It's going to be a grim Christmas in the upper Midwest and Canada.
Last week, General Motors announced layoffs of around 14,000 people, including approximately 15 percent of its salaried workforce. The reason given was a major retooling away from making regular cars and shifting resources into electric and self-driving vehicles.
But the immediate effect will be - similar to Ford backing out of the car market - more focus on trucks and SUVs. It's all spun to be "green" - but it's really not.
And as with many such initiatives, the idea is for us to pay attention to the shiny object - even if it's a hateful shiny object - while the real machinations are going on in other areas. GM will ostensibly save $6 billion a year through 2020.
Needless to say, President Donald Trump is not happy. That's not the way the script is supposed to play. The idea was the enormous Republican tax cut was supposed to make everyone make more cars, and cars would be cheaper, and there would be more research and development, and everyone in Michigan would wake up, and there would be a pony under everyone's Christmas tree. As it is, everyone is just stuck with the same old economic collapse, and if you happen to live in Flint, Mich., the same old undrinkable water.
Uncle Orange, as a classic narcissistic authoritarian, wants us to believe his B.S., but history is pretty clear on how to be a successful version of our old, outraged uncle. He's not supposed to believe it himself. Even while he's foisting it off on everyone else.
What's really happening is what Tim O'Reilly has called our very own version of Skynet - stock manipulation by the C-suite and sophisticated algorithms - is taking another hit on the middle class. For those who can't remember, Skynet was the AI network of satellites in the movie "The Terminator" that was attempting to kill all the humans and take over the planet. That version of Skynet had lasers and crazy robots. This one just wants to starve everyone to death. It's slow, crushing violence and trauma instead of shoot-em-up death.
Don't believe me? Consider this also about the GM situation. GM received about $514 million from Trump's tax break this year. Out of that, GM recycled about $100 million in stock buybacks to boost its share price, which ends up mostly in its richest shareholders' pockets. And then, to top it off, GM gave its CEO another $22 million in additional compensation, while raking in about $600 million in federal contracts. If that ain't Skynet in action, I don't know what is.
What is pathologically interesting, though, is it shows exactly how Skynet works. The government gives a tax cut. Corporations primarily benefit, of course, but middle-class people who buy Impalas have a few more coins and buy another Chevy. Because GM now has more money than ever, it buys back stock and can afford to shutter plants because it doesn't need the revenue flow. Money then goes into the pockets of the 1 percent, or 0.1 percent. Auction prices of famous art work go up, and the money that was generated by the middle class is now locked in an orbit far above them, in assets that only Skynet can reach.
And without the tax revenues, infrastructure suffers and those people still lucky enough to have a job are driving on ever more crowded highways or dealing with non-functional schools for their children and less time at home to raise their own family. The stress in the society continues to build and manifests itself in the lives of those who lost their jobs.
Sound complex? It is. But you can do your part. Clip this column and send it to your senators and representatives. They know Skynet all too well. Tell them it's time for them to shut it down, as a real Christmas present to the American people.
Chuck Pezeshki is a professor in mechanical and materials engineering at WSU.