Because of deregulation Texas residents receive competitively retail priced electricity, slightly below the national average. However, according to the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) the average Texas resident’s electric bill is higher than the national average because their average monthly consumption is higher than the national average. The average nationwide monthly electric bill is $115.49 versus the average monthly Texan’s bill of $134.07.

For the purposes of understanding the breadth of the crisis the following is a chart entitled How Texas Generates Its Electricity provided by Ercot and presented by Statista.



 

Texas-Size Psychological Stress | “Houston, We Have a Problem”

Rarely mentioned specific to Texas is the elevated severe psychological stress. Texans are more accustomed to blistering heat waves and the ensuing energy problems rather than severe cold. Extreme weather hot or cold can cause the same energy outages but the former is far better experienced. Finally, far fewer Texans are properly prepared with Arctic conditions to cope with respect to winter clothing, blankets, etc. For example with respect to large urban cities the average winter temperature range in Dallas is between 41-61 degrees Fahrenheit and for Houston it’s between 45-60 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The Limits of Control”

In defense of utilities, even an unlimited budget will always be surpassed by unlimited meteorological power. In a world of stupefying self-entitlement and psychological snowflakes, there’s an utopian illusion that there exists the perfect business model, blessed by government, enabling the community to withstand any force majeure event and cover every contingency while providing uninterrupted level of service at competitive prices.

On a personal level, imagine yourself falling heads over heels over an affordable property located in a well-known historical flood zone. You know the risk and are willing to purchase the property along with more than enough flood insurance. Furthermore you’re also informed that historically there are mild earthquakes that occur once every 50 years so you buy earthquake insurance – at a far cheaper premium because of its low probability of occurrence. Wouldn’t you know it a massive earthquake hits causing damage that exceeds your earthquake insurance.

Well a similar event happened in Texas. Increasingly brutal heat waves are the historical norm however extreme winter storms occur far less often, the last occurring in February 2011 and the one before that in 1989. Can you imagine the press and public outrage over the millions spent on the “winterization” of facilities if there are no winter storms but severe heat waves? It’s akin to purchasing a goose-down coat for that occasional freakish cold snap as a resident of a Caribbean island instead of more SPF protection cotton shirts, pants and hats. Whether governmental, private or personal, it’s budgetary real politik.

Sclerotic Status Quo

How will Ercot and Texas political leadership mitigate present-day, near and far-future infrastructure vulnerabilities?

·         The long-term multi-billion dollar requirement to upgrade and harden an aging infrastructure against particularly against winter storms which occur infrequently will be discussed but never undertaken. Why?

·         A technical bankrupt state and deeply politically divided federal government which nullifies such funding.

·         Accepting “free” federal money, if offered and available, would establish a lethal political precedent with respect to federal government mandates and inevitably open the floodgates to future federally-mandated and controlled projects. In others words a loss of independence and control called state sovereignty.

·         Texas is one of the reddest of red states before it was red. Even if it was blue, Texas is Texas and always will be – independent and answerable to no one. State sovereignty plus.

·         Ercot will craft a brilliant, non-binding plan in their public relations campaign without doing anything operationally substantive, perhaps only changing/modifying crisis management protocols, because of the aforementioned reasons and guaranteed negative return on investment - a corporate pushback.

In other words, nothing will be done even if Texas, or hell, whichever comes first, freezes over. Literally. Going forward for Texas and everywhere else, it’s not a question of solving the problem, rather containing the crisis.

“Brace for Impact” | Economic Vulnerabilities

 

The implications when the grid and other systems collapse will be catastrophic. The magnitude of the Texas electrical grid failing for an extended time is mind-boggling. Consider the following: 

·      Texas’ gross domestic production (GDP) of $1.887 trillion qualifies as the world’s 9th largest economy behind Italy’s $2 trillion and ahead of Brazil’s $1.8 trillion. Furthermore the 2020 arrival or expansion of operations from Amazon, CBRE, Tesla, HP and Oracle to Texas has considerably increased the size of Texas’ economy. Its collapse will crush the American economy in a myriad of ways along the efficient yet vulnerable supply chains which rely on energy.

·         Texas is America’s energy mecca and energy producing powerhouse that was left temporarily impotent by mother nature. America went from energy self-sufficiency to energy-dependent on imports overnight. An economic contagion would spread almost immediately.

·         These vulnerabilities are not unique to Texas but are now manifesting into economy-killer events that occur in states with essential, country-size powerhouse economies. We are in a cycle of more severe and frequent storms which will adversely impact an aging infrastructure whose series of blackouts, brownouts and other outages are an added burden to America’s economic recovery.

“Brace for Impact” | Crowd Control Chaos

·         According to Ercot executives Texas was minutes away from a total grid collapse which would have resulted in limited or no power for months until replacement parts were installed in a myriad of electrical substations and other facilities. The B-movie “just in time” rescue prevented an inevitable societal collapse. Imagine a population of almost 30 million residents – similar to that of Ukraine - with no power, no electricity, no fuel, useless supply chain for food deliveries – a monumental humanitarian crisis would ensue.

Texan society would revert to a “frontier” survivalist mindset and a violent one at that as citizens would devolve to their primal instincts for survival armed with lots of firepower and the formation of neighborhood militias directed by local warlords. Imagine a Texan version of the original apocalyptic movie Mad Max (1981) that interestingly took place in Australia, a similar geographic landscape.

For this reason a prolonged state of emergency situation could ignite a powderkeg. The link to the following chart entitled Gun Ownership by State (2021) presented by the Pew Research Center provides nationwide gun ownership. Gun ownership from Texas’ population of almost 40 million is 35.7%. This translates to 10.71 million gunowners averaging 18 guns per gun owner. Total registered guns are 588,696, the key word being “registered”.

Probably no one can sum up the dire possibilities of a grid failure anywhere in the US better than the late yet prescient George Carlin’s skit of a world without electricity. Carlin mentions it would take two years for us to return to the Stone Age but the darker truth is that it would take a mere two weeks.


© Copyright 2021 Cerulean Council LLC

The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security with counter-intuitive solutions.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Exporting American Apple Pie Extremism

 


Apple Pie Origins

The “Made in America” Weimar Republic-like chaotic violence last spring and summer reached a crescendo of intensity with the dramatic assault and occupation of the US Capitol building in early last month with the temporary “planting” of the Confederate battle flag. Notwithstanding the following week the Inauguration was held, a lawful and peaceful transition but under a police state level of security underscoring the present-day brittleness of American democracy.

Because the impossible has become the plausible, certain present-day governments must be shaking in their boots fearing a surge of social upheaval and threat to their control. If the US, a beacon of political stability and civilized democratic practices, can come to the brink of implosion with the urging of elected political figures at the highest levels, then such an insurrection is not only likely, rather inevitable elsewhere. Think of this situation as the 21st century domino effect with its genesis originating in the US.

France and Germany | Turning Point Elections

The US, a democratic empire with respect to dwarfing every other nation in economic and military might and a longer and deeper running democracy, fissures are appearing in its socio-economic-political model. European democracies such as Germany and France have their respective growing legitimately elected ultra-conservative political parties which are making dramatic gains in government representation and have gained a certain level of respectability with the mainstream.

For ultra-conservative and perhaps radical political elements, America’s beacon of light has a darker and more sinister hue that has tacitly “legitimized” the next level of political aggressiveness because it is either silently supported or not challenged by their well-educated mainstream demographic.

And like their American counterparts who reach back to a delusional revisionist past chanting the mantra, “Make American Great Again”, European homegrown radicals and sympathizers espouse their own version of an undemocratic, ruthless and racist era such as the Third Reich and France’s colonial empire.

The political crossroads for Germany and France are looming on the horizon. Germany has major federal elections this fall. France’s presidential elections are scheduled to take place in May 2022. With the departure of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, there is no dynamically strong incumbent to serve as an anchor for democratic principles against ultra-conservative parties like the Alternative for Germany.

In France Marine Le Pen’s popularity is surging and according to several highly regard polls, she’s within striking distance of seriously challenging President Macron to whom she lost in a landslide in 2017. Keep in mind that President Macron was an unknown who came from nowhere in forming his own party and within a year of its formation had captured the Elysee.

The ultra-nationalists in both countries are gaining traction because of the pandemic-induced recession and deteriorating economies not to mention draconian lockdowns. Without a strong and noticeable economic recovery in the near future public sentiment will doubt the ability of traditional centrist parties and seek the alternative light, albeit a dark one, in the form of torches.

Russia | Krashing the Kremlin

Although many illiberal democracies and autocratic governments might be reveling in glee over the siege at the US Capitol building that counters the US pro-democracy advocacy, only the most near-sighted of them can’t ignore that those mob scenes may be a preview that could occur among their own citizenry. If such an insurrection could occur in Washington, DC on large scale and come within a whisker of harming high-level government officials, then anything is possible.

In the past weeks protests have swelled across a wide political-socio-economic demographic swath in 100 cities from Moscow to Vladivostok despite brutally cold weather. This has compelled Russian law enforcement to arrest and detain thousands, more than the “usual suspects” including over 80 journalists.

Nonetheless it’s not the thousands unarmed protestors that keeps Putin & Company up at night. Though visually impressive, the number of protestors doesn’t come close to threatening the present-day leadership. Rather Putin fears the erosion of political power in the upcoming legislative elections in September 2021 for the 450 seats in the State Duma of which United Russia the ruling party has 343 seats.

Strangely Putin is manifesting his own Twilight Zone déjà vu demise in the potential disintegration of his personal empire in the same way he witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union. The sentencing of his political nemesis Alexi Navalry for 2½ years makes it difficult to determine how this will play out with future protests. But like all ultra-nationalists, the tighter the grip, the more brittle the control.

With respect to security, five years ago Putin had Cassandra Complex-like foresight to establish special National Guard as a counter-measure for such contingencies. My article entitled Putin’s SS – The Kremlin’s Bodyguards published 30 December 2016 described the consolidation of several security services to form a 350,000 man force based exclusively in Moscow under his direct command.

Turkey | Overlooked and Under-Appreciated

The country that the mainstream media frequently overlooks with respect to their socio-economic situation is the crushing poverty that the pandemic has caused the general population, pushing many in the middle class into poverty for the first time in generations. This situation is creating and stoking a potential social unrest tinderbox that Erdogan’s government is ill-equipped to resolve economically with some form of relief funds.

According to a 2019 Income and Living Conditions Survey of the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) 17 million Turks live below the poverty line in a population of 81 million. The survey’s definition of “poor” is when incomes are 60% less than the median income. In Turkey that translates to 21.5 million poor families.

The 2020 survey, which would encompass pandemic related issues, won’t be released until this upcoming September. For this reason the present-day economic suffering is anecdotal rather than quantitative. Although Turkey’s presidential and general elections for the 600 member Grand National Assembly aren’t scheduled until 2023, popular discontent is growing rapidly and can boil over well beforehand.

Instability in Turkey is a critical concern for the rest of Europe because Turkey is a buffer between Europe and the anarchistic situation in the Middle East not to mention the hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Copycat Chaos

The burning questions is, “What are we in for?” The clumsy, uncoordinated, haphazard and incompetent efforts by vaccine manufacturers and governments to distribute the vaccine and continued imposition of draconian lockdowns serve as a catalyst for conspiracy theories of a masterplan orchestrated by a shadowy elite. It’s perfect public relations fodder for opposing political groups who realize that they won’t have a better opportunity than now to challenge and replace the present-day governments whether at the ballot box or otherwise.

The depth of the discontentment among a wide & deep swath of the mainstream demographic in many countries is articulated in The Atlantic’s article entitled The Capitol Rioters Aren’t Like Other Extremists, published 2 February 2021. In sum the majority of the protestors are first-time protestors, middle age professionals, with no affiliation with ultra-conservative or radical groups.

Similarly in Russia the demographics of the protestors include many first-time protestors who are middle age across the political spectrum from Stalinists, nationalist and urban professionals, not the stereotypical narrowly defined reckless youth.

Worldwide discontent occurring simultaneously in key countries that will compel these governments to batten down the hatches and focus their efforts domestically making international cooperation more difficult. Finally international cooperation on a myriad of issues will be exacerbated should there be a dramatic change in political parties in the aforementioned countries.

 

© Copyright 2021 Cerulean Council LLC

The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

US Homeland Tet Offensive

 

 

The Fifth Column Arises

An extremely dark historical déjà vu reenactment is being played out present-day in real time that is recreating events in the tumultuous year of 1968. Thousands of American extras are engaged throughout the country in sowing violence & mayhem in a reenactment of the Tet offensive but on American soil potentially at the Inauguration and certainly post-Inauguration.

Already the FBI is vetting members of the National Guard brought in from numerous states who are assigned to support local law enforcement against violent protests and any other threats during the Inauguration.

·         Firstly, it seems an impossible task to vet every one of the thousands National Guardsman thoroughly enough to pass with a high degree of certainty that a member poses no threat during the ceremony.

·         Secondly, is the FBI vetting local law enforcement from which several members were alleged to be sympathetic to the pro-Trump protestors who laid siege on the Capital building?

·         Thirdly, and not least, following the old security adage, who’s vetting the FBI?

Disturbingly neither the National Guard nor local law enforcement in any part of the country have the training and experience in riot-control or have sufficient riot-specific equipment. For this reason to compensate, the temptation to use excessive force, particularly if they feel that their lives are in danger, is extremely high.

This is why the alleged pro-Trump plan to protest at 50 state capitals regardless of the size or even non-violent protest is a devious quantitative gambit. The odds of any protest, anywhere devolving into violent confrontation is high and can trigger a cascade of escalations elsewhere thanks to social media.

US Homeland Tet Offensive

The Vietcong (VC) launched the infamous Tet Offense – the Vietnamese New Year – on January 30, 1968 with simultaneous attacks on 100 towns and cities throughout the country. Their objective was to provoke a popular uprising against the South Vietnamese government. Although despite the ferocity of their efforts the VC failed militarily but won politically in the long run because it decisively turned the American public against the US government’s involvement in Vietnam.

Jumping off the pages of a Twilight Zone script, a disturbing historical parallel is unfolding domestically in which, according to the FBI, a determined and well-supported armed anti-government movement is threatening 50 state capitals. 

January | Historical Déjà Vu

The following are the astonishing historical parallels between the Tet offensive in 1968 and the present-day violence in the US 53 years later in the same month:

·         The US was deeply divided politically and racially during the 1960s and present-day with violent protests that led up to the furious assault on government buildings.

·         The VC assault took place during Tet - their Lunar New Year - while the assault on the US Capitol building took place near our political New Year called The Inauguration in the same month of January.

·         In Vietnam and the US extremist elements surprised governmental forces.

·         Anti-government forces, VC and pro-Trump extremists, assault the US Embassy in Saigon (then South Vietnam’s capital) and the US Capitol building in Washington, DC, respectively.

·         In each assault the VC and extremists breached the outer security perimeter and had the opportunity to breach the inner sanctum to kidnap, or perhaps worse, the US Ambassador and Congressional members, respectively but never did.

·         In each assault on US territory exactly 5 Americans died.

·         Throughout Vietnam assaults against US and South Vietnamese forces raged. Present-day potential violent forces are targeting government, corporate and other important buildings.

Seizing power through physical confrontation and reversing the election results is impossible. However like the VC, politically pro-Trump supporters can gain more sympathizers by planting the seeds for the GOP’s eventual return to the White House in 2024.

Because the venues for Inauguration Day are already predetermined pro-Trump supporters may encounter counter-protests at many of these venues. In other words, all hell could break loose throughout the week with the National Guard, law enforcement and citizens caught in the middle of endless riot firestorms.

The following chart entitled DC Troop Levels Five Times as High as Iraq & Afghanistan provided by the US Department of Defense, Task & Purpose, The Drive and provided by Statista, an online statistical firm, embarrassingly shows the overwhelming force required to maintain the peaceful transfer of power in the nation’s capital.



“Smile! You’re On Candid Camera!” | Citizens With Nothing to Lose

It may seem odd and ludicrous that the many pro-Trump supporters who stormed the US Capitol building not only didn’t wear masks but enthusiastically took selfies, were easily identifiable afterwards. This meant that the rioters absolutely knew beforehand that their images would be recorded by security cameras in and around Capital building but didn’t care that it would lead to criminal charges, loss of jobs or become nearly unemployable when identified.

The aforementioned is the unsettling part because it signifies that these are people who feel that they have nothing to lose and, as the adage goes, makes this group extremely dangerous. Just as the Western media is befuddled about the religious true believers in emerging and developing countries who are willing to risk everything against their respective present-day governments or join violent groups in failed states, the same is being played out domestically.

Similar to the Tet offensive, it also means that these protests will not simmer down or burn out over the course of several weeks or months, rather during the entire Biden administration until the climax of the 2024 US presidential election with the tacit support of likeminded powerful elements at the highest levels of every industry.

Interestingly there’s a stupefying weird perspective of the present-day violent surge of pro-Trump protests. During Trump’s 2016 inauguration there was a paucity of these same pro-Trump supporters to celebrate his election victory. Yet they’ve emerged from every nook & cranny in the thousands as Trump is about to leave office to fervently support him at his unabashed urging and continue the fight against the Biden Inauguration.

“Who Are Those Guys?” | Mainstream Citizens Going Mad

The following chart entitled Anti-Government Extremist Groups in the US provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center and provided by Statista, underscores the continued anti-government groups in the US. Although the number of groups have declined since the Obama administration, many of these present-day extremists – a cross-section of American society from struggling blue workers to highly-paid white collar professionals are radicalized with an unabashed willingness in committing violent acts.


The ominous coalescence of the present-day groups is that they bring a dangerous cross-section of skill sets, experience and insider knowledge from a wide variety of professions to more effectively undermine the incoming administration which makes them far more dangerous than the earlier street thuggish, anti-government groups.

Bright Light in a Narrow Tunnel

The urgency of the Biden administration is to avoid a “Dark Winter 2” in 2021-2022 at all costs. If this spring through early fall Covid cases and deaths fail to abate and supersede inoculations, and medical personnel burn-out with hospitals running out of supplies, equipment & medicine, the US could become a struggling faraway emerging country with enormous resources blocked but by incompetence and corruption.

The realpolitik is that Covid has become a sideshow, a political lightning rod for the opposition. Defeating Covid is a matter of scientific power which is slowly being accomplished.

The real issue is the faltering real economy which has enslaved millions of Americans into debt and poverty. The citizenry is infuriated because they believe that the decades-old socio-economic-political structure has failed them over the course of many administrations and caters exclusively and rather openly to the elite. To put it bluntly these citizens have many valid points. The government and corporations have the power yet lack the will to make fundamental structural changes for the public good.

With opposing sides digging in their heels unwilling to even discuss these matters in earnest, as the song goes “Something’s gotta give” but may be increasingly decided on the streets, not at the ballot box.

 

© Copyright 2021 Cerulean Council LLC

The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

America’s Dark Democracy | Werewolves Unleashed

 

 

Political Civil War

In a Twilight Zone déjà vu there are fascinating yet disturbing historical parallels as Inauguration Day approaches. The shot that killed the US Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt trying to enter the US Capitol building and who now serves as the martyr rallying cry of the pro-Trump extremists, can be eerily compared to the first shot that ignited America’s Civil War at Fort Sumter in 1861, both occurring during a period of a nation deeply divided.

For some historical perspective in July 1864 Confederate Lt. General Jabal Early led a battle-hardened, grizzled military force towards Washington DC known soon to be called the Battle of Fort Stevens and almost succeeded in breaching its defenses. Fortunately for the Union, Early’s long march towards the capital under blistering summer conditions and the need to rest for several days upon arrival delayed the main assault by several days. This fortuitous delay enabled the Union Army to frantically muster enough men to carry out a canon bombardment which discouraged a main assault.

In January 2021 pro-Trump supporters had far more success with less personnel than Lt. General Early in breaching the Capitol building’s under-manned security, entered the building and came within a hairsbreadth of capturing members of Congress.as hostages

Ironically, despite pro-Trump supporters having far less firepower than Lt. General Early, the National Guard will post 20,000 in & around the city for the upcoming 2021 inauguration, slightly less than the 23,000 troops that defended Washington DC in 1864, which powerfully underscores the seriousness of the crisis.

Warlord Trump’s Werewolves

There’s no doubt that this 21st century political civil war is just getting started that will regularly go beyond heated verbal rhetoric. This third surge is undoubtedly a man-made political plague instigated by the proverbial presidential stamp of approval to not only continue rather escalate the fight well after he leaves office. The pro-Trump supporters “voted” with their military surplus boots in storming the Capitol. They may not have “captured” members of Congress but their mission was a success beyond their wildest dreams. This has only emboldened and galvanized this new movement.

More disturbingly is that this event represents a far-deeper breach into the minds of Americans and despite all its democratic laws and military might, exposes the fragility and vulnerability of America’s democracy.

Although Biden clearly won the election with the Electoral College and popular vote it was far from decisive. For this reason this non-decisive victory provides pro-Trump supporters fodder to pursue the “stolen” election claim, one that was not won “beyond a reasonable doubt”, a phrase that cannot be defined quantitatively. Only a Biden landslide would have been the coup de grâce and pre-empted mass violence at the Capitol. Interestingly the election results indicate considerably more about the weakness of Biden’s victory than of Trump’s defeat.

In war there are often a handful of violent diehard holdouts after a formal surrender encouraged by the defeated or deposed leadership. A similar situation might occur in the aftermath of Trump’s election defeat. Trump may be censored on social media yet a multitude of pro-Trump groups have already arisen to communicate his “gospel” to those who consider our constitutional laws as mere guidelines. 

In an oft-repeated historical pattern, after regimes were defeated militarily, the ousted government still held powerful political sway in present-day democracies. The US is no exception. The Trump administration and subsequent scorched earth tactics at the US Capitol building is justifiably alarming and reveals the breath & depth of his influence.

Trump’s charismatic powers run far & deep among his diehard constituency. He received over 74 million votes amongst a wide range of citizens from the unemployed, blue collar disaffected workers to the hidden, albeit wealthy and powerful, not to mention millions of sympathizers all of which represents a daunting demographic. The dramatic violent maelstrom on the Capitol building is confirmation that these 74 million strong voters have his back.

One doesn’t have to read between the lines of Trump’s public statements before, during or after the storming of the US Capitol that he’ll relish assuming the role of a post-presidential warlord and take advantage of an America, physically, economically and psychologically weakened by the pandemic.

The Two Front War

The present-day devastating pandemic surge throughout the country is a drain on the economy that threatens to blow past stress test parameters and triggers an economic seizure and possible collapse.

The incoming Biden administration, along with the “good” members of the GOP who support our democratic institutions, face a daunting two front war each of which has equal top priority:

·         The first is international, the continuing external threat primarily from the emerging troika of China, Russia and non-states, who now smell blood in the water, and intensify their cyber-intrusions.

·         The second is domestic, the internal threat from the pro-Trump continency who, aside from the violent shock troops, has hidden and powerful supporters at all levels of business and society that could undermine socio-economic recovery efforts.

The Biden administration is in an unenviable lose-lose situation that serves merely as a paper stop-gap until the decisive presidential 2024 election that will indelibly determine America’s path in the 21st century.

The Sequel | The Security Nightmare

The overwhelming attention is focused on a potential replay of violence by pro-Trump supporters not only at the inauguration rather at cities throughout the country and during the rest of this dark winter. What is overlooked or perhaps rarely mentioned, are the equally violent extreme leftist counterparts that are just itching for a “pitched battle” whether before, on or after inauguration day in any city or town in the US in a perverse re-enactment of the urban pitched battles during the Weimar Republic.

These unfolding events were articulated in my article published on 7 August 2020 entitled The Upcoming Phases of Turmoil specifying the intensity of violence before the election, the period between the election and inauguration and post-inauguration.

Furthermore the catalysts of violence are the newly inspired lone wolves and anarchists whose sole objective is violence and mayhem> They represent the accelerant that fuels the hatred by hiding under the socio-political banner of either side as they did with the nascent BLM movement.

If violent clashes escalate well past the inauguration period, there’s the potential for the state or federal government to declare a state of emergency and lockdowns. Further along should these emergency measures fail to quell the violence, they may become codified America. This step of last resort will trigger America’s descent down the slippery and often politically unrecoverable path towards a dak democracy whose constitutional rights are interpreted as privileges to be taken away selectively at the whim of the public/private, corporate/governmental masters in an organically produced domestic real-life version of the dystopian series “The Man in the High Castle”.

 

© Copyright 2021 Cerulean Council LLC

 The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.