Sunday, June 24, 2012

Objects in the Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear


While I was not a huge fan of the movie Jurassic Park, there's no doubt that one of the best pieces of cinematographic humor is the fleeting shot of the rearview mirror during a near death escape from a rogue Tyrannosaurus Rex.  With his yawning terrifying dentifrice taking up the whole of the mirror, the camera focuses on the words: "Caution: Objects In The Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear."  While I'm applying a bit of Moore's Law to an analogy, allow me to remind you of the observation of Charles Mackay's timeless commentary on John Law's shenanigans in 1720:

"The regent, who knew nothing whatever of the philosophy of finance, thought that a system which had produced such good effects could never be carried to excess. If five hundred millions of paper had been of such advantage, five hundred millions additional would be of still greater advantage. This was the grand error of the regent, and which Law did not attempt to dispel. The extraordinary avidity of the people kept up the delusion; and the higher the price of Indian and Mississippi stock, the more billets de banque were issued to keep pace with it. The edifice thus reared might not unaptly be compared to the gorgeous palace erected by Potemkin, that princely barbarian of Russia, to surprise and please his imperial mistress: huge blocks of ice were piled one upon another; ionic pillars, of chastest workmanship, in ice, formed a noble portico; and a dome, of the same material, shone in the sun, which had just strength enough to gild, but not to melt it. It glittered afar, like a palace of crystals and diamonds; but there came one warm breeze from the south, and the stately building dissolved away, till none were able even to gather up the fragments. So with Law and his paper system. No sooner did the breath of popular mistrust blow steadily upon it, than it fell to ruins, and none could raise it up again." 

- From Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1852)

Now our T-Rex in J-Park spanned a bit greater an epochal reach showing up in the mirror of an SUV but his toothy menace should give us considerable pause as we look at the financial news coming from the U.S. and Europe.  Like the ill-fated impulse to see if you could reintroduce giant paleontological behemoths into a theme park, manipulation of things we don't fully understand, regardless of the novelty of the rationale for it, usually ends with something as elegant as the digestive track of a raging lizard.  I have frequently reminded Inverted Alchemists that our obsession with reductionist statistical models - an impulse borne of the celebrated "scientific method" - is central to our societal undoing.  Nothing could be more germane to the moment than the announcement that leading rating agencies have downgraded many of the world's largest banks.

To fully understand the contempt with which I hold this news, we may recall the forbearers of our economic 'innovations' that date back to the very regent co-conspirators of the infamous John Law.  To support the popular delusions of fiat economies (both then and now), it is imperative for an alleged group of observers to provide 'empirical support' for the risk-free nature of the sovereign.  This concept, which should have long found its way into the Museum of Unnatural History, is as alive and well today as the virtual T-Rex was in the park.  To see how little things have changed in 300 years, I commend to your reading at least the first section of Mackay's Memoirs.  However, it's important to note that rating agencies - operating under the SEC and government's modern NSRSO oligopoly blessing - are, at their core, marketing agencies.  Their 'risk assessment' neither correlates to, nor is derived from, verifiable, reproducible data.  That said, they never were supposed to do so.  From the life insurance mandate for long-duration investments leading up to the 1913 creation of what is our current Federal Reserve system to the present, when the economy gets tough, rating agencies must manufacture 'investment grade' rationale for people (and, more importantly, their fiduciary intermediaries) to invest. 

Whimsically, Moody's, S&P, and Fitch - the arbiters of independent risk rating - actually had a rather ironic proclivity to see their risk ratings actually correlate to the world's 60 largest banks' need for government bailouts in 2008!  The better you scored in risk, the more unsound you were.  However, given my aversion to ALL correlative logic for the fallacies upon which it is built, I only offer the preceding observation to kick sand in the face of the proverbial laggard.  The point is that the 15 bank downgrade of this past week actually had very little - if anything - to do with the banks.  Rather it had to do with a recursive error built into the rating process itself - an error that was wired in from day one and is setting us all up for a big, toothy shock.

Now, for a moment I'm going to pick on Moody's - not because of a greater contempt but, to their credit - for their published Bank Financial Strength Ratings (or BFSRs) which go further in describing their process than either S&P or Fitch have the courage to disclose.  I love their dog-ate-my-homework / get-out-of-jail-free disclaimer that stated in 2007, "barring systemic stress and provided that there is reasonable client confidence…" prior to describing how they navigated the markets into the rocks of the sirens!  In other words, "If we actually did measure what the public actually thinks we do, we'd be extinct but, since we don't, business is booming."  According to Moody's, their inputs include: 1) Franchise Value; 2) Regulatory Positioning; 3) Regulatory Environment; 4) Operating Environment; and, 5) Financial Fundamentals.   They go on to state their explicit bias stating that financial fundamentals contribute to 50% of the risk score in "developed markets" and only 30% of the risk score in "emerging markets".  After all, a financial stability rating should have a minority of quantitative inputs coming from financial data, right?!

So, what we've got are a group of soothsayers publishing their contempt for actual risk modeling with impunity who are desperately trying to put lipstick on pigs.  Why?  Well, a huge number of investors, by law or by charter, must buy investment grade assets.  In other words, we require an inventory of good investments be manufactured whether they're good or not!  Pension, life insurance and other insurance companies, banks, etc. are all required to buy fixed income products which are deemed 'safe' so that their public fiduciary obligations can be met.  Now, we've got a T-Rex sized problem which we're trying to cover up with a fig leaf.  Government debt - once the stuff of "risk-free" capital designations - is seeing public confidence collapse like the hanging brick in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (if you don't get it, look it up).   Investors the world over have been willing to buy as much corporate and municipal debt as they can get their hands on and the inventory is not what the demand requires.  The European summer and the U.S. Fall (and I do mean over the cliff) all suggest that government debt is going to continue smelling like a Greek fishing village on a hot afternoon with no breeze.  To stay in business, rating agencies who only exist at the pleasure of their sovereign authorizers, have to preemptively make government debt appear more desirable relative to other investment products.  Lest you think this is my commentary, make sure you read all rating agency disclaimers which explicitly state that they're ratings of relative risk - not quantitative risk.  However, this short-term fix is a long-term madness.  By undermining the investment quality of the financial sector, the financial sector, in the short term will be forced by regulatory capital mandates to become bigger consumers of (you guessed it) government debt.  And they'll have to buy it up at the same time that the government debt becomes lower quality which, as you can readily discern, will degrade financial institutions even more.

What's the point?  Well, to keep my streak going, what I'm stating is that the bank downgrade was not about bank risk but rather an impending down-grade in government confidence.  It's the opening act of a comic tragedy that will end with most of the actors with knives in their backs or hemlock in their goblets.  It wasn’t an accident that the bank rating cuts punctuated a week when several governments were debating a unified European debt issuance.  After all, what better a time to have the few productive economies of the EU prop up the majority who are illiquid?  By forcing fixed income buyers and reserve managers into a debt demand for which there is no quality supply, suddenly what is economically suicidal appears to have momentary expediency.  And, as with John Law in the run up to 1720 no one dare question that, in the end, the sovereign knows best.

By this point we're both frustrated.  Many of you faithfully read my blog and share with me your critique that I don't deliver messages in a clear and concise (accessible) manner.  This is not for lack of trying.  When I see the T-Rex in the rearview mirror, I'm not prone to sugar coat the fact that we're about to experience the prey side of the food-chain.  However, in a world where we have Twitter-fed economic literacy, the transparency of the problem hides the treasonous acts in plain sight with virtually no one taking note.  So I'm going to attempt to deliver a punchline that is accessible.

This week's move by the rating agencies was no more about bank risk than the events of 2008 were about real-estate.  You're being fed propaganda and it tastes of carrion.  It was about creating an illusion to cover an up-coming junk debt fabrication and subsequent sale by governments.  If you have any life insurance or long-duration investments (like a pension) you'll be having your money used to fuel the Madness of Crowds.  By downgrading banks, they simultaneously:

a.         Decreased the appetite for investors to support bank equity;
b.         Increased the demand by banks to buy government-issued debt;
c.         Created the illusion that government debt was 'better' than other options (the same phenomenon that has propped up the U.S. Treasuries for the past several months as a relatively safe alternative to Europe because we're deferring addressing our problems until the election which thankfully happens in November);
d.         Failed to measure quantitative risk; and,
e.         Failed to restore credibility in themselves or their models.

What this means to you is that, far from being over, we're about to see a deepening collapse of the heralded 'recovery'.  Going into the next few months, public sentiment is going to be encouraged to falter and, We the People, are going to be invited into the despair that primes the pump for another irrationally unjustified paternalistic intervention. 

So, what can you do?  Well, for starters - DON'T DESPAIR.  These events are the inevitable and timely fruit of a tree planted in an aspirational Eden called Bretton Woods.  If you listen to the snakes and eat from the fruit of the tree…, well, I think you know how that story played out.  This is a time to build productive, essential enterprises at scale.  While intervention-minded policy makers will scamper about trying to tell you to live in fear, explicitly live in a manner that seeks to build value within your communities of proximity and diversity.  Rely on your ability to steward the resources you influence - your abilities to build the context for value and its exchange.  Rather than looking to remote 'solution providers', realize that the 'problems' are not essentially real.  They are but the illusions projected from a master delusion and the less you respond to them, the less power they'll wield.  In short - Live Fully and realize that this past week, we just passed another signpost of the end of a system that did not work for most of the world.  That's good.  Rather than fearing what's looming in the rearview mirror, its time that we look down the road ahead of us and start driving with our eyes on the road through the wind shield.  Between here and there, we'll have a few bug splats and some pterodactyl poop but, that's why we've got wiper blades!

P.S.  I cannot let today pass without calling your attention to the elections in Papua New Guinea today, the elections in Mongolia this week, and the recent statements by President Evo Morales in Bolivia.  These contemporaneous stories all are a referendum on whether the world is going to allow the holders of modern legalized piracy - the colonial equivalent of Letters of Marque - to continue to use colonial business models to take billions from countries while leaving people in financial and social poverty.  Glencore, the latest company to appeal to the tired, pathetic whining about "fairness" - like Rio Tinto in Mongolia and countless others - need to know, that together with artifacts of inhumanity like slavery, racism, and colonialism, they need to exterminate their tactics of entitlement and lead by engaging in true resource development partnerships.  In PNG, Mongolia, Bolivia and scores of other countries, there's enough to go around.  Failure to lead with ethical governance will lead to tired reprisals.  If you want a different outcome, initiate more conscious leadership!  While Rio Tinto seeks to white-wash its reputation by sponsoring human-rights events around the Olympics, I trust that all readers take these democratic events seriously and increase the scrutiny on those operators who have profited far too long at the expense of millions suffering in their shadows.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

It's the Heteroscedasticity, stupid!


Let's assume that somebody knows what to do when it comes to the U.S. and European economic and banking situation.  And let's assume that they'll come back from their extended vacation (or coma, as the case may be) at some point in the next few months and put things in order.  Further, let's assume that all the destructive decisions that were cemented into the foundation of our current crisis in the fourth quarter of 2001 can be jack-hammered into tiny bits and used as aggregate for paving the path out of the mess we're in.  Assuming all of this (aided by some mythical unicorn tears, pixie dust, and the whisker of a saber tooth tiger - yes, it's one of those potions) and you don't need to know what heteroscedasticity is and you can just return to your nostalgic Father's Day festivities.  However, assuming that any of the aforementioned fail to materialize, read on.

As with most of the statistics we use to make sense out of our world, a plethora of assumptions - both implicit and explicit - undergird our consensus 'knowledge'.  I have yet to meet any individual expert or group of scientists in any field who have the academic or social integrity to actually state the assumptions that they have opted to deploy untested and have the further decency to critique their own conclusions based on the failure for those assumptions to hold.  I marveled at the digital tautology infused in the papers presented at a conference from which I recently returned.  The scientific method, if invoked, meant that whatever statement or conclusion was to follow must enjoy some hegemonic priority in the minds of the listeners.  Let there be statistical significance in a regressed set of variables and, voilà, we've got truth.  InvertedAlchemy readers are acutely aware of my critique of our untested assumptions in general and their tragic behavioral and policy consequences.  However, it's worth noting that the current economic interventions being proposed in the G-20 are actually doing grave damage to our ability to even sustain our statistical myth.  And that, is the subject of this week's observations.

Now some of you are more familiar - because you were unwilling to sit through one of my statistics lectures at the University - with the concept of dispersion than you are with the term heteroscedasticity (and yes, I'll forgive that indiscretion).  And, for you, allow me to explain the following.  Let's assume that you make a series of observations that seem to work most of the time.  For example, let's say that we survey the world's middle class and find that, with additional money, we find that people report a better quality of life.  Using regression, we conclude that, with more money, quality of life increases.  However, when we extrapolate that observation to the whole population, we find that the relationship not only doesn't hold but we find that some people at very high levels of monetary wealth are miserable and some people at very low levels of monetary wealth are quite self-actualized.  Rather than rejecting our correlation 'truth', we explain the information that challenges the correctness of our hypothesis as 'outliers' or 'unexplained' rather than holding the possibility that we had the wrong hypothesis for which we applied the wrong metrics to confirm an imposed outcome.  And we do this because, in the name of convenience, we need to understand the world efficiently.  I don't want to ask everyone from every culture to respond to my attempt to understand the world.  I want to ask a few people a few questions and draw sweeping conclusions therefrom.

And here's the problem.  When the variables I think I'm assessing or measuring have dispersions creating heteroscedasticity (frequently a function of metrics at the measurement extremes of data), to gain confidence in my observations and the resultant conclusions, I limit the data that I gather to insure: a) self-fulfilling hypothesis retention; and, b) consensus among my scientifically-minded colleagues who, like me, want reductionism over complexity.  Ironically, the most damaging effect of heteroscedastic variables is not in their essence per se but rather in the 'error' or 'unexplained variance' that they represent to the generalizability of the model and its conclusions.

Now, take a deep breath, grab a nutritious snack (possibly some nerve conducting friendly egg yolks for your brain) and strap in for the reason why I've used James Carville's 1992 presidential campaign slogan for this post.  The world - sorry to all of you intelligent designers out there - is heteroscedastic.  And that's the case for the part we think we understand.  That's bad news for all you adherents to the method advanced in the 10th century by Ibn al-Haytham and modernized in the 16th century by the likes of Galileo and Kepler.  Most of what we confidently know that we know, we don't know.  But here's what's worse.  What's happening in Washington, Brussels, and capitals across the G-20 is that we are adding scale to variables we do not understand in the first place.  We already don't know how monetary supply behaves in manipulated interventions so we put MORE money in.  We don't know how real property deflation (a risk of currency inflation) will impact our long-standing social obligations so we create currency supply bubbles of gargantuan proportions.  We know that 'sovereign debt' has the full faith and confidence of governments at a time when no one has faith and confidence in governments so we develop schemes to issue more sovereign debt!  In other words, we are increasing the dispersion in a variable set that we've already evidenced a complete absence of mastery around and we somehow wait to see it show up in a model that was wrong in its creation.  At the apex of this irony is the fact that the most wealthy - yes the uber-1% - are clamoring for returns to invest their ill-gotten spoils and they're stuck with, you guessed it, currency and sovereign debt.  It must be a bummer to steal all the jewels only to find out that the jewels are just paving stones!

So here comes the punchline.  What we need is to shrink.  We actually need to have the courage to strive for a more elegant less.  Now the cool reality is that we'll get there one way or another.  We can either take the elixir of living within our suitable means or we can be served the ipecac from less charitable hands.  Starting with a deflation of our egoic, dominion-infused certainty of control, we need to accept that, in our finest moments, we describe, not explain (and certainly never predict).  Rather than seeking to control, we are more suited to steward that with which we are entrusted.  This does not suggest an aversion to accretive impulses.  It does, however suggest that we need to increase the heterogeneity of the variables we measure while decreasing the expectation of successful imposition of conclusions on disregarded populations.  Realizing that unexplained variance is more likely a reflection of the sum of our projected social monotony plus observational sloth rather than an unfathomable mystery, we need to confront the reality that more input into a broken model actually speeds the propagation of the problem rather than introducing any remedy.  Heteroscedasticity is not our enemy but our ill-conceived piling into its maelstrom will be our undoing.

In Integral Accounting parlance, we can seek phase and state coherence where all of the utility we desire from a system is achieved leaving the system with as much retained optionality as possible.  Simply put, we must engage in a process of removing ourselves from the end of consumption and see ourselves in participation with a cycling and recycling of matter and energy.  In a bizarre paradox, we may find ourselves DOING MORE with LESS.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

An Inquiry into Human Nature and the Cost of the Wealth of Nations


Adam Smith would be far less popular today were it not for his indolent generalizations about the march of progress in America and his contempt for Asia.  Nearly 240 years later, as we watch as the economies built on his perfunctory musings crumble despite the most impassioned interventions, it is ironic that we still blindly follow our Hobbesian Narcissism to his Echo.  Wealth is Power, we hear in the romantic distance and gaze longingly into the pool of our reflection puzzling over the beauty of our own projection.  Like the woodland nymphs of antiquity, European leaders intervene in Spain this weekend while the U.S. Congress and the sparring presidential campaigns blissfully ignore the 'fiscal cliff' looming at year's end.

In his Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith writes:

Every man is rich or poor according to the degree in which he can afford to enjoy the necessaries, conveniencies, and amusements of human life. But after the division of labour has once thoroughly taken place, it is but a very small part of these with which a man's own labour can supply him. The far greater part of them he must derive from the labour of other people, and he must be rich or poor according to the quantity of that labour which he can command, or which he can afford to purchase. The value of any commodity, therefore, to the person who possesses it, and who means not to use or consume it himself, but to exchange it for other commodities, is equal to the quantity of labour which it enables him to purchase or command. Labour therefore, is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities.

It is ironic that this Spring and Summer of European discontent is emanating from economies that have long shunned the very labor celebrated by their economic demigod.  Far more insidious is the abject failure with which U.S. economists and their operators adequately price the cost of our economic dependency built on our militarized extreme of the "command" of labor.  Our "fiscal cliff" is looming larger than all estimates given the fruit borne of our unconsidered resolution to violent control of commodities which, having yet again lurched into military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan from which we will have no quantifiable gain, we will seek to repatriate our soldiers and repurpose our industrial complex only to find that we've built nothing of transferrable value.  While at the end of the Great Wars we were able to forge a civilian manufacturing base, exactly how do you repurpose unwitting mercenaries and nation-building consultants who failed to build what they were handsomely paid to build?  Bringing our soldiers home to unemployment and having austerity hit our defense budget in January leaves the U.S. in the unenviable position of adding violence to austerity.  And we thought that with our wealth came power.  Hobbes didn't see that with violent power comes moral poverty

The fallacy of historicism so richly imbued in Smith's view and so warmly embraced by his protégés is built upon a linear regression that suggests that:

Free Natural Resources + Commanded Labor = Colonial Wealth.

Now we clearly don't wish to think of ourselves as still living in the bigotry of colonialist models.  However, as I pointed out in last week's post, the shareholders of Rio Tinto's Bougainville Copper Limited celebrate surrogated cannibalism when they turn a blind eye towards the death of 20,000 people so their company can enforce a mining concession granted by the U.N.-sanctioned colonial administration of Bougainville by Australia!  When Smith's 'command of labor' is taken to the militarized extreme, we find ourselves building an entirely unsustainable order of affairs which is sure to collapse - most probably in the most inelegant of ways.

In my presentation tomorrow (the manuscript will be published in the Proceedings and is available upon request), I will be suggesting that wealth needs to be redefined and liberated from its dominion-based, colonial empowered moral bankruptcy.  In an argument suggesting that sustainability is a function of the ability to enjoy non-destructive utility of matter and energy while preserving as much essential optionality as possible, I propose that:

wealth = utility x retained optionality

where ∞ = ∫ of all users across all value dimensions

When one considers this formula, one can readily see that the greatest wealth is experienced when the maximum benefit can be derived (in number of participants) from the least phase and state alteration (for more on this, take a look at my previous postings on Phase and State Coherence).  And the more value (in terms of integral accounting) dimensions can be simultaneously appreciated by the more participants, the greater the momentary and residual wealth.

In future posts, we will broaden the inquiry into this expansion of Buckminister Fuller's view of wealth which he described as the, "organized capability to cope effectively with the environment in sustaining our healthy regeneration and decreasing both the physical and metaphysical restrictions of the forward days of our lives."  By liberating this definition from its linearity, one can see that a Common Wealth can emerge, be characterized, and, in application, be the basis for a More Perfect Union.

Friday, June 1, 2012

End of a Gun


You’ve read most of this story hundreds of times before.  In fact, it’s so old that the civilized world has anesthetized itself and sterilized a blight on our civilization with terms like the “Resources Curse” and “Dysfunctional States”.  Countries rich in minerals and energy where poverty – both in economic and social terms – run rampant; where officials are prone to bribery and corruption; and where, when faced with a world turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to the people, desperate people turn to violence in a predictable last grasp for something to control.  Blood runs.  Families are destroyed.  And the perpetrators sponsor lavish seminars with their elite friends to discuss the hopelessness of a world filled with savages.  Paradoxically, Rio Tinto’s CEO reportedly has decided to participate in a campaign to “raise awareness” around human trafficking as part of the firm’s London Olympic sponsorship despite the labor abuses, impoverished living conditions, and sex trade affiliated with its mining operations.  Apparently “awareness raising” serves as his copper and gold Pontius basin in which he launders his conscience and that of his investors.  And best of all, in the name of Corporate Social Responsibility, even PAX Global and Praxis Core Stock Fund (funds that prey on the disembodied conscience of uninformed investors) invest in the perpetrators who, according to them are necessary components of investment portfolios despite being part of a “messy and imperfect” compromise.

But you haven’t read THIS story.  Because this story hasn’t been told before.  And if you listen to Australian media (ABC, to be specific), you may have been led to believe that this story could not be told.

In 1967, under the UN-authorized colonial custodianship of Papua New Guinea by the Australian government (jointly liable for the atrocities described herein) and eight years before independence, the Bougainville Copper Agreement was executed granting occupiers the control of one of the world’s largest copper (and other mineral) assets.  This agreement, forced into the “peaceful” independence agreement in 1975, granted a company (now Bougainville Copper Ltd – majority owned by Rio Tinto) rights to 42 years of mining with compulsory 21 year renewals irrespective of any law or Act of the government.  This provision, in a letter to then Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, was invoked by BCL Chairman Peter Taylor demanding that the Company enjoy renewal of its mining license prior to its expiration at the end of 2011.  Peter was simply reminding Sir Michael Somare of the agreement he had signed with R.W. Ballmer of BCL in 1967.

Bougainville became synonymous with the worst of mining.  Politicians were pitted against their citizens’ interests; clans were variously favored or ignored by the Company leading to bitter enmity and violence; and, in the late 1980s, the situation became intolerable.  A landowner conflict erupted into a war in which the Company was forced to cease its operations and over 20,000 people were abducted, tortured and killed.  And, to add insult to injury, in the fig leaf promoted as a Peace Agreement, the Bougainville government was given the 19% equity ownership once provided the National Government – equity that gave no PNG party any meaningful corporate or economic controls when issued – and an interest that, without production, had negligible value to Bougainville. 

To listen to the international media regarding Bougainville since the conflict in 1989 is to see images of fierce armed fighters, destroyed infrastructure, and destitute living conditions.  To hear BCL speak of the mine and the project is to hear about the need to pacify people for which they’ve exhibited nothing but contempt for 45 years.  The vitriolic propaganda spewing from remote shareholders is only outdone by opportunistic bureaucrats seeking to use their public office to pander to would-be operators who would love to rip new holes in the fabric of the land and its people with just another destructive operation.  To watch the footage from ABC in Australia, you would be advised that this is a place of dysfunction, lawlessness and hopelessness.

But that was before this week.  Because this week, during the consummation of a six week global financial and corporate literacy program that we helped develop and deploy, I had a chance to spend time in Panguna and Arawa and meet the people that have been the object of Australian, UN, and global contempt for decades.  Teaching them about the unconscionable acts that formed the BCA prior to independence and the intolerable supra-national rights granted to a company by a custodial administrator acting under the authority of the UN, we saw hundreds of people realize that those who they were told were “development partners” had in fact been complicit in grave injustices.  Showing them a corporate structure – like so many in Papua New Guinea and around the world – where equity, financing, leasing, taxation, and self-dealing arrangements aid in the misappropriation of assets to the detriment of the people awakened a level of passion unseen since the beginning of this stain on humanity’s record.  And, much to the surprise of the common narrative promoted by remote privateers, the people did not resort to violence.  Rather, they sought more information.  Because, as is always the case, abusers maintain their power by the persistence of ignorance, not by transparency and full exchange of facts.  

And then what happened next was most poignant.  Sitting in the back of the room at a 3 hour session in Arawa was a muscular man with a fatigue hat on his head.  He sat motionless for 3 hours looking at me with piercing eyes.  And before I was finished, he left.  The next morning, my companions said, “Chris Uma wants to meet with you.”  Chris is one of the men who the outside world – the world terrifyingly romanticized by a company that wants another bite at its ill-gotten apple – has been told to fear.  This General of the Mekamui Defense Force – most often pictured with battle-hardened visage and armed with automatic weapons wanted to meet me.  Meeting with Chris was not part of my plan but that’s part of the story.

Chris may very well have the firmest handshake in Papua New Guinea.  He’s muscular, powerful and our first interaction involved the dissolution of every one of the propaganda-laced messages that have been littered around the world by those with something to hide.  “We know that we’ve been lied to for all these years,” he said, “but now finally someone – a white man – has come and told us the truth that we all knew must be out there.”  And after that statement, Chris, many of his men, and our delegation had a long conversation about what true resource development could look like.  Together we went to the “NO GO ZONE” on the road to Panguna.  And when there – a world away from the terror that has been promoted by so many who have so much to hide – we had fun.  We picked flowers and put them into the barrels of the weapons that, in a moment of honest exchange, served no hostile purpose.  We sat together and talked about a future built on mutual respect.  And best of all, we agreed that it was time for the world to see a new picture of Bougainville.  Rather than the story of brokenness, violence, death, and treachery, an image of what happens when people sit together with mutual respect was allowed to emerge.  And then, the man the world has been told to fear; the man who has been enraged by the injustice meted to him and the people living around him; the man who only saw violence as a means to have a voice; that man removed his hat and placed a flower in his hair while the gun barrels that once blocked a hostile world became vases for the flowers of a new day.  

We, the Citizens of the World are better than colonial privateering and plunder.  We are better than violence fueled by willfully perpetuated ignorance.  We are better than standing idly by while corporations – aided by their servant governments – act with complete impunity and derision knowing that half a world away, no one is watching.  Whether it’s in Bougainville or in the Rio Tinto sponsored Olympics in London, it is time for us all to realize that violence is the fruit borne of a Tree of Willful Ignorance and productive futures are harvest from those who plant the Seeds of Knowledge and Mutual Respect.  Do the world a favor.  Send this blog post to as many people as you can.  Repost it so that search engines across the world show another picture of Bougainville.  Not one defined by violence but one that holds the fragile blossom of hope!