One cannot be handcuffed by data on a fundamental moral issue of this kind?

Um, well, yes. What is this stuff? Pointed out to me first by Russell – see-also his Troglodyte narrative. This is about something sent to, or from, John Podesta which has surfaced via the increasingly-suspect Wikileaks. Which is to say MEMORANDUM JANUARY 28, 2014. CLIMATE: A UNIFYINF THEORY TO THE CASE.

An unified theory of climate? Excellent… we’ve all been looking for that.

After reading some dodgy websites I think it was sent by Chris Lehane (“a Democratic strategist and Steyer confidant”; or, if you’re RS, one of “K-Street’s famed Masters of Disaster”. I don’t even know what K-Street is) to “longtime Clinton advisor” JP. Do let me know if I’ve got this confused. So, it would appear to be some kind of advisory document of unclear status. Oh, perhaps the email to which the doc was attached makes things clearer. But WTF, I’ll read the doc anyway. One thing worth noting is the statement we have limited visibility on how the Administration is considering climate in the context of the next three years which suggests it was written by outsiders and/or wannabees; not by anyone well connected to the administration.

the goal is to unify policy, politics, and communications to help the Administration best execute an informed plan over a multi-year time period

That’s clear enough,or appears clear: this is a political and policy document. But it is aimed “to help… an informed plan”, and you would hope that would involve rather more than politics: you’d hope it would involve the long-term good of the nation, or even the planet. The doc, written in 2014, talks about a three-year plan to 2016, aimed at the run-up the the Pres elections now peaking in a paroxysm of… I don’t know what. The aim is to “demonstrate that climate is a winning political issue by 2016” which is a bit icky and political for my tastes, but only in order to “thereby mov[e] the body politic to a place where game-changing climate policy is possible” which is a noble ideal indeed.

The next talking point is Make the case that climate must be approached as a challenge of historical social change where progress will depend in part on successfully casting the issue in moral terms of who is right and who is wrong and here you’ll see it coming into the area that I’m interested in, which rather overlaps We Don’t Need a ‘War’ on Climate Change, We Need a Revolution? which is the same kind of thinking, and which I didn’t like: Gw is to become not an issue of scientific right or wrong, but moral right or wrong. This moves it from safe and secure ground – scientifically we know that the IPCC, for example, is right whereas the denialist wackos are wrong – to rather more difficult moral ground. I don’t think you can finesse that by saying “but it is wrong to lie, so the denialists are morally wrong too” because while that is true, it isn’t the interesting argument. There are a disturbingly large number of Republic pols who are prepared to talk nonsense about the science of GW but – and you may call be a naive young innocent here if you like – I think that this is less that they actually believe what they’re saying and more that its a shorthand for “we’re not going to do anything about GW” which returns us to “what are we going to do?” which is then the moral question.

The theme continues. This political social movement must be founded on moral principles with stark definitions of who is right and who is wrong and again, being divisive is perhaps good for pols who want their constituencies but I’m dubious it is a good way of “moving forward” as they say on GW. By pursuing this as a political social movement, President Obama and his Administration will best be able to assure that his legacy includes his unprecedented leadership on climate that initiated the shifting of the country’s political tectonic plates to enable transformative climate change policy, before it was too late. Well, that didn’t work and the constant thinking of “we must do something within X short-term horizon” isn’t good either. This activity in the context of the 2016 presidential cycle will have the consequence of forcing the Republicans, due to pressures within their primaries, to adopt an even more extreme, and therefore politically non-viable general election position. Um, joy. Again, as politics this may be fine but deliberately forcing a block of people off into an extreme position is not good from a viewpoint of solving the problem. it is an interesting insight into how non-bipartisan politics comes about, I suppose. But perhaps hardly novel.

But it is not all bad. while climate is an enterprise threat to humanity, it is not yet understood as such by the public to a point where it is demanding action. Consequently, if we do not now pursue an approach to accelerate the public’s demand for change, by the time the public does demand change because the climate impacts have become so extreme, it will be too late is quite defensible, and noting the opposition includes some of the most powerful, well-resourced, and deeply-entrenched interests seems reasonable. but then the strategy must… be based on… an exercise in political social change. By its very definition, social change means that any approach must at its essence be designed to leverage the inherent moral nature of the issue. And with that, he’s lost me. Why “By its very definition”? So if we were to suppose that we need “social change” – and you could probably argue that agreeing a carbon tax, and its consequences, would need social change, why must that be thought of as moral, rather than simply economic? The two are not orthogonal, of course, but why think of it as in-essence moral?

From ending slavery to women’s suffrage to worker rights to Civil Rights to anti-smoking to gay marriage — the issue was truly joined and decisively won when it became defined not merely as a worthy policy but a moral issue of right and wrong. Um, again. This makes it ever more starkly clear: the issue is to be moral right and wrong, and anyone who doesn’t agree with your policies is a Bad Person and can therefore be ignored. Then comes the offending and slightly ambiguous one cannot be handcuffed by data on a fundamental moral issue of this kind which I really cannot like; but it is all of a piece with the rest.

There’s a section called “the Big Idea”, which I think is supposed to be the bit that convinces you this is all Moral, rather than the rest which simply asserts it is so, but it is rather thin:

* Anti-Basic Science – OK, this is an issue of right and wrong, granted. But I’ve covered that above.
* Intergenerational Equity – this is a moral issue (by definition, since it has the world “equity” in it) and it is relevant. I’d still be happier with a carbon tax than a moral crusade though.
* Fair Shake/Risky Business; and All In This Together – not quite sure what they are getting at there. Possibly linked to the unequal burden / benefit problem; needs to be clarified.
* Justice – errrm yes a moral issue again by definition. But it rapidly goes off the rails: This idea encompasses several sub-ideas and provides a straightforward moral framework of right and wrong. It starts by making a basic distinction between those who profit (fossil fuel companies) and those at risk (the rest of us). Because that is wrong in so many ways. We all gain to some extent by burning fossil fuels: that is, after all, why we do it. And fossil fuel companies are owned by people. People via their pension funds, for example.

That’s enough of this stuff, isn’t it? far more than enough I think.

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24 thoughts on “One cannot be handcuffed by data on a fundamental moral issue of this kind?”

  1. This is a strictly insider document solicited by a political campaign from a political consultant.

    I think you’re naive on US politics. This is the land of the ‘Moral Majority’ and”Family Values” and litmus tests on abortion, LGBT issues, and where fears of the impending imposition of Sharia Law abound.

    That one party has essentially ceded ‘morality’ as an issue to the other is often cited as one of its biggest mistake over the last 50 years. It is in this atmosphere that American politics operates.

    One need only consider the actual policy ideas that Trump has put forward – other than building a wall can anyone actually name one? Do Democrats even bother trying to refute his ideas? No, what’s the point? “Grab ’em by the pussy.” is the headline they want and an ad they *should* be running non-stop. It’s an attack on Donald Trump’s morals.

    It’s his lack of moral values that has caused some GOPers to distance themselves from him – not any of his ridiculous policy proposals. To gain them back Trump has to essentially say, yeah – but she’s worse!!

    Back to the OP, that a political strategy document would utilize morality to advantage is something Democrats really need to be better at. Think of the children!!! May not gain many points at your local debate club, but it sways voters in American elections.

    Is this cynical, crass, a hell of a way to select the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth? Yes, and?

    P.S. ‘ambiguous’? C’mon, there’s nothing ambiguous about that sentence at all.

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  2. “This is a strictly insider document solicited by a political campaign from a political consultant.”

    Really, Kevin , haven’t you got around to reading it yet?

    Podesta wasn’t running Hillary’s campaign when he commissioned- he was in the West Wing of the White house- just read the damn thing :

    Dear John ;
    Per your request, attached is a memorandum outlining a possible unifying approach for the Administration when it comes to climate…
    the specific material requested(a range of so-called “frames”…written so as one could just cut and paste… to provide some strategic thinking on the politics of climate …

    We hope this is helpful and stand ready to support whatever you may need…</blockquote

    It goes on to demand weekly progress reports from every department of govenment, and within two weeks, Podesta’s public website ThinkProgress had started to ” cut and paste ” from it .

    Tip o’ Hegels hat for reminding us that materialism is much to important to be left to the Marxists

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  3. MC:
    Lehane is the coauthor of Masters of Disaster, and the Ten Commandments of Crisis Management.

    K-Street is DC.s Street of Shame, lined with the offices of the nations foremost spin doctors and PR hacks, right , left , and center.

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  4. WC ( sorry for the typo above) :

    One thing worth noting is the statement we have limited visibility on how the Administration is considering climate in the context of the next three years which suggests it was written by outsiders and/or wannabees; not by anyone well connected to the administration.

    Not well connected ? John Podesta was Clinton 42’s White House Chief of Staff and Presidential Advisor of record to Obama , and bids fair to be Clinton 45’s as well.
    This appears to be the climate policy communication playbook that’s been in play since January 2014.

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  5. Gw is to become not an issue of scientific right or wrong, but moral right or wrong. This moves it from safe and secure ground – scientifically we know that the IPCC, for example, is right whereas the denialist wackos are wrong – to rather more difficult moral ground.

    That global warming is occurring is a scientific question. What to do about it is, of necessity, a political question. Inevitably, questions about what sort of world we will be leaving to the children/grandchildren will arise. For the US Democratic Party to attempt to seize the moral high ground on the issue is a valid political strategy.

    To follow up on Kevin’s point @1, as an American I welcome the attempt to change the conversation of morality. The Republican base likes to claim the mantle of morality, but a large fraction of that base consists of people who describe themselves as evangelical Christians yet act as though the words printed in red in their Bibles are in red because they are erroneous. Contra Kevin’s claim, almost all of these people are voting for Trump. (I have somewhat more sympathy for the Mormons, many of whom are sufficiently uncomfortable with Trump’s lack of family values that Evan McMullin has a shot at becoming the first third-party candidate to win electoral votes since George Wallace in 1968.) With the hypocrisy of the American Religious Right on full display for all who wish to see (and there are none so blind as those who do not wish to see), it makes sense for the other side to make the argument from morality.

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  6. I’ll repeat the quote I’ve used here before from Frances Wooley:

    “The most fundamental public policy choices we face involve trade-offs between current and future consumption: the desirability of tax cuts and deficit finance; the value of reducing greenhouse gas emissions; the advisability of investing in infrastructure. If you want to know an economist’s views on things that matter, forget about minimum wages or free trade. The most important question of all is “what is the social discount rate”? The moral argument for discounting the well-being of future generations has always been dubious. The opportunity cost argument might have seemed convincing during the heady days of the tech boom. But now that negative interest rates are a serious possibility, even the opportunity cost of capital argument for discounting seems questionable.”

    Perhaps I need to translate for some people:
    The most fundamental public policy choices are *moral* choices and you cannot divorce politics from morality and you cannot divorce economics from morality.

    Russell – yes, Podesta had not yet *officially* joined the Clinton campaign, so I should have written:”This is a strictly insider document solicited by a political organization from a political consultant.” Which of course changes the fact it was an insider document not one whit nor that it was a *campaign* document.

    I’m wondering if *you* have actually read it.
    This activity in the context of the 2016 presidential cycle will have the consequence of forcing the Republicans, due to pressures within their primaries, to adopt an even more extreme, and therefore politically non-viable general election position on climate, while Democrats are able to benefit from such extremism (i.e., climate would be the 2016 policy analog to what immigration was in 2012—it is not politically feasible to be in opposition to reform).

    How many brain cells does it really take to understand this is a political strategy and tactics document? That’s what political consultants provide.

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  7. Lehane was an Al Gore man, now a California political consultant with Washington DC ties, all on the liberal Democratic side. Yes he’s all politics.

    Podesta was inside the administration but Lehane wasn’t, so it was written from someone technically at least on the outside.

    He could potentially have a role in a new Clinton Administration, maybe within White House staff or wherever Podesta ends up.

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  8. Podesta was the mastermind of Earth2100, which aired for two hours on prime time TV in 2009 (ABC) and sank almost without a trace. It was very good, if a little doomy, but what somebody called the “soviet style” graphics were a little off. The cast of consultants was a good list. Don’t know if the link will activate: if anyone is interested, sorry it’s late and I’m not doing the html so you don’t have to paste.

    I actually found in Russell’s post a good list of objectives which seemed OK to me. This bit, except I’m not sure what is meant by “hot gas” in the final item:

    The Winning Principles
    – ending royalties to the most profitable companies in the world and sending the money back to the public as a tax break
    – solar panels along our public roads that would reduce energy costs for all Americans
    – barring or limiting utilities from charging fees to consumers who put solar panels on their domiciles
    – improved drinking water standards
    – significantly enhanced liabilities for companies that pollute water or pollute lands with pipeline/rail leaks
    – asthma protections; establishment of a significant liability health and safety protocol related to fracking
    – banning political contributions from entities that receive federal funding, permits or tax benefits related to public lands
    – stronger consumer protection on gas prices to protect against refiners and distributors manipulating the supply lines
    – protecting consumers from hot gas

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  9. > I think you’re naive on US politics.

    Alas, the evidence suggests we’re all naive on US politics.
    “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.” – Lily Tomlin

    Has anyone yet suggested that the only reason the Arctic is melting is the military-industrial combination of decades of nuclear submarine transits, dumping of old hot reactors in the Laptev Sea, and oil and mineral prospecting vessel activity?

    Just you wait.

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  10. To read the following Times op-ed kindly linked by WC:

    ‘Marx thought of the human body as part of the natural world and called nature an extension of our bodies. Following Marx, contemporary theorists like Jason Moore and John Bellamy Fosterdescribe our changing, and dangerously unstable metabolic relationship with nature…
    However, if we understand that the enemy is not our physical environment, but the unjust social relations that allow some to gain at the expense of and risk to others, then technological solutions can be a part, but only a part, of the plan. Crucial to this plan is gaining social control over the private, exploitative and even irresponsible direction of the human-nature metabolism.
    For this reason, Naomi Klein has called for solutions that go beyond the technological…We want to follow Klein’s lead in shifting the conceptual focus from technologies of power to relations of power. ..’

    Susan, I dutifully sat through the film. but Mike’s beautifully scripted science lesson was soon swept away by a Wagnerian wall of computer animation- when will Captain Planet get around to telling DiCaprio that models are not things?

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  11. TL/DR, but

    “One cannot be handcuffed by data”

    to me read as the need to rely on the science rather than insisting on waiting for the expected decades required for a weak signal to emerge unambiguously in a noisy system.

    Seen that way, LBJ or RMN could have taken action sooner.

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  12. In other news, from Kumu, Inc. (Los Gatos, CA)
    https://www.kumu.io/

    ” … Jay W. Forrester passed away. Professor Forrester founded the field of systems dynamics and was a major champion for system dynamics in education.
    “We’d like to share one our favorite articles of his that serves as a great reminder of what it means to be systems educated and the importance of understanding the nature of systems in which we live and work….”:

    https://thesystemsthinker.com/learning-through-system-dynamics-as-preparation-for-the-21st-century/
    ________________________________
    “… the most intense disagreements usually arise, not because of differences about underlying assumptions, but from different and incorrect intuitive solutions for the behavior implied by the assumptions.

    In building a system dynamics model, one starts from the structure and the decision-making rules in a system. Usually there is little debate about structure and the major considerations in decisions. When a model has been constructed from the accepted structure and policies, the behavior will often be unexpected. As the reasons for that behavior become understood, I have often seen extreme differences of opinion converge into agreement. Students should see modeling and an understanding of systems as a way to reduce social and political conflict.

    Building Courage. A strong background in modeling should show students that conventionally accepted opinions about social and economic policies are often actually the causes of our most serious problems. If they realize that popular opinions are not necessarily correct, they should develop courage to think more deeply, look beyond the immediate situation, and stand against majority opinion that is ill founded and short sighted.

    Working with models should not only enhance skill in making precise statements, but also bolster the courage to do so. Making precise statements opens one to being wrong. By a precise statement I mean one that is unambiguous. A precise statement has a unique meaning; it is clear. However, a precise statement is not necessarily accurate or correct. …
    ——–

    [I entirely agree that commonly-held opinions are often the cause of major failings. However, it is easy to “see” this of our opponents opinions; far harder to see of our friends or our own. The point about precise statements, too -W]

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  13. How does the carbon tax compare to zero-emission-vehicle credits?

    http://www.businessinsider.com/elon-musk-trump-decision-on-electric-car-incentives-wont-hurt-tesla-2016-11

    “… because of the way the program is set up, there’s an oversupply of ZEV credits flooding the market. That’s made it harder for Tesla to consistently turn a profit from selling them. For example, ZEV credits were so negligible in the second quarter that Tesla didn’t even break them out.

    As Bloomberg reported at the time, this sparked a particularly nasty tirade by Musk on Tesla’s second-quarter earnings call.

    “The California Air Resources Board is being incredibly weak in its application of ZEV credits,” he said. “The standards are pathetically low. They need to be increased…. It’s a crying shame that they haven’t. And as a result, you can barely sell the ZEV credits for pennies on the dollar.”

    [It seems odd to call that a nasty tirade. But as for the point, ZEV credits are just part of the problem of not having the sane solution, viz a carbon tax -W]

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  14. A bit more from thesystemsthinker.com, to encourage clicking the link and reading more than that one full text on the subject:
    —-excerpt—–

    “There will be apparent causes that meet the test of being closely associated in time and in location. However, those apparent causes are usually coincident symptoms arising from the distant cause. People are thereby drawn to actions that are not relevant to the problem at hand.

    Comments such as these about cause and effect carry little conviction from being stated in a lecture. Only after a student has repeatedly worked with models that demonstrate such behavior, and has had time to observe the same kinds of behavior in real life, will the idea be internalized and become part of normal thinking….

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