About Mark Cathcart

I was formally an Executive Director of Systems Engineering and a Senior Distinguished Engineer at Dell. Prior to that, Formerly I was an IBM Distinguished Engineer working for the Systems Group in NY and Austin. I'm currently "retired until further notice (RUFN) while I make the move to Louisville CO. I organised and was ride leader for Jack and Adams Bicycle shop rides for 8-years; I own ATxD Multisports, a boutique sports management company; I'm an adviser to the Professional Triathletes Union, and to the Executive Director of Tri Equal, which aims to level the playing field and grow opportunity for professional and age group women in triathlon.

Politics and the art of deception

Yep, lots of people are rightfully outraged at the election of Donald Trump and what the future holds. They look at his tweets, at was he says, and are super excited that he is going to do all the things he said or tweeted.

Meanwhile, back in the UK there is a whole lot of hand wringing going on about #BREXIT and what it means. It started the morning after the vote was announced, when liar, braggart, and Trump confidant Nigel Farage admitted that the £350-million for the UK National Health Service that was one of the flagship reasons for leaving the EU, was a “mistake”, or a lie.

The whole point of politics to find a way to get things done? That often r
requires a twisted tongue so as not to upset a prevailing government, or official before they’ve agreed to do what you want. It’s what Clinton mean when she said  she often had both a ‘both a public and a private position’.

Often this comes back to bite the politicians, when what they want to do is bad, doesn’t happen or in some other way backfires. Anyone who thinks that you can be open and transparent with everyone all the time, simply has not been successful at any meaningful level. Tony Blair is a fine example of this, his legacy in tatters, all the positive work he did while in office forgotten, over the lies and deception that took the UK into the “War on Terror“.

Everyone now is overheating about what Trump might do based on what he said or tweeted. First of all most of that is simple distraction. It’s throwing crumbs to the dogs, while he actually gets on with what he wants. His deception and lies though will come back to bite him, but you can’t assume he’ll do, or more importantly, be able to do everything he has claimed. It’s what politicians do, they say what they need to get the chance to do what they want.

Did you never ever tell your kids a white lie, or something that wasn’t really true to get them to do something? Did you ever threaten them when you had no real intention of following through? If you can honestly answer this no you did not, I’ve got a country you can run post BREXIT.

Assange/Wikileaks/Trump

It will be interesting to see how they play out under Trump.

The first, and perhaps least important is that of the position of Julian Assange, the erstwhile editor-in-chief of the organisation WikiLeaks. Assange has been holed up in the Ecuador’s embassy in London trying to avoid questioning in Sweden over an alleged rape charge. Assange asserts that this is a thinly veiled first step in extraditing him to the US for trial on much more sinister charges.

I debated, aka argued, with my own son that you couldn’t take anything that Assange is now doing at face value. That when wikileaks first arrived on the Internet, it was about the leak and the injustice and not the personalities. My son, remained convinced that it was about the global banking system, and their ties with powerful politicians. I disagree, for too long, wikileaks has been about Assange.

Given the timing, and manor in which the wikileaks disclosure of the DNC/Podesta emails came about, I believe this was nothing more than an attempt by Assange and wikileaks to undermine the US election. They succeeded.

It’s almost certainly no coincidence that it was announced that Assange would finally be questioned by the Swedish authorities next week. The only question that remains, irrespective of the outcome, is will a Trump Presidency go after Assange in the same way either Obama or Clinton Presidency would?

If not, does that leave wiggle room for the return to the USA of Edward Snowden? Wikileaks can and will go on without Assange. Snowden is the real hero for exposing the secret mass survailance system that Presidents Bush/Obama had setup, and now will come under control of President Trump.

Feeling had America, you should. Don’t forget the emails, the only thing we learned from them for the mot part was how the DNC set Hillary up to fail, and they gave the chattering classes something to focus on that wasn’t policy, and wasn’t difficult.

Dystopian Future it is then

In his acceptance speech, President elect Trump said, among other things:

We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.

This from a man, who tweeted:

trumpo-climate-change

I’ve no idea what to expect now from the Trump Presidency, but it’s an amazing  coincidence that the original Blade Runner film was set in In Los Angeles in November 2019, just two years from now.

Hopefully Blade Runner isn’t a metaphor for a Trump Presidency; the weather and the blade runners, especially Gaff, do not foreshadow Trumps Immigration cops; and hopefully the Los Angeles in the film, nothing like the real LA in 2019; and the replicants not an extreme of the automation I wrote about yesterday.

blade-runner

What we don’t know is how Trump will do this. Just running up the deficit doesn’t seem likely given he’s from the GOP/Republican party. Taking much of what he’s said, closing tax loopholes, defunding Nato, closing overseas bases in place like Germany, Japan and more won’t likely save enough money. You move President Trump.

Bring back what jobs?

Look, the jobs that are lost, are not coming back, get over it. When Trump claims he’ll bring back jobs, he either has no idea what he is talking about, or he envisions some dystopian future where Americans are more like slaves than they’ve been since, well, slaves.

China and Mexico are not the problem, automation is. Even if Trump were able to force companies to bring manufacturing back to ‘Merica, through punitive tax and trade barriers, the manufacturing won’t be the same as it was, ever.

Listen to this recent extract from NPR’s All Things Considered. Bertram de Souza of The Vindicator talks about steel mills following a recent visit of Trump to Youngstown Ohio.

The next wave of automation is coming, it’s in driverless vehicles, it will have a dramatic impact on employment. Automated delivery trucks, automated taxi’s, autonomous vehicles will make a large dent in the current employment of some 3-million in America. While many cities are salivating over the ability of self-driving, autonomous vehicles to fix their broken road and transport infrastructure, that’s missing the point.

There are many detailed, and complex reports on the impact of automation, pick your favorite organization and search their website, McKinsey and Company(2014); Stanford Business School(2015); Pew Internet(2016) and on, and on.

Equally there have been a few superficial recent reports in the news media, this one from US Today. One of the better, more recent articles is from Rex Nutting over on Marketwatch.Rex Nutting over on Marketwatch.

I’ve been horrified by the lack of actual policy discussion and examination of the context, detail and and lack of clarity even where there is policy. This is something we should have had a real debate about when, what and how we handle the future of automation.

It’s not as if the impact of automation is new. Depending on how you classify automation, it’s been going on since the invention of mills, but importantly since the computer became pervasive in business.

As far back as the late 1960’s it was a discussion topic. In the early and mid-1980’s automation had become a key issue for governments and businesses. This was a classic of it’s time.

A human teller can handle up to 200 transactions a day, works 30 hours a week, gets a salary anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000 a year plus fringe benefits, gets coffee breaks, a vacation and sick time… In contrast, an automated teller can handle 2,000 transactions a day, works 168 hours a week, costs about $22,000 a year to run, and doesn’t take coffee breaks or vacations. – Bennett, 1983

This is a well used quote from a report called “Bank Systems and Equipment” by Bennett et al 1983 and often misquoted and attributed to Nobel Prize winner, Wassily Leontief and  Faye Duchin, who used it in their seminal 1986 work “The Future Impact of Automation on Workers“.

img_20161107_125230I worked on an IBM Corporate study in 1998, following the release of Dunkerleys book, the jobless economy.  I still have the books on my home office book shelf.

Many of us were uncomfortable with what technology was capable of doing to our society, much more than our jobs. I’d seen it first hand and contributed to the loss of hundreds of jobs. When I first arrived at Chemical Bank in New York city in 1983, there were hundreds of people, mostly women, sat in large rooms, processing incoming credit card authorization phone calls. Within 3-years, they were all gone. Their positions had been eliminated. Replaced by simple automation of the repetitive tasks they did using search and a “database” lookup.

Some of the information and outlook from that IBM study found it’s way into this presentation I gave at meetings and conferences around the world at that time.

Automation was, and is unstoppable without a much bigger debate. Trump alone can’t fix it or stop it. Automation is a result of three, equally powerful trends.

One. The absolute fear and revulsion in America of Unions, their impact, power and influence. Sterns 1963 paper “Automation-End or a New Day in Unionism?” captured the potential impact of automation on Unions.

Two. Big corporations and the way the market values them, their ability to balance investment against revenue and more importantly profit. Investors and the market don’t care how business makes profit, and the tax authorities allow investments to be written off against profit. So removing expense, in the form of employees, and improving profits is always on the agenda.

Three. The continual consumer march towards ever more consumption and disposable, cheap goods. Perhaps more than the loss of jobs, if pernicious tax and trade barriers were implemented by any politician or President, we would see a revolt among the people, who more than anytime in history, want their stuff as a measure of their value.

So, we can’t stop automation, the jobs are not coming back. Where does that leave us?

I’m inclined to agree with Musk. The only way around the impact of automation is a universal basic income. That’s what we should have been debating this election cycle. Not fucking emails, walls, muslims and pussygate, let alone if somewhat left leaning Bernie Sanders proposals were socialism by the back door. Without serious discussion on these difficult topics, America will continue to into social conflict and fear.

Even if Trump gets elected today, those 5-million jobs we’ve already lost, and another 5-million are not coming back.

What’s the deal with guns?

Again, skirting around the election, whenever the topic of guns in America comes up, usually after yet-another-mass-shooting, I simply don’t understand. I have no context.

I recently had the chance to hear Guardian journalist Gary Younge discuss his new book “Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives” (via @amazon), with BBC Radio London, broadcaster and journalist, Robert Elms.

So much rang true. It was great hearing two people discuss guns and the bizarre attitudes towards them in the USA. Among the qoutes, and the serious discussions about 10 kids being killed by guns, the best summary of their exchange was this in the opening seconds.

YOUNGE: I was there for 12-years as a correspondant, and there were two things I never got. I never got healthcare, why would you not want that? And I never got guns…
ELMS: Why would you want that?

Gary Younge on twitter

Robert Elms on Twitter

Everything wrong with the US Financial System in one man

I’ve been avoiding blogging during the election cycle to stay away from turning my blog into another pile of steaming bile.

1848341

Image from occupy.com

The more I learn about Strumpf(any coincidence to John Olivers #makdonalddrumpfagain purely coincidental), the former CEO of Wells Fargo, the more he becomes the poster boy for everything wrong with the “too big to fail” banks.

The head of any organization sets the strategy, and the tone of the implementation of the organizations strategy. Bad ones do only one, or neither. Strumpf seems to be in the later category based on his testimonial to a House panel on the recent Wells Fargo creation of unwanted accounts, charges etc. When a major corporation has to fire over 5,000 lower level employees, the is no way the CEO wasn’t responsible for the culture that allowed this to happen.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, this morning I read Kathy Kristofs article about Strumpfs stock sale, prior to announcement of the settlement over the illegal activities. While reading this it’s worth making a mental note of the numbers and sheer scale. Remember that ordinary bank customers were charged around $2.4-million in charges related accounts they hadn’t asked for. Apart from this at least having the appearance of insider dealing/trading it reveals the absurd and clearly unjustified amounts of money in the system.

Stumpf sold nearly 3 million Wells Fargo shares in 2016, which is almost 10 times the 351,991 shares he sold the previous year, according to SEC filings. His profit on the 2016 sales amounted to $65.4 million.

Strumpf must be investigated for this, and an example made of him. Otherwise, the country and it’s leaders are sending the same message to the financial industry titans, as they would be sending to their organizations, bending and breaking the rules is OK.

For more on Strumpf, Nomi Prins has a list of his “crimes” and failings while CEO.

BREXIT Fallout Continues

While the UK Government continues to march towards BREXIT, and make the best of a bad deal while basking in much improved manufacturing numbers, the financial indicators continue to dive, hurting pretty much everything.

The pound against the US Dollar (the cable) continues near its lowest ever, while up a few cents. The chart is from xe.com, the arrow is my finest graphic work. What this adds up to to a continued fire sale of UK assets, companies.

Unless the British Government really does “reset British economic policy” things will continual get worse. It won’t be the “big bang”, “walls up”, “less immigration”, “take-back-control” it will be a much more insidious reduction in the standard of living, value of savings, loss of investments and more.

xe gbpusd

Meanwhile, my UK Bank, FirstDirect, wrote to me to alert me, following the Bank of England’s’ cut of interest rates to a record low. This in turn lead to the usual cuts in deposit and interest rates.

UK Interest rates

The FirstDirect letter makes a perfect series of excuses, and the cuts are punitive for anyone with savings, including me, although they don’t really explain why they are reducing the rate of interest for those with the least savings.

firstdirect

FirstDirect is a subsidiary of the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank (HSBC).

The appearance of impropriety [Boulder Weekly]

It’s still hard to imagine the whole Donald Trump Presidential run is serious, but it is. At the same many other communities are fighting, or trying to fight the Oil & Gas Industry over fracking; at the same time  a record-tying 5.6 magnitude earthquake took place in Oklahoma early Saturday morning and state officials have ordered the shutdown of 37 disposal wells used for fracking. Meanwhile, in Colorado, voters were unable to get meaningful measures to protect Colorado from the results of fracking.

What do these three have in common? Little on the face of it! In the current Boulder Weekly, before the Oklahoma earthquake, Joel Dyer writing an OpEd, captures in one article I think the dissatisfaction people feel with the current political system, but have been unable to express.

wreckball_590_476[1]If you take time to read the piece, don’t read about Colorado, don’t read about the failed fracking measure, read about the about the political system where everyone is an insider; and because of the way big money works, there is little difference between the people, the parties are just labels.That’s the frustration that I think most people feel.

Our state government has a very real credibility problem and it doesn’t matter if it is the result of impropriety or simply the appearance of impropriety, because both are equally destructive when it comes to the political process.

whatever you think of Clintons campaign, or Clinton personally it does matter if you believe what’s said about her, what matters is the appearance of impropriety. The opposite seems to be true of Trump, no matter how much he lies, because he is not seen as an insider, they are prepared to cut him some slack.

It doesn’t matter if you are a Boulder fractivist, a gun-rights proponent from Grand Junction, a religious conservative in Colorado Springs, an environmentalist in Durango or a fifth-generation farmer from the San Luis Valley, as long as the oil and gas industry and its millionaire backers are deciding who gets elected in this state, you lose.

This is bigger than any one issue. This is about whether we are going to choose to restore our democracy or continue to be governed by a handful of the state’s wealthiest individuals and corporations. And it’s our choice not theirs. So follow the money before you check that box on your ballot. It may be the most important thing you’ll do this year.

 

Source: When it comes to the Secretary of State’s office, the appearance of impropriety is a big deal – Boulder Weekly

The Greatest Social Challenge of our Generation — Strong Towns

This is one of the best blogs of many on the Strong Towns blog. American suburbia is only viable with heavy government subsidy and planning — It would be unaffordable otherwise.

As we see the Growth Ponzi Scheme unwinding and the first decades of what journalist Alan Ehrenhalt has called The Great Inversion, Americans are experiencing a return to normal living conditions. In many ways, it’s a traumatic transition; who-moved-my-cheese on a continental economic scale.

Source: The Greatest Social Challenge of our Generation — Strong Towns

Shared, Co-operative banking

2897D64F00000578-3077773-image-m-7_1431445606983[1]I’m still mystified over banking here in the USA, some 20-years after leaving the industry in 1986. Arcane rules; differences from State to State; duplication, overlap and the too-big-to-fail banks. I’ve complained here before.

My current frustration comes from trying to maintain two different credit union accounts. One in Texas with Amplify FCU (the ex-IBM Employee credit union) and another in Colorado, Elevations FCU. Elevations web and mobile apps are far better than those from Amplify. But both seem to be “hand-tied” by rules that were credited back in the 1980’s.

Today’s frustration is summarised in these tweets.

This, after trying to move $1,000 online from an account at Amplify, to another Amplify account, only to be told that Texas laws only a minimum of $4,000 to be transferred daily, after you transfer $4,000, you can transfer back $3,000 the same day. Huh ?

Either way, money takes forever to move around, and often comes with a heavy charge. Miss the 2:30pm deadline for transfers in Texas, that’s a different charge if you go overdrawn. Meanwhile, I can transfer money from one bank to another in the UK in less than 15-minutes, no charge. I can also transfer money from a UK Bank to a German Bank within 2-hours, no charge.