Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pie à la mode

Before I digress into this week’s post, I must settle one of the great questions plaguing humanity for millennia (or at least for a few weeks). If you are having pecan pie, it is acceptable to serve it warmed with vanilla ice cream. If you’re really pretentious, you can make that vanilla bean ice cream. If you are serving grape pie warm, you can go with either vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. However, if you are serving grape pie room temperature or cool, than whipped cream is the only acceptable topping. And, let’s face it, pecan pie was made to be served warm so don’t even think about serving it cold with whipped cream. That’s simply not the way nature intended it! Grape pie clearly beats pecan pie when it comes to versatility but, don’t deduce from this empirical truth a judgment against pecan pie because, when served correctly, pecan pie is down right transcendent. If you want to access the sanctum sanctorum of my incarnation, add some dark chocolate chips into the pecan pie and I sublimate into pure white light – ice cream, whipped cream, at that moment, both are merely inconsequential annoyances to my state of bliss.

Which brings me to my digression for this week. In the midst of the festivities over the Thanksgiving holiday, I was inundated with four orthogonal fragments of the ghoulish mosaic of our current economic system. They came, as the geometric statistical metaphor suggests, from seemingly uncorrelated worlds but all converged on Thanksgiving Day.

First, I had the opportunity to peruse a series of videos recorded a few weeks ago at Zuccotti Park during the ‘occupy’ phase of Occupy Wall Street. Juxtaposing the video of voices of Occupites with the Department of Homeland Security’s impulse to ‘protect’ our social order from harmless people united by their generalized sense of disenfranchisement reminded me of the lunacy of Magistrates John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin, the presiding judges that launched the Salem Witch pogrom. For the record, the Obama Administration’s henchmen, operating in concert with mayors across the U.S. is, at present, as pathetic as the ‘adults’ who turned petty childish vendettas into justification for capital punishment in 1692.

Against this backdrop, I was intrigued by the accounts of schisms in the Occupy movement around financial transparency. Apparently, the very group that sought to hold the “1%” culpable for their collective anguish, when organizing to confront injustice, scarcely made it one fiscal quarter before confronting their own autogenously generated financial inequality.

Concurrently, I was being repeatedly contacted by a number of short traders who wanted to use information provided by my company to out one of the more egregious public equity frauds of late. A company grossly misrepresenting its patent position to defend a market that will be energized by consumer electronics titans seeking to sate the appetite of the mobile device-addicted market is, at best, making misleading statements and, at worst, lying. Best of all, the SEC turned a blind eye as the company was allowed to issue a redacted securities filing from which ALL material information was deleted.

And finally, on the day that a mining license to one of the world’s largest metals deposits expired, a representative of the company’s European shareholder’s groups decided that, rather than engaging the landowners in a civil discourse about ways to develop mineral resources with some sense of equity, the best strategy was to sit in the Principality of Andorra and berate people half a world away for their desire to educate themselves about the capital markets. This group, officially endorsed by the chairman of the non-operating mining interest, is currently conducting a poll on its website to support a Chinese takeover of the mining operation while publicly suggesting that they have the interests of the local communities foremost in their consideration.

Which brings me to my opening point. In a zero sum, thermodynamic world, one participant’s gain is precisely offset by losses (or reductions) to all other positions. In short, the bigger piece of pie – in this case, pecan – I choose to eat, the less pie is available for all others. In the ‘ideal case’ of this proposition – the Nash Equilibrium in which choices made by one is the ‘best’ when taking into account all choices each other party will make – there are two assumptions. First, there’s an assumption of scarcity and finitude. In short, there are only a defined number of options for slicing the pie and there’s no more pie. Second, and Nash simply improved on Cournot’s oligopoly theories over one hundred years earlier, that the distribution of possible responses is a modelable set of conditions. But undermining both Nash and Cournot is the greater threat – namely the potential that neither the model nor the presumed actors have ‘perfect’ information in which case the game, model, and equilibrium are all useless.

When one steps back from my four cases of entities all seeking their ‘piece of the pie’ that is, in their illusion, fair, just, or equivalent, one can readily discern the spoiler in each of these cases. Not only do all the parties in the Nash Games suffer from imperfect information but in each instance, all actors are willfully abusing known information asymmetry to imbalance the equilibrium. Whether it’s the Department of Homeland Security missing the obviousness of their club wielding law & order minions (by the way, have I taken a ‘long’ position AECOM, Atkins, BAE, Booz Allen Hamilton, CACI Federal, CH2MHILL, CSC, Fluor, General Dynamics, IBM, ICF, ITT, L-3, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Northrop Grumman, SAIC, Boeing, Unisys, and Wackenhut – some of the proud American and European companies that are arming our “Crisis Response” units) or short sellers seeking to monetize the outing of a public equity fraud, keeping someone in the dark long enough to prey upon fear seems to be the best bet around. And, in true Inverted Alchemy form, the bigger point is simple. When actions rely on fear and information asymmetry to propagate a message that transacts monetary benefit to the message holder, there is no instance where this is morally or practically justified. More importantly, one of the oldest standards in contract law is that this action is not just reprehensible: in Common Law, duress renders a contract voidable.

Which brings me to the Common Defense. We The People have been parties to countless contracts that were entered into under duress. Under the threat of scarcity and violent reprisals, we’ve been asked to forfeit our humanity in the name of ‘Security’. Contract voidable. In the name of rising against economic tyranny, we’ve organized ourselves around a debt-based currency system that is illiquid and degrading in value. Contract voidable. In the name of fairness, we have relied on oversight agencies like the SEC to mandate transparency for public companies – an unmitigated disaster in confidence and performance. Contract voidable. And, when no longer capable of confronting our colonial tyranny, we seek to pawn our interests off on the Chinese after which we will deride them for the abuses we have initiated. Contract voidable. We The People are NOT helpless victims of a manipulative system. As long as we aspire to being the one holding the knife that’s cutting the pie, WE are the problem. It’s time that we step away from this Euclidean flatland illusion and take our role as the makers of pies – not merely their consumers.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

One Foot In the Grave

What on Earth Will It Take” is a question posed by a recent film produced and released by Foster and Kimberly Gamble. It’s the question paralyzing so many these days. Institutional and private money managers are beyond caring about return. They just want to know if a currency is going to be around tomorrow, next week, or next month. Unemployed and under-employed hear politicians tell them to get a job as though that’s a novel idea that hadn’t occurred to them as they were out golfing at the club. Peace activists call for an end to the military and the industrial complex feeding its yawning jaws while offering no solution to the fact that such an end would expand unemployment by over 20%. Occupites demand equitable economic power distribution without realizing that the object of their derision (albeit many would love a bit more money in their own pockets) is but one tired illusion in the overall scheme of wealth.

Tragically, the solutions that are promoted – End the Fed; Cut the Military; Shrink Government; Stimulate Employment – all are both structurally ill-conceived and untenably amorphous to the point of convincing many to give up because there’s nothing that an individual can do. Beyond the obvious impotence felt by the average citizen when encouraged to dismantle vaunted institutions, these suggestions are so outlandish that they actually lessen the resolve of individuals to engage in transformative acts. More egregiously, these recommendations are utilizing the very Keynesian tools (when fueled by consumerism) that architected our current quagmire.

We don’t need to ‘End the Fed’. We need to discontinue our use and abuse of debt as the primary means of transacting value. Actively promoting geopolitical, social and economic justice reduces our actual and perceived threats. After all, when the Goldman Sachs structured, World Bank-endorsed mineral and energy resource heists lead to sovereign indebtedness and domestic unrest, it’s our 401(k) and investment plans that are fueling the violence. Actually researching the companies into which each of you invest and moving your money from tyranny will disarm more conflicts than any placard-carrying marcher has ever done. When Australian apologists like Papua New Guinea’s Chamber of Mines and Petroleum Executive Director Greg Anderson threaten sovereign officials with lies about “foreign investment” fleeing equitable resource development, where is the Australian government or public outcry for integrity? We need governments that are accountable stewards irrespective of their size. Stimulating employment perpetuates the illusion of a humanity that is fodder for Adam Smith’s productivity illusion. We need purposeful, productive engagement – not anonymous ‘employment’. The inflated illusion of employment fueled property accumulation as a proxy for ‘successful development’ has enslaved the masses to enrich the few.

This blog has been my Sisyphean quest for years to open minds and inquiry into unconsidered topics. Through these posts, I’ve shone the light on several topics that require expanded awareness and action. However none is more important, more central to the core of our systemic crisis than the one that has evaded the attention of most if not all of my readers. And so, while I could expand on all of the topics above ad nauseum, I’m going to take another stab at what I see as the root of our problem – our fear of Death.

Now, having just dismissed ending the Fed or eliminating the military industrial complex as too big a bite to chew without the benefit of Dr. Heimlich, many of you probably just recoiled with the existential impossibility of tackling fear of death. Some of you are probably shouting, “Actually, I think I’ll work on the dismantling of the Fed as that’s more doable than Dave’s silly notion.” You may be right. But hear me out before you jump to that conclusion.

I’m not referring to the cosmological pretzel that enshrouds the hereafter, the there-before, or the ‘whatever’. I’m specifically referring to an innovation that was created by a bunch of cheap Protestant Christians (and I am circumspect of maligning the term with a capital “C”) in the 18th century who decided to force clergy to call their own bluff by taking smaller salaries in life with the assurance that a ‘widows and orphans’ fund would be established to care for their loved ones after they were ‘called up yonder’. This ecumenical poker bluff lead to the creation of life insurance. Not by accident, the collusion between the hell-fire preachers of the post-Civil War revival heartland and the emergence of life insurance was a match made in…, well, let’s see. What’s the adage? “By their fruits you shall know them.” And it was Life Insurance – yes that ‘investment’ you are encouraged to make so that you don’t stiff your family in death with your over-expenditures and indebtedness in life – that was the DIRECT JUSTIFICATION and ANIMATING MANDATE for the creation of the Federal Reserve.

As I’ve pointed out on many occasions, 30 year debt, the hallmark of our debt currency, was thusly termed not because a Charlton Heston character descended from a mountain with tablets engraved with this sacred duration. No, 30 years was the productive life expectancy of a laborer for whom life insurance was justification to swindle people’s income to line the pockets of folks in New York and Connecticut. And, since the ‘risk’ of insuring had an actuarial table that expired with your productive life – 30 years – an inventory of investments needed to be created to park the money. It’s no accident that the founding shareholders of Reserve Corporation were LIFE INSURERS, not solely the exclusive, shadowy, nefarious New World Order bankers (sorry to all the Rothschild Bank of England provocateurs) so many seem to think are at the root of the tree of the knowledge of evil. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that there aren’t overlaps in ‘interlocking directorates’ as they were called but, let’s face it. It would make more sense to ‘Occupy’ Greenwich, CT and Metropolitan Life than it would to harass Wall Street brokers with over-priced lattes. And who is calling out the brokers of pre-destination and its evil demonic minion, eternal damnation? Oh, now did I cross a line with that one? You bet I did and it’s a line that few are willing to discern but many more ought to cross.

You see, if you really want to unravel the noose that is choking our collective economic order, you start by confronting your life… and your death. If you don’t accumulate vast indebtedness, life insurance is largely irrelevant. Yes, this means that you start living (uh oh, here it comes) within your means. If you don’t fall for the siren seduction of ‘tax-deferred pensions’ – that lovely managed account that has lost MORE VALUE being mismanaged by ‘professionals’ than your tax bill could have ever mustered – and actually invest in yourself, your community, and enterprises that you endorse and support, you will find that your present and future are both understandable and manageable. In short, if you simply step into a relationship with your life that doesn’t presume that responsible stewardship means outsourcing your end of life and death you’ll notice a few very important, system altering things. The U.S. Treasury and Fed will have a diminished role. Your investments will follow your values and, in many instances, these will be less likely to support anonymous human rights abuses and injustice that support tyranny and violence. Your communities will become places where your engagement and that of your fellow citizens will reflect your values. And, you just may find that more people find purposeful engagement where their livelihoods are linked to their contribution to value being provided – actual productivity measured with all the dimensionality of integral accounting.

Putting your debt based currency into a credit union is not going to change the world. For the record, your deposit in Wells Fargo or BofA was booked by them as their liability and they weren’t deploying it anyhow. They didn’t use it and holding it for you was not the source of their profits. And, as I’ve reported on numerous occasions, the FDIC is neither insurance nor funded so your money wasn’t safe. Re-aligning your life insurance premium into investments in credit unions, community banks or enterprises aligned to values you hold will actually change your world and THE WORLD. Falling for the tax-deferred illusion will not stabilize your future. It will enrich those who are currently failing to outperform indexes. Investing (money, time, knowledge, technology, commodities, and culture) in communities – both at home and abroad – will render annuities and indices far less relevant. And, by the way, you may not leave hordes for future generations. Guess what? They’ll gain something that few of us have: evidence that humanity can wrestle itself back from the throes of collective destruction. And that, my friends, is something we can all start doing today. We may have to amputate the gangrenous limbs that have atrophied beyond repair, but better that than follow our feet into our insured and certain grave.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Shakespeare at Zuccotti Park

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

Yellow leaves swirled in the breeze blowing around the corner of 180 Maiden Lane. The midday sun reflecting off the gilded façade sharpened the color as they blew past the blank windows and unkempt glass. Ten years ago, this monument to innovation in structured finance and risk management bustled with Asian, European, and American businessmen all paying call to the court. The nobles, clad only in the consensus of their exalted state (yes, read, the emperor has no…) deigned accommodation to the obeisance paid at their doors while holding the masses in total contempt. Today, only the last tenacious leaves rose to the upper levels of the tower whose grandeur suffered the fate of Clarence in Shakespeare’s Richard III.

Walking up Maiden Lane from the Hudson River where once women and young girls passed to launder the household linens for the houses and vestries on the southern tip of Manhattan, I was overwhelmed by the absence of any human form. This country lane, marked and paved in the dawn of the 18th century once carried the ropes, tackle and stones from privateer ships to raise the form of Trinity Church. The irony that this lane would be honored to bear the name of the New York Federal Reserve’s toxic mortgage and credit default financial frauds – the legacy of Bear Stearns forced rescue by JP Morgan and AIG’s collapse hospiced with billions of dollars of tax payer funds – was not lost on me. Remarkably, in the winter of discontent just a few blocks away at Zuccotti Park not a single Occupite seemed to have an answer for my question as to why banks and traders have earned their collective wrath while the actual structural source of greatest wealth misappropriation is occupied only by a few autumn leaves.

For the past several weeks I have been advised by many friends, colleagues, and advocates, that the Occupy effort is evidence of a humanity waking up. I am certain that, in the midst of the tents, signs, and drum circles there are endangered voices that actually seek to call attention to substance over the cacophony of generalized discontent. However, from San Francisco to New York, I am convinced of one thing more than any other. Occupy Wall Street and its massing throngs are providing vociferous outlets for dissatisfaction while the actual perpetrators go untouched. Rather than ‘waking up’ what I’ve observed is a perpetuation of illiteracy that is nothing short of staggering.

Walking up to a young man who held a sign nostalgically extolling the virtues of Glass-Steagall Act (an Act whose date he couldn’t recall and which he acknowledged never reading despite his printed insistence on bringing it back), I asked him why he was advocating for broader powers for the Federal Reserve. Which part of the currency provisions or rediscounting government and commercial debt was he advocating? He looked at me in complete bewilderment. He and several other Occupites ‘knew’ that this Act’s return would wedge depository banks and investment banking activities apart. And, having explained to him the actual effect of the 1932 and 1933 legislative efforts of Senators Carter Glass (D-VA) and Henry Steagall (D-AL), he responded, “I never knew what this meant,” and then proceeded to walk away, text a message into his iPhone and then move comfortably away before re-hoisting his sign.

Here’s the Shakespearean irony: the young man is pretty sure that something is wrong. He’s right. But calling for an Act that set in motion many of the actual problems which have enabled the greatest wealth transfer in the world’s recorded history leading to the greatest financial resource disparity (still burgeoning with each drumbeat at the Park) is like asking the Inquisitor for extra wood at the stake. Responding to the reflex of injustice without taking the time (or having the attention span to understand the root of injustice) not only perpetrates greater abuse but allows the perpetrators to persist in anonymity. In short, mass uprisings in ignorance are NOT indicators of positive social change. We don’t need ‘ideas’ for organizing – we need in-depth inquiry and financial literacy. In our faux embrace of pluralistic catharsis, we’ve created a smoke-screen behind which the actual Machiavellian tragedy plays on.

There is a path to be informed. The system is easily understood. And, as a person working to build a new economic framework, I am convinced that the 99% occupying parks are as connected by and complicit in their ignorance of the system they perceive to be abusing them as their alleged 1% foes. In fact, since the movement started, I’ve found more openness to transformation and creativity among the ‘them’ 1% than I’ve found in the “99%”. Perpetuation of collective ignorance is not enlightenment. We The People must elevate the dialogue, pick up the baskets of soiled linens dumped behind AIG’s Pine Street offices onto Maiden Lane, return to the Hudson, and wash our greed-soiled obliviousness before we’re all taken to the cleaners.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

'Occupy' Your Mind

Returning from Salt Lake City to Charlottesville via Chicago provided a suboptimal venue to listen to the audio of Ken Wilber’s interview conducted by my friend Todd Goldfarb ( It turns out that cheap courtesy headphones from a hotel gym have no sound damping value to overpower the engines on a CRJ-700. The good news was that the audio quality was so dreadful that I had to concentrate. So, I sat next to the window, focused on the ground passing below and listened to Ken describe the passage of humanity’s transitions. And it was in the observation of the millions of acres of industrial farmland over which I was passing at 38,000 feet that I settled in on the puzzle that is this week’s InvertedAlchemy: Is it possible to perceive human transformation as a first person actor or are evolutions of consciousness only discerned in retrospect?

Let me provide a bit of background. Todd and Ken were discussing the notion that we’re on the edge of a new inflection of the human experience. This edge is, in part, defined by previous inflections (from archaic to magic to mythic to rational to modern to post-modern to…?), has several particular characteristics that were noteworthy. In his description of the ‘Integral’ transformation, Ken suggested that, in contrast to previous inflections, rather than rejecting past human narratives, a hallmark of this inflection is the explicit inclusion of wisdom and experience from all previous epochs. And, for a moment over Iowa, I found myself trying to reconcile this vision with the reality from which I had just come. You see, I had just been at a board meeting where I had heard representatives from one of New York's leading investment banks talk about the merits of fixed income investments and had heard them discuss the fact that they were encouraging investments in revenue-based instruments – like water – rather than debt issued by cities and counties. After all, they argued, even unemployed poor people have to drink! The neatly groomed fields below me, the echo of merchants peddling water as a safe investment, and Ken all converged in an unholy trinity between Cedar Rapids and Oxford Junction. I can recall the moment. Ken was in the middle of one of his many “never before in human history” generalizations.

Who do we think we are?

We’ve got a real problem. You’ve read me describe – with effusive affection – my respect for Karl Popper on numerous occasions so I will not belabor his criticism of our Occidental hubris again. As I have commented in my recent posts on the Occupy movement, what I find most disturbing about our present consensus delusional state is the intersection of our belief that we access information and our resulting belief that we’re informed.

Has capitalism ‘worked’ when:

1. The largest communist country on earth actually owns a controlling interest in our debt and supplies a considerable amount of our consumables;
2. We have never – since the Land Act of 1820 and the Morrill Act of 1862 to our modern military, technology, and service profit-subsidized government procurements of today – actually had a phase in our nation’s history where we actually had open, unsubsidized free markets; and,
3. Our income distribution and growth is at its all time greatest asymmetry?

Has our social conscience evolved when:

1. Ken Wilber describes our evolution past slavery, for example, at a time when there are more humans (per capita) in slavery today than at any recorded period of history;
2. When we continue to promote 19th century narratives about wisdom traditions ranging from Egypt to Peru to Mongolia without consideration of the possibility that these civilizations actually may have out-engineered our self proclaimed modern marvels; and,
3. When ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’ has led to more remote control assassinations than the notorious Bush / Cheney regime?

It would be lovely to imagine a world in which we would hold ourselves to an abiding commitment that ‘evolution’ would actually involve some notion of improvement. Improvement of the means by which we interact with the Earth. Improvement in the manner in which we engage cultures diverse from our own. Improvement in how we assess the qualities of ourselves and our ecosystem. Improvements in how we engage in dialogue and discourse holding genuine respect for alternative points of view. But, alas, the evidence shows us that we seem to be more drawn to evolution that involves the selective repression of ever larger numbers of voices – voices who have long memories and have alternative views to our own. Is humanity at a tipping point or are we walking past the masses from whom our ignorance has extracted humanity?

The fulcrum around which a real tipping will occur will be discerned when it is set into place by the hands of all tribes, communities, families, and peoples. We’ll know it by their presence – not tell them in their absence.