Rough, unedited as usual.
“I have reports from several of Chen’s operatives about why Earthies are ordering things from Home companies they should be able to make,” Jeff said on com. He had the oddest look on his face.
“I’ll read them in detail,” April promised. “But if you want to give me a quick summary? You usually describe things even more succinctly than Chen.”
“Chen says you get insights from things that don’t impress him at all. So he is reluctant to withhold data. Red tape is the basic answer,” Jeff said. “They’ve had a massive epidemic, with millions dead. Since it was very rough on older people it stripped all sorts of shops and industries of the most experienced workers. There has been physical damage where we bombarded specialty shops that made aerospace components. But nobody will soften any of the laws and rules that impede construction. The USNA also embargoed quite a few things we make right after the war, but that was mostly drugs and electronics. Nobody has shown any interest in expanding or dropping the list. ”
April frowned. “They haven’t been able to rebuild in this much time?”
“I’ll give you an example. Back in the war we destroyed the Michelin specialty shop making tires for shuttles in North Carolina. There is production in Europe and Asia, but not the right types.
“Chen’s guys talked to half a dozen people either living nearby or who have worked on the site. Half the building was gone because it burned, and half was a shell. They had some foundation left, but they couldn’t use it. The plumbing no longer met code and all the areas with pipes under the floor had to be broken up and start over. They went ahead and tore the whole thing up including the machine bases.
“There was a delay because an environmental study had to establish that there were no heavy metal or organic contamination issues in the soil. A water table survey had to be done even though they didn’t plan on having a well. There aren’t a lot of labs and environmental survey companies running to do these things now. Building declined and a lot of them closed up shop.
“An impact statement on endangered plants and animals couldn’t be done because the state office was abandoned when they didn’t get paid after the coup, and nobody knows where the workers went. There were some big issues with a lot of permit issuing agencies like that, because of disruption between factions of the government from the war and then the coup. Some were taken care of, some cut off as likely disloyal, depending on their known politics.
“They also had to do a traffic study and community impact statement, but the guy doing that for the county died and they didn’t rehire because there wasn’t really much building or traffic now. They had a hard time hiring because anybody taking the job knew they’d just be fired as soon as it was done. They man who finally did take it dragged it out for six months to keep getting paid.
“The town opposed rebuilding, because their zoning classification changed after the first plant was built, taking it from light industrial to heavy industrial. That also meant they had to put in a rain water run-off retaining pond, and there wasn’t room on the property. They had to buy the plant next door and tear it down to get the retaining pond in and to increase parking and provide mandatory electric car charging stations for employees. Assuming anybody in rural north Carolina had a functioning electric car by then with periodic power outages. The batteries only lasted so long and then they brick themselves if they don’t get recharged for a few weeks. But that meant the power had to be not only restored to the site, but upgraded by the local utility.
“By the time they could pour a new foundation there was a concrete shortage. Also they could not prove they were paying prevailing union wages or better because the agency collecting data on that was not functioning and there was no established current year prevailing wage. The agency’s computer system was unusable and they bought a new one and the software from the old one couldn’t run on it. When they had a new suite of software written it simply didn’t work. That caused delays.
“There were more delays for things like the plumbing. They had pipe, but the site sat with no work done for a week because nobody had sufficient pipe solvent to bond the joints from supply disruptions. And they couldn’t pour concrete until the pipe was down. They had similar problems with the electrical. They were short some items that had to be under the slab. Also, running the conduit, the fire marshal and the electrical inspector got in a war over who passed on the in-slab wiring for the fire alarm system. Both kept visiting the site and slapping NO-PASS and cease and desist orders on top of the other guy’s PASS tickets on the site permit board.
“They shut down one day because an inspector found an older uncertified hard hat being used at the site and they all had to be inventoried and recertified. Some of them had the compliance label rubbed illegible or removed and they needed to bring in more from a city hours away.
“Neither could they affirm the people they wanted to hire were within the diversity ratios allowed on a Federal project. You bombarded the snot out of all the Federal data centers during the war,” Jeff reminded April. “Even the ones buried really deep. Birth records and citizenship documents were lacking, and just because they had old bills and driver’s licenses, that wasn’t sufficient documentation. They can’t, well won’t, take their word what their ancestry is because people lie to get in the minority classifications. Especially, people from Mexico lacked a lot of records when they were first brought into the USNA. Tons of them had no birth certificate. And it turns out a lot of tire building people are Mexican because all the production was sent down there even before Mexico was annexed. They mostly went home in the chaos after the coup, and none of them would come back because as hourly workers they wouldn’t be paid until they had a functional shop with special machines and the exotic materials needed to make shuttle tires up and running.
“Electric power to the work site was disrupted, and they couldn’t get permits from the EPA to run an onsite diesel generator, and the Governor wouldn’t loan a military unit. When they finally got a gas turbine permit the city and county would only let it be run from nine in the morning to five in the afternoon for noise abatement, and no Sunday work. The site had to have ditching and special barriers inside the fence to prevent rain run-off, and there was a dispute what area it had to enclose. Basically the water authority wanted the barrier where the chain link fence was already installed.
“Then there was a dispute and site strike because the Iron Workers and the Cement and Concrete workers couldn’t agree on work rules for anchoring the frame to go up. A bunch of anchors got ripped out and both sides blamed the other. The site guards said everybody who went on site had the proper identification cards, and it wasn’t their business what they did onsite. They just maintained a perimeter.
“I could go on, but you get the idea. And that’s just what we got told easily, not the full horror story.
“The special machines to build the tires and the molds to cap them are all built in Mexico. They’re somewhat more forceful about making a project go forward there. They haven’t absorbed the full bureaucratic culture yet. You can still get things done under their old system, if you have enough cash to grease the ways. It isn’t practical to bring them across country right now so they’ll come by sea. But they’re holding them until the facility has walls and a roof.
“The tires they want to build are defined in exacting specifications, all the materials are called out, and the glassy aluminum steel wire isn’t being made at ISSII anymore. There’s better available actually, but it doesn’t meet the old spec. They are making as much of the new product as they can, running 24/7 for European shuttle tires, and don’t want to shut down and change dies and purge melt furnaces to make one run of obsolete wire, but nobody will change the spec to European standards, because – not ours.”
“I take it back. If that’s the overview I’m not sure I want to read the blow by blow,” April said.
“It’s amazing and educational,” Jeff allowed, “but you might ration it out little at a time and not try to absorb the whole thing at one sitting. And this is just one specialty shop.
“What I concluded is that when you have a very complex system that has slowly grown over a long period of time, then get hit with a major disruption, is almost impossible to survive, and try to assemble the full complex system again. Especially when a lot of the details of its operation serve no useful purpose. It can carry all those burdens added on one by one. But if you drop that ugly beast to its knees you’ll never get it standing again, much less walking with the full load still on it.”
“What will they do? Give up on it?” April asked.
“I think it has to get worse before it can get better,” Jeff said. “Bad enough to force them to strip some of the stupid from the process. As a friend has told me a number of times, ‘Not my circus, not my monkeys.’ We can’t force help on them they don’t want. And we sure can’t produce enough of anything in any reasonable time frame to be of much use to them either.”
“We absolutely must never let our system get so complicated it’s that fragile,” April vowed.
“Amen. I totally agree,” Jeff told her.