Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mare Sit – Lux Sit

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I didn’t finish my salad. That’s not an indictment on the indulgent lunch menu at the Napa Valley Grille in Westwood nor on the excellent kitchen which manifests epicurean delights. The grilled chicken and avocado were transcendent but they couldn’t hold a candle to the conversation which satiated far more than my palate. As Anna, Jeff, Adam and Ran wove a tapestry of conversation ranging from art, to geopolitics to finance, I was transported to that monastic silence from which I can at once observe, interact, and amalgamate each colorful strand. Mind you, my reclusive reflections were of imperceptible brevity as my half-eaten plate witnessed. Ran Ortner, whose work I’ve celebrated in previous posts, was discussing the evocative engagement he has with his opus studies in the sea. Like Constable’s voyeuristic intimacy with the agricultural metaphors in the late 18th and early 19th century in which the artist and observer enter the image at the organic and authentic level, Ran’s work evokes an appreciation for breathing as you find yourself prostrate on a surf-board at wave trough level in wild seas. Constable’s homage to the earth (in the face of the blackening skies of industrial England) and Ran’s tortured currents swirling about in that delicate balance between buoyancy and the abyss both provide perspective for a deeper exploration of the fundamental questions of who we are and why are we here? Both Ortner and Constable give us an image inspired by entering into the powerful dominion OF nature – not the popular, remote denigrated apology to nature.

A few days ago I received another map of “who owns the Federal Reserve.” Spoiler alert. It was the same August 1976 House Banking Committee diagram that has “discovered” the nefarious conspiracy of the Rothschilds, Morgans, Schroders, and Rockefellers at least five times in Congressional records since the creation of the Fed in 1914. Iconoclasts, conspiracy theorists, and self-avowed patriots alike have all come to an intriguing conclusion that periodically pretending to out the fact that the U.S. currency is manipulated for the self-interest of individual family dynasties and their corporate beneficiaries is somehow a right of passage into a deeper knowing. It’s not. The very fact that this public information is treated as intrigue for a Nicolas Cage-inspired National Treasure thriller every few months paradoxically reinforces the primary intoxicant of the agents of control.

Every era in recorded human history includes elusive wealth that serves to capture the greed fueled imaginations of those without. The metaphoric House of Rothschild, to be sure, has had ample opportunity to wield inhumane power without regard for humanity and has failed to steward its resources for the advancement of the marginalized. But like previous despotic heirs in history, this behavior is enabled, in large part, by the illusions of impenetrable intrigue maintained by those who whisper public things in hushed voices. When Doge Pietro II Orseolo inaugurated the Sposalizio del Mare (“Marriage of the Sea”) in around 1000 and Pope Alexander III elevated it to near sacramental in 1177, there was ample madness fueling the notion that humans had dominion over the sea. However, this insanity and hubris was only in part the responsibility of the perpetrators. It was celebrated by the complicit, opulence-struck masses. Watching from Venetian balconies and gondola in the harbor were throngs of on-lookers who buoyed the delusions of the ego-maniacal few. An empty coliseum would have not only spared many a gladiator but would have likely attenuated the delusional Emperors. I was struck by Brian Williams’ NBC Nightly News piece this past Thursday when he somberly reported on the growing outrage among voters over the cacophony of negative political ads. Having had to watch three such ads on NBC to get to his feature, I arrived at a singular conclusion. His piece, after all, was on the same network that was more than happy for the ad revenue all the while disingenuously wringing its hands about the terrible content. These ads have an effect because people become emotionally, transiently engaged – for good or ill – with their content. Each dollar donated to a campaign was donated by a complicit participant in the mayhem. In short, there are no victims – just buyer’s remorse from the co-conspirators. My solution to NBC’s faux news – turn off the TV.

Wandering into the labyrinth further, one begins to see a pattern resolve in the hedges. What allegedly makes money work is a consensus illusion which links status, social engagement, and identity to a metric measured in the coin of the realm. The more you have, the more power is at your disposal. Countless millions hate their jobs but “need to make a living.” Living has become synonymous with money. As we’ve discussed in earlier blog posts, the centrality of money as metric is the arbiter of everything from creativity to industry to compassion. Americans desperately cling to the illusion of Freedom and Democracy but we’re spending $3 billion to put our free and fair elections into the hands of the lords of money yet somehow are angry with them. While we’re certain that the whole world wishes to have the “American Dream”, we fail to reflect on the fact that our values are being promoted most aggressively and financially, at the point of a spear – hardly Freedom. Are we really victims of the lords of money or are we venting our self-loathing on those who feed our addiction with them serving as simply a convenient, reductionist target?

I’ve spent a lot of time with the lords of the currency of the realm. From time to time, I’ve deeply angered them by bringing transparency to things that were designed to persist in obscurity. I’m frequently reminded that, when the powerful have so much to loose, my cavalier proclivity to point out injustice and sociopathic behavior is not in my self-interest. But I’ve also seen many of the world’s monetary elite confronting mortality with the recognition that their power didn’t give them confidence in their progeny, ideological satisfaction that their dogma would prevail, or satisfaction that their legacy would idolized. And I wonder, what if those who share a conviction that there’s a better way would actually learn from my artist inspirations – Ortner and Constable? Rather than maintaining the ostracizing distance which both fuels mistrust and energizes hostility, what if we actually invited the aging incumbents into a transitional narrative which would provide redemption rather than damnation? Is it, in fact, conceivable that the insular world of the perceived powerful elite robs them of the collaborative and transformative other narrative? If they were invited into the hay fields or the wave’s yawning troughs, would they find a path to another mode of engagement?

Art wouldn’t work without Light. And the nonsensical debate about whether light is a wave or a particle is, well… nonsense. Photons, regardless of the energy state, are only manifest in an excitation ecosystem with other photons. Light propagates. If we want to paint a new picture of humanity on the canvas woven by sinners and saints alike, we might do well to reflect on Light. If those who see themselves as bearers of Light transition from the judgmental elucidation of the darkness and, instead engage in Light propagation in the dimly lit recesses, we may see a remarkable transformation. Wishful thinking – maybe. But let me remind you that the illumination of conspiracies hasn’t minimized their power. So let there be Light…at eye level.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Who Wants To Be A Billionaire? (and Archimedean Theorem V)

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Over the past three weeks, I have had the good fortune of wading through the gutter of our society’s delusional view of “innovation” and “exploration” and its illusory association with wealth creation. After learning that one of his venture capital backed technologies was not unique (just a mirage created by the technical amnesia of a faux “inventor”), a duped investor said, “Well, I don’t think any of us expected the invention would make us billionaires.” A few days later, in a meeting with an engineering firm I learned that they routinely have charlatan inventors present technologies to them thinking that they’re worth “billions of dollars”. I’ve been reviewing the history of one of the world’s largest mining deals and am once again struck by the asymmetry of speculation – a few million dollars of “exploration” entitles one organization to claim $16 billion dollars worth of control of a nation’s minerals! And for some mysterious reason, the sign that keeps flashing on my dashboard of conscience says: “Warning: Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear.” Recently, I’ve been working on multi-billion dollar projects and still going about life pretty much the same way. I’m still bouncing around the world working like I have for 20 years. I’m still coming home and helping my son Zach clean out his pet du jour tank (this time a turtle named Squirt).

And I’m reflecting on the half-life of the perception of big. Just ten years ago, when I was still working with developing policies to govern technology transfer from universities in the U.S. and Japan, I remember hearing people say, “These professors think that their inventions will make them the next millionaire,” with disbelief and distain. In ten years, we somehow went from million to billion. And I think that in the process, something far more important happened. I think that on the way into the troposphere of our imagination we became more isolated and detached from our capacity to engage with genuine, meaningful endeavors. Note that, in 2007 and early 2008, ICAP traded over $1.3 trillion dollars in counterparty risk instruments a day every day! In a complex global roulette game, betting on the downside of a non-transparent financial market, the greatest notional value traded were bets AGAINST humanity’s honoring its commitments. While Inverted Alchemy readers have known this for two years, the perfect storm of municipal bond defaults, pension illiquidity, and slowdown in over-leveraged consumption finally made international “news” this week when the financial press finally said that we’re at least $3 trillion underfunded in reported state pension obligations which the public is required to pay – saying nothing of the crater in funding for corporate and social security entitlements which make $3 trillion a drop in the bucket.

I am intrigued by the callousness with which we throw around numbers. Did life in the U.S. or around the world improve by an order of magnitude in the past 10 years? Did we create an order of magnitude of value in the past 10 years? And, why, given our recent opportunity to learn the lessons of the ills of excess in our on-going Great Recession, have we chosen to extol the virtues of ever-bigger illusion? Is it not the case that we’ve instead become an order of magnitude less connected to our humanity? Have we not become an order of magnitude more insulated from the consequence of our actions on the rest of the world?

I was lucky. Last weekend, I got to take part in a reality check. Coming off a week of international deals and cross-border trade negotiations, I was invited to the house of Zach’s girlfriend’s family in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Every year, April’s family gets together in October (like many other families in rural Virginia) to make apple butter. Sitting above a small fire was a huge copper cauldron into which a heaping bushel of apples was placed. Starting at 2 AM, the apples boiled into applesauce and gradually thickened into a dark, syrupy sauce. The stirring paddle – a two meter pole with a large slotted paddle affixed to the end – constantly mixed the sauce making certain that no part of the cauldron was allowed to burn or stick. Zach got there at the crack of dawn. Katie and I showed up fashionably late around noon. We were immediately welcomed and given the opportunity to stand next to the boiling inferno and have the mix of smoke and apple steam burn our eyes.

Next to the apple butter contraption was Great Grandfather. He sat – mostly silent – save the moments when we’d ladle out a bit of sauce onto the plate for him to check the moisture content. If any juice still separated out of the dollop, it was more stirring, more smoke in the eyes. When the apple reduction was suitably thick, it was time to add sugar. We had 110 pounds of sugar in the sugar bin – 11 ten pound bags. “Start with five,” was the sagely advice from Great Grandfather. With bubbling apple concentrate burning my hands, I poured in 50 pounds of sugar while Katie, Tammy and others mixed the pot. Fully mixed, another test dollop. “Add two more bags.” In went 20 more pounds. Another test dollop. “I think that that’s about right,” reported Great Grandfather. “Oh no! Grandmom’s butter was much sweeter – we need more sugar!” protested one of the family. So in went another bag. And then, it was perfect. A bit of cinnamon, a touch of cloves and, voila, dark brown apple butter. The only thing lacking was Colleen’s homemade oatmeal bread… but that had to wait for three long days!

What I found particularly noteworthy was the comment that was made as I was cleaning the gooey, apple sugar mess off the stirring paddle after the last embers had died on the fire and after the last of 88 quarts of apple butter had been sealed. “That paddle has been around for about 100 years.” One hundred years of the same ritual on a crisp October morning! Amazing! Even more profound, however, was the story in the sugar. You see, over 100 years, wisdom had deduced that somewhere between 50 and 110 pounds of sugar is the range in which the “perfect” apple butter is produced. And in 100 years, the variability in this amount was governed by the sweetness of the apples (a function of nature’s rain and sun), the discerning palate of the eldest member of the family and the boisterous lobbying of the next generation who argued for 10 more pounds to evoke the sweetness of Grandmom. More sugar, you see, doesn’t make better apple butter. The perfect amount exists within a known, constant range. And while some of you, jaded by post-modernism will argue that this is just a Norman Rockwell anachronism in the Virginia country-side, I would suggest that we could benefit a lot from the lesson of the apple butter.

Human scale is not measured in logarithms and scientific notation. It’s measured in discerning dynamic ranges within which perfection is manifest. The pathologic obsession which celebrates perpetual growth infects incentives with an untenable mandate for ever larger, ever bigger, ever greater MORE. However, as academics like UVA’s Darden Business School Dean Robert Bruner and financial consultants like KPMG report, bigger not only is not better – in as much as 83% of M&A transactions, value is destroyed! Mind you, to the swindlers that promote them (aka Investment Bankers), they’re quite lucrative as they generate immense commissions. However if these same promoters were ever held accountable for their compulsive misrepresentations, the market would wake up and realize that there is a limit to growth and there’s a point at which we need to conclude that enough is, well… enough.

Which brings me to Archimedean Theorem V (yes, another one of these). If more than 6 zeros are at the end of any number associated with investment or transaction, insufficient accountability is most likely present. Precision is not an antiquated value – it’s vital to regaining a sense of integrity. If our “fudge factor” is over two orders of magnitude, we should go back to our assumptions and get them more carefully focused. I would welcome each of you to become critical consumers of zeros and realize that when they’re thrown carelessly about, it’s your time that is being wasted.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Crimes Against (and by) Humanity

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This week marks the two year anniversary of Inverted Alchemy. Two years ago I was encouraged by Global Business Network pioneer Napier Collyns to continue the multi-year tradition I had established as the economist at The Arlington Institute. We were in the throes of an economic collapse created by willful, reckless opacity in which the Bush Administration, the U.S. Congress, investment banks, rating agencies and insurers were all co-conspirators. In a contorted coup d’├ętat, the public sector, in one month set in motion the nationalization of assets in an exhausted, last-ditch effort to consolidate the U.S. economy for the convenient bankruptcy filing with our largest creditor – China.

I chose the title “Inverted Alchemy” as a challenge. After millennia of esoteric efforts to turn substances into gold, I thought it would be a fascinating proposition to encourage humanity to end its gold addiction and see if we could turn gold into something that built a better humanity. Given that our only alchemical success to date is the transformation of natural beauty, homelands and cultures, and human blood into gold, I thought that there needed to be at least one voice persistently challenging us to act differently.

Two years later:

- the bankruptcy is complete as we see Treasury Secretary Geithner officially “recognizing” China’s currency policy against which the U.S. can do nothing (including the announcement this week delaying a statutory deadline of currency reporting in an election-year stunt);
- blog readers are familiar with the growing illiquidity of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) which continues to assume failed business pensions at a record rate;
- blog readers saw Inverted Alchemy break the story on the illiquidity of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) months before the FDIC made the information public;
- the Toronto Stock Exchange, the London AIM and the Australian Stock Exchange continue to provide global investors the opportunity to launder their cauterized consciences while they mint brokerage fee income on mining operations operating illegally across the globe;
…AND…
- we’ve seen authors and artists like Peter Buffett and Chip Duncan wake us up to hope in places devoid thereof;
- we’ve explored and deployed accessible Integral Accounting and have provided pathways to start acting and thinking differently;
- we’ve investigated the roots of our financial system and learned about interdependencies in ways not discussed before; and,
- we’ve seen a community of several thousand become part of the Inverted Alchemy blog conversation.

The most popular (based on download frequency and persistence) post in the history of Inverted Alchemy has been the March 2009 post on the AIG shell game. This post had a bizarre cameo relevance this month as SNL Financial reported what, on its surface, appeared to be a rather innocuous analysis that life insurers had a net loss of $900.3 million (down from an income of $8.9 billion last year). While their reserves were increased 17% from the previous year, their total REVENUE off of investment income increased only 3%. In short, they’re making a lot less with a lot more money in their control. This is ominous in light of the “Shell Game” post. On the superficial level we know that when Prudential, MetLife, TIAA-CREF, New York Life and AIG catch a cold, the global flow of capital gets…well…seriously congested! However, when you understand that since the establishment of the U.S. Federal Reserve system, it was life insurers who were at the foundation of the racket you realize that this loss has a long tail. Absent the actuarially dictated long-term investment allocations from life insurers, a major component of the global economy seizes up. And as we surmise from the extinct brontosaurus, a long tail can do a lot of damage when controlled by an un-evolved brain.

Building an economic system on actuarial management of life-expectancy is an experiment whose time has run. While the past 90 years saw excessive benefit flowing to a select few, the disparity of access to dignified living conditions for huge populations in the world grew disproportionately larger. And now, when we are confronted with the alignment of phenomenal growth in marginalized countries and the rare moment for humanity to actually back up the promises made at the millennial milestone regarding human rights, dignity of women and children, poverty eradication and global accountability, the response is to horde cash. Profits made on fear of death, profits made on covering end-of-life consumer credit leverage excesses, profits made from illegal resource exploitation operations, profits made on engines of warfare and death – now line the actuarial treasuries of those who see no future save the yawning void filled with the ghosts of their callous neglect.

We must break the cycle of a monetary system that rides of the mortality of human life for this is the insidious, pervasive Crime Against Humanity.

The last century worked (albeit, poorly) with the Keynesian notion that “natural resources” were free, that “labor” was a variable commodity (regrettably and ignorantly celebrated by the Nobel Prize in Economics this year), and that autocratic, central control of the public under partisan “isms” served as the expedient way for a few to lord over the masses. In 2010, we now have evidence that each of these conditions precedent are erroneous and prone to abuse. And, more importantly, we know that in their careless rush to option every food, metal, and energy resource on the globe, China is experimenting with a new imperialism which is on a collision course with the reckoning of its own neglect of China’s massive population still in poverty. Let’s face it. While we breathlessly watched as 33 miners were pulled to the surface after spending two months underground, the same week saw more than that number killed by rockslides, cave-ins, and actual violence against workers by mine owners and operators. The justification? Great copper and gold prices justify reckless mining practices for the benefit of….oh, that’s right, the investor. When mining agreements with countries call for “within economically feasible” standards for safety for workers and the environment, it is the INVESTORS and CONSUMERS who are actively or ignorantly supporting and enabling crimes against humanity. Whether it’s toxic sludge in the Danube, poison in the water in the Niger Delta, collapsed mines in China, Ecuador, or Chile, or silt slides in the Tabar Islands which bury gardens which sustain the food for a community, our addiction to metals and electronics is currently supporting the deaths of thousands. And we can stop it.

Much like public awareness contributed to the end of Apartheid, you can act today. The money that flows to those companies who trade on human lives passes through listing exchanges. The Toronto, Australian, London, and New York Stock Exchanges are directly involved with laundering these funds – insulating their investors from the expediency of having to confront business practices which result in the loss of lives and livelihoods. Today, begin the process of raising your voice to their compliance departments to call for an accounting standard that actually has listing eligibility requiring:
- local land owner and country interest participation in the LISTED stocks of companies benefiting from minerals and energy rather than in phony, illiquid shell corporations which accrue debt and expenses with no control of revenues;
- local land owner and country grievance procedures ON EXCHANGES so that shareholders are informed of business practices which violate human rights and environmental laws;
- de-listing for any company which resorts to contracted violence (mercenary or police action) to manage labor disputes; and,
- de-listing for any company which illegally by-passes customs and audit authorities and procedures in the host countries.
These are simple recommendations and, if a few of you begin to take the trouble of beginning the communication with exchanges, we’ll begin to be accountable for crimes done in our names. The ecosystem – including humans – is waiting for us to Invert Alchemy.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Your Attention, Please?

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Today marks the eighth anniversary of the United States Congressional authorization for President Bush’s Iraq War. Letting it pass without acknowledging the hundreds of thousands of lives lost or permanently damaged by this fatal lack of judgment would be to perpetuate the assent to injustice and inhumanity unleashed by willful ignorance. In a country whose population consumes information with the attention span of a squirrel, our collective accountability for this blight on our generation is yet to be fully apprehended. From the mental and physical injuries on our men and women in the military to the thousands of Iraqi citizens who will live with unspeakable loss, the world is worse off today and, absent some change of behavior, will dishonor those who have lost so much.

On Friday, I had the opportunity to be reminded of why we went to war. During a conversation with two individuals who advocate changing the world for the better, I heard one of them say, “The problem is reading. You can’t expect people to read anymore. We need to engage people in a simple media platform with simple messages…like with Twitter.” For those of you who are not linked into the social media scene, Twitter is a social communication utility which has the intellectual depth of antiquated Morse-code telegraphs – messages limited to 140 characters! “We need a viral app that will get people to engage in virtual conversations which will shift humanity for the better.”

This type of analysis of engaging the human mind for behavior transformation is why we went to war in Iraq. This is why we still are unwilling to face the economic collapsing vortex which is continuing to render tens of thousands perpetually falling into unemployment and poverty. This is why we have a political leadership constipation of conscience in Washington, Brussels and Beijing. What’s the challenge? Your attention.

The issues confronting humanity were not developed on 140-character Twitter feeds. The CIA didn’t support and co-opt despot leaders and tyrants from the Middle East to Central America based on sound-bytes. The World Bank, the Commonwealth Development Corporation and the IMF haven’t had countries leverage their resource wealth for the benefit of a few financiers using short hand memos. The collusive financial racket that propped up AIG and took down Lehman wasn’t done on the back of a napkin. And in 1998, 2004 and 2006 when I reported the 2008 banking collapse, I wasn’t prescient. I actually took the time to wade through information that was hidden in plain sight. Ironically, corruption, treason, and greed have gotten so confident in your lack of attention that injustice is done in the open. And NOBODY pays attention. When SAIC floated their IPO, they reported vast unaccounted for sums of money associated with the Greek Olympic security contracts - sums that no accountable organization could verify - and nobody cared. When the New York court found Bulf Oil – a company owned by an Iran-Contra co-conspirator – guilty of numerous Iraqi Oil For Food crimes in which SunTrust, Texaco, BP and Chase Manhattan were all monetarily and materially involved, nobody cared. And when the Vice President of the United States used this same felonious network to prop up the “enemy” for our war on terror, few read about it or cared. When the U.S. government participated in the largest financial cover-up of accounting shenanigans in banks and insurers in 2008, they actually published the evidence in the public and nobody read it.

Do we suffer from a lack of information which would raise our consciousness? Would we pay attention more if we had an honorable, non-mainstream media source that would tell us the truth? Would the lives of Afghanis or Pakistanis mean more to us if we had a social media network that would allow us to use a defense-department funded network (called the internet) to unmask the truth and stand up to propaganda? Would we care more about those displaced and killed by mining and extractive industries if we had better social media platforms to display on our conflict-metal-filled-techno-gadgets?

No.

Our eyes are blind because we don’t want to see. Our ears are buzzing with the hypnotic MP3 players that are surgically attached to our virtual existences. Our hearts are calloused from our incessant need to care about tsunami, earthquake, and flood victims by donating $10 dollars to anonymous surrogates who are our consciousness ambassadors and who, once paid, are long forgotten and seldom held to account. And our minds have carefully formulated a protective cocoon which allows us to put our aspirations on par with actions – “as long as we’re thinking about a better world, we’re doing our part”, we tell ourselves. And the next gadget is not going to break us out of our profligate coma. No the problem isn't the information, the access, or the mode of dissemination. The problem is that we are unwilling to confront complexity as complexity. And as such, we cannot find the singularity upon which the complexity could be resolved - the fulcrum as it were. In our rush to serve up sound-bytes - even those from the well-intended - we dishonor the reality of a multifactorial system in which covariates are THE story. In isolation things don't exist and in isolation, they will not be substantially engaged or addressed.

On this day in which we mark the millions who have paid the price for our willingness to acquiesce to the sound-bytes that sold tyranny under the self-righteous banner of “freedom”, we are invited to actually do something. Rather than flagellating ourselves yet again for our unconsidered complicity in the march of injustice and the affront to liberty, we can actually take part in manifesting another narrative for humanity.

Today, we will inaugurate the Exemplar Zero Initiative in New York. This Initiative, launched to demonstrate the potential of private sector global citizenship which acts rather than waiting for an anonymous government to lead, is already working to make climate mitigating technologies accessible in Mongolia. In a country whose capital is ranked as the world’s most particulate-polluted cities, we are partnering with the public and private sector to begin a new journey. One that does not stand on speeches, white-papers, and feasibility studies. Rather, one that is willing to stand up, make good-faith deployment efforts, and when confronted with challenges, stands up again and again. Tomorrow, you will hear of the anticipated launch of the Global Innovation Commons 2.0 – the only global platform that makes innovation data available to every person on Earth who can access a computer or can link to someone with access. We will not wait for the next “killer app”. We will not abide another day when those who are marginalized are fodder for their abusers. And we will not let willful ignorance be the defense for inaction and non-involvement. And here’s the deal – if you don’t care about environmentally suitable technologies in Mongolia or open-source innovation in water, clean energy, public health, and food security for the world – that’s cool with me. Just share with the world what you do care about and we’ll work with you to transform your caring to action. For in the end, what we really need are people who are willing to act differently. We have all we need already – save the willingness to courageously engage. Let’s take that mantle and move forward together. And yes, it’s going to require thinking in complete sentences, paragraphs and even whole stories. Because the story of our seduction has been an epic and we need to learn the language of a new story that will never fit on Twitter.

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Corpse Wrapped in a TARP

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“The bank-bailout part of TARP was an astounding success,” according to Mark Zandi, Moody’s Analytics chief economist.

And if you’re Moody’s or an employee thereof, you’re probably partying about the two year euthanizing of the Bush, Paulson, and Congressional stroke of genius that left taxpayers $100 billion in the hole, left the economy foundering, and has placed the Obama Presidency in reputational shambles. Because if people would have been held accountable for their actions, Moody’s (like Arthur Andersen before it) would have been shuttered, its executives fined or jailed, and we would have had a modicum of a chance to actually restore some faith in our economy. Few organizations, incentivized with bloated fees, were more directly in the line of culpability for the economic disaster than Moody’s, S&P and other rating agencies. And remember, the same government that authorizes their monopoly to prop up its own shareholder interests and bogus pension accounts, has given them exoneration for falsely promoting investment quality when none existed. A bigger bullet couldn’t have been dodged. So, good on ya’ Mark, as my Aussie friends would say. The fact that there’s still an economist at Moody’s is an “astounding” fact indeed.

While I know that I’ve been reminding us of the classics lately, this week cannot pass without reference to Plato’s Republic, Book I:

“Observe also what happens when they take an office; there is the just man neglecting his affairs and perhaps suffering other losses, and getting nothing out of the public, because he is just; moreover he is hated by his friends and acquaintance for refusing to serve them in unlawful ways. But all this is reversed in the case of the unjust man. I am speaking, as before, of injustice on a large scale in which the advantage of the unjust is more apparent; and my meaning will be most clearly seen if we turn to that highest form of injustice in which the criminal is the happiest of men, and the sufferers or those who refuse to do injustice are the most miserable--that is to say tyranny, which by fraud and force takes away the property of others, not little by little but wholesale; comprehending in one, things sacred as well as profane, private and public; for which acts of wrong, if he were detected perpetrating any one of them singly, he would be punished and incur great disgrace-- they who do such wrong in particular cases are called robbers of temples, and man-stealers and burglars and swindlers and thieves. But when a man besides taking away the money of the citizens has made slaves of them, then, instead of these names of reproach, he is termed happy and blessed, not only by the citizens but by all who hear of his having achieved the consummation of injustice. For mankind censure injustice, fearing that they may be the victims of it and not because they shrink from committing it. And thus, as I have shown, Socrates, injustice, when on a sufficient scale, has more strength and freedom and mastery than justice; and, as I said at first, justice is the interest of the stronger, whereas injustice is a man's own profit and interest.”

As I have spent the week with many friends in Ulaanbaatar Mongolia, I find myself an discontented consumer of this week’s report card on TARP. I was fortunate to be reading the companion document, the GOP’s Pledge to America and couldn’t help thinking that, if the GOP’s Pledge is connecting with anyone, he or she must be suffering from memory loss. Either that or he or she is incapable of being informed by Plato's Republic and its stern admonition against celebrating tyranny and injustice. It was the Reagan Administration that poisoned our innovation policy in the U.S. by turning the Patent Office of the U.S. into a forgery shop in an attempt to quell Japanese industrial threats thereby creating the illusion that we had an innovation-based economy. It was the Clinton and Bush administrations which created tax environments which made out-sourcing the path towards short-term profits. And it was the Bush Administration and a Republican Congress which failed to act on speculative credit practices while simultaneously reinforcing the incumbency of rogue rating agencies. It was conservative Congressional “home ownership” dogma that let Freddie and Fannie get intoxicated (the very entities now recommended for detox by their newly-converted, former dealers). While railing against government size, the GOP seems to be overlooking the fact that if they “right-sized” Washington, they would likely double unemployment. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for downsizing wasteful government but to say that these bureaucrats will find jobs in the private sector is delusional. Yes, there’s plenty of culpability on both sides of the aisle but, really? The Pledge is against the policies of just 3 years ago when its authors held sway.

Not surprisingly, I find myself haunted by Plato’s Republic.

This week injustice and tyranny did their level best. A country who once was the recipient of foreign aid in their time of need neglected their opportunity to reciprocate kindness to another country in need and robbed it of much needed international support. New information surfaced on a 1940’s Public Health program in which U.S. officials sanctioned the infection of women in Guatemala to study sexually transmitted diseases. The head of government from a mineral rich country was hosted by another in which a stock exchange has funded exploitation of people and their land. And the world continued its mad rush to buy gold before China makes its move in October integrating metal, and possibly energy, assets into its currency strategy.

However, this week the argument in Plato’s Republic was challenged by the bold moves of some great women and men. I was witness to a phenomenal woman who is fueling the fire that once led her to campaign for independence in Mongolia now continuing that campaign for the economic and social betterment of the now politically liberated country and its people. As I write this blog post, Brazil stands on the verge of the likely election of Dilma Rousseff – a woman who is no stranger to tyranny. She will have the singular opportunity to show the world what power can do if it’s tempered with the wisdom drawn from a tumultuous life. In many ways, her Presidency, if elected, may provide humanity a unique moment to contemplate the power of reconciliation and service beyond self. Whether she rises to this challenge awaits an election and then, true leadership. I worked with a dynamic woman who has risen to positions of great respect in financial and civil society in Papua New Guinea as we continue to foster transparency and accountability in gold mines littering the landscape and blighting the service of many. And I stood with a colleague in London as we press on towards the launch of a new day for energy paradigms that are suitable both for the planet and for people.

What we should gladly bury with TARP on this day of its demise is the acquiescence to squandered trust. The epitaph may be best written by Zandi. “Astounding”. And today we can all realize that, when the merits of corruption can only find the complicit co-conspirators to sing their praises, we’re actually at a good inflection point. Honorable women and men have been wise enough to call the robbery of the public exactly that - robbery. Possibility is upon us. A new narrative can be born. Take responsibility as a cloak of honor, not a burden. Embrace accountability as your character, not as duty. Liberate your mind and actions, and help those around you to do the same, and stand with the great women and men who are already changing our collective story.

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