Welcome Back, Cuba. You were never far from our thoughts…or shores…

Todays news, that US – Cuba relations are set to ease, is such a welcome notion that some faith in the goodness of humanity could be restored. Recognition that sanctions do not work, unless all players are in the game and abide by the rules, has finally dawned on an American president.

The people of Cuba have valiantly struggled against the wishes of the US and its trade impositions for over five decades. Yet their leadership, which brought about the reasons for sanctions, has not suffered. Against the wishes of the master race, the blanket of sanctions has been torn to shreds by many nations (except America’s client states such as Israel and Honduras.)

As in other zones of influence, the US had invaded, controlled and governed Cuba against the wishes of the people of Cuba. A sort of divine right of kings minus the royal blood. It mattered nothing that the Cubans were then subjected to years of violence under dictatorships supported by the US. Just as the former colonial Europeans had ground the population into subsistence farming and dire poverty, the US turned a blind eye to a suffering people.

By forbidding relations with Cuba among nations over which the US has sway, the US caused Cuba to seek solace elsewhere. So it built up relations with Eastern Europeans countries, including Russia and Central and South American states. In typical hypocritical fashion, those helping states were labelled rogue states, terrorists and outlaws. The Godawful spectre of Socialism and even worse, Communism was trundled out with much hair pulling and wringing of hands. Yet Socialism has given Cuba an enviable education system and a superior health system that puts others to shame.

The Cuban people are friendly, peace loving and welcoming to strangers. They have threatened no one. They have invaded no one. The US can not honestly make similar claims. The Cubans do not have a national dose of paranoia or cater to the latest bogie man. They seem sensible and mature.

The sunny climate seems to pass reflections to their national character. Cuba has many more assets than cigars and rum. Whenever there is an emergency situation anywhere on the planet, the Cubans are among the first to offer aid, medicine, and manpower to alleviate the situation. Even in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the Cubans jumped in with offers of aid, in New Orleans. Moreso than American EMO folk. The offers were turned down by the US. The Cubans are on the front lines fighting AIDS, Ebola, Earthquakes, floods and mudslides. American media offer no kudos for their good works. Cuba offers educators and health professionals in many areas of Africa.

If Mr. Obama’s initiative is taken up and supported by the US legislature, only good can come of it. Already the rumblings of dissent are being voiced by those who see no good in anything Mr. Obama proposes. Like the tree that falls in the forest and is not reported by Fox News, Obama gets the blame for the fall. The richest and most powerful nation in the world has a responsibility to raise diplomacy to new levels of good sense and maturity. I would like to hold my breath.

Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, Mr. Obama? Really?

The Senate Report on Enhanced CIA Interrogation Techniques puts the lie to all political pronouncements coming out of Washington over the past decade and in part over the past half century. Mendacity, hubris and hypocrisy are alive and flourishing in the land of the free.

The US signs pacts, treaties, international and domestic, which casual readers might assume are entered into law to be rigorously followed by all signatories to those agreements. But the US decides which treaties to ratify and even then which ratified treaties to uphold. It would seem that only those treaties which meet with the blessings of the corporate lobby and favour their culture of trade protection, form the standard. Yet for all other signatories, the US insists that the letter of signed treaties be followed unwaveringly. Hence we have one of the multiple double standards in American law. (The treatment of unarmed black children at the hands of a militarised police force is another and frightening in the extreme.) The same war crimes which sent Germans, Italians, and Japanese to firing squads, or lifetime hard labour are glossed over or white-washed by the American media when the US are the perps.

Many of the findings so far released in the Senate Report have been well known in North America and internationally for many years. The UN and other NGOs have regularly requested that the US judiciary take steps to see justice be done fairly and that the perpetrators be offered remedies according to US and international laws in accordance with their involvement.

The executive branch of government seems to think that their duty is only to lament that high crimes and serious misdemeanors have been carried out. The current chief executive is no exception. Mr. Obama’s daily lament, while no individuals are named and no blame is cast, shows a certain spinelessness. It may be good diplomatically but it is a weak response. If Obama follows in the footsteps of his predecessors, the perps will be pardoned as Reagan and NIxon had their crimes pardoned. Again a double standard. While millions of black americans live incarcerated for relatively minor infringements of law, those responsible for crimes against humanity, genocide, or war crimes strut their stuff as free men.

Knowing all this as a given, isn’t there a case for American NGOs such as the ACLU, Amnesty International, Centre for American Progress, et al., to use the Senate Report to sue the perpetrators in American courts? The UN has asked for indictments. Why are Americans sitting back as if everything is just a storm in a teacup? Is it really OK to be the 1000 pound gorilla in the room, an international rogue state, practising lawlessness with impunity?

During his daily chats on this report, Mr. Obama has stated that, “This is not who we are.” “We are better than this.” Yeah right Mr. Obama. If you were really better there would have been no need for this report and the world community could look up to “the shining city on the hill” as mentioned in another dreamscape. If this is not who you are, show some fortitude and make things right. After all you are the most powerful man on the planet!


Over the past three months I’ve had the good (?) fortune to spend some time with world leaders. Presidents, heads of billion dollar industries and down. Access came about quite by chance; I asked one such person if I could. Okay, I wrote one such person asking if I could. A while ago, actually. Evidently my background was being checked.

And checked and checked and checked. My original thinking was that this kind of access would help both me and NextStage understand political thinking so we could evaluate it and compare it against voter thinking more accurately. As we’ve correctly predicted political outcomes in local, state and federal elections since 2004, sometimes months ahead of larger organizations1, you have to wonder what “more accurately” really means.

Basically, it means “better than before”. We’re NextStage. We’re nits about things like that.

It started with one person and, like the old shampoo commercial, that person told two friends and they told two friends and they told two friends and…

I asked one person why she agreed to give me access. Framed in her office window overlooking a busy metropolitan street, she was silhouetted by the afternoon sun as she stood behind her desk, focusing on the papers spread out there, pen in hand, perhaps deciding which to sign. A smile crossed her face, visible even in silhouette and there was a small, quiet chuckle as she lifted one paper for closer inspection. “Whatever your thoughts of us as a whole, we’re pretty smart people. We learn a lot when you study us.”

She was talking about “Digital Divisivity“. Specifically, some leaders are aware that digital divisivity is slowing things down and not helping anybody. Add that to no leaders taking the time to interact with other leaders outside of the leadership environment and you get the current worldwide industrial/governmental morass. People who once depended on their ability to quickly read (aka “size up”) their opposition have lost that skill and desperately need it back. Considering how short some of these “meetings” are, the need to communicate and be understood multidimensionally is a necessity. NextStage has been teaching such things since 1990, although we called it “cultural anthropology” back then.

But there was something more in her smile. “Anything else?”

“You’re valuable but harmless.” I had the impression that she and her peers had discussed that exact question and she was sharing the consensus opinion.

“Valuable but harmless?”

“What you do is valuable to people like me but your own rules2 stop you from doing anything to harm us. You’re valuable but harmless.”

“I could decide to break my own rules. I could betray a confidence, though. Don’t you folks do that? Constitutions, rights, charters, laws, … you don’t hold to them if you can get away with it.”

She evaluated me for a moment. It wasn’t hesitation, I could feel myself being weighed in a balance, then, “You know neuroscience, you know why you put those Principles up for the world to see. You won’t violate them.” A pause followed by a shrug as her eyes returned to the papers on her desk. “Besides, I’m a politician, you’re not.”

It’s good to know one’s position in life. I’m valued by a certain class because I have different values than members of that class. “When I’m not kissing babies, I’m stealing their lollipops,” I said. She nodded without looking at me.

So for about an hour a day I get to listen and watch the process of government, big and small, and industry ditto. Sometimes together, sometimes not.

My big takeaway has to do with ego.

I wrote in Humor

Only people with incredible egos will self-identify as being able to govern others because the definition of government is to know what is best for the majority even when that majority disagrees with or fails to recognize what is best (Georgia’s Lyman Hall supposedly said “They did not elect me to do what they think is best. They elected me to do what I think is best.”). Self-identifying as being able to lead and make decisions for others indicates a belief in some form of superiority to them.

I still believe that. The past three months has also taught me that people at the highest levels of anything must believe their decision is the best one both at the time they make it and for the foreseeable future.

I’m not writing about maniacs who get into power (although my revelation also applies to them), I’m thinking about people dedicated to the best for their country/state/municipality/society/community/… It takes a phenomenal ego (not to mention tremendous discipline) to have the best advice available from all sides, measure it against your personal experience, your learning, your education, etc., and possibly make a decision which no one will favor yet you believe in your core is the right one.

I use the term “right” advisedly. Right and wrong are moral absolutes. Even atheists in power resort to god-imagery and language when the decisions become binary (yes/no, black/white, on/off).

In Humor I wrote of ego in the negative sense. Here I write of ego in the positive sense.

My personal takeaway is that I have a different kind of respect for all people in authority. Even the ones I disagree with. Especially the ones I like as individuals while disagreeing with them.

They are making decisions they know will affect large numbers of people and believing their decisions will be the best possible for the largest number of people both now and in the future.

That’s a kind of ego I don’t want to have. Without an amazingly accurate crystal ball, anyway.

1 – You can read about our accuracy in Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History

2NextStage’s Principles

Posted in

Apple’s 1.9% Income Tax, How Hurricanes Change Political Thinking, Romney’s Water Bill, Scott Brown Goes It Alone, Elizabeth Warren’s Smirk and assorted Election Eve Matters

This post deals with random conversations taking place around me during today’s travels. Most amuse me and I hope you, as well.
Apple paying 1.9% tax on foreign income

Apple’s 1.9% Income Tax

Several recent news items dealt with Apple paying 1.9% tax on foreign income. Two business travelers sitting in an airport bar commented that Apple wasn’t to blame for doing what US tax laws allow it to do. Blame should go to Congress for putting laws into place that allow companies to pay such tax bills.

I agree. Do you blame a child who acts out in public or do you blame the parents for allowing such behavior to exist? If the parents didn’t allow the behavior, the child wouldn’t act out.

How Hurricanes Change Political Thinking

NextStage's Political Reader ToolRegular readers of this blog know about NextStage’s Political Reader tool and how we’ve been monitoring political thinking over the past few weeks (see Politics and Your Mind 9 Oct 2012 (Introducing the NextStage Political Reader), Politics and the Gender Mind 10-12 Oct 2012 (With a Touch of Debate BS and PersonaScoping at the End), Politics and Your Mind 17 Oct 2012 (The Day After the Obama-Romney Hofstra Town Hall Style Debate) and The Fickle Vote (Politics and Your Mind 22 Oct 2012))

23 Oct 2012 was a good day to be undecided, we guessStarting Tuesday, 23 Oct 2012, we started gathering daily political results but didn’t have time to compile and report on them. See that big pinkish purplish piece of the pie in the image on the right? Tuesday, 23 Oct 2012 must have been a good day to be undecided because that’s what that pinkish purplish piece of pie means.

A Republican edgeThe Republicans took the lead on Wednesday, 24 Oct 2012, but evidently a greater percentage of Tuesday’s Undecideds went to the Democrats than went to the Republicans.

And now a big leadAnd on Thursday, 25 Oct 2012, we discovered that Thursday’s child, if Democratic, was full of woe because the Republicans took a big lead. There were more Undecideds than on Wednesday but it cost the Democrats dearly.

The winner would have been Republicans if people voted todayRepublicans continued their surge and would have won the election if voting had occurred on Friday, 26 Oct 2012.

Saturday is National Democrats Day, evidentlyBut on Saturday, the Democrats took the election…if it had occurred. What caused this shift? No idea, only that the shift did occur. Perhaps Democratic thinking shines on Saturdays? More people are out doing errands than working and living a life causes more democrating thinking that doing your job? No idea and we’re open to suggestions.

Back to the RepublicansSunday, though, everything went back to the Republicans.

And this is where it really got interesting…

The 'I Don't Care' vote makes itself knownIt is now Monday, 29 Oct 2012. A barely noticeable black slice of the pie started showing up for real on Monday, 29 Oct 2012. That darkish slice indicates people who simply and truly don’t care about politics at all. It suddenly shows up in the female voting studies and has been around for a few days at 3-7% in the male voting studies.

And on Hurricane Sandy Day nobody gives a rat's patootie about politics at all!This picture on the right covers 24 hours from early morning Monday, 29 Oct 2012 to early morning Tuesday, 29 Oct 2012. Nobody cares about politics at all! Hurricane Sandy is stopping the Eastern US from functioning and the eastern US is pulling the rest of the US with it (one person told me about 23′ waves on the Great Lakes. Whoa!).

One person commented that these images show Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in action. Politics don’t mean much when you’re busy bailing water. People either have a pail or they’re in the way.

People are saying Romney but it's up to the UndecidedsBy the way, today, Monday, 5 Nov 2012, Election Eve, people we’re monitoring are saying Romney but if actually had to vote today? The Undecideds make it truly too close to call.

As of today.

Romney’s Water Bill

Evidently Romney was the last in a long line of Republican Massachusetts governors who didn’t pay New Hampshire an agreed upon amount for flood control dams. The number of times New Hampshirites mention this is amazing (to me).

NH and MA had an agreement going back to the 1950s that required NH to designate property to be used to thwart flood waters from sinking parts of MA. If NH doesn’t control the flood waters, most of MA along the Merrimack River is underwater so MA has a vested interest in having NH do this. But NH’s chief source of revenue is property taxes, hence NH is giving up a considerable chunk of change by turning over much of its south eastern corridor’s real estate to MA’s benefit. In return, MA agreed to pay NH 70% of the lost tax revenue for the properties given over to flood control.

New Hampshirites refer to themselves as the last of the diehard Yankees and this subject bangs against Yankee frugality and good neighborship both. “He only pays his bills when it suits his needs and only then when he has to” and “Do you want to put someone in charge of the country who’s willing to screw his neighbor if it suits him? I’m sure the world’s going to love that” were heard in today’s travels.
Scott Brown's Going Indie!

Scott Brown Goes It Alone

Some of MA Senator Scott Brown’s recent campaign ads close with the statement “Vote the Person. Not the Party.”

This is amusing. There’s not a lot of independent political organizations backing Scott Brown (see any of Scott Brown: Campaign Finance/Money – Top Donors – Senator…, Who Is Funding Scott Brown? , A divide of donors in Senate contest and Financial firms support GOP incumbent in Mass. Senate race).

But who is backing him is not an important question. Nobody does anything above street level politicking these days without lots of financial backing, so he can’t be called on the carpet for that.

“Vote the Person. Not the Party.” presents a fine edge brought on by anxiety, fear, perhaps a little madness and a desire to be so in the middle that nobody can afford not to like you. It’s a wonderful self-realigning statement for a finger-pointing time.

The important question is “How many favors does he need to return?” Remember “If its free then you’re what’s being bought and sold”? Your vote is coming at an incredibly high price for everybody.

Smirky Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren’s Smirk

I laughed when I first saw this. I thought about the time, effort and money that went into either finding or creating that image, then thought “You really want to impress me? Put the snarky face on the left and the smiley face on the right. At least then you’ll be causing people’s brains to register you with goodness rather than “Boy, what a wiseacre smirk he’s got on his face. No wonder she’s pissed off at him!”

But we apply lots of neuroscience to our clients’ marketing efforts here at NextStage.

You’d have to expect a response like that from us, I guess…

Outsourcing Errors

NextStage keeps hearing about Republican hopeful Mitt Romney’s outsourcing jobs when he led Bain Capital. Whether he did or not is still a question (see What was Romney’s role at Bain during outsourcing?). But the talk did cause us to wonder what happens when outsourcing occurs.

Whither Innovation?

Andrew Robinson writes in the journal Nature that local innovation is stifled when countries outsource jobs. Specifically what’s stifled is the need and desire to solve simple problems. It may be cheaper to outsource call centers, for example, but then no one spends any time solving the problems that result in the need for call centers.

Level 1 technical support for most modern conveniences — everything from software to mobiles to automobiles to long distance carries to medical analysis — is typically outsourced. Any business owner or manager understands the need for this. Level 1 support can usually handle the greatest number of customer concerns (high double digits). Level 2 support is only needed for 1-5% of customer concerns and Level 3 for tenths if not hundredths of a percent of customer support calls.

Level 1 call centers handle issues so mundane they typically work from a script. It’s that simple and rote.

But admins, personal assistants and secretaries have long known that if you want a problem solved, make sure the boss has to deal with the problem and usually only once is enough to get the problem solved. Industry is rife with examples of minor problems that were never solved until the boss had to deal with it. One of my favorites involves a boss who wanted to print out an email and learned first hand that the printer had a problem.

The printer had had problems for a few months but when the boss ran into the problem, it was fixed in a day.

So it goes with solving mundane and trivial tech problems. Unless someone with authority and budget needs a solution, it’s not solved. Call centers are cheap but they don’t solve the underlying problems that need to be addressed. Yes, some companies pay attention to call center reports but there’s a big difference between a thousand reports of customer frustration and one, personal, hair-pulling episode with an email client.

Here’s another example of problems being solved when they bother the boss: Movie theaters need to post and inform patrons when a movie actually starts as oppose to when the advertising starts. Such was not always the case and theater goers were infuriated by this for years.

But one day an US Senator decided to go see a movie. Legislation changing the posted start times from advertising to actual movie was filed within weeks. It might even have been days…

Whither Identity?

Shehzad Nadeem, an US based sociologist, has studied how hosting outsourcing centers affects India, “a top outsourcing destination for many Western companies”, in Dead Ringers: How Outsourcing is Changing the Way Indians Understand Themselves and it’s not good.

India has a large population of English-speaking, highly educated talent but that talent isn’t serving India’s best interests because they’re in call centers answering phones rather than working directly to improve India’s own technology base.

Outsourcing may bring a broad technology infrastructure but India’s poverty remains, and between training to speak and think “western” and the time-difference between India and the countries it’s call centers serve, call center employees don’t have much energy left at the end of the day.

Another challenge is that western education often creates western “wants” that cause their own socio-economic conflicts. Two years ago more Indians had cell phones than had modern sanitation by a factor of 3:2.

Whither Diversity?

Whether outsourcing goes to India, Canada or eastern Europe, any time the educated majority of a country is given one specific task and that task isn’t country of origin related, cultural diversity suffers. Nova Scotia based call centers serving the US can draw on a shared language and a much greater shared history than India or eastern European call centers can. Canadians can still be Canadians while serving US businesses. Not so with emerging nations.

The requirement to perform, to make the numbers, requires language skills and cultural knowledge that often replace nationalistic self-concepts and self-identities. The end result is that locally directed productivity suffers because the focus is now on “over there” instead of “right here”.


Did or didn’t Romney outsource jobs? That history will ultimately be written by the victors, probably.

Is outsourcing good for host or sourcing country? Probably not in the long run. Although economically attractive in the short term, sourcing countries lose the impetus to solve low-level problems and host countries lose internal diversity and wide-spread public growth.

Technology may be the great equalizer but only if what’s being equaled are themselves equal.