Saturday, January 28, 2012

We Are The 0.00000021928% and We Vote

Alright all you conspiracy theorists, Occupites (#OWS), adherents to the economics of Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul, and inquiring minds who just want to know; it’s time to finally name names. It’s time to establish beyond all reasonable doubt who it is that really runs the show. It’s time to get into the weeds and I’m not talkin’ about this nonsense 99% / 1% divide that has galvanized so many for so long. No, I’m talkin’ about the real, hardcore, scientific notation kind of global population derived REAL power behind the entire global economy.

In no particular honorific order save the inspiration from the seventh century BCE Etruscan, Greek, Phoenician, proto Semitic, Visigothic mash up we now know and love as our alphabet (props to the Visigoths!):

Bank of America*
BlueMountain Capital*
BNP Paribas
Citadel LLC*
Credit Suisse*
D.E. Shaw Group*
Deutsche Bank*
Elliott Management Corporation*
Goldman Sachs*
JPMorganChase, N.A.*
Morgan Stanley*
Pacific Investment Management Co. LLC (PIMCO)*
Societe Generale
The Royal Bank of Scotland

*Indicates an entity that has determination control over the Americas, Asia Ex-Japan, Australia and New Zealand, Europe/Middle East/Africa, and Japan

The most recent action taken by these folks is a wonderful Kodak Moment which offers a snapshot (which you can print on some EktaChrome, well, not so fast) of the constitution of the group that holds Damocles’ Sword over the global economy. Their meeting reportedly took place on Thursday, January 19, 2012 when they unanimously voted to determine that Eastman Kodak Co. had indeed become bankrupt. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall to hear the debate on this one. After all, the company had filed its Chapter 11 business reorganization petition in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York on, are you ready for this, January 19, 2012. The actual proceeding is even more fascinating.

The first question voted on by this august body was, “Has a Bankruptcy Credit Event occurred with respect to Eastman Kodak Company?” There were 15 recorded “Yes” votes and 0 recorded “No” votes. The second question – which is slightly more existentially mysterious given that they had just determined that Kodak was BANKRUPT was, “If a Credit Event did occur, is that date of the Credit Event January 19, 2012?” Once again, a unanimous vote in the affirmative. Then the third question, “Is the date on which the DC Secretary first effectively received both a request to convene the Committee and Publicly Available Information that satisfies the requirements of Section 2.1(b) for the Credit Event with respect to Eastman Kodak Company January 19, 2012? (This question is asked to determine the Event Determination Date.)” Yet again, all voting “Yes”. And the final question, “Should ISDA hold one or more auctions to settle Relevant Transactions with respect to which a Credit Event Resolution has occurred in accordance with the terms set out in the form of Credit Derivatives Auction Settlement Terms with respect to Eastman Kodak Company?” By now, I bet you’re on pins and needles with the suspense kind of like watching the NY Giants stick it to the 49ers in OT. But no surprise here – they all voted “Yes”. This model of democratic process and consensus should make our hearts beat in patriotic unison as, finally, we see a group of independent parties come together with such magnanimous unanimity to confirm…well, let’s see, an undisputable, publicly disclosed event that had ALREADY BEEN PUBLICLY REPORTED marking the long heralded demise of one of America’s iconic industrial brands.

Alright, so what’s up here? What is ISDA and why is there democratic process so important when determining when a publicly reported event has, in fact, been publicly reported. The International Swaps and Derivatives Association “… fosters safe and efficient derivatives markets to facilitate effective risk management for all users of derivative products.” It’s pretty important to understand that, while nominally representing as much as the entire world’s GDP at their peak in 2007 and now representing notional value exceeding that of any sovereign nation on Earth, these swaps are (and I will simplify) quasi-insurance products sold by financial institutions like banks to investors who buy a bet against one day owning a defaulted credit.

My personal favorite part about the ISDA and its mission is the fact that the decisions on when a “default” has been triggered is NOT based on what you and I would necessarily see as rather empirically derived from a credit agreement. Say that you don’t make a payment on your credit card or mortgage. That’s an event of default and, based on a series of remedies set forth in your contract with the financial entity, you may have a time during which you can cure the breach of your contract after which the financier can take action such as foreclosure on your assets. By the way, that’s been happening a lot lately. But the institutions that extend this debt financing to customers do not agree to play by the same rules. For them, they get to decide when a literal default is actually a default. And remember, they are NOT disinterested third parties with ANY independence. Every decision they make triggers an event when the bank, for example, has to lose the ‘asset’ of the defaulted loan, and the investor has to pay up on the insurance policy and ‘own’ the defaulted instrument. So it’s no surprise that the board is made up of a mutually assured destruction membership of sellers and buyers who get to decide when they have to pay up to each other.

ISDA is made up of real people who work for real institutions with real names. And before you start feeling squeamish about this conspiratorial sounding event fixing (note my diplomatic avoidance to suggest that any of these actions should be reviewed by the Justice Department under the Sherman Act despite the fact that ALL competing institutions agree on prices), be delighted to know that you are likely one of the beneficiaries of this scheme. If you’ve got a retirement plan, a life insurance policy, or any other managed fund where you don’t know the company into which all of your money is invested, you’re assuredly pumping liquidity into this dance.

And, not surprisingly, it is this system that gives us the seemingly endless headline about whether Greece has “defaulted”. For those of us who actually live in the non-collusive illusion world of swaps, the answer is that Greece defaulted when their capacity to service their debt ended. Kind of like when you don’t make your mortgage payment because you’re out of work. But that’s not the world that counts. The world that counts is made up of the arbiters of consequence identified above and these are the ones who would have to pay up big time if a default was declared. The “Determination Committee” – an unregulated group of real people – gets to decide whether they are accountable when the chips are down. And, I know you’ll be stunned to find this out but they have a remarkable track-record of deciding that their problem is… well, not their problem.

Let’s face it. ISDA isn’t “them”; it is “us”. It has 825 members who happily benefit from the complete opacity that the public has with respect to their specific activities. During the heady up markets when “wealth” was being created, no one was occupying anything screaming for transparency from this legacy of the Reagan Administration. And now that they control more financial instruments than the notional value of any nation’s GDP, they have become the un-elected, unaccountable, inaccessible, arbiters of all of our futures. It is OUR blind participation with blind investments that pumps the blood that animates this supranational organism and it’s OUR conscious decision to reclaim our individual responsibility and accountability that is the ONLY path to build A MORE PERFECT UNION!

If you didn’t know about ISDA before reading this, send this blog link to 10 of your friends and see if we can all start waking up!

To understand the importance of this group, you may want to refer to this sample Auction document to get a clearer picture on how the economy in which you’re participating actually works.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Intrepid Into the Unknown

From last Spring’s loyalist cavalry punctuated protests in Tahrir Square to the shivering tired, huddled masses yearning to breathe in #OWS enclaves and police lines dotting chilly cities across America, the rhythm of disenfranchisement seems to undergird the vox populi. Ironically, this primordial stirring seems to gyrate combatants on both sides of the 99th percentile battle lines. From the 20-something Occupite who cannot find gainful employment with her liberal arts degree with a specialization in conflict studies to the recently engorged Goldman Sachs executive wondering how he’s going to make ends meet with his paltry slice of his government-subsidized $1 billion profit sharing bonus, the future holds terrifying opacity for both. With the eurozone in free-fall, the U.S. in insolvency denial, and the BRIC hunkering down with protectionist policies for the foreseeable future, our economic and social system failures are now well past transient and have become a fixture.

This week we saw the media, the government, and the markets callously misrepresent the employment picture yet again as the Department of Labor released its January 19th data. The alleged improvement to a seasonally adjusted rate of 325,000 new benefit seekers (supposedly good news) was the statistical fa├žade for the ACTUAL number of people seeking state benefits which was a whopping 521,316. Civilian Federal employee unemployment rose nearly 100% in the week’s data and newly discharged veterans’ unemployment rose as well. And most alarming, while totally neglected by media and markets, is the fact that from 2008 to the present, we’ve permanently lost close to 6 million ‘covered employment’ jobs. In other words, with unemployment still placing millions in distress, our government and its interlocutors have shrunk the denominator by 4.7% placing even the flawed statistics at an unemployment rate pushing 13%. Getting better? No chance in hell.

In the face of these blatant abuses of data to evoke the illusion of progress, it is no wonder that many in the public find themselves certain of the fallacy of the established order. In this conclusion, they are correctly taking the measure of things. Regrettably, however, I have encountered, during this same time, the thus-repulsed masses clinging relentlessly to the agents of the incumbency as they clamour for an alternative experience. “Give me change,” they cry, “but make sure that it comes in a form that I find palatable.”

Georg H. W. Hegel (German philosopher; 1770 - 1831) in his Philosophy of Right ponders the question of public deception in ways few modern thinkers dare inquire.

“A great mind has publicly raised the question, whether it be permitted to deceive a people. We must answer that a people does not allow itself to be deceived in regard to its substantive basis, or the essence and definite character of its spirit; but in regard to the way in which it knows this, and judges of its acts and phases, it deceives itself.”

“No matter what passion is expended in support of an opinion, no matter how seriously it is defended or attacked, this is no criterion of its practical validity. Yet least of all would opinion tolerate the idea that its earnestness is not earnest at all.”

“Public opinion deserves, therefore, to be esteemed and despised; to be despised in its concrete consciousness and expression, to esteemed in its essential basis. At best, its inner nature makes merely an appearance in its concrete expression, and that, too, in a more or less troubled shape…. Who does not learn to despise public opinion, which is one thing in one place and another in another, will never produce anything great.”

Allow me an example. Last May, I wrote a blog post in which I challenged the world to get engaged with a dislocated community that needs to have its basic needs addressed including developing reliable access to clean water. Since then, hundreds of people have ebbed and flowed around the idea; some passing through the arena as spectators and some suiting up to go out onto the field to play in the match. For over two decades – first in Mosaic Technologies and then in M•CAM – I have become accustomed to the voyeurism inspired by our fusion economy ethical engagement structures that indict all conventional business and social narratives. I have also become somewhat immune to the wistful attraction predictably preceding the near unanimous passive or violent repulsion experienced when individuals become aware of the completeness with which we animate our activities outside the realm of conventional thinking and acting. But what I find the most amazing is the number of individuals who profess a desire to learn how to engage transformative processes that we’ve demonstrated can be reliably replicated throughout the world but would like them to have boundaries of time, budget, logistics, and hierarchical (un)certainties – NONE of which exist when you’re truly operating outside the enslavement of the mechanized colonial industrial complex and memes.

Which brings me back to Hegel and the succor provided by his nearly two century old wisdom. Incumbency (the ‘bad guys’ in many popular circles) and transformationalists (the ‘good illumined beings’ in many popular circles) too often find themselves equivalently enslaved by “acts and phases” by which they deceive themselves. The axiom which states that “Problems cannot be solved with the same consciousness that created the problem,” needs to embrace the corollary that “Solutions cannot be manifest through the application of metrics conventionally used at the time the problem was defined.” (This corollary is my humble contribution to the greatest philosophers of all time!) Your impulse that ‘something needs to change’ is an intuition that is trustworthy. Your reflex to look for both the utilities with which you’ve become comfortable (schedules, budgets, creature comforts, etc.) and the validation of others (encouragement, praise, peer validation, etc.) through which you’ve come to expect affirmation are in absolute error. If We the People seek to engage the needs of humanity and the ecosystem in ways that alter our collective experience of enslavement and extractive wont, we must embrace a liberty from the trappings of convention at all levels and accept that the world we seek will be unrecognizable through the optics with which we’ve existed in the consensus illusion of the present.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Alchemie invertere - Mission Accomplished

Plumed serpents, white horseman, a passing comet, morphogenetic butterflies, you name it – all cluttering up the metaphoric pantheon of heralds of the end of one era and the dawning of the new. In some myths, the new is prophetic fiery cataclysm that melts everything into an apocalyptic puddle save those with fire retardant robes. In others, a celestial harmony vibrates the plaque from the incumbent order and allows the diaphanous-clad vestal light-beings to emerge. For me it was a ball cap wearing, green shirted fellow – we’ll call him ‘M’ to protect his identity – at the Airways Hotel in Port Moresby yesterday afternoon (Sunday the 15th for those of you wondering what timezone I’m referencing at the moment).

M had heard that I was in town working with several landowner groups in our on-going effort to encourage the government of Papua New Guinea to stand-up to the innumerable national mining, tax, customs, employment, firearms, and international securities laws abuses relentlessly perpetrated by gold mine operators from Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The exploration license for gold mining in his home had lapsed and he wondered if there was any possibility that I would be willing to consider helping to sponsor his village’s effort to apply for, and obtain the license. If, he argued, we would help his people we could form a joint venture where we could develop a gold mine without having the brutality – burning homes, beating local community members, forced removal of people from sacred lands – all manner of blights that had been visited upon the village by previous explorers. He had a written proposal personally addressed to me identifying all of the clans including the names of the 48 clan elders. The letter contained their statement of unanimous endorsement of our invitation to work with them to use their market resources “so that goods and services such as education, health, roads and bridges, airports can flow to the communities to improve the standard of living so that poverty and law and order problems can be reduced.” He laid a giant map in front of me and pointed to two mountains.

“This is my home where my family lives,” he said pointing to a spot on the middle of the map. “And over here is the mountain that is a spiritual man. Here, when a man enters this mountain, the time clock ticks faster making it dark quickly.”

He described the area between the two mountains where the land was given a Western name because there were gold nuggets “hanging all over the mountain”.

I sat for nearly 10 minutes while M gave his impassioned pitch for our involvement in this project.

“Tell me about the people who live on these mountains,” I inquired at the first moment he paused in his carefully rehearsed presentation.

He shifted gears and went into an explanation about the matrilineal and patrilineal dynamics of the major clans separated by a valley but united in marriages and traditional Customary practices and a common language. During the whole of the first 15 minutes of our interaction, he never looked me in the face preferring to look down and to the left, his head slightly bowed.

At the next pause, I slowly inquired, “M, tell me about Custom. If you are from your village but the gold is spread across several villages, are the wishes of the people all in alignment to actually have a mine here?”

His head snapped up and he looked at me perplexed.

“Yes, we want the license to develop the mine,” he replied.

“I understand what you’re saying,” I replied, “but that’s not what I was asking. If a decision is made in your village to mine in an area where the other village has a Customary use of the land – gardens, burial plots, ceremonies, etc – is there a way in which you build consensus about how such decisions are made? For example, if the sacred mountain has a lot of gold but it has more Customary value, would you and your people agree to leave the gold untouched and preserve your values?”

He looked at me for about 30 seconds with his eyes wide open. “I cannot believe this!” he exclaimed. “I’ve never heard of a white man who would even know to ask about this question. When I tell my people the words you are saying, they will think that you are one of us – one of our clan.”

For the next hour, M and our team discussed the ways in which we have engaged other situations similar to this in other parts of Papua New Guinea. His near constant refrain was, “I cannot believe I’m hearing our language from a white man!” The afternoon wore on as we laid out the sequence that we would use if we were to engage in a review of the entire spectrum of values held by the communities and how one might go about aligning community desires with the abundance over which they had stewardship.

As our time grew to a close, I was transported to a conversation that I had with Peter Buffett, the collaborating composer of “Blood Into Gold". Prior to writing the song for the U.N. commemoration event of trans-Atlantic slavery, I shared a dream with him. The dream had visited me after he and I spoke of a bit of his creative writers-block in coming up with a song commemorating slavery. In my dream, a small child – a girl – wandered through humanity’s history visiting alchemists - from Egypt to Greece to Europe to the Americas to Asia - all chasing the elixir that would turn the mundane into gold. As she watched, each alchemist from all parts of the globe and every epoch of human existence, in desperation, would lash out in exhaustion and pour human blood into their potion and, each time it was human blood that would ultimately be transformed into gold. In my dream, the girl looked at me and asked, “Will anyone ever turn the gold back into humanity?”

Wherever that little girl is on this 15th day of January, 2012, the answer is, “Yes.” It just happened. And if you would like to learn more about our Inverted Alchemy efforts, you’re just an e-mail, phone call, or visit away.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Imagine All (Imaginal) the Butterflies

a.k.a. In Praise of Reptiles

“Why do I feel that the more I ‘wake up’ the more dead I feel?” lamented a dear friend over the holidays. He, like so many others is realizing that the great Adam Smith consumption of the human soul – exchanging passionate, purposeful engagement for a paltry salaried existence as a consumable unit of finite production – is bankrupt. And, along with the disillusioned hordes of similarly trafficked, transacted lives, he was struggling with the seduction of the post-modern puff-pastry spirituality which celebrates the birthing of a new humanity with rhinestone encrusted rouge optic consciousness. This oily elixir can be purchased by attending just the right number of over-priced weekend retreats where purveyors of positivism piously promote panaceas for the pernicious proclivities of the pedestrian populace. Like Epaon inspired penances in 517 (later laundered in the fourth Lateran Council), this vacuous promise of a post-enlightened effervescence seems, all too often, to smack into a very different reality. Namely, the more aware, awake and turquoise you become, the more dizzyingly seasick you feel.

Over the course of the last several months, I’ve been intrigued by the frequency with which I’ve encountered the Deepak Chopra credited “Caterpillar Effect”. In glorious simplicity, this metaphor of the potential for humanity goes something like this…

The caterpillar eats ravenously and it starts to ‘die’… then some cells (creative “imaginal cells”) imagine a new future … they do some ninja moves on immune cells in a primordial soup inside the carcass of the caterpillar … they tag team into making a beautiful butterfly and, viola, flight!

You can hear the extended play story here. You see, if just enough creative imaginal cells get together, the metaphor implies, we’ll have a new emergent, metamorphic experience on Earth. And, the illusion invites, there’s something aspirationally beautiful about this experience. You know, it’s a butterfly.

Which got me thinking; “I wonder how a post-modern guru has been credited with this phenomenon and why so many people think that butterflies are a good metaphor for the next phase of humanity?” So, like I do, I tried to find out what metamorphic biologist unleashed this timely narrative which has become the transcendent ideal of New Agers, Birthers, and Enlighten-nexters. Turns out, we can thank Chester I. Bliss (damn, who would have thought we could have had such a perfectly apropos last name?) who, in 1926 unleashed Deepak’s Imaginal Imaginarium in a paper entitled “Temperature Characteristics for Prepupal Development in Drosophila Melanogaster,” published in the Journal of General Physiology. Oops! Not very recent. Not very with it. And, hold on, isn’t Drosophila Melanogaster the fruit fly? Why, yes it is. And Bliss cited the original work on imaginal disks studied in metaphorically less suitable bugs like the blow fly and the apple maggot. I wonder how throngs of enlightenment seekers would ooh and aah if they’d hear their transformation heralded as blow flies and apple maggots?

Now we can all chuckle about this little selectivity in our speciation of transcendent metaphors and pass it off as of little consequence. But that’s before you take into account my friend and the thousands like him who, having gorged themselves on the leafy foliage of a system that rewards gluttonous consumption, pupate into a nutritious gooey ooze and imagine waking up to beautiful wings warming in the sunlight ready to waft freely on the lilting breezes in a post euphoric reward for having transmografied. Imagine all the people… yes, go ahead and hum the song, … waking up to find no wings, no breeze, and overcast skies. Imagine finding out that when you awaken, you apprehend the cost of your unconsidered consumption. Imagine finding out that your monetary system – the same money that you paid the enlightened expert at your retreat – has led to the enslavement of a humanity you didn’t recognize before. Imagine finding out that the minerals and energy that you use are costing the lives of thousands who are murdered and displaced by corporations who feed your 401(k).

Might I propose, a more mundane, possibly more appropriate metaphor more aptly aligned with the consciousness that our species evidences on a far more reliable basis? And for this proposal, might I remind you that in every culture that has perpetually inhabited their homeland for over 5 millenia, it is the reptile – turtles, crocodiles, and serpents – that are the metaphor for spiritual source and transformation. These animals, far more like the typical experience of human awakening don’t molder into a soup only to emerge in a glorious, fragile butterfly. No, when the skin that served one phase of their existence no long serves its purpose, they molt. They scrape and slough against rocks and obstacles breaking loose the flaking, dead encrustations that keep them from moving into life with the flexibility and dynamism they need and, when they’ve removed the last old dead skin, they’re a more beautiful, fresh version of themselves – just improved.

Let’s turn the 2,000 years of anti-serpent mythology on its head and start embracing the wisdom of the ancients. Last time I check, National Geographic has some amazing pictures of lizards eating butterflies… but that’s another blog post.