Category Archives: Featured

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Ep. 88 – Collaborative Robots on Haas Mills with Timo Lunceford

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the show is Timo Lunceford, general manager of Swiss Productions, a 25,000-square-foot Swiss CNC shop in Ventura, California, that specializes in fluidic medical components.

Recently Swiss Productions introduced two 7-axis collaborative robots to work in tandem with two Haas CNC mills. Timo says the robots increase the production on each machine by the equivalent of 30-40 hours per week.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Main Points

(3:00) Timo discusses his background. He Joined Swiss Productions at age 20 when he married the owner’s daughter. He has worked his way up from the very bottom to Vice President and General Manager.

(6:00)  Timo describes how Swiss Productions grew from an 8,000-square-foot shop with just 12 machines to a 25,000-square-foot facility with over 50 machines. He says 70% of the company’s business is making medical device fluidic components. It also manufactures parts for irrigation, automotive, and aerospace industries.

(7:55) Timo speaks about the company’s unique experience manufacturing parts for the medical industry. He says a major part of growing in that sector is networking and developing relationships around the world. 

(10:40) Timo talks about introducing collaborative robots to the machine shop. The company recently purchased two OB7 cobots from Productive Robotics. Timo says the company chose that brand because it seemed to be very user friendly and features 7-axis models.

(12:20) Timo says that at first employees were suspicious about the role of the robots in the shop. However, soon they realized that their jobs were not at risk and that the robots handled tedious labor, which freed them up to complete more interesting tasks.

(12:50) Timo describes how the OB7 robots help make valves for syringe pumps working in tandem with Haas mills. The robot picks up the unfinished valve, opens up the door of the machine, blows out the collet inside the machine and puts the unfinished part in the machine. Then, it opens a collet holding a finished part, takes the part out and drops it into a bucket. The robot then closes the collet, closes the machine’s door, and hits the start button on the machine. The robots can run lights out.

(14:40) Timo discusses the uniqueness of the OB7 model and how it is programmed through demonstration.

(15:45) Timo speaks about how the shop has increased the productivity of their two Haas mills by 30-35% using collaborative robots. He estimates the shop saves 30-40 production hours a week on each machine.

(16:20) Timo says that time is the most precious commodity for both the business and its employees. For the last 10 years, employees at Swiss Productions have enjoyed a 4-day workweek (10 hour days). He says that automation is playing a part to save the company money and give employees more time with their families.

(19:30) Timo says that Swiss Productions has remained operational throughout the COVID-19 pandemic because it is considered an essential business. He shows a picture of the syringe the company makes components for and describes how it is incorporated in tests for the virus. (see video above) He says last week he learned that the syringe component has been used in over 9,000 tests per day. He says that knowing that the parts his company makes save lives gives him purpose.

(21:00) Timo says he wants to understand how every part his company makes is used and how it makes a difference in the world. He says that sharing this knowledge with employees gives them purpose and motivates them to do great work. He encourages everyone in the machining business to go to work with a passion because it is an opportunity to change the world.

Question: Why are you NOT using robots in your shop?

 

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Bet Your Life

By Lloyd Graff

“Life is a game of incomplete information.” 

These are the words of Maria Konnikova, a writer and psychologist who learned how to play poker and then played on the professional poker tournament circuit to write her new book, The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win.

Konnikova read from her book and discussed it with Stephen Dubner on the Freakonomics podcast this week. I found it particularly relevant because our family is now wrestling with a difficult decision while knowing that we have incomplete information, fear, and personal history to contend with.

The question is whether to get together as a family for a week to celebrate our recent 50th wedding anniversary.

I know many other people are grappling with whether to get together as a group for an extended period of time, requiring travel, expense, and above all, the possibility of people getting very sick.

My daughter and her husband and three children live in the Bay Area of California. The COVID-19 epidemic has subsided significantly there, and they have followed the local protocols religiously. The plan has been for them to come to Chicago in early August, and with my sons and their families, to go to South Haven, Michigan, for a week on the shores of Lake Michigan. This trip was planned a year ago, long before the pandemic. 

The economic question of paying for or canceling the three cottages in Michigan forced a decision upon us this week. If we gave up the cottages before July 9th we would not be penalized for backing out. 

We had a lot of imperfect information on which to make our decision. How dangerous was it from a sickness standpoint to travel by air from California? Are the COVID-19 tests accurate for both the current illness and antibodies? Could we maintain social distancing with 11 people, including kids who like to hug and play games and eat together? 

What Konnikova stressed throughout her interview was that in life we are always dealing with uncertainty. A doctor does her tests, takes a history, monitors symptoms, reads the journals, and talks to her peers to make a diagnosis, but then can still get it wrong. In poker you have to deal with the unseen down cards as well as deceptive techniques like bluffing. This could be similar to receiving lousy information from a patient.

But ultimately, a poker hand, a diagnosis, or even a trip, forces you to make a call. If a doctor is hesitant the patient will detect it, which may affect the outcome. A hesitant play in poker is an easy tell for a smart opponent to take advantage of. 

For our family, the indecision about the trip was causing anxiety for all of the adults involved. The underlying fear was the awful “what if my wife and I got COVID and ended up in the hospital.” We’ve both had open heart surgery, so the dire possibility could not be ignored. 

We gave in to the 1% or less possibility of a bad outcome for the family trip to Michigan. But we still have the opportunity for the family from California to stay at our big house with its large backyard in Chicago.

What Konnikova stressed is that there is no such thing as objective reality. However, the best poker player or the smartest decision maker has the ability to get outside of herself to see her own biases, fears, and assumptions. 

The question about the anniversary get-together is whether we can look at our fear for what it is and be wise and gutsy enough to accept the extremely small but real risk. I have reached that point, but my wife still isn’t sure that the risk is worth the reward. 

Konnikova’s book deals with the fact that life is not poker. It’s a lot messier. The consequence of a bad decision about COVID-19 could be death, while in poker it’s just losing chips. But the skills in poker and in life have many things in common. Developing a legitimate personal confidence that you will be right much of the time, while accepting that bad cards occasionally can kill the best of players is the way to live your life to the fullest.

Question: Would you go to a family gathering?

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A Gap in My Perception

By Lloyd Graff

We just recorded the biggest gain in stock prices for any quarter since 1998 with American unemployment at unprecedented levels. You don’t need to read the obvious in this blog, so let’s talk Yeezy, Kanye West, and Gap.

Gap stock rose 42% in one day last week when Kanye West announced he was designing a clothing line with his Yeezy brand on it, exclusively for Gap for 10 years. Gap’s value jumped $2 billion dollars with the news.

Being no fan of hip hop music, but mildly interested in West because he grew up near where I did on Chicago’s South Side, and because he met cordially with Donald Trump at the White House, I checked out Yeezy. The brand has turned Adidas from the German blahs to Jordan-esque cool with outrageously priced sneakers. A Yeezy pair of gym shoes may sell for $500 a pair if you can get them.

I really don’t feel the allure of celebrity apparel, but undoubtedly West is hot today and Gap, where Kanye worked as a kid, is capitalizing on his caché. Will Kanye West become a fading yesterday in a year? Not likely, with the magic of his wife, Kim Kardashian, continually polishing his image?

***

Another brand that fascinates me with its phenomenal stock performance is Peloton. The company sells an exercise bike and will lose more than $100 million this year. Yet it is worth more than Ford and Chrysler, and its stock has more than doubled since it went public a few months ago.

You don’t buy a Peloton at Dick’s Sporting Goods or Target. For $2,000 you can buy the hardware, but the secret sauce is the $40 a month subscription fee, which brings you a huge array of virtual programs. It also buys you status, because the Peloton bike is the Tesla of exercycles. Like Kanye’s $500 Kicks, it is the brand of the cool rich folk on the 40th floor of Manhattan high rises. And you can use it without having to schlep to the gym and put on a mask with the other infectious plebeians.

The branding is working brilliantly. The company is worth $16 billion.

***

Another fascinating story is Nikola, headed by Elon Musk wannabe, Trevor Milton. The company went public a couple weeks ago and has a market cap approaching $30 billion. They plan to build hydrogen powered semi-trucks at a yet-to-be-built plant near Phoenix. They might get a vehicle on the road in a couple of years. They are also taking reservations for a battery powered pickup truck called the Badger, which will eventually compete with Tesla’s Cybertruck, which Musk is already testing.

Nikola’s branding is clever, right down to the name, which is a play on the first name of the famous Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla.

***

One other stock I like to follow is DraftKings, which is an online sports betting company. The stock goes up and down with the likelihood of playing the baseball, basketball, and football seasons. When COVID flares up and players fall ill, the stock price falls. The company is valued around $10 billion dollars now. It is a play on the likelihood of a viable vaccine in a short period of time.

An assessment of Gap, Peloton, Nikola, and DraftKings, paints a colorful picture of America around the 4th of July 2020. The promoter and the entrepreneur are definitely alive. Should we be joyful or sad? Not a Yeezy question.

Question: Did Gap make a good deal?

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Ep. 87 – A 7-Axis Collaborative Robot for Non-Programmers, with Zac Bogart

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the show is Zac Bogart, founder of Productive Robotics.

Productive Robotics manufactures a 7-axis collaborative robot called the OB7. Zac says that the OB7 is different from other robots because it can’t be programmed with code, it only works by the operator showing it what to do. Also, by featuring 7 axes rather than the 6 axes of a typical robot, the OB7 has the ability to do more awkward human-like movements, such as grabbing a part inside a CNC machine while not being directly in front its door.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Main Points

3:10: Zac shares how he got his start, creating large robots to move around special effects equipment for the film industry. His experience working with non-programmers inspired the company to build a type of robot that anyone could use.

5:15: Zac describes how his company, Productive Robotics, began developing collaborative robots in 2015. Its goal was to produce a user-friendly robot that didn’t require programming but learned through demonstration. 

6:05: Zac talks about the advantages of his company’s 7-axis robot, the OB7. He says it mimics the human arm, giving the robot more maneuverability in the workplace. For instance, the robot can reach into a machine’s door even while it is not directly in front of it.

7:30: Zac describes typical applications for the OB7 in a CNC machine shop and how the robot is used to simplify routine and monotonous tasks on the shop floor.

10:50: Zac talks about the difference between how the OB7 moves from other collaborative robots on the market. It is not programmed using a series of points like traditional robots. This can make its movement seem more natural and less “robotic.”

14:35: Zac says the OB7 has a tablet, but it does not work by inputting code like most other robots. Zac says that there is still a place on the tablet where you can see coordinates if needed, but controlling the robot is almost entirely based on showing it what to do.

16:15: Zac says other collaborative robots on the market say they have easy programming, but it’s only easy if you are a programmer. He says many people are able to learn how to program a robot using code, but they still have to spend time and energy learn. 

18:35: Zac talks about asking his son to teach him how to swing a baseball bat. He wanted to observe how his son showed him how to swing a bat. Understanding this aspect of the learning process aided Zac in designing the OB7.

22:00: Zac says that the OB7 doesn’t require an integrator to install it in most cases. For CNC machining customers, Productive Robotics includes a package that enables the operator to set it up.  

24:00: Zac says Productive Robotics emphasizes safety in its products. He says that all collaborative robots have certain standards they must comply with regarding their speed.

25:00: Zac says we are in the second inning when it comes to building robots. He says that ultimately all robots will be collaborative robots and we won’t need to program them. He says we will give robots commands and hopefully they will obey.

27:00: Zac says he prefers The Terminator 2 over The Terminator 1. He also talks about working on the special effects crew on the set of Star Wars but not knowing anything about the droids until he saw the movie. 

Question: How have you used robots in your machine shop?

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Ep. 86 – Work is Coming Back from China, with Mike Micklewright

By Noah & Lloyd Graff

On today’s show, we’re talking about manufacturing returning to the United States from overseas. Our guest is Mike Micklewright, Director of the Kaizen Institute.

Mike says we may have finally reached a tipping point when manufacturers accept that it makes sense to produce goods again in North America.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Main Points

(2:15) Mike Micklewright explains that Kaizen is about transforming businesses to get rid of waste in their processes and building a culture of continuous improvement. He says this is accomplished by putting the right systems in place for leadership and communication.

(3:30) Lloyd Graff asks if the Kaizen Institute has its own waste. Mike says the institute needs to limit waste like all organizations and it has systems in place to try to operate by the principles it espouses.

(4:30) Mike defines on-shoring as bringing the industrial base and manufacturing base back to the closest proximity of the consumer.  

(4:50) Mike says that manufacturing goods overseas and shipping them to the consumer creates significant waste. He says companies that outsource to China don’t always look at the total cost of production. 

Mike Micklewright, Director of the Kaizen Institute

(6:45) Mike says that one challenge to bringing manufacturing back to the United States is that purchasing people are evaluated on a metric called Purchasing Price Variance (PPV). He says PPV signifies the actual price vs the standard price. He says the standard price sometimes means the price of an item the previous year, and purchasing people are trying to make the actual price lower than that. Making products overseas is one way to try to accomplish that goal. Mike says the purchasing people often do not look at the transportation costs or other logistics costs. He says they also fail to take into account risks such as labor strikes, natural disasters or pandemics.  

(8:35) Mike says there is a ton of data available to present to top management of companies to try to make them see the waste caused by off-shoring. He says we need to utilize various tools available to present the data, otherwise they will just choose to ignore it and keep doing what they have been doing. He says the trade war has also helped pursued companies to bring work back.

(10:20) Mike says Covid-19 and other recent catastrophes have made companies consider risk factors more than ever before. He says Covid-19 demonstrated how reliant the United States is on imports from foreign countries for its livelihood.

(11:40) Mike says Japanese companies set a good example of how to be self-reliant. They want to keep their manufacturing close to their consumers. They also don’t want to borrow money from their governments or from foreign governments. 

(14:00) Mike says the US isn’t totally ready to bring a lot of manufacturing back. He says the US manufacturing base has shrunk and the country has less people with skills and interest in manufacturing. He says implementing robots in shops and new education programs are helping to deal with the workforce problem. 

(17:25) Mike says outsourcing to Mexico is less of a problem than outsourcing to China. He says it creates less waste because Mexico is closer and its culture is more similar to that of the US. However crossing borders has challenges as well as potential for political strife between countries. Mike says bringing back manufacturing from China and putting it in Mexico is called near-shoring, as opposed to on-shoring. He says near-shoring has been occurring more than on-shoring.

(20:15) Mike says he hasn’t seen a lot of waste costs for the manufacturing industry caused by Mexican drug cartels. But, he says their influence the Mexican government could increase risk of doing business there.

(22:30) Mike says wages in China have been rising for the last 20 years, and this has brought some work back to the US. He says Covid-19 and the trade war may have finally caused a tipping point for companies to bring work back to the US. Yet, still he admits he can’t name specific companies doing it. He says some information about this is confidential.

(23:00) Lloyd says we hear in the used machinery business that US companies are quoting against China, but still he seldom hears of much work actually coming back. Mike says we need to get salespeople to understand the concept of “total cost of ownership” so when they are asked to make a proposal they are not just presenting a price tag. 

(27:00) Mike says that even though we have not seen on-shoring yet on a large scale, the issue is hitting mainstream news rather than just business news, which could mean we are at a tipping point.

(29:00) Mike says that he just bought a 1992 Winnebago to take a two week trip. He says he bought it at a good price, but then he had to pay an inspector and it needed lot of repairs. He says his purchase was a demonstration of people’s natural inclination to look only at price, rather than look at total cost. 

Question: Is work coming back from China?

 

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The Jackie Robinson Connection

By Lloyd Graff

Ed Howard was a star player for the Jackie Robinson Little League team that went to the Little League World Series in 2014. Last week, the Chicago Cubs picked him in the first round of the major league baseball draft. He was the number 16 pick overall, and it was the first time the Cubs have ever picked a Chicago player high in the draft.

The symbolism of an African-American from that Jackie Robinson team becoming a future Cub is powerful for me. As a boy, I went to Wrigley Field with my mother, an avid Cubs fan, to see the Cubs play the Brooklyn Dodgers when their best player was Jackie Robinson. 

Jackie came up to the Dodgers in 1947 to break the color barrier of Major League Baseball.  When I was 11 years old, I did not understand segregation in sports, but I do remember my excitement over the Cubs bringing in Ernie Banks and Gene Baker in 1954.

Drafting Ed Howard during this period of racial unrest in America is a reminder of the change I have seen in this country in my lifetime. Howard was considered the best shortstop prospect in the 2020 draft, but I believe the reason Theo Epstein and the Cubs picked him is because of the symbolism of getting a hometown black player from that Jackie Robinson Little League team which had captured the imagination of the city of Chicago. 

If Howard has just a hair of the charisma Jackie Robinson had, he will be a huge star for the Cubs.

Jacky Robinson Sliding into Home vs. New York Giants

I keep a giant photo of Jackie hanging in my garage, so every day that I leave the house I see Robinson stealing home against the hated New York Giants with the umpire calling him safe. Although I love baseball, it is the only baseball picture I have hanging in the house. I still have a bat signed by Ernie Banks, but that photo is the most significant sports memorabilia I own.

Race and sports and their interaction have been threads that have helped define me during my lifetime. 

I watched the greatest football player who ever lived, Jim Brown, from his days at Syracuse University to his incredible career with the Cleveland Browns. I was shocked when he retired from the game while still at his peak, also a huge sports memory.

In basketball, probably my greatest memory is rooting for the unknown Texas Western team as they defeated University of Kentucky for the NCAA Championship in 1966. Adolph Rupp coached the Kentucky Wildcats, who wouldn’t have a black player on the team until 1969. Texas Western was the first college team with five black players in the starting lineup, led by Hall of Fame coach Don Haskins. 

I have lived a lifelong struggle with my own gut-level feelings of racism, fighting with my feelings of kinship with black people as a Jew and an American, trying to live up to the ideals of my religion and country.

Jackie Robinson always will be my greatest sports hero. Here’s hoping 18-year-old Ed Howard, who went to high school a few blocks away from my childhood home, will become worthy of my walls and my cheers.

Question: Is baseball dead to you?

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Ep. 85 – Kaizen Principles for Personal Growth with Darrell Sutherland

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the podcast is Darrell Sutherland, founder and owner of Dylan Aerospace in Auburn, Washington, a Tier 1 supplier for Boeing.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Darrell is also a professional mentor. He believes in using the Kaizen manufacturing principles for personal development as well as to improve a business. He believes in the power of mentorship so fervently that he spends over $100,000 a year on his own education.

Main Points

(3:40) Darrell talks about his personal transformation in the last decade or so. He says that for many years it was hard for him to just get out of bed because he wasn’t happy with his life, despite his success and running a business he loved.

(4:15) Darrell says growing up he looked awkward and was bullied a lot but thinks his difficult childhood prepared him for adversity later in life. He says when he was young he got into martial arts, which made him realize his passion for learning and more importantly teaching. He says he has a talent for deconstructing ideas and concepts and synthesizing them into individuals’ unique abilities. 

(5:40) Darrell grew up in Washington state. His grandfather and father worked for Boeing. His father told him to never be a “number” working for Boeing.

(8:00) Darrell says his manufacturing business had been very successful and made a lot of money for a long time before he underwent his personal transformation. He was even able to take more than 10 years off from day to day operations so he would have a lot of time to raise his kids. Yet he still wasn’t content with his life as he was addicted to food and alcohol, gaining over 100 pounds. He says November of 2009 he realized that he needed to change direction, starting with his health. Darrell says it took him many years and thousands of dollars to get the guidance he needed to fix his life. 

(11:00) Darrell in the end realized that the Kaizen principles he had embraced in his manufacturing business could be applied to his own personal life. Darrell summarizes the Kaizen principles as deciding what one wants to accomplish and then analyzing and breaking it down to its root. Then a person starts making small incremental changes at the lowest level he can, and then analyzes the result at that low level. The process makes a person more aware of certain facts about his own life that he hadn’t looked at before. Then when a person can understand the roots of what the real issues are, he can understand the challenges he needs to overcome. Darrell calls his philosophy “living Kaizen,” and in his new book he writes about its parallels with the Toyota Kaizen model. 

(14:30) Darrell says that reshoring of manufacturing is happening quickly and we as a country need to be prepared for it. He says despite Covid-19 this is probably one of the greatest times to be in manufacturing. He says that the pandemic demonstrated to everyone that the offshoring of U.S. manufacturing during the last few decades put the United States in a terrible position in the areas of infrastructure and national security. 

(15:40) Darrell says before Covid-19 he was already planning for 2020 to be a big year for his company. He says that several years ago his company started an initiative called I Love MFG. MFG stands for “Moving, Feeding, and Guarding” America and the world. 

(16:55) Darrell says that young people have no connection to manufacturing. He says they don’t think about their consumer items or modes transportation that are created through manufacturing. He says with reshoring upon us he is going to devote himself to opening young people’s minds to manufacturing.

(19:30) Darrell says that people often “stumble” into the world of manufacturing rather than set out to make it their trade. He says the question we need to ask is, how do we turn people into professional manufacturing people? He says we need to analyze how people are hardwired from birth and softwired by their community and then find the lane for them in the manufacturing space. He says he interviews his employees of all levels to help them figure out their talents and find the best way they can excel at his company.

(24:30) Darrell talks about how to find mentors and why they are so important. He says mentors are important to help us to find our weaknesses so we can fix them but to find the right mentor a person has to figure out what he wants. Darrell says to look on social media for mastermind groups to locate mentors, but he warns to watch out for life coaches who haven’t already achieved anything in their lives. 

Darrell says for more information about Living Kaizen people can go to his Website, darrellasutherland.com and lifeapprentaceship.com where he will be giving away a free PDF with an introduction to his program.

Question: Which self-help books have benefited you in the past?

Click here to listen on Google Podcasts.

Click here to listen on iTunes.

 

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How to Deal with the Police?

When I was growing up on the South Side of Chicago on Euclid Avenue, seven blocks north from where Michelle Obama grew up, my father taught me many valuable life lessons.

One that I remember quite vividly was what to do when I was stopped by a Chicago policeman while driving. My dad had illustrated his approach a few times while I observed from the car. He was proud of his skill and execution.

He told me, “Lloyd, right after you stop the car, turn off the motor and immediately get out of the car, stand erect, and walk up to the police car while the cop is still in the car. Apologize if you were speeding or made a driving error.” My dad had used this strategy successfully a number of times. He had also perfected the folded $20 bill concealed under the driver’s license play, which he was extremely proud of.

I never had the bold courage to do the folded bill, but I did try the jump out of the car routine a few times until a polite policeman told me quite forcefully to stay in the car with my hands on the wheel.

***

When black kids get their license they get very different instructions. My wife tells me that the parents of her black students live in mortal fear of their children being stopped by the cops and being harassed, or worse.

Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal wrote a nice piece Monday about Malcom Brogdon, who plays guard for the Indiana Pacers. Brogdon recounted the advice he received when he was 16 from his grandfather, who happened to be a civil rights leader. When he was given the family’s old green Toyota Avalon he had to sign a binding legal contract before he got behind the wheel, which set forth how he was to behave if he ever was stopped by the police.

Brogdon said, “I was taught to put my hands on the steering wheel, to turn off the music, to roll down every window of the car, to put my blinkers and emergency hazards on, and sit there silently and comply with the officer until he let you go.”

Brogdon followed the instructions correctly and came out ok when he eventually did get stopped. His mother, a professor at Morehouse College, says she was relieved but still fears another incident could get out of control.

***

A couple days ago, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, which usually disagree about everything, wrote remarkably similar pieces about rogue police behavior toward African-Americans. Both articles pointed out the terrible role played by police unions, insulating bad cops from being kicked off the force or being prosecuted. The union seems to think it is their sacred obligation to protect even the dirtiest of cops, especially in cases of racial targeting.

The need to clean up police practices in America is not a liberal vs conservative or Democrat against Republican issue. We desperately need order today, but the endemic fear African Americans have toward the police is bad for the whole country. Blunting the power of police unions is one thing that America can agree on.

It is doable if partisan blabbing doesn’t get in the way.

I much prefer it to the $20 under the license that I never had the guts to try anyway.

Question: Are the police being persecuted? 

 

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Zooming in Different Worlds

By Lloyd Graff

I feel like I am living in several different worlds. 

During the day I am a business guy, trying to put together the diverse strings of commerce around the country and the world, culminating in a buy and a sell with a margin of profit for my company built into it. The outside world keeps telling me that there isn’t anything but scraps to be had, but I am finding a lot of opportunities when I contact the smart small and medium-sized business owners who are sniffing for opportunity at the moment. It really is quite refreshing to connect with these aggressively optimistic folk who ignore the gloom of the TV and radio blabs. I feed on their energy and they seem to enjoy mine.

As the late dusk sinks in, I turn on the news shows, which at the moment are immersed in pictures of broken windows, strewn Nikes, and stray flat screen TV boxes thought to symbolize the moment. It is demoralizing and scary journalism with no depth of understanding, just an abject play for ratings and a rising fear quotient. It affects me, even though I know it is a transient flicker of pain in 2020. The race riots have replaced COVID-19 this week as the story of the moment.

COVID is a lingering story of government mismanagement framed by the paranoid thirst of the press. It is an extremely costly one, but the threads of fear have a vibrancy for me in the death numbers of older, sicker people which comprise 80% of the dead.

Then I check stock prices and oil prices before I go to bed. Stocks are near their record highs. The NASDAQ, which has younger firms, is 3% below its all-time high. If I am looking for an indicator of optimism in America and investors from around the world, this is where I look for it.

I also take my assortment of medicines at night, which include a statin for cholesterol, a refined fish oil for all around cardiovascular health, and a Bystolic, which is an amazing beta blocker that controls high blood pressure. The negativists who see the world in decline don’t understand that people like me would never be alive at 75 after a heart attack 12 years ago. Folks living in the good old days of 1962 never would have recovered from blocked arteries like mine and their kids might well be in Iron Lungs with polio. 

We are likely to have a COVID-19 vaccine that actually works by the end of the year.  We now have a useful treatment for the illness, which will be augmented shortly. 

Not to be ignored is the rapid adoption of Zoom to connect people. My wife Risa uses it every day. I get to see my grandkids more often than I ever did before. Some young entrepreneurs infiltrated the market with a better product and took a dominant position in person to person TV while the giants, Google, Microsoft, and Cisco, slept. Now they are hopelessly behind.

The SpaceX Dragon 2

Before I go to sleep at night, I like to imagine the possibility of Zoom connecting the world with American astronauts zooming up to the International Space Station in Elon Musk’s rocket taxi. Yet the image of a brick smashing a Macy’s window plunders my calm. 

It’s June 2020. My life is good except when the noise of the day interrupts my joy of being alive.

Question: Do you still listen to the news?

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Do You Trust Yourself?

By Lloyd Graff

Deciphering the path of business through the COVID-19 mess is more difficult than finding your way through Boston without Google Maps. 

Stock markets zoom while Hertz declares bankruptcy. Oil prices fall to $18 a barrel but then double in five weeks. Auto plants shut down en masse but then reopen to parts shortages from Mexico, which didn’t want to produce until GM, Toyota, and VW leaned hard on the government.

The political and scientific elites caution us not to reopen because a mistake could mess up their reputations. They scare us about the “second wave” that may be coming sometime.

Meanwhile, the salon owner worries that she may never comb out another wave at her shop if she can’t reopen.

Small businesses navigate through government bureaucracies to claim the cash to survive, not knowing how much they will have to pay back because the SBA itself doesn’t understand the authorizing legislation. Washington consultants earn their juicy retainers by explaining stuff even the dudes who wrote the laws don’t understand.

People ignore barricade near Chicago’s North Avenue Beach.

The boardwalk fills up in Venice Beach, California, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In Chicago, real people keep knocking down the fences that the park police keep erecting to keep them off the grass. In Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, where the governors took the risk of opening before other states, the caseload from COVID did not change.

There are at least a dozen possibilities for successful vaccines. With a decent chance we’ll have a real one before Christmas, and a drug is being made today that really does help reduce hospital stays.

Yet 100,000 people have died in the United States.

The press makes its living by promoting bad news. Maybe there would be no pandemic without cable news. But there is 20% unemployment, doors are locked, cities have emptied, and I am afraid to go to my own anniversary party. 

Yet somehow Americans seem to retain their optimism. The smart people predicted new home buying would fall apart. Yet yesterday the Commerce Department stats showed that real people put down real money and took out real mortgages to buy more homes in April than in March. People are making airline and hotel reservations. They probably are even nutty enough to plan cruises.

But if you are running a machining business, even if you are making respirator parts, it looks iffy. Will people start buying new cars? There are lots of leases ending, but dealerships are quiet because they seem like scary places to go to. 

Major League Baseball can’t seem to figure out if players can take showers if it resumes.

We live in the land of phases.

I am coming around to the idea that government should trust people to decide their next steps. It would be chaotic, I know. Most old people will not do dumb stuff like going to the beach or a restaurant. Young people will mix it up and some will get sick, but probably not real sick. 

We could have school this fall for those who want to go. We will get closer to the herd immunity that a successful vaccine could complete. 

Death in the economy by asphyxiation could be defeated. China would lose the COVID-19 war. Toilet paper would be everywhere. 

Is this crazy?

Question: Do you trust yourself to make the right decisions regarding COVID-19? Do you trust other people?

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