Category Archives: Politics

While we sleep, corporate execs strip-mine America

Summary: Nothing shows how America’s reins are held by the 1% than our out-of-control corporations, enriching their executives at the cost of the future of their businesses — and ours. Here’s another status report on this sad but fixable story.

Executive Pay

The Q2 Buybacks Report by FactSet is, as usual, sobering reading. During the 12 months ending in June, companies in the S&P 500 spent $555.5 billion repurchasing their shares. For the first time since October 2009, buy-backs exceeded free cash flow (cash flow after capex); they’re borrowing to buy back shares.

For the past two years buybacks have run at the fantastic rate of ~$120 B per quarter — the same rate as in 2006-2007, with tech companies the leaders. In 2014 they spent 95% of their profits on buybacks and dividends (building the future is somebody else’s problem in corporate America).

Investors applaud this as a boost to share prices. Surprising to the naive, a decade of buybacks has reduced the S%P 500’s share count by only 2%. Share buybacks are one part of the triangle trade that transfers vast fortunes from shareholders to senior executives using stock options:

  • executives exercise their options when shares rise (i.e., the company sells shares to executives at a discount to current prices),
  • the executive sells those shares to the public,
  • the company buys back those shares from the public.

Net result: the company has less money, their executives have more, the share count is unchanged.

This is an example of how America’s senior executives have learned to treat running companies — even running them into the ground, as Carly Fiorina did at HP — as a sideshow to their real job of financial engineering (for their personal profit). During their boom the Japanese called these financial games zaitech (cursing it after their crash in 1989). Stock options, tax avoidance, earnings manipulation, mergers and acquisitions (almost all of which fail; see articles at CBS and HBR) — these are the paths to success for execs in New America.

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Donald Trump leads us back to the future, to the dark days of US history

Summary: Every election gives us the opportunity to shape America. We do not choose the specific national policies of the next four years, since Presidents often don’t do what they promised. Rather we give a nudge to the evolution of America; we influencing what we become. Those who vote make that decision. The choices, however unappealing, are unusually clear in 2016.

On September 22 Donald Trump attended at 45-minute long rally at Rochester, New Hampshire, speaking to about 3,000 people. Anyone who believes America is not in serious trouble should read these remarks as reported by The Hill.

“We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one — you know he’s not even an American. But anyway, we have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?”

Trump responded: “We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things, a lot of people are saying bad things are happening, we’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”

A second man stood and made the same claim. “I applaud the gentleman who stood and said Obama is a Muslim born abroad and about the military camps, everyone knows that,” he said.

“Right,” Trump responded, before quickly moving to the next questioner.

… {A woman in the audience} told him that there is a “new holocaust” in New Hampshire and that people are being loaded into boxcars and beheaded by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. “I just wanted you to know that,” the woman said. Trump moved on without addressing the woman’s claim.

The remarks from the people are unexceptional; every society has people on the fringes with such views. Hatred of people different from ourselves is a sad but widespread phenomenon around the world and across history. It is an endemic “disease” that has errupted again in America, as reported by the NYT: “New Poll Finds Anti-Muslim Sentiment Frighteningly High“.

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Climate scientists can restart the climate change debate & win: test the models!

Summary; Public policy about climate change has become politicized and gridlocked after 26 years of large-scale advocacy. We cannot even prepare for a repeat of past extreme weather. We can whine and bicker about who to blame. Or we can find ways to restart the debate. Here is the next of a series about the latter path, for anyone interested in walking it. Climate scientists can take an easy and potentially powerful step to build public confidence: re-run the climate models from the first 3 IPCC reports with actual data (from their future): how well did they predict global temperatures?

Trust can trump Uncertainty.”
Presentation by Leonard A Smith (Prof of Statistics, LSE), 6 February 2014.

The most important graph from the IPCC’s AR5

Figure 1.4 from the IPCC's AR5

Figure 1.4 from p131 of AR5: the observed global surface temperature anomaly relative to 1961–1990 in °C compared with the range of projections from the previous IPCC assessments. Click to enlarge.


Why the most important graph doesn’t convince the public

Last week I posted What climate scientists did wrong and why the massive climate change campaign has failed. After 26 years, one of the largest longest campaigns to influence public policy has failed to gain the support of Americans, with climate change ranking near the bottom of people’s concerns. It described the obvious reason: they failed to meet the public’s expectations for behavior of scientists warning about a global threat (i.e., a basic public relations mistake).

Let’s discuss what scientists can do to restart the debate. Let’s start with the big step: show that climate models have successfully predicted future global temperatures with reasonable accuracy.

This spaghetti graph — probably the most-cited data from the IPCC’s reports — illustrates one reason for lack of sufficient public support in America. It shows the forecasts of models run in previous IPCC reports vs. actual subsequent temperatures, with the forecasts run under various scenarios of emissions and their baselines updated. First, Edward Tufte probably would laugh at this The Visual Display of Quantitative Information — too much packed into one graph, the equivalent of a Powerpoint slide with 15 bullet points.

But there’s a more important weakness. We want to know how well the models work. That is, how well each forecast if run with a correct scenario (i.e., actual future emissions, since we’re uninterested here in predicting emissions, just temperatures). Let’s prune away all those extra lines on the spagetti graph, leaving forecasts from 1990 to now that match the actual course of emissions.

The big step: prove climate models have made successful predictions

“A genuine expert can always foretell a thing that is 500 years away easier than he can a thing that’s only 500 seconds off.”
— From Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

A massive body of research describes how to validate climate models (see below), most stating that they must use “hindcasts” (predicting the past) because we do not know the temperature of future decades. Few sensible people trust hindcasts, with their ability to be (even inadvertently) tuned to work (that’s why scientists use double-blind testing for drugs where possible).

But now we know the future — the future of models run in past IPCC reports — and can test their predictive ability.

Karl Popper believed that predictions were the gold standard for testing scientific theories. The public also believes this. Countless films and TV shows focus on the moment in which scientists test their theory to see if the result matches their prediction. Climate scientists can run such tests today for global surface temperatures. This could be evidence on a scale greater than anything else they’ve done.

Model of a hurricane.

A hurricane in the Weather Research & Forecasting (WRF) Model. From NCAR/UCAR.

Testing the climate models used by the IPCC

“Probably {scientists’} most deeply held values concern predictions: they should be accurate; quantitative predictions are preferable to qualitative ones; whatever the margin of permissible error, it should be consistently satisfied in a given field; and so on.”
— Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962).

The IPCC’s scientists run projections. AR5 describes these as “the simulated response of the climate system to a scenario of future emission or concentration of greenhouse gases and aerosols … distinguished from climate predictions by their dependence on the emission/concentration/radiative forcing scenario used…”. The models don’t predict CO2 emissions, which are an input to the models.

So they should run the models as they were when originally run for the IPCC in the First Assessment Report (FAR, 1990), in the Second (SAR, 1995), and the Third (TAR, 2001). Run them using actual emissions as inputs and with no changes of the algorithms, baselines, etc. How accurately will the models’ output match the actual global average surface temperatures? This was proposed by Roger Pielke Jr (Prof Environmental Studies, U CO-Boulder) in “Climate predictions and observations“, Nature Geoscience, April 2008.

Of course, the results would not be a simple pass/fail. Such a test would provide the basis for more sophisticated tests. Judith Curry (Prof Atmospheric Science, GA Inst Tech) explains here:

“Comparing the model temperature anomalies with observed temperature anomalies, particularly over relatively short periods, is complicated by the acknowledgement that climate models do not simulate the timing of ENSO and other modes of natural internal variability; further the underlying trends might be different. Hence, it is difficult to make an objective choice for matching up the observations and model simulations. Different strategies have been tried… matching the models and observations in different ways can give different spins on the comparison.”

On the other hand, we now have respectably long histories since publication of the early IPCC reports: 25, 20, and 15 years. These are not short periods, even for climate change. Models that cannot successfully predict over such periods require more trust than many people have when it comes to spending trillions of dollars — or even making drastic revisions to our economic system (as urged by Naomi Klein and Pope Francis).


Re-run the models. Post the results. More recent models presumably will do better, but firm knowledge about performance of the older models will give us useful information for the public policy debate. No matter what the results.

As the Romans might have said when faced with a problem like climate change: “Fiat scientia, ruat caelum.” (Let science be done though the heavens may fall.)

“In an age of spreading pseudoscience and anti-rationalism, it behooves those of us who
believe in the good of science and engineering to be above reproach whenever possible.“
P. J. Roach, Computing in Science and Engineering, Sept-Oct 2004 — Gated.

World Models

Other posts in this series

These posts sum up my 330 posts about climate change.

  1. How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.
  2. A new response to climate change that can help the GOP win in 2016.
  3. The big step climate scientists can make to restart the climate change debate – & win.

For More Information

(a)  Please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and post your comments — because we value your participation. For more information see The keys to understanding climate change and My posts about climate change. Also see these about models…

(b)  This is an obvious idea. I saw one mention of this on the web (e.g., by Carrick in this Sept 2013 thread at Climate Audit) — there are probably others — but nothing by a climate scientist — formally or informally made. We can only guess why.

The odds that no scientist thought of this are IMO zero. Why has this not been done? We can only guess.

(c)  I learned much, and got several of these quotes, from a 2014 presentations by Leonard A Smith (Prof of Statistics, LSE): the abridged version “The User Made Me Do It” and the full version “Distinguishing Uncertainty, Diversity and Insight“. Also see “Uncertainty in science and its role in climate policy“, Leonard A. Smith and Nicholas Stern, Phil Trans A, 31 October 2011.

(d)  Introductions to climate modeling

These provide an introduction to the subject, and a deeper review of this frontier in climate science.

Judith Curry (Prof Atmospheric Science, GA Inst Tech) reviews the literature about the uses and limitation of climate models…

  1. What can we learn from climate models?
  2. Philosophical reflections on climate model projections.
  3. Spinning the climate model – observation comparison — Part I.
  4. Spinning the climate model – observation comparison: Part II.

(d)  Selections from the large literature about validation of climate models

How climate change can help the GOP win in 2016

Summary: Republicans have adopted a purely negative platform for dealing with climate change, a difficult to explain policy that puts them in opposition to most scientists. This post describes an alternative platform, one that is consistent with their principles, easy to explain, appealing to undecided voters, and cuts through the chaff of factional bickering. It’s the kind of policy that helps create coalitions that win elections.

“… a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.”
— Martin Luther King’s speech “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution“, at the Episcopal National Cathedral in Washington on 31 March 1968.

Republicans Flag


  1. GOP weakness on climate change
  2. An agenda for the 21st century.
  3. Conclusions.
  4. Other posts in this series.
  5. For more information.

(1) The Republicans’ weak stance on climate change

The Republicans have ceded the politics of climate change to the Democrats. The only mention of it in the 2012 Republican platform is trivial…

“Finally, the strategy subordinates our national security interests to environmental, energy, and international health issues, and elevates “climate change” to the level of a “severe threat” equivalent to foreign aggression.”

So far the GOP’s 2016 presidential candidates have little to say about it. I see no policy statements about climate change on the issues pages of campaign websites for Rick Santorum, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul.

Carly Fiorina says that the solution to climate change is “innovation not regulation”, without many details (her website points to video clip here, and here). She also says — logically — that California should have prepared better for the drought — although her specific recommendations are illogical: more dams and water infrastructure (ineffective and too expensive to cope with multi-year droughts) and massive destruction of California’s ecology (e.g., damage to key species such as the delta smelt — calling it unimportant because it’s a “small fish”).

When questioned, Republican candidates tend to respond with evasions and half-understood techno-babble (even if they understood it, the public would not) — or just deny the problem (see responses at the CNN debate). There is a better way, one consistent with their commitment to a strong defense and a sound infrastructure for America.

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American politics is a fun parade of lies, for which we pay dearly

Summary; Another day, another “2 minute hate” — this time by the Left on my post The 97% consensus of climate scientists is only 47%. They’re the usual assortment of misrepresentations and lies prepared for their tribe, who accept them without question. I’ll do the usual fact-rich boring debunking of them tomorrow. But it’s more important to understand the game being played on us. Here is a brief description of the group dynamics that run America and makes reform almost impossible. Of course, these are generalities, and cannot apply to every situation, every time, or every individual.

Truth vs Lies

Valuing Tribe over truth

Truth is impossible to know. But functionality requires the some ability to tell fact from fiction, albeit imperfectly. During WWII and the Cold War era, when the American middle class grew in size and wealth, our elites made a great discovery: they could lie to us with impunity (details here). Like so many innovations, this was first discovered by the NAZI government — and further developed by other western governments.

Each side of the political spectrum put this powerful knowledge into use to develop their faction into groups with tribal truths — resistant to rebuttal by logic or fact by the evil others, and producing followers of guaranteed loyalty and easy to manipulate. Hence our 21st C America.

This led to fear-mongering and debunking as the primary form of political communication. Unrestrained by criticism, each faction arouses its members with visions of doom. This game became commonplace in the late 1960s, and rose to dominate our national dialog during the past 20 years.

Since the 1960s the Right has relied on tales of moral degeneracy sparking civilization’s collapse, Red Dawn, fifth columns, Shari law, national bankruptcy, sleeper cells, Hispanic hordes, hyperinflation, rampant crime, collapse of the US dollar, etc. The Left warns of resource exhaustion, megadeaths from famines and pollution, ecosystem collapse, and imminent fascism (Bush is like Hitler).

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The Donald Trump revolution, dismissed as all revolts are in the beginning

Summary: Donald Trump’s assumption of leadership of the right wing of American politics, and perhaps of the Republican Party, marks a milestone in our history. Even if he burns out, we see in him the outlines of a greater leader to follow. Meanwhile the machinery of Republic lies unused, as we tell ourselves there is no difference between the parties and that reform is impossible.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Donald Trump

NBC Photo, by Chris Haston.

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
— Attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson.

The rise of Donald Trump to a leading position in the Republican Party marks a milestone in the evolution of modern America.

Conservatives have worked for generation to create a body of people ignorant of our history, of economics, and of current events. They’ve created a faux version of economics and a faux version of history (buttressed with hundreds of fake quotes). They have incited fake fears about threatening “others”, foreign and domestic — and the almost certainly coming crash of the US dollar and bankruptcy of the US government.

Perhaps these people have found a leader in Donald Trump — an ignorant, prejudiced and boorish figure even by the lax standards of American politics. He makes previous political outsiders look like George Washington (e.g., Ralph Nader, Ross PerotJessie Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger). America has a tradition of populist leaders, such as Huey Long and William Jennings Bryan, but Trump is like them as chalk is to cheese.

Assessing the Trump phenomenon

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How we broke the climate change debates. Lessons learned for the future.

Summary:  This, my 305th post about climate, explains what I’ve learned so far. Climate science as an institution has become dysfunctional; large elements of the public no longer trust it. The politics of climate change are polarized and gridlocked. The weather will determine the evolution of US public policy. All we can do is learn what went wrong so we can do better next time, and wait to see the price we pay for our folly.

“The time for debate has ended”
— Marcia McNutt (editor-in-Chief of Science, next President of the NAS) in “The beyond-two-degree inferno“, editorial in Science, 3 July 2015.

Scientists tell the UN about the coming disaster in “When Worlds Collide” (1951)

Presenting at the UN. From "When Worlds Collide" (1951).


  1. Why doesn’t America lead the fight against climate change?
  2. How do scientists alert the world to a catastrophic threat?
  3. Case study: the pause.
  4. The most incompetently conducted media campaign ever?
  5. My personal experience.
  6. The broken climate debates.
  7. Other posts in this series.
  8. For More Information.

(1)  Why doesn’t America lead the fight against climate change?

Why does climate change rank at the bottom of most surveys of what Americans’ see as our greatest challenges? (CEOs, too.) Since James Hansen brought global warming to the headlines in his 1989 Senate testimony, activists for action on this issue have had almost every advantage. They have PR agencies (e.g., Hansen’s new paper, the expensive propaganda video by 10:10. They have all the relevant institutions supporting them, including NASA, NOAA, the news media, academia, lavish funding from foundations and charities, even funding from the energy companies (also here), They have support from the majority of scientists.

The other side, “skeptics”, have some funding from energy companies and conservative groups, with the heavy lifting being done by volunteer amateurs, plus a few scientists and meteorologists.

What the Soviet military called the correlation of forces overwhelmingly favored those wanting action. Public policy in America should have gone green many years ago. Why didn’t it?

(2)  How do scientists alert the world to a catastrophic threat?

“Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.”
— Harsh but operationally accurate Roman proverb.

We have seen this played out many times in books and films since the publication of When Worlds Collide in 1932 — A group of scientists see a threat. They go to America’s (or the world’s) leaders and state their case, presenting the data for others to examine and answering questions. They never say things like this…

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