Balancing the New Zealand Carbon Budget

unfccc copyTwenty three years ago today, the UN framework Convention on Climate Change was completed for signing.  In those last twenty three years, New Zealand has spent its carbon budget like a drunken sailor.  In just two years, New Zealand will have exceeded the lower limit for our share of the global CO2e emissions we cannot exceed if we are to have a 2 in 3 chance of avoiding 2 degrees of global warming.   Kiwis have both the major parties- National and Labour to thank.

Anyone can confirm whether this is true or false by doing the arithmetic using the figures from the IPCC.  According to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment report published in 2014, to achieve a “likely” (66% or better) probability of avoiding 2 degrees of global warming,  global cumulative emissions must not exceed 550 to 1300 Gt CO2e  by the agreed on date of 2050. [IPCC2014]

Characteristics of modelled scenarios assessed for IPCC Fifth assessment Report, 2014.

Characteristics of modelled scenarios assessed for IPCC Fifth assessment Report, 2014.

What is New Zealand’s carbon budget for this period, and what is necessary to stay within that budget?
1) With our population representing .06% of the global population [NZStats01], our share of the remaining of the two degree global CO2 equivalent budget is .06% of 550 to 1300 Gt = 348,364 to 823,405 gigagrams CO2e.  For a two out of 3 chance of avoiding 4 degrees of global warming, the limit is 994,420 to 1,228,774 gigagrams.

2) Assume NZ achieves the Green policy target of zero net CO2e emissions by 2050. According to the Ministry for the Environment, our net yearly expenditure as of 2012 was 49,450 gigagrams per year [MFE2014], so this would mean that if we started reducing today, we would have to reduce by 1,374 gigagrams per year.

3) Chart the reductions in a spreadsheet. If we assume the models that give New Zealand the greatest amount of time, even if we adopt the Green Climate Change policy, NZ will blow its two degree carbon budget before the end of 2029.  This is 21 years ahead of schedule. If we assume the model that is the least permissive, we will blow our budget in just two years- 2017.

4) For New Zealand to do its fair share of CO2e emissions reductions, we either must 1) accelerate our target date for net zero emissions to a date much earlier than 2050, or 2) must massively accelerate our sequestration capacity to bring our net CO2e emissions into negative territory to make up for our overspending.  As of the date of this writing the Greens have not specified how they propose to bring the New Zealand Carbon Budget into balance by 2050.

Year CO2e Net GigaGrams Total
2011 49,450 49,450
2012 49,450 98,900
2013 49,450 148,350
2014 49,450 197,800
2015 49,450 247,250 Assume reductions begin.
2016 48,076 295,326
2017 46,703 342,029 Blow 2° carbon budget if most grim IPCC model is used.
2018 45,329 387,358
2019 43,956 431,314
2020 42,582 473,896
2021 41,208 515,104
2022 39,835 554,939
2023 38,461 593,400
2024 37,088 630,488
2025 35,714 666,201
2026 34,340 700,542
2027 32,967 733,508
2028 31,593 765,101
2029 30,219 795,321 Definitely blow 2° budget (upper limit exceeded)
2030 28,846 824,167
2031 27,472 851,639
2032 26,099 877,738
2033 24,725 902,463
2034 23,351 925,814
2035 21,978 947,792
2036 20,604 968,396
2037 19,231 987,626 Blow NZ budget lower bound for 4° warming
2038 17,857 1,005,483
2050 1,374 1,112,625

Disclaimers: Although these calculations are based on authoritative figures, the calculation is original research and as of this date has not been independently assessed for accuracy.


[IPCC2014]  IPCC, 2014: Summary for Policymakers, In: Climate Change 2014, Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. [find it here] See page 13, table 6.5.

[PopStats] Unrounded NZ percentage of global population .0633%  New Zealand Population clock as of 9 May 2015: 4.587 million

World population 7.242 billion according to US Census

[MFE2014]  “New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions were 76,048.0 Gg CO2-e in 2012″, page v. report:”New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990 – 2012”

Updates: 10 May 2015, added disclaimer, UNCCC logo, correction of typo, clarified nature of anniversary- It is not the date the treaty was signed: the actual “signing” took place over an extended period.  The date of 9 May 1992 is when the treaty was complete (in UN parlance, the date the convention was “adopted”).  It was first “opened for signing” in Rio de Janeiro from 4 to 14 June 1992.  My thanks to David Tong for the correction.

16 September 2015, Updated the table to use net emissions including land use.


New Left Economics: Wage credits

As David Autor has been documenting for the past decade, technology has been shifting the comparative value of labor in the United States to low wage jobs that are difficult to automate.  Routine tasks which required middle income labor are disappearing not just in the United States, but across all OECD nations.  His most recent piece for the New York Times paints a dire picture:  “How Technology Wrecks the Middle Class”.

As can be expected, the consequences of this displacement of labor to low salary jobs will be lower purchasing power for US consumers.  The BLS forecasts are startling.  Projections for the top 20 occupational areas that will experience the largest growth in the next decade have a median salary of $31,111 a.  The current median salary that BLS lists for US workers is $45,790 (source).  Clearly, the trajectory for US wages is steeply downward.

For the consumer economy, this presents long term contractionary pressure.  There is no indication that technology will not continue to eliminate high skill high cost labor jobs.   A cycle of contracting consumer economy fueling further layoffs which in turn further constricts consumer spending will continue until an equilibrium is reached.  If assaults on the minimum wage are successfully repelled, then eventually the consumer economy will end its death spiral to the level of consumption sustainable by a families of individuals being paid minimum wage.

Clearly this is not in the interest of citizens, but nor is it in the interest of businesses.  The systemic problem is that while business has accurate measurement of the cost of labor, it has no way of directly measuring the benefit to their business of paying their workers well.  Theoretically, they accept the proposition that businesses must continue to pay their workers well, otherwise there will be fewer consumers able to buy their product.  However no company will perform this service to the economic system out of the goodness of their hearts.  The current system behaves irrationally- expecting all other companies to maintain high wages, while they are free to cut their labor costs ruthlessly.  Of course all other businesses behave the same way.  Really, we cannot expect business managers to do otherwise.  Without an empirically measurable, monetary benefit they can point to in the company’s bottom line, businesses cannot be expected to maintain payrolls in order to support US consumer purchasing power.  Instead, what individual managers do in aggregate is methodically defund the US middle class.  They will continue to do this while this suicidal behavior is an unfelt externality.  The problem is that the full cost of eliminating jobs is not directly measurable by the business though the theoretical relationship to declining spending levels is acknowledged.

The Wage Credits solution.

Wage credits are, like Carbon credits-  a mechanism that allows corporations to measure the hidden cost that presents a fundamental threat to the long term health of their business.   Wage credits are issued by banks as workers cash payroll checks.  An equal number of credits are issued to the business for each dollar paid to workers.  The bank is required to accumulate and account for the Wage Credits just as they would cash.  Wage credits are the only form of currency accepted payment of a category of tax- a “Purchasing Power Defense” (PPD) tax.  Labor intensive businesses will have a surplus of Wage credits to pay their tax which is proportionate to the revenue they take in.  Companies with low labor requirements but extract large amounts of wealth from consumers will not have sufficient credits to pay their tax.  Their response is to buy surplus credits from labor intensive businesses, or to hire more workers.

This mechanism is intended to introduce a negative cost to business managers making downsizing, outsourcing, or automation initiatives that have unintended negative impact on the US economy.   It is not prescriptive- in many cases the business may no longer be viable- but the business manager is presented with a more comprehensive cost benefit calculation that leads them to seek the optimal choice for their business and the long term health of the US economy.  The mechanism has other uses which may optionally be used in some OECD countries, but its central reason for being is to arrest the cannibalization of the middle class by making the cost of its destruction immediately felt by a business that is participating in the destruction.

Those familiar with Carbon Credits can appreciate that such regimes have a weakness.  Products from countries free of the regime have a competitive advantage over domestic products.  Yet there are schemes for dealing with this.  For example, say wage credits accompanied components in a product’s value chain.  That is, say the Wage Credit must be paid as a tax only when the consumer pays for the finished product.  So say wage credits were required to be transferred as part of the transactions for components in the value chain of a consumer product.  Maybe the part from China is cheaper even though it has no accompanying wage credits.  When the finished good gets to the Walmart buyer, the Walmart executive will not always choose the Chinese product because it has no wage credits with it- Wage credits that Walmart must accumulate to pay the federal Purchasing Power Tax.

Wage credits represent a scheme that unions and businesses must come together to support.  Without some such mechanism to avert the self destructive market forces driving the defunding of the middle class, our economy will devolve to something more resembling a subsistence level third world economy.  Stiglitz has pointed out that market failure is the norm rather than the exception and that there is no “invisible hand”.  However this is not necessarily an argument for brute force industrial policy from central planners.  We must move forward and employ the best thinking from microeconomics research- game theory and behavioral economics.

Clearly society will be forced to draw the line somewhere in defending purchasing power.  The question is whether it is at the minimum wage, or at a dynamically determined middle class minimum wage.    Wage credits allows the market to decide where the tradeoffs are made, and so will be superior in selecting optimal balances for particular labor activities of greatest value for particular industries.



The median wage for new jobs forecast for 2010-2020 is $31,111.  BLS Occupational Outlook 2010-2020:  Most new Jobs. (link)  Multiplying the number of jobs by the median wage for each occupation, the total income for these new jobs is $230 billion.  Divided by the number of new jobs, (7.4 million), we arrive at a mean of $31,111.


How to bring boys with guns back to reality

Update: there is a WhiteHouse.Gov Petition to award Antoinette Tuff the Medal of Freedom.  Please sign it.

Antoinette Tuff

On August 20, 2013, Antoinette Tuff calmly walked a heavily armed white man back to reality, persuading him to give up his weapon at the school she works at.

This is a transcript of the 911 call made to DeKalb County police by Antoinette Tuff.   Numbers in brackets mean the time code in minutes and seconds into the recording.  At the time of this writing, this YouTube post by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution offers the most reliable speed playback.  Another is available at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution site.

In the Stockholm syndrome, the hostages adopt the point of view and language of their captors as a coping and survival mechanism.  Observe how Antoinette Tuff uses language and her behavior to move her captor from his gun and violence oriented solution for extinguishing problems, and move him back to her world where people care for each other and care about each others problems.  This demonstrates not a mastery of negotiation and deception, but mastery of the art of life:


DISPATCHER: DeKalb Police, what is the address of your emergency?

ANTOINETTE TUFF: Yes, ma’am. I’m on Second Avenue in the school and the gentleman says to hold down the police officers-  he’s going to start shooting so tell them to back off.

DISPATCHER: OK, one moment

TUFF: Do not let anybody in the building,

HILL [in backgound]: including the polce

TUFF:  including the police. Do not let anybody in the building including the police.

DISPATCHER: Ok. stay on the line with me, ma’am. Where are you?

TUFF: I’m in the front office. [gunshot]  Oh- He just went outside and start shooting.  [gunshot] Oh can I run?

DISPATCHER: What do you…  [gunshot]  Can you get somewhere safe?

TUFF: Yes, I got to go. No, going to see me. He’s coming back, hold on. [gunshot]

DISPATCHER [1:00]: Put the phone down.

TUFF (apparently to Michael Brandon Hill) [1:08]: Ok, She said that she’s getting the police, telling them to back off for you, OK?

HILL (Background): Tell them to stop all movement.


HILL:  Tell them to stop all movement now.

TUFF:  [1:19] OK, stop all movement on the ground now. Stop all movement on the ground.

HILL: [inauble]

TUFF:   If it’s not an emergency, please, do not use the radio. If it’s not an emergency, do not use the radio.

DISPATCHER [1:37]: Are you talking to the shooter?

TUFF (to dispatcher): That’s what he’s telling me to tell them on the radio.


TUFF: What did you want me to tell her, sir?  [1:53] OK, he’s telling me put you on hold – to call the news maam.  –


[big pause- no speaking]

TUFF: [2:38]  you want me, I’m trying to find the number for Channel 2. You want know tell them –

[huge pause]

TUFF [4:30] Hello?

DISPATCHER: Yes, ma’am, yes, ma’am.

TUFF: Police, he said tell them to back up right now.


TUFF[4:42]: Ok hold on.


[huge pause]

TUFF [7:06]:  Hello?


TUFF: OK, he said to tell them to back off. He doesn’t want the kids. He wants the police  so back off and umm– what else, sir? [pause]  He said he don’t care if he die. He don’t have nothing to live for and he said he’s not mentally stable.

DISPATCHER [7:28]: OK, stay on the line with me, OK? Put the phone down if you have to but don’t put it on hold so I can’t hear.


DISPATCHER: Can you tell me where you are?

TUFF: In the front office with him. [pause]  He said send in one of your radios with an unarmed officer.


TUFF: She said OK, she’s getting ready to tell them.

HILL (in background) [8:06]: Hopefully I can talk to the police.

TUFF:  Or some way that he can talk to the police.

HILL: [inaudible]

TUFF:  He said but if they come armed he’s going to start shooting again,


TUFF:  Only one officer.


TUFF [8:25]: He said if you have to go ahead and evacuate them homes right there in the front of the building.

[big pause]

DISPATCHER [9:32]: OK, ask him is he willing to give his name?

TUFF (to HILL): She said are you willing to give your name?

TUFF [to Dipatcher]:He said no.


TUFF: He said no. He knows that if he gives his name he’s going away for a long time. He said he knows he’s going away for a long time. He’s on probation.


TUFF (10:25):   “Tell them to stand down now,” he said.

DISPATCHER: OK.  Tell him I’m giving them the instructions.

TUFF (to HILL): She said they’re giving them instructions. [pause]

TUFF (to Dispatcher): He said he should just shoot himself. [pause 11:01] He said….He said call the probation office in DeKalb County and let them know what’s going on.

DISPATCHER: OK, who are we to ask for?

TUFF [to Hill]: She said,  “Who is she asking for?”

Hill:  I don’t know [inaudible]

TUFF: He said he thinks it’s Officer Scott, but he’s not in….


[long pause]

TUFF (to HILL) [12:19]:  You want me, you want me to let them… to let her get by?  [pause]

DISPATCHER: [inaudible] …emergency

TUFF [12:32]:  Hello?

DISPATCHER: Yes… Yes I’m here.


TUFF (to HILL) [12:57:] You want me to tell her to let her come, sir? [pause] She sounds like she loves you a lot.

DISPATCHER: Are you on the phone with a relative?

TUFF: Yes. What did you say, sir? [13:37] He said he should have just went to the mental hospital instead of doing this because he’s not on his medication.


TUFF (to HILL):  Do you want me to try — I can help you. You want me to — you want to talk to them? Want me to talk to them and try to — OK, well let me talk to them and let’s see if we can work it out so you don’t have to go away with them for a long time.

HILL:It doesn’t matter.

TUFF:  No, it does matter. I can let them know you have not tried to harm me or do anything with me. But that doesn’t make any difference. You didn’t hit anybody.

HILL: [inaudible 14:12] don’t know that.

TUFF:  Ok, Let me ask you this, ma’am. He didn’t hit anybody. He just shot outside the door. If I walk out there,  If I walk out there  with him, so they won’t shoot him or anything like that. He wants to give his self up. Is that OK and they won’t shoot him?

DISPATCHER: Yes, ma’am.

TUFF: He said he wants to go to the hospital?


TUFF:  She said..

DISPATCHER:  Hold on one moment.

TUFF (to HILL)[14:34]:  She said hold on, she’s going to talk to the police officers and I’ll go out there with you. [pause] Well, don’t feel bad, baby. My husband just left me after 33 years. But — yes do you. I mean I’m sitting here with you and talking to.. talking to you about it. I got a son that’s multiple disabled. [pause] [5:11] Can I speak to her? Let me talk to her and let her know that I’m going to go with you. [pause]  [15:36] You want me to talk to her? No, doesn’t, baby. This is all going to be well. The lady is going to talk to the police. OK. OK, hold on a second, OK?

DISPATCHER: Don’t hang up the phone.

TUFF: OK, hold on. He wants me to go over to the intercom. Hold on for me. OK, wait a minute. Can you talk to the police and let them know I’m going to walk out there with him and he wants to give himself up?

DISPATCHER: I am. Let me get an OK from them, okay?

TUFF: And you let me know what we need to do. He wants me to go on intercom and let everybody know he’s sorry. OK?


TUFF [in background apparently to HILL] :  It’s ok, we’ll get on the intercom and [inaudible]  [16:29 (apparently on intercom)]  Everybody, this is, this is still in the continuous lockdown. The [inauble] wants you to know that he is sorry, that he didn’t want to harm anybody, [inaudible] and that everyone should stay in place until the lock down is over with.

TUFF [sill in background- 16:52]  Ok, do you want to leave it right here?

TUFF: Ma’am?

DISPATCHER: Yes, ma’am.

TUFF: OK, he’s going to come on now, but he wants to know what do you want him to do with the gun?


TUFF: Or you want to send a police officer in and he said he’ll be on the ground with his hands behind his back and I’ll take the gun from him and put it on the other side over by me.

DISPATCHER: OK, one moment.

TUFF (to HILL): OK. Here, put that over here so they won’t see it. OK, put it all up there, OK.

DISPATCHER: He’s put the weapons down?

TUFF: Yeah. Hold on before you come. He’s putting everything down. He’s going to get on the floor so tell them to hold on a minute. So let him get everything together. He’s getting it all together. OK. Tell me when you ready and I’ll tell them to come on in. He wants to drink his bottle of water. Let him get it together.

OK, did you need to call somebody, talk to somebody for you? OK, we’re not going to hate you, baby. It’s a good thing you’ve given up. We’re not going to hate you.

DISPATCHER [18:21]: Ma’am, you’re doing a great job.

TUFF: So let’s do it before the helicopters and stuff like that come. You hear them? OK. So you want to go ahead and want me to tell them to come on in now? OK, he’s getting everything out of his pockets now. OK, he said the gun may come back and say it’s stolen. It’s not. He knows the story about the gun and he’ll let you all know that. Do you all want him to take his belt off?

DISPATCHER: That’s fine, just take all his weapons off.

TUFF: She said that’s fine, just take all your weapons off. He said he don’t have no more weapons. He’s on the ground now his hand behind his back. Tell the officers don’t come in shooting anything so they can come on in and I’ll buzz them in.


TUFF: So hold on, just sit right there, I’ll buzz them in, so you’ll know when they’re coming, OK? OK. So just stay there calm. Don’t worry about it. I’ll sit right here so they’ll see you didn’t try to harm me, OK? OK.

It’s going to be all right, sweetie. I just want you to know I love you, OK, and I’m proud of you. That’s a good thing you’ve given up and don’t worry about it. We all go through something in life. [HILL: (inaudible)]   No, you don’t want that. You’re going to be OK. I thought the same thing. You know, I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me?  But look at me now. I’m still working and everything is OK.

HILL: [inaudible] name is Michael Hill]

TUFF [12:08]: Your name is Michael what? Michael Hill? When the what is not in the harbor? The people came from in the harbor and planted a gun? The drum from harbor? OK, so you came with the kid that played the drums for the inner harbor? So you were actually in there doing all of that with them? Oh how awesome. That means I’ve seen you before then. OK, you all play them drums and stuff real good. Ok he said  they can come on in now. He needs to go to the hospital.


TUFF [21:06]: And he doesn’t have any weapons on him or anything like that. He’s laying on the floor, and he doesn’t have any weapons and he’s got everything out of his pocket.  There’s, there’s  no.. The only thing he has on is his belt. Everything is out of his pockets.  Everything is  sitting on the counter so all we need to do is they can come and buzz them in so he’ll know they’re here and everything and then they can come on in and get him and take him to the hospital.

DISPATCHER: OK, one moment.


HILL: [inaudible]

TUFF: Yes, She said she’s going to let them know. She’s talking to them now  to let them know to come on in and to take you to the hospital. OK?

HILL: [inadible] go out and..

TUFF: No, you stay right there. You’re fine. You said you want him to go out there?  with his hands up?

DISPATCHER: Stay right where he is.

TUFF: She said stay right where you are. Guess wh..

HILL: [inaudible]

TUFF:Ahh.. He wants to know if he can get some of his water right quick… Yes Mic.. Yes you said Michael Hill, right?

Hill: [inaudible]

TUFF: OK. Guess what, Michael, my last name is Hill too. My mom was a Hill.

HILL[22:13]: What are they waiting for?

TUFF: He said, what are you all waiting for? What is taking so long to come on?


TUFF:She said she is getting to them now. They’re coming. [pause] They’re coming. So just hold on Michael. Just go ahead and lay down. Don’t put your phone –

HILL: [inaudible]

TUFF- OK, you just got your phon?. OK, that’s fine. Tell them to come on. Come on. OK, he just got his phone. That’s all he got is his phone..

POLICE (multiple voices): [22:49], [inaudible] Stay down on the floor.  Don’t move.  Do not move. On the ground..

TUFF:  It’s just him. OK, just him.

POLICE: [multiple inaudibles] We got him. We got him.

TUFF [23:03]: Hello?  I’m going to tell you something, baby: I’ve never been so scared in all the days in my life,

DISPATCHER: Me either, but you did great.

TUFF: Ooo, Jesus!

Dispatcher: You did great.

TUFF: [crying]  Oh, God!  [pause] [apparently to an officer:] Ok, Oh I’m fine.

DISPATCHER: Mrs Hill Ms Hill you did great.

TUFF [talking over- apparently to an officer]: aint nobody in [inaudible].. go right ahead…Ain’t nobody in there.

DISPATCHER: OK Hold on, Hold on.

[background- multiple voices, officers, TUFF,]

TUFF [on phone]:  Ok ma’am.


TUFF: OK bye bye.

DISPATCHER: All right you have a great one.

TUFF: You too. Bye bye.



There is much to these details.  The story is important because it says something not just about guns and not just about the medicaid payments for mental health drugs and the affect of medicaid cuts on public safety.  (Georgia could get some relief in this regard, but is refusing to participate in Obamacare and so shall not be able to take advantage of additional Medicaid federal dollars that participation provides.

More largely, Tuff demonstrates a different path for our political times: Here we have an example of an injured side lashing out, someone who sees a solution and a way to reestablish status through raw application of power.  In Tuff, we see another who attempts conflict resolution through a path of engaging the other, attempting to understand the situation from the other person’s perspective, and getting the injured one to understand that there is a common bond between them.

As for the language of violent solutions to problems, the accounts of events by right wing sources have succeeded in constructing an alternate reality that many members of our society live within.   Instead of treating people with mental disabilities, in the 80s, Reagan portrayed them as moochers and threw them out onto the street.  Instead of paying for medications, we accept the cost of the lunatics with guns- Tuscon, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Newtown- as in this case, these all involved troubled young men with diagnosed mental disabilities and warnings from professionals about their violent tendencies.  In the alternate reality of the right, there is the simple stories of black hats and white hats- in cops and robbers you just shoot the bad guy and the problem goes away.

The NRA version of reality is that you destroy that damaged brain with a bullet.  The other way is to embrace the fact that this solution is inapplicable to most social problems.  You need to alter people’s minds, and the way you do that is through a reverse form of the Stockholm syndrome.  It’s what happens when the hostage does not adopt the captors reality, but instead wins the captor over to join her construction of reality.

That’s what Antoinette Tuff did as she rapidly deconstructed the reality of a young crazy white boy with 500 rounds of ammo and an assault weapon that could easily kill hundreds in the space of minutes.   Her power was far more remarkable.  In barely 20 minutes she went from using language like “sir”, “gentleman” and submission and had established authority as a mother referring to him as baby, that she loved him, and that she was proud of him for laying down his weapon and making a bad situation right again.

This is the talking cure. We have to talk our relatives and neighbors out of their separate, FOX constructed reality.

Antoinette Tuff used emotions of empathy rather than confrontation. There is an unreported story here. If you carefully examine the transcript,  you will find that there is another woman who was perhaps more crucial in talking Michael Brandon Hill out of his state of mind. This was the woman talking on the cell phone to Hill who Tuff is heard to say “She sounds like she loves you a lot.” [@12:57] It was someone close, but who?

As a political metaphor, how would the language of raw power interpret the event? The crass NRA response will likely be: “Tuff could have settled this much more decisively if she had been armed.” This story provides such a vivid contrast for such amygdala dominated cognition versus solution evaluations activated through empathy. There have been some progress discovering some of the higher level neurological function for empathy (more on that here).

But for a real glimpse at how language molds reality, look at the specifics of the language that Tuff engaged in- using terms of respect, “gentleman”, “sir”, and using the language of service, carrying out his instructions faithfully, verifying she understands his desires, “You want me to …”, and offering to serve in ways he didn’t ask: “I can let them know you have not tried to harm me”. What does this language do? It establishes a rapport with the person in power. After entering a bridge to his space, she invites him into hers- showing him he is living in a common space.

Well, don’t feel bad, baby. My husband just left me after 33 years….

….She sounds like she loves you a lot.

Finally she uses those ties to reinforce his behavior at the denouement:

It’s going to be all right, sweetie. I just want you to know I love you, OK, and I’m proud of you. That’s a good thing you’ve given up and don’t worry about it. We all go through something in life.

Mrs. Tuff was brilliant at how she moved Hill rapidly from one reality into another.  Contrary to school system officials eager to take credit for their woefully underpaid workers, it is a skill you can’t teach in a few communications classes.  It is always great honor to meet such magnificent individuals.

Often they do not appreciate how extraordinary they are.

Legalized Serfdom

Note:  This April 2013 post refers to an early version of the “Gang of Eight” compromise which Marco Rubio

claimed would bar citizenship until the border reached what many believe is an  unattainable level of security.  

I am not only for amnesty, I am for an open border, with bars only against criminals and the violent.

The celebrated compromise Immigration Bill sells out Latino voters 90% of whom want a path to citizenship.  This bill effectively denies that and may as well be called the Legalized Serfdom Bill. We have tried guest worker programs before- the Bracero program in the 40s quickly devolved into system of second class people in the US who were systematically exploited and abused. (Southern Poverty Law center report-pdf).

Some argue that this bill is different because it opens a path to citizenship.  Is that a reasonable expectation? Look at the conditions for allowing citizenship to proceed. Only after border security is shown to be 90% effective at stopping illegal border crossings would citizenship status be possible.  Marco Rubio’s web site emphasizes how no one gets a green card- possibly for decades until certain Republican Conditions are met.  The important one is the 90% effectiveness because it is practically impossible to achieve.  As Rubio’s site puts it f it takes 20 years for any one of the triggers (including border protection to reaching 90% effectiveness), then it will be 20 years before any undocumented workers get a green card. (Rubio’s release on triggers)

So think about that.  Is the GOP going to be eager to speed up getting more Latinos able to vote knowing that they proportionately heavily favor Dems?  Of course not.   This means the GOP has only negative incentives to increase spending on border security to that 90% effectiveness rate.

Optimists say 90%  is no big deal because we are already there in one “high” risk sectors, and are close within others.

However, the Center for Investigative Journalism is reporting that this supposed effectiveness  is a mirage.  Their reporting suggests that drone technology is revealing that the Border Patrol is closer to only 10% effectiveness.  If they are correct, the 90% requirement will prevent a path to citizenship for decades- perhaps permanently blocking it.

It should be noted that it’s not 90% effectiveness along the entire 2000 mile border, but only in the as yet undefined “high risk sectors”. Optimists point to the Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) statistics that show that the high risk Arizona region (aka “Tuscon” sector) already has near 80% effectiveness. But look at their definition of effectiveness. Appendix V of the Dec 2012 GAO report on the Border Patrol’s strategic plan (GAO 13-25 PDF) defines the way this is measured. The BP measures three groups: 1) the turn-backs- those they detect approaching but decide not to cross 2) those apprehended 3) Those detected who crossed but got away. Group one and three are called “known” attempts at illegal entry because they have reasonable evidence they occurred. However, they aren’t certain of the exact numbers in the groups who are turn-backs or get-aways, so the figures given are given the seemingly contradictory name “estimated known illegal entries”.

What’s the problem with this? As overall summary of the GAO emphasizes, the CBP does not follow best practices on its data gathering.  Some in congress may blow off this complaint as unimportant, but it is not a nit complaint between bean counting technocrats.  Anyone who has run a small organization or business knows whats wrong with this.  Note that the operating groups are grading themselves, and if they happened to under report the number of “get-aways” this would tend to inflate the appearance of the group’s effectiveness.  So surprise surprise.  Guess what happens.

This charade is being blown open through the use of drones. According to CBP reports, they have achieved an 80% effectiveness rate in the the Arizona sector, reporting 60% were apprehensions (see figure 39 of gao report). However, according to this report from the Center for Investigative Journalism, Drones over Arizona detected 7,333 border crossings during a period the CBP reported 410 apprehensions. Using the CBP’s estimate of their effectiveness, those 410 should have represented 60% of the total, meaning that their expectation of the total number of attempts during this period would be 683. But it wasn’t. It was 7,333.

So the Border Patrol’s report card on itself is not just a little off- they are off by an order of magnitude.  As the CIR report indicates, the 7,333 number is does not take into consideration reporting standards.  For example, a get-away is not be classified as one unless the officer is reasonably certain the person originated from across the border.  Officers understandably cannot be expected to track large numbers of independent targets simultaneously as they focus on specific situations.  Drones are designed to.

If the Andrew Becker’s CIR story is correct, CBP’s effectiveness in the Arizona sector is closer to 9%, not 80%.

This is why the Gang of 8 “Compromise” imposes a decades long if not permanent ban on a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens.

Let’s go Nuclear

On April 5, 2013, Harry Reid warned that Senate rules could be changed at any time.  Many thought that he was issuing this warning to Senators who threatened to obstruct even the most popular measures.  For example the measure that 90% of Americans said they approved of- the idea that all gun purchasers should submit to criminal background checks.  Reid promised there would be a vote on gun control and fired a warning shot in response to the growing threat of a filibuster against the bill reaching the Senate floor.   It was a direct challenge to Reid’s power, but Reid’s warning was not to Senators who can read polls just as well as anyone else- but to lobbyists.  Lobbyists know as Jack Abramoff said during a examination of the Senate machinations, that “playing defense is a lot easier”  because while there may be 5 paths to get a bill into law, there are about 50 ways to kill it (video-6:25 in- see transcript).  The reason that it is a lot easier is Senate rules that make it simple for a tiny minority of Senators- sometimes just one- to block a bill they don’t like.  And this is  what the makes Senate a chain- a chain only as strong as its weakest links. These rules create the very desirable situation for lobbyists with unlimited money to play an aggressive game of playing one weak link off another in order to block the laws or parts of laws they don’t like.

This debate poses a historic opportunity for those who support Democracy in America, because the Senate rules we have are arguably not just non-constitutional- it has been argued in law journals that filibuster rules are unconstitutional.  Maximum leverage is possible on this Senate measure on background checks, due to the 90% support it enjoys, and the enduring image of the dozens of murdered children at Sandy Hook elementary.

There was no doubt that lobbyists would be able to muster 40 votes to block this bill.  If Reid responded with sweeping rules changes advocated by Mann and Ornstein, then the lobbyists would have maybe only 7 out of those fifty ways to block laws they didn’t like.

This was why intense pressure was brought on the NRA by the DC community to prevent Reid from pulling the “nuclear option” trigger.  In Washington, a collective sigh of relief was issued, and a great compromise on background checks was reached which severely watered down its power to do anything meaningful to prevent tragedies like those in New Town.  As the Washington Post pointed out, one study of criminals interviewed about where they got the guns they used in crimes said that 39% came from friends or family and that the other 37% came from the black market.  The negotiated Toomey amendment crippled the bill’s power by exempting sales to friends and family, and disarming law enforcement so that it will not have the records necessary to detect and meaningfully combat the enormous arms black market.

It was said that the NRA was virtually present during the entire intense discussions on the so called “compromise” between two Senators who each enjoyed the NRA’s highest rating.  After the compromise, analysts talked as if the amendment they would be proposing was already passed.  The reason why is that not just the White House but all the major groups fighting for background checks praised the compromise.  This was the needed signal to allow the background check to be discussed, and the filibuster to prevent discussion failed in a 69-31 vote.

The supporters of background checks need to ask themselves if they wish the other needed measures should be watered down or blocked since they cannot achieve a 60 vote super majority in the Senate.  How long will we have to wait for meaningful reform with these rules?

That is why the courageous move now is to force Reid to go nuclear to allow a majority of Senators to pass the background checks bill.  All crippling amendments like Toomey’s must be voted down.  The NRA will use all its might to gather 40 votes to block the background check bill, and there is a reasonable chance they will find those votes if the Bill remains unamended.   At that point the pressure will be on Reid to change the rules.

The bloodied faces of those 26 victims as Sandy Hook elementary, and the 90% majority of Americans provides a moment of maximum leverage to force Democrats in the Senate to do the right thing and put an end to the non constitutional Senate rules which effectively block democracy in America.

This is the time to force the Rules to Change.  There will be no more ideal moment of maximum leverage as this.  Don’t water down the background checks.  Allow 60 votes to be required on amendments, and schedule the assault weapons ban and clip capacity amendments last.

Then press the nuclear button.  Change the rules and eliminate the 60 vote majority requirement.  This will allow passage without demanding that right wing Dems facing 2014 races make dangerous votes.

Go nuclear.

Curiosity maps of MSNBC viewers

Google has a little used feature called “Insights for Search” which will give you an idea which areas of the country have the highest per capita curiosity  about particular subjects.  Similarity in regional patterns can be amusing.

I am calling these curiosity maps because these are not really the same as viewership statistics that ratings agencies produce.  These maps are measuring the incidence of people curious about the search term.  After they have satisfied their interest, they do not necessarily keep on searching for the same term.  So the patterns can be significantly different than actual viewership.

For fun, I was looking for curiosity patterns that were similar to MSNBC hosts.  The following map suggests a correlation between  states with populations sophisticated enough to know what a Higgs field, and those intensely interested in what Lawrence O’Donnell has to say.  This is just for fun- the similarity in patterns could be for complete different reasons.

Lawrence O’Donnell vs. “Higgs Field”

What should be emphasized here is that this doesn’t indicate popularity.  Last Word has good ratings.  If there is very intense interest in some areas compared to others, you get patterns like this.   It indicates heavily polarized curiosity.


Chris Hayes vs. Santayana

Hayes has less polarization, but departs from typical liberal patterns.  He has not just the liberal coasts, but the south and midwest are interested.  What sort of non political curiosity patterns are like that?  Well- those curious about not-so-common not-currently-trendy thinkers.  Like Santayana.  Again, maybe this is entirely an accidental co-occurrence.

Melissa Harris-Perry vs. “Magic School Bus” (a children’s PBS show)

MHP.  Why no interest in Oregon?  Why strong in GA and NC, but zip curiosity from neighbors SC and AL?  Why no Louisiana?  Why does this pattern resemble that of a children’s educational show?  Odd.

Naomi Klein vs. Hercule Poirot

Diving a little deeper into these maps, you notice  some common structure.  That is, excluding hosts like Matthews and Maddow (those two pretty much touch every state).  Rachel does have some regional strengths but is tough.  Mary Poppins comes close, but RM is much stronger in the Pacific Northwest, and weaker in the south and Utah than Poppins is.

For the rest of the hosts, there is a base of states that is always included: California, Texas, Florida, New York- maybe this is because they have sufficiently large populations to support subculture diversity.  So which states are consistently incurios about what MSNBC has to say?  Almost always the mountain and plains states (except CO), Maine Vermont, and Hew Hampshire, Mississippi, Arkansas has as much interest in MSNBC as a Vegan does in BBQ ribs recipes.  Scarborough can get Maine, NH and even Miss. and Arkansas.  But West Virginia and the northern plains/mountain states can’t relate  even to him.

This is not due to some other factor like access to the internet.  It is interest.  Consider the pattern for George Strait (a country singer).  It is almost the complete Yang to the MSNBC Yin.

The Rachel Maddow Anomaly

Ok, I am an engineering kind of guy and so I get obsessively interested in any event that “shouldn’t happen”.  A saying attributed to Thomas Kuhn is that “Discovery commences with the awareness of anomaly.”  So this is a well known character flaw among scientists and technology folks- we secretly love it when our understanding breaks in spectacular ways.   It’s not pleasure of destruction or nihilism or anything like that- it’s because such failures indicate your model for reality is broken.  The more broken it is, the greater the possibility you are near something ground breaking.  So oftentimes when you fix its broken-ness you open whole new worlds you were blinded to due to flaws in the prism through which you were examining the world.  Anyway, the aggregate map of regional curiosity in Maddow  is pretty anomalous.  One might think at first glance that she is an unlikely host to quickly overwhelm MSNBC’s regional barriers nation wide.

Given the context of pretty consistent regional penetration barriers faced by the other hosts at MSNBC, this is a weird weird map.  The second anomaly is the tremendous underlying volatility over time that this aggregate map hides.  The map above is the aggregate statistics since 2004 but looking at these “curiosity maps” as they progress in time presents a different, more peculiar story. The google query for maddow has many more maps that can be played as an animation  (clickon “View change over time “), but here I select just a few for illustration.   Between campaigns, the  “curiosity maps” for Maddow looks more like the following periods: Ambivalent in CA, TX, FL and even NY, but a consistently base in WA, OR, WI and MA.

So for some periods she will entirely lose large swaths of states- including even Texas.  Then the next period she will surge back like the tide. For example, during the GOP primaries, she had remarkable curiosity from Idaho and Montana, Kansas and even Nebraska, but virtually nothing from Texas.

It would be interesting to know if there is any correlation between her stories and these patterns of curiousity.

Finally, it is important to take note of the phenomenon of Blue city islands in Red States.  Take a look at Maddow California versus George Strait California.  It’s almost oil and water.

It is tempting to feel warm and fluffy when we see Maddow’s strength in places like Kansas, but which Kansas is open to thinking about information she presents?   Is George Strait’s California the same as Maddow World California?  There isn’t much intersection except for mixed cities like LA, Sacramento and San Diego.  Maddow has Berkeley, Oakland, SF, Santa Barbara and Pleasanton.  Strait has Bakersfield, Patterson, Fresno, Stockton and Anaheim.

———– Technical Notes ————–

  1. Be careful you don’t misinterpret the charts:  The shorthand warning for math geeks is:  “each state has a normalized scale.”  The meaning for civilians is that if two states are the same darkness, it does not mean they had the same number of searches.  It is a per capita measurement of the concentration of searches.  For example in DC and NY the same number of people out of 10 find Hayes interesting, so they are the same darkness- even though NY had many more searches.  Also, the same color in separate maps does not indicate that they had the identical number of searches, so dark blue NY in the Santayana map is not anywhere near the number of searches for Chris Hayes in NY even though they are the same darkness.
  2. There is something funky with Insight’s numbers.  For example, the aggregate chart for Maddow 2004-2012 shows  she has moderately strong queries from states MSNBC never gets:  West Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas and the Dakotas.   For this to be true, at least one of the shorter periods within this timeframe would have had to have some non zero number of queries, but there are none for any of these states.  I can imagine two reasons for this statistical anomaly, so I am not saying something is necessarily bogus. I’m just raising a red flag on the data if anyone wants to use Google insight for analysis like this.  I am optimistic Google would allow access to the datasets if a person needed to do a rigorous study.

Jocularity in RomneyWorld

Romney tells South Carolina Governor Haley the punchline

US employees would have nearly $10,000 more in salaries if their share of GDP growth had remained the same as their share in 1970. The stark calculation of the reality of trickle down appears below.  A republican once called it Voodoo economics.  We are still in its trance, and we are marching off a cliff.

Let’s take a breather on the populist spin of this and focus on the economic dynamics.  It is indisputable that the US has a consumer economy- since 2001, 70% of our GDP was consumer spending.  Ask yourself this macro question: does it matter that $1.35 trillion dollars is being withheld from the purchasing power of US consumers?  It’s not just the US farms that are drying up.  Shortsighted decisions by US businesses are starving the goose that is laying golden eggs.

Here is the calculation:

  • This federal reserve graph* shows that since 1970, the share of US GDP going to workers has declined from 53% to 44%. A reduction of 9%
  • 9% of 2011 GDP is 1.35 trillion dollars
  • There are 145.5 million employees in the US
  • The 9% reduction in their salaries is $9278 per year.

Romney has deep beliefs and sincerely thinks he is God’s gift to US economics.  It truly is a tragic joke.



*Graph: Compensation of Employees, Received: Wage and Salary Disbursements (A576RC1)/Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.  (link)

If you accept the premise, you accept the bit

Folks, you are making this way way way too complicated.

Johnny Carson had a saying, “If you accept the premise, you accept the bit.”

  1. Premise:“Government not part of the solution. It is part of the problem.”
  2. The Bit: “As a government official, your job is to create problems. Problem solving is contrary to your premise.”

Somewhere in the 90s it dawned on conservatives that civility, compromise and actually being useful (eg Katrina reaction) were off message.

Progressives, we have to get a little more pro about this. Don’t underestimate your opponent by constructing narratives based on the idea conservatives are lunatic hypocrites. They aren’t. The ruling plutocrat’s who own DC and many state governments need government to be dysfunctional so that they can continue their activities. Plutocrats are buying a product, and conservatives are delivering.

Dried Up Rivers in the Heat of Maumie Ohio


Our rivers have never run dry. Until now.

There was great heat in Maumie Ohio today.   What will it take to get America’s unemployed back to work?   The President felt the heat and offered two answers that are always among the top five for progressives:

  1. Fund more education so that people will have the training needed for new jobs
  2. Fiscal stimulus in the form of building  infrastructure (roads, high speed rail and schools)

Two responses:

  1. What new jobs?  People are hiring for McDonald sure.  Lots of those jobs.  And yes, there are jobs at the high end.  But if we could snap our fingers and everyone had the perfect training for those jobs, there are not enough of them to even keep pace with population growth.   This is not doom and gloom talking.  This is labor department statistics talking.  Just look at the numbers of job openings and where they are.  Something profound has changed about this high tech economy’s need for labor.  The job market has polarized.  Plotting a graph of numbers of jobs versus the salary paid, you are looking an ever deepening U shape over time  numbers of middle income jobs is depressed, with movement to the tails of the graph, some towards the high end (but increasingly after 2008) mostly towards the low end.)   America is being hollowed out.
  2. Big projects are great.  Krugman and others say there is no structural problem and that the best thing to use is fiscal stimulus.  He is correct if “structural problem” is code from the right about the “structure” of liberal institutions that conservatives wish to deconstruct via austerity solutions.  Krugman is right about kick starting the economy, and the Keynesian theory he is applying is time tested- If we get more money out there in the hands of consumers we will reignite spending and get back to where we were in 2006.

The problem is, the glide path in 2006 was downward, even with the help of the Wall Street fueled bubble in construction.  So we have to do better than get us back to 2006.   Beyond the stimulus effect of these massive infrastructure programs, after they are built, what enduring impact do these big solar, wind and high speed rail projects have on job demand?  If they are built using the latest technology, large solar and wind farms can be run using only a few employees.  The immediate  jobs impact of  high speed rail, is that more truckers are out of work.

This is the systemic problem, and we can’t blame this part on the conservatives.  However much evil intent and deeds committed byRomney and other Bain types, such projects will have the same impact on job demand and  make the same decisions about trying to minimize labor needed to keep the facilities running.  Though conservatism plays a large part of the havoc on the jobs situation, the inexorable improvement of technology is driving the other part.  It is not necessarily inherently bad.  Futurists have long predicted the end of work as technology improves.

This disruption of the old pattern of ever increasing demand for labor has ended.  We are beginning the arc downward, and it is so unprecedented in mankind’s history that most economists dismiss it as modern day luddism.  The problem with this analysis is that the writers pointing out this shift are not the victims of the machines, but the technologists, engineers and entrepreneurs like me who have devoted their careers to building this technology.  The technology can be used for great good.  At society makes the transition, we are warning that there will be disruptive consequences.

Certainly, high tech energy projects have merit independent of their impact on jobs and energy security.  They are key to the other great challenge of our generation: global warming’s threat to the world’s population.   Considering the the threat to the middle class, we need other plausible economic strategies that generate jobs, strategies that do more than Manhattan Project scale national projects.  After all, how many people does it take to run a vast solar or wind farm?    Don’t get me wrong- I am a technology guy and it is simply ludicrous that the National Science Foundation is given less than one tenth of one tax penny to fund research at universities and other institutions. For the hundreds of billions in profits that past research at these institutions are today generating every per quarter, it is a smart investment to make that at least a half penny. Quantum physics may seem bogus to most people, but if we hadn’t figures it out there would be no cell phones, no GPS, and lots of other microelectronics we rely on every moment. No- we should do that. I am just saying that unlike sci fi and action films, technology or the decisive machine is has no the crucial role in the solution.

The key thing progressives must focus on is our premise. As Johnny Carson said, if you buy the premise, you buy the bit. The premise that conservatives offer we are all too familiar with. What an economy is for is like nature- rugged individualists educate themselves and go from rags to riches. Accommodating the weak is the entitlement culture- and leads to a society’s destruction.

The problem with their premise is the pitch that there are enough jobs to go around. The way low labor intensive high technology works, we no longer need armies of workers in the factories, and there aren’t enough of the jobs taking care of the machines to absorb the displaced workers. This isn’t Luddism. This is simply a fact about how labor saving our technology has become.

Obama has an alternate premise which reflects the dominant view amongst the “wise” economic elites of the Democratic party establishment.  It is that income inequality is created by top down economies, and if workers had a fair playing field and adequate education, with the rich paying their fair share, then America would do just fine.

This stock Democratic answer to the conservatives would be reasonable if the jobs were there to fill.  They aren’t.

Progressives must get a grip about what has been happening to labor demand since 1980.  They must confront the new reality that the job market is radically polarizing.  America, along with the rest of the industrialized world is facing the impending destruction of their middle class. Economists like David Autor at MIT have documented it (such as in this paper). Technology and market forces are driving business to aggressively cut numbers of workers needed.   Businesses may understand that if everyone cuts jobs, then there will be no consumers to buy their products, but they can’t know that with any certainty, or is it their responsibility to harm their bottom line to head off a macro economic risk that to them is shear speculation.  It’s not their job. It is a truism that their goal is to extract as much money from the economy with as  few employees as possible.  Some may even understand that  the math that economists like Autor is using is not lying.  Macroeconomics simply is not their problem.  If what technologists like Martin Ford and David F. Noble, Jeremy Rifkin,  Marshall Brain, and James S. Albus are saying about reduced labor demand is correct, this is a systemic threat that independent businesses are not equipped to solve.

So let’s return to the question:  What are economies for? The conservatives answer it is ok if economies benefit the fittest- never mind that it is only the 1%. What is the answer from progressives? What is our vision of what an economy for?

The economy is to benefit the largest number of hard working Americans as possible.

It seems common sense, but if the obsolescence of middle class jobs is as technologists like Martin Ford predicts, then what Obama is doing is getting  fundamentally new structural challenge to our economics.   Anyone  examining in depth media coverage of the economy is familiar with the idea that if the middle class is not there to buy goods, the consumer economy collapses. If the purchasing power of the middle class is a river, then what companies are doing by reducing their workforces is pumping lots of purchasing power out of the rivers, and returning very little water in terms of wages and lower cost goods.  Rivers are running dry not just because we have gotten very good at putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the purchasing power river is drying up because technology has allowed us to get very good about not hiring humans to do the work that can now be automated.

An apocryphal tale is told of Henry Ford II showing Walter Reuther, the veteran leader of the United Automobile Workers, around a newly automated car plant. “Walter, how are you going to get those robots to pay your union dues,” gibed the boss of Ford Motor Company. Without skipping a beat, Reuther replied, “Henry, how are you going to get them to buy your cars?”

Citizens buy the proposition that government must make sure the companies pump more than a fair share of water from rivers and lakes. We must take the step of showing that it is a valid proposition that companies may not pump more purchasing power out of an economy than they return.

There are lots of policy ways of achieving this, and a vast set of them are totally capitalistic in case any of the traditional readers are thinking this sounds like yet another pitch for the failed philosophy of centrally managed economies. No- companies are allowed ridiculous profits in reward for their insanely cool innovations. The only proposition is that what they return to the purchasing power river must be no less than their fair share required to keep the consumer economy healthy.

That’s all.

So that has nothing to do with building big dams or wind or solar farms which literally require a few dozen maintenance workers after they are built.

One way of doing this is tax policy. If a company does not pay out a sufficent percentage of their profits in middle class wages to, then the surplus is taxed at extremely high rates. For the free traders in the crowd, this could even be devoid of any reference to national boundaries. The argument that might convince some progressives not to be concerned is the optimism that given the choice of an American manager who is required as a cost of doing business to provide a middle class salary for a job, they would prefer to have that job to be in the US rather than in the far East.

This is not socialism- this purchasing power regulation is simply to prevent the collapse of our consumer economy. Since it is a cost of doing business that all companies have, it is level playing field and businesses still win and fail based on how intelligently they play the game within those constraints.

That’s the key game changing paradigm shif more progressives need to make. Ask Americans what the economy is for.  Simply asking the question points out that it is a human creation, and that it is not as pointless a question as asking what dirt is for.  People create economies, and spend a great deal of effort managing them.  Surely we can articulate what such an important thing is for.   Although people will offer differing answers, every American knows that if only a small minority sees the benefits, then the system stinks. And that moral indignation is a powerful political force. I’m not talking about a populist appeal to the mob. Teddy Roosevelt’s pitch at Osawatomie was for fairness.

Obama’s election must be more than moral disgust for Bain companies cannibalizing the American dream. There must be a positive vision and believable account for how he is committed to a game changing move that gets at America’s systemic economic challenge: the threat  to purchasing power caused by dried up demand for labor.


6/3/2014  Edit: deleted use of jpg from a malware site.  replaced with a hosted version of same jpg

Twilight of the idolatory of proxies

The week ending June 24, 2012 offered a juxtaposition of right wing and centrist attitudes of the disconnect between the electorate and their heroes.  From the perspective of the Right wing media, it was perfectly reasonable for the House Financial Services committee to refuse to put Jamie Dimon under oath, yet express support for another House committee to hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress in a flap about a Bush administration program that he shut down.  The right was standing behind their heroes of Wall Street regardless how disastrous their performance has been towards Right wing goals for the economy.   The centrist media reflecting views from the middle of the political spectrum, (let’s call them the Bill Clinton/ Blue Dog democrats) is expressing a different theme.  This point of view is that the progressive left is behaving irrationally because it is not responding to the democratic leadership as it did in 2008.  One example is the growing disconnect between progressives and the President.

According to Chris Hayes’s book, Twilight of the Elites, both left and right are questioning the legitimacy of their leaders.  He optimistically hopes that the Tea Party is an expression of the disconnect the Right feels with their heroes.  But we saw none of this in evidence with the treatment of Jamie Dimon.  Participants in the Right wing bubble world are just as stable in their world view as ever, being consistently selective with which leaders they feel disconnected with.  The reality is that extremists are stabbing the moderates and otherwise circling their wagons around their heroes.  At the other end of the spectrum, what the progressives in America, Europe, and in the Arab spring countries are doing is reconsidering their relationship to their customary political representatives- their political elites (proxies).  Centrists feel this is at best yet more irrational naivete from the lunatic left.  At worst it is betrayal and disloyalty at the crucial political moment that the democratic party needs all the support it can muster.

One centrist  theme being floated now is that progressives disarmed the President by not making activist demands that would provide a political counterbalance to the right wing.  The attitude is revisionist and counter to the facts about what democratic party political operatives were communicating to the left after Obama was swept into the White House.  The truth is that the newly reemployed democratic administration members had as  little regard for progressives as the Clinton White House did.  Former Obama administration member Van Jones  put it this way- that after the election the DC elites told progressives “…You need to sit down and shut up and we will deal with this. And I think it turned out that that was wrong”. (video– skip to 15:50).  I watched the demobilization of the progressive base of supporters in 2008.  My thought at the time was that Obama had delegated development of his base to people who were clueless, indifferent or outright hostile to this base.  It was a mirror of what I saw at meetings of “elites” at the local level in my city.  I couldn’t grasp why they felt so anxious about the large crowds of enthusiastic volunteers.  It later came to me- this was destabilizing the cozy power balance they understood, and this new situation of sound and fury made them anxious that it would bring unwanted complications to their activities.    Perhaps the national party functionaries felt similarly, regarding this group as the lunatic left, but whatever the rationale, there were many other volunteers like me who felt they were squandering the huge opportunity that the massive Obama for America network of supporters represented.

There was something very heartless about how they were treating organizing.

By 2010, progressives understood that the US President’s model of politics was based on idealistic rationalism. It is an old and traditional ideal, one that all of the founding fathers espoused but notably none of them practiced.  What became clear by 2010 was that the problem was not just disconnected Dem party technocratic elites.   Obama was appeared to have a peculiar philosophical unwillingness to exercise executive power and maximize the impact of his intentions, both towards those close to him who covertly subvert his intentions and towards his opponents who do so more overtly.  Towards his opponents, he exercises civility and courtesy rather than force  the other party to come to him.  Regarding subordinates, he seems to easily dazzled by intellects like Larry Summers,  nor does he seem to understand that those he delegates power to must be monitored.   His view about his opponents is perfectly sensible according to 18th century ideals- that rational actors treated with civility and fairness will recognize the common ground and come to agreement.  His stated theory suggested he understands politics is much more than application of logic.   Yet though he professes that politics is the art of the possible, his actions demonstrated  profound artlessness- in particular the artlessness of early compromise.  Michele Goldberg of the Daily Beast put it this way on “Up with Chris Hayes”:  “Obama has constantly underestimated the bad faith of his political opponents.” (June 24, 2012 show).

The mental trap of the enlightenment thinking about politics is that it established a false dichotomy between rationalism and emotionalism. Modern neuroscience now understand that cognition itself is not possible without emotion. As a manifestation of this projection of 18th century models of cognition on 21st century politics, George Lakoff talks about the disconnect between the Saul Alinsky children of the Enlightenment running around identifying interests and in a formulaic cookie cutter fashion, building corresponding political structures to deliver a political product answering those interests. The trouble is that these organizations are a mechanical productization of political activity: all thought and no heart.  Volunteer members of such organizations feel themselves to be cogs and mechanical operatives, not part of an organic soulful organism.   No one wanted to feel used, and it is why Obama for America was a failure.  It is why the Dems’ cynical letters soliciting “grassroots support” and the input of their constituents are so transparently an application of commercialization of politics.  The mass mailing hype is more corrosive and dispiriting than the Fox News propaganda.

What I have been advocating and what others such as George Lakoff, Manuel Castells and others are telegraphing movement towards is neither the cold technocratic constructions of the Alinsky types nor the emotional excess of Andrew Jackson populists. Lakoff calls it a New Enlightenment.  While his cosmology of political archetypes can be at times as claustrophobic as Jung’s tidy system, at least Lakoff is on the right track of  when he points at the primal and central role of the metaphoric thinking operating within issues.   At one time I hoped the president’s literary background gave him an appreciation of this level of understanding.  This appears not to be the case.  The rationalism/ Enlightenment perspective of the 18th century appears to have long ago captured the President’s imagination about how to best approach politics and use his gifts of communication.

Understanding this delusion is key to understanding the delusion of the centrists.  What they share with the circle the wagons types on the far right is their attitudes towards their leaders.  One of the key mysteries Hayes attempts to get at is behavior of a system towards an elite guilty of misdeeds.  He asks why it is that other elites create an environment that enables the perpetuation of recognized misbehavior.  Hayes point of view is that the elites are insular and feel greater emotional distance from the non elite victims.  Hayes asserts the solution is that people need to be more horizontally empathetic towards others.  The trouble is that this is a motherhood statement without any real substance.  No one is against “being a kinder gentler nation”.   Further, stating some bromide about knowing where we want to be is not the same as knowing the paths we can take to get there, where we are now, or how we got so lost in the first place.

Hayes is utterly confused about the core of the problem.  What we need to understand about how we use people and thoughts as proxies for exercising judgement. Elites are proxies we rely on to perform services we value. We rely on them as proxies to exercise good judgement in our place.  At times some of them achieve a heroic status in our minds.  In a very similar manner, we rely on thoughts as a proxies for thinking.  As we do with ideas, we size a person up early in our relationship with them.  After this early relationship when we exercise our judgement about them, we settle into a stable relationship with this mental model of the person.  What this means is that we interact with the proxy, or mental representation we have  rather than the person themselves.  When the behavior of that person diverges from the construct as in the case of Sandusky, the cognitive dissonance is uncomfortable for our narcissism.  The propensity of subcultures to narcissistically seek information sources  that reinforce the tribal view and resist reconsideration of their heros is hardly a new phenomenon. In the field of culture history and sociology, it is an outlier point of view to suggest that is anything other than ancient.  Really our narcissism is predicated on establishing a comfort zone free of the cognitive labor of exercising our emotional, intuitive and logical faculties required for making judgements in our daily life.

That’s the level that Hayes misses.  Grasping this phenomenon about or use of cognitive proxies explains the resistance, it explains the empathetic distance, and it suggests a path out of this mental trap.  It provides avenues more actionable than general leftist pablum about wandering off and loving one’s neighbor in a horizontal, social media oriented sort of way.

There is a great deal of cultural support for the coach potato habit of reliance on mental proxies and resisting the rigor of exercising  our full human faculties.  Being non judgmental /accepting of others is something laudable both on the left on the right when applied within the circle of the tribe. Outside the group, the world is a morality play painted in harsh Manichean terms. Let’s not mistake “judgmental” proxies for thinking with actual judgement though. What we need is not less willingness to judge the actions of others, but more.

There is no question we need proxies for thinking. Without these placeholders we could not leverage their power of abstraction.  In a dynamic situation, we need to challenge some thoughts for authenticity and currency frequently.  Yet many need to be reconsidered far less frequently.  How big this latter circle becomes in our lives is crucial.  The mind yearns for a refuge from the dynamic.  We naturally find comfort in a world where we can trust proxy thoughts and proxy actors with the kind of certainty we can place in the Pythagorean theorem. The church, winning football team, and political ideologies are warm blankets people want to immerse themselves in.

What does this mean at the political level.  It is horrifying for those seeking stable hierarchies.  Around about the time I start advocating that we judging people more, the Alinsky crowd rolls their eyes because the stock formula is that building a movement around common values and judgements is doomed due to the non homogeneous nature of the electorate who will vote for democratic party candidates.  In the establishment view, organizing based on common interests is much more practical and politically realistic. From this perspective, the less talk and judgement exercised among the rank and file the better. The more trust in technocratic proxies the better. The role for the members of the tribe is to contribute money and phone bank. When the election is won, we are to shut up, sit down and let the smart guy professional elites execute on satisfying the interests.

The centrist political message is, we don’t care about you or your individual thoughts. You and your volunteer work doesn’t really don’t matter, but your money does. As for public opinion, we’ll statistically identify the popularity of the demands being made and choose the ones that will motivate the largest segments of the electorate to vote their self interest.

This where centrist elitism has carried us. Not taking public financing was judged in 2007 to be the technocratically “smart” move to make. For the progressive base to not commit more than a billion dollars of their severely drained resources for single political campaign is an ill-advised expression of naivete, with misplaced clinging to principle about PACs. Michelle Goldberg’s admonishment in the June 24th Uppers show was that we need to out corrupt the right wing.

The trouble is that this appeal to not exercise good judgement is a race to the bottom that has no end.  Eventually we are reduced to settling our differences with street fighting in genocidal battles in an increasingly Balkanized world.

Maybe it is the conventional liberal establishment that is the more naive about where the technocratic path takes us.

Maybe the New Enlightenment involves progressives who insist on engaging the world constantly with our hearts and minds.  This mental habit would be a revolt to our over reliance on proxies as a substitute for exercising judgements- whether they are proxy thoughts, or proxy actors (“elites”). Maybe these actors would be better advised to lay down their Alinsky cookbooks and appeal not to narrow self interests, but organize by offering volunteers a way to recover our sense of self worth- to be offered the opportunity to serve together with brothers and sisters in order to achieve something bigger than any of our individual wants or needs.  In churches we call it the heart of service that is the heart of the church.  It is the heart of movements.

This is something Obama could do with a superorganism of supporters who were there for him in 2007 and who can be called to service in order to deliver the country from the ruinous path of corruption our society has been following.

That is, if he is willing to exercise his gifts with the electorate, is willing to play hardball with his political adversaries, and is willing to embrace the power of social media to identify new heroes who will succeed our current leaders in public service.  Not functionaries.  Leaders.  A new dawn where groups of organized progressives select proxy representatives of their point of view yet subject those proxies to continual challenge and scrutiny.  This dawn represents the twilight of idolization of proxies- of referring to them as elites gifted in mind but not heart.  It is not the twilight of respect for elected, or expectation that their engagement of the world with a full heart implies an expectation they engage the world without cunning.    On the contrary this new dawn represents the high regard progressives have for those who faithfully serve others.

What I am suggesting is not easy.  Progressives have been in a 40 year quagmire, and it is time we awaken from our self indulgent slumber.