Saturday, June 29, 2013

National Secrets: Treasure or Treason?


Sitting in the mist just north of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau mountains in Wilderswil, I watched the momentary afternoon sun concede to the onslaught of rain that soaked me earlier in the day.  The dense fog erased the glaciers, then the rocky crags, and then the nubile clouds dropped curtains of rain blocking everything beyond the closest tree-line.  Shrouded in their watery vapor, these sentinel mountains vanished.  Switzerland’s notoriety as a state of discretion and secrecy was, in modern times, highly valued as the 1934 Swiss Banking Act shielded countless assets from “enemies” of the Nazi state – notably continental European corporate and Jewish deposits from occupied countries.  Secrecy and privacy as constitutional rights under Article 13 of the Swiss Federal Constitution affords absolute protection of citizens’ “private and family life”.  Swiss banking and securities professionals are prohibited from breaching confidential client information (Article 47 of the Banking Act and Article 43 of the Federal Act on Stock Exchanges and Securities Trading).

Swiss secrecy predated the scourge of Nazi Germany by several hundred years.  Swiss cantons were both the sanctuary and crucible for 16th century religious reformers who, together with their patrons, sought to move life and wealth to safety in the mountain state.  On the lam arising from charges of ecclesiastical treason and heresy, Swiss resident John Calvin opened the door to equitable usury which created an ethical loophole for Protestant bankers to exploit.  Catholic and Protestant bankers alike all found this more expansive interpretation of canonical sin desirable.  Discretion regarding the identities of their valued depositors during a period of religious and political upheaval was a helpful corollary to solidify the Swiss primacy of fiduciary secrecy. 

Reminiscent of the conditions giving rise to Swiss secrecy in the era of Calvin and Zwingli, and the codification of the same on the eve of war, secrecy and treason have once again vaulted onto the awkward international stage.  The Swiss National Council just rejected “Lex USA” – a bill that would have aligned Swiss rules with demands in the U.S.  Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).  While the U.S. will undoubtedly pierce the Swiss veil to go after tax evaders (together with their EU taxation counterparties), one cannot avoid the paradoxical timing of this simmering conflict.  The U.S. wants disclosure of information from Swiss bankers at the same time it seeks to prosecute information disclosure by Booz Allen Hamilton former employee turned temporary Moscow airport resident Edward Snowden.  Apparently the “self-evident Truths” version of “truth” and “TRUTH” are not compatible.  If it serves the corporate objectives of Obama’s “powers that be”, then we want as much information as possible.   If it could incriminate them for treasonous acts against the U.S. national interests (like disclosing intelligence cover operations and covert financing), then we want to lock-up the leaker. 

Incoming National Security Advisor Susan Rice assured the public that Snowden’s activities had “not weakened the President.”  That’s true.  Given that many of the programs outlined in Snowden’s leaky goodie bag likely predate this Administration, it’s reasonable to assume that Obama’s Guantanamo-perpetuating, willy-nilly drone assassination reputation won’t be further tarnished.  Maybe she hasn’t been fully briefed on what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey seem to know.  But in a time when the Internal Revenue Service is rushing to deal with damage control on its identity targeting; with the President justifying violations to fundamental Constitutional rights; and, with a runner in Moscow with secrets that are either trivial or of dire consequence if leaked, I’m fascinated by the myth and mystique of secrets.

What’s in a secret?  And why do we presume that they are a necessary component of the social order?  The notion that a democratic, representational power – such as a country – can only secure itself through opacity is oxymoronic.  Undercover representational government is somewhere between offensively elitist and fascist.  It is contrary to the principles of commerce (willing buyers and sellers informed of all material facts), contract (fully-informed counterparties), and community (consensus to an established, stated order).  There’s no surprise then that it is fiduciary interests, not representational governments that need secrecy.  Our paternalistic lords know that if they were operating in full transparency, neither they nor their benefactors would enjoy the benign endorsement of the taxed and governed.

For Switzerland, there’s a fraction of 10.3% of its economy derived from the financial sector (CHF 59.4 billion) that’s riding on secrecy.  For the U.S., there’s at least that much or more riding on keeping the national defense and central intelligence budget (and their contractors) secret.  And for We The People, it may be time to actually step into the light and break the tyrannical illusion that secrecy is in our interest.  As long as we espouse its merits, we’re subject to its oppression and misuse.  Prioritizing transparency and accountability within ourselves and our communities will diminish the value of opacity.  And lest I be misinterpreted, I’m not suggesting that discretion and privacy need to be abandoned in inter-personal relationships.  But in positions of stewarded power and accountability, secrecy should have no quarter for in its precinct thrives treachery and treason which knows no rank, office, or distinction.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Head in the Clouds

Last night I watched the Tom Tykwer, Lana and Andy Wachowski adaptation of David Mitchell’s 2004 novel Cloud Atlas.  I needed to put my feet up for a long rest as I had spent three hours on my bike riding across Albemarle and Nelson Counties for my pilgrimage to Rockfish Gap.  Three hours of riding, three thousand feet of elevation, and three cramped leg muscles were great motivators for three hours of plumbing the tapestry of Mitchell’s imagination.  There were times in the film where my mind felt on the verge of following my legs into tonic contractions but the $102 million dollar film undulated just enough to stave off fatigue.

For those of you unfamiliar with the film, it seeks to weave a trans-incarnated narrative across time and geography including the South Pacific in 1849, Cambridge and Edinburgh in 1936, San Francisco in 1973, the UK in 2012, a future Neo Seoul Korea in 2144, and a post-apocalypse Big Island in 2321.  Reminiscent of what would happen if James Michener, Siddharta Buddha, and George Lucas were all channeling Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in a German coffeehouse in 1951, there’s more than enough gruesome angst to satisfy the most fatalist observer.  The grotesque visuals of the orgy of consumerism at its extreme in Neo Seoul regrettably leaves little to the imagination – both in how depraved unchecked consumption can be and how close our current society’s trajectory is aligned for that outcome.  Hegel’s rational unity and dialectical tension from which social ‘progress’ was thought to emerge are indicted by self-replicating illusions across time and space with periodic ethical glimpses amidst the prevailing degeneracy.

A few paragraphs into this and some of you are wondering if I’m channeling the Wachowskis, Hegel, or if I just had a depressing week.  Put down the dictionary, the Wikipedia, or whatever other reference you’ve been using to probe the preceding darkness and read on.  I’ve got an important observation to make.
In a rather poignant scene towards the end of the film (spoiler alert), there’s an energized conflict between a slave holder and his son-in-law as the former is about to disown the latter and his wife.  Seething at the foolishness of his utopian ideals, the father-in-law berates the young man with the predictable admonition that seeking to overturn the inertia of an incumbent (albeit, unjust) system is futile as the effort is, “but one small drop in the ocean.”

The young man replies, “My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?

In 1982, on this day, the United States passed the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (PL 97-200).  On this, its first day of adulthood, Edward Snowden reportedly requested asylum in Ecuador for his role in unveiling massive spying activities perpetrated by the U.S. government and its contractors.  In 1982, the law sought to protect spies.  In 2013, there is no law to protect the public from a government that has determined that covert actions are more justifiable than the democratic ideal.  Did we learn from the cold war and the futility of lives lost in covert operations 21 years ago?  Are we learning any lessons about accusing foreign governments of spying while we’re guilty of the same crimes?  Far from Hegelian progress, our ethics are in retrograde.

As this week came to a close, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s statement merely stating the unsustainability of the Fed’s reckless balance sheet expansion and debt manipulation (by the way not saying that he’s of the mind to stop the madness just yet) triggered interest rates spiked and financial commentators expressed concerns about another “housing bubble”.  Did we learn from the Bush Administration’s consumer indebted response to 9-11 where we turned houses into ATMs?  Did we take in the lessons of the “Global Financial Crisis of 2008”?  Far from it.  We actually have achieved in half the time even greater systemic instability.  The housing market wasn’t coming back.  Investors incapable of seeing their fixed income and high-yield assets dwindle pumped cheap money into the housing market again and Ben’s moment of lucidity diagnosed just how frail the illusion is.

Which brings me back to Cloud Atlas.  As an individual who seeks to facilitate an alternative model of productive engagement and resource stewardship, I puzzle over the Pavlovian predictability of consensus indebted consumption.  We know it’s going to harm us.  We know it’s going to destabilize communities and countries.  Our collective capacity to evidence, enact and demand transparent accountability seems to be dwindling at the very moment we need to transform our systems.  Are we so sedated that the prima facie abuses to the values we espouse simply no longer evoke engagement?  Our sanctity is being violated in the name of security.  Our means of value exchange is being debased.  Our infrastructure is being consolidated in the cloud where our vulnerability is greatest.  And all this is going on by ‘leaders’ who callously admit to their contempt for the law, for justice, and for manifesting a productive and fruitful future favoring, in its stead, the momentary satiation of the demands of their benefactors. 

We The People are more than this.  Our myths, legends, religions, and idols all strive to justify acquiescence to the futility of this macabre karma.  From our Tower of Babel to our sadistic blood thirsty cults, we tell a story of diminished capacity of humanity so that we can justify the madness that swirls around us.  Well, here’s one drop that’s not going to that ocean.  We are not the problem.  Our myths are.  We are not harmful when we collaborate, when we aspire, and when we place ourselves in service to a higher purpose.  We have nothing to fear in a world where we’ve refrained from predation on those we see as less than ourselves.  We - you, me, all of us - need to live in ways that honor all those in our lives and then repeatedly recite the accounts of a more favorable humanity thereby improving the possibility for others to see and engage the same.

For nearly 5 years, I’ve spent every Sunday striving to illuminate topics that I hope encourage a few of you to think and act differently.  I trust that a few of you take a moment, once again this week, to encourage those you know to read, think and act in a manner befitting the symphony that is only elegantly heard when we each play our part.  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Letter to Kevin Kimberlin

It doesn’t seem that long ago that you were in our M∙CAM offices at an annual meeting talking about the future of innovation and the central role Spencer Trask and M∙CAM would play in migrating the markets from the industrial to the innovation economy.  That was 2006.  My, how time flies.  I was reminded of your visits a few weeks ago when you wrote the Wall Street Journal opinion about the commercial importance of illegal gene patents and medical innovation.  As a “co-founder” of Myriad Genetics, I regrettably understand the desire you had to monetize the scourge of breast cancer as investing on fear has been a safe bet for centuries.  I’m also deeply grateful that the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed what we said back then.  The patent Myriad acquired on natural genetic mutations was invalid and the fact that Myriad received it didn’t make it any more legal.  You can buy a patent examiner's integrity but you can't buy legality or morality.  Many of their other patents are susceptible to invalidity and, in time, they will be tested in the market.

(Note: The breathless coverage of Angelina Jolie's mastectomy on CNN and elsewhere appears to be timed to attempt to influence the Supreme Court's decision by the people who wanted to trade the fear of cancer - Kevin's Myriad.)

For those of you who don’t remember the man that funded Edison’s light bulb, Spencer Trask also kept the New York Times out of bankruptcy in 1896 and became a funding partner for the now dishonored Moody’s Investors Service.  His relentless support of actual invention – Marconi’s wireless telegraph, the phonograph and other breakthroughs – fostered many industries that persist to this day.  His investments sought to stimulate the betterment of humanity – not the economically elitist selective culling of cancer patients based on their ability to feed investor returns.
It seems fitting that, on this same week that Kevin’s venture was found to have violated patent law, we actually did something here at M∙CAM that actually is sympathetic to the impulse of his firm’s namesake, Spencer Trask.  Also in 1896, Charles Dow and Edward Jones launched an equity index that sought to quantify an average performance of a class of industrial stocks that reflected the American economy.  One hundred and seventeen years later, we launched the Innovation 30 – an index of public equities that match the Dow’s market scale and volatility but represent firms that have prioritized innovation in their businesses.  Interestingly enough about ½ of the Dow components get replaced with firms that more accurately measure the impact of the innovation economy.  If you measure the productive deployment of actual research, development and deployment, you can find several new companies that more accurately reflect the productive economy.  You can also, through the substitution, measure consistent and substantial out-performance in those equities over time.  And best of all, you don't need to follow Myriad's lead in breaking the law to do it.
What does this mean in everyday life?  Well, that’s a good question.  Kevin’s Myriad Genetics built its enterprise on a violation of patent law.  In his justification for making breast cancer detection the domain of economically equipped women, Kevin insisted that the labor associated with the description of a naturally formed gene justified the firm’s patent claims.  This logic drove centuries of colonial arrogance that asserted that putting a boat in the water and sailing for a few months gave misfit seamen the “right” to the continents on which they landed.  Exploitation of nature and people – who cares!  It was done with considerable effort.  Innovation which involves violating the law (to say nothing about morality and regard for human life) is not innovative – it’s un-Constitutional.  When we measure genuine innovation, we actually measure legality and then take the next step: we measure the degree to which legal innovation is put to productive use.
The Supreme Court decision is a hollow victory.  The fact that the Court had to rule on an abuse of the law that enriched shareholders at the expense of human life is a travesty.  While we can take some solace in the fact that the law was upheld – an all too infrequent occurrence of late – we should be gravely concerned with a humanity that perpetuates the mercenary impulses of those who trade on mortality.  Far from the rich cultural and philanthropic legacy of Spencer Trask – whose contributions to the arts expanded MoMA, literature and culture – Kevin’s last stand will be remembered by the press offensive trying to influence the Supreme Court by celebrating painful therapeutic and prophylactic mastectomies. 
The Supreme Court decision was the first step towards emancipating nature from the misappropriation of inhumane actors.  There are many more.  For those of you who wish to build on the impulse unleashed by the Myriad decision, I would invite you to become part of a campaign of bringing light to this illegal and unethical practice.  Using M∙CAM’s All Patents Considered website, get a perspective on other efforts to expropriate nature and then use your networks to get people informed and engaged.  And Kevin, the world doesn’t need more Myriads – we need a little more of what Spencer Trask actually sought to manifest over a century ago.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Declaration of Interdependence


When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

This week, under the contemporaneous moons of the Bilderberg gathering in Watford, United Kingdom and the hemorrhage of disclosures of heinous acquiescence of corporations colluding with the government under the rubric of "security" to violate the rights of the Governed, I am reminded of the reason why I write this blog.  I do not want to be silent when our humanity is transacted using the economic utility to which we blindly adhere.  It is not for our self-evident truths securing Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness but for the expedient protection of the self-enriching monetary benefit of the few that our Form of Government has become "destructive of these ends." 
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Under the treachery and malevolence named the Patriot Act,

Our Mercenary Lords have refused Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

Our Mercenary Lords have refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

Our Mercenary Lords have called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

Our Mercenary Lords have obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

Our Mercenary Lords have made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

Our Mercenary Lords have kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

Our Mercenary Lords have affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

By now you get the point.  In 237 years, we've been informed that we are not to fear the intruder from within because he's benevolent and protecting us from the unseen predator without.  The problem with this illogical proposition is the fact that we have supported a tyrannical system of economic hegemony - from land confiscation to cunning state-sponsored debtor state warfare done under the ruse of "economic development" - and when the oppressed rise up as did our Colonial forbearers, we label them perpetrators of terror.

The fact that the NSA leaks were sourced by an employee from Booz Allen Hamilton - a global outsourced intrusion specialist - is fascinating for a number of reasons.  Notably, while the President has lied in his recitation of the hollow assurance that, "Nobody is listening to your telephone calls," he's relying on a time-tested linguistic slight-of-hand.  By nobody, he actually means that there's not a real person actually listening to your conversation.  There are, however, quite capable machines that are taking your speech, encoding it to text and pouring over the text to find out your free association and how to construe it for the purpose of manipulation and control.  And the reason why Booz Allen Hamilton is in this story is because the business of violating the principles upon which this country was founded is BIG business.  Over $64 billion in market capitalization is created by the top four firms in the business of out-sourced fear and terror.  Spending a disclosed $53.9 billion each year on violating our founding impulses (with tens of billions undisclosed), our Mercenary Lords have made a bet that has paid off quite handsomely.  Stimulate persistent fear and instability and We the People will be cowed into mindless submission.  And for what purpose?  Well, let's see, the same impulse that gilds cathedrals with gold and embellishes lavish churches with Klieg lights - the fear of an unseen, certain evil.  It turns out that one of the most effective ways to separate the masses from their monetary wealth is to sell them fear.

The tyranny that we need to cast off is not some disembodied King of England, no sociopathic President or Congressman, no NSA, FBI or CIA, no Google or Verizon.  No we merely need to relinquish our predictable adherence to fear and, in so doing, eviscerate the utility of our own oppression.  With a firm reliance on the protection of Inherent Providence, we may then mutually pledge to, and exchange with, each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Jumpman, Lady, and a 'Stupid' Ape


Thirty-two years ago today a $100,000 bet was about to pay off in a big way.  Jumpman - a short animated carpenter in red overalls and a blue shirt (later know as "Mario") - began rescuing blonde, twice-his-size Lady who had been abducted by Jumpman's mistreated ape.  Donkey Kong, one of the most prolifically distributed video games in standalone console history, would consume over 720 million quarters in the following twelve months and secure a spot for Nintendo in gaming history.  This game featuring an animal-abusing laborer rescuing a damsel in distress was introduced in bars in the U.S. and did a brisk business among the partially intoxicated.  Three hundred twenty one years ago a more sinister real-life tragedy was playing out on this same day.  Outspoken and provocative bar owner Bridget Bishop was put on trial for witchcraft and ten days later murdered in the name of morality.  Her male accusers offered as "proof" of her sorcery their dreams of her sensuality and seduction.

I have frequently bypassed insensitive and boorish remarks made by celebrated egos.  Many of them (usually made by white men) are merely inevitable cracks in the social veneer that glosses over character flaws ignored by the public due to the compulsive fawning over monetary celebrity.  Returning to Charlottesville after traveling for two weeks I was intrigued by the on-going critique of Paul Tudor Jones' derogatory remarks about women's capacity to be successful traders.  In an attempt to exhibit sensitivity befitting the court in 17th century Massachusetts, his remark, "As soon as that baby's lips touched that girl's bosom, forget it," was the reason why I elected to enter the conversation.  Jones' apology for his comments are empty.  The University of Virginia's neglect for sanctioning the blight that his contempt for women fosters is worse.  The fact that donor status suspends moral rectitude is beyond the pale.

However, my response to Mr. Jones' remarks did not land in the Politically Correct camp either.  In our present cultural milieu, our collective capacity to find offense is at epidemic levels.  What's in considerable lack is narratives that present a constructive and alternative perspective.  So on this June 2, 2013, I thought I'd offer you a story that I'd love to see spread as far and as wide as the remarks of a insensitive billionaire.

Twenty seven years ago, a few years after Donkey Kong was placed beside Pac-Man in the lounge at Goshen College in Northern Indiana, I met an interesting young woman who would later become my wife.  A nurse by both training and destiny, this amazing woman would go on to become one of the most celebrated critical care nurses in the three hospitals where she worked.  From the precision hands assisting under glaring lights of the operating theater to the gentle hand holding countless departing souls ending their journey of life, provocative, powerful Colleen mastered the art of care for those who illness and injury placed in her path.  And far from Paul Tudor Jones' mistaken illusion, it was two babies and their lips that brought her professional endeavor into the world of business, commerce and trading.  

For nearly two decades, Colleen evidenced the exceptional worth of matching her matriarchal care - without which countless would not have office, paycheck or provisioning - with her business acumen making her more valuable a member of our executive team than any of her male counterparts.  More valuable, you ask?  Yes.  It turns out that the contempt for women and mothers that blinds Mr. Jones is why he fails to see that the exact same impulse enables instinctive discernment.  Sure, men may be more reckless and, as a result, more frequently the improbable "winners" (like Jones) but it's been Colleen's discernment that has kept an organization provisioned for 17 years against all odds.

Why does this gender-thing matter?  Well, from my experience, I'd like to share a few observations.  First, I don't recall the last time I had to explain the importance of accountable stewardship to a mother in the market.  And, while Jones may ignore the importance of that, his investor limited partners should take careful notice.  Colleen has always known that she must trade using other peoples' resources.  She knows this and treats resources with great care - stretching funds further than anyone I know.  Second, she's not concerned with short-term scorecards.  Where men in business frequently find themselves engaged in comparison to their perceived peers and superiors, I've seen mothers far more likely to see the merits of the longer view.  Finally, and this one's a bit more tricky, I've seen mothers evidencing the capacity to prioritize the immediate needs of others over their own.  Now, while this can be destructive if imbalanced and overdone, I've never seen men intuitively sense the need to support colleagues with the same acumen evidenced by mothers.

Sure, there are life priorities that pull mothers into the lives of their children.  It would be improper to suggest that I've always seen Colleen's maternal inclination for the merits that it evidenced.  But there's no question that our capacity to conduct business including our capacity to engage in the high-friction fracas that is the capital markets is benefitted by both baby and bosom.  

Nintendo, Salem Puritans, and Paul Tudor Jones all share a narrative of a world where inadequate men feel the need to find their identity in demeaning, objectifying and dismissing the essence of the maternal feminine.  That world of Jumpmen and "Stupid Apes" (the awkward Miyamoto translation that led to the name Donkey Kong) is devoid of the recognition of the value of discernment, stewardship, and collective care.  Rather than ganging up on Mr. Jones, it's far more appropriate to actually take the same social impulse to judge and use it as a reminder to celebrate those women and mothers who have, indeed, given all of us a pathway towards a More Perfect Union.  Thanks Colleen!