Monday, March 28, 2016

Ecclesiastical Chocolate Bunnies


Fourteen days after the New Moon on the Ecclesiastical Lunar Calendar.  Hmmm, let’s see… Easter must be about Christianizing the Jewish Passover with the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, or the best time to eat too much chocolate!  Oh, and the Passover must be the Abrahamic overlay to the Isis and Osiris festival of fertility.  Egypt may have been inspired by the Mesopotamian Inana / Ishtar cults that found the vernal equinox the cause of sacred reverence for fertility.  And so on and so on.  On the foundation of one “indigenous” and “pagan” ritual, the dominant ones build their sacred!  How tired a story this is.  Fourteen days.  What else is 14 days?  Oh, that’s right.  In folk medicine and present endocrine research, the relationship with lunar light exposure seems to be associated with ovulation[1].  In a recent epidemiological study, conception at full moon disproportionately favored male births while waxing, waning and no moons favored female births.[2]  Could it be that the Exodus, the Inana / Ishtar Mesopotamian fertility rites, and the Constantinian obsession with the vernal equinox as a date for the rites of Christianity’s Easter all have as much or more to do with fertility than they do with religious icons?   

Now there’s a strong temptation on my part to go down the tangent of railing against the illusion that anyone has a monopoly on “truth” or “right” given the preponderance of evidence stating that we are hopelessly predictable in our lack of creativity.  Everybody’s got their Creation, Flood, Burial and Resurrection, and Final Judgement stories and myths and the numbers of days 6, 40, 3, and eternity are the same in every human contrivance to explain why: a) you’re bad for being human; and, b) someone or something is going to get you so be very scared (a.k.a. behave in a manner that reinforces the dominant power structure du jour).  I could comment on the irony that the best we seem to get is our pathetic re-narration of tired myths in which, the mere changing of the names we place on the pantheon makes our story “right” and all other stories “wrong”.  I could observe that it’s precisely this abject ignorance that lands us in a world where our elections are rigged for theatrics while masses suffer unnecessarily.  But this would be a rant and not an appropriate blog post so I’m going to leave all of those topics for another day!  Whew!  Dodged a metaphoric bullet from a concealed carry at the Republican nominating convention!

What I do find instructive about the Fertility Rites of Spring and their attendant invocation of “new life” and “fertility” is a much more profound insight that has been missing from the economy for as long as the illusion of debt has dominated our economic framework.  The agrarian impulses of the Tigris and Euphrates, the Yellow and the Yangtze, the Susquehanna and the Mississippi, the Amazon and the Nile realized that life on this planet happened in seasons.  Floods moved silted ground into lands that could be easily tilled for planting.  The warm summers gave rise to the bountiful harvests that would feed the children born of Spring mating rites.  A world filled with Scorpios and Sagittarians was a world of independent nomads and wanders who could live on the frontiers and optimistic social beings, respectively.  These were the infants that lived because they had ample food most of the time. 

With the advent of industrial and mercantile impulses that built towns, cities and states, the rhythm of the spheres was drowned out by the clang of steel, the pump of the bellows, the belching of smoke and steam, the whir of engines, and the hypnotic pulse of 60Hz current.  And we fell out of rhythm.  Mate when you want.  Eat summer fruit in the middle of winter (so long as you can enslave the Southern hemisphere dwellers into indenture to the capricious whims of the Northern dwellers and vice versa).  Discontinue the respect and reverence for the rhythm of natural terrestrial and cosmic cycles because clearly they don’t include wisdom that can be relevant in our automated, grandiose view of Self. 

We celebrate Easter when we do because a 4th century Pope decided that we must poke a stick in the eyes of the “sinful” Jews.  The Jews celebrate Passover because rabbis decided to poke a stick in the eyes of the Egyptians.  Egyptians celebrate Isis and Osiris union because they decided to poke a stick in the Mesopotamians.  And because we’re so busy poking each other in the metaphoric eye, we blind ourselves to the wisdom that once realized that celebrating our interactive role in the universe allowed us to duration match our social and economic interactions.  Our current view of debt, risk, economic cycles, etc. are all a direct result of our failure to match our actions with the natural pace of the actions in our ecosystem.  We build where we want and then lament the wind and storm.  We tower above the fault lines and puzzle about the collapse of buildings.  We belch smoke and noxious materials into the air and wonder why we can’t breathe and why our oceans are dying.  In short, we pretend to be victims of that which we don’t include in our illusion of control while all the while decreasing our resilience by contrived social conventions.

If we wish to form a More Perfect Union, we would be well advised to begin listening to the music of the spheres – the Orphean sweeter song – and start dancing back into rhythms long forgotten.  Go outside tonight and listen.  It’s still singing and asking, “will you remember my night song when the Son rises?”

[1] Law, SP.  “The regulation of menstrual cycle and its relationship to the moon.”  Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand.  1986; 65(1):45-8.
[2] Sakar, M and Biswas NM. “Influence of moonlight on the birth of male and female babies.”  Nepal Med Coll J, 2005 June; 7(1):62-4.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The BIGGER Short


O.K.  I admit it.  I was putting off watching The Big Short for a bunch of reasons.  The first was simple.  I was talking about the House of Cards financial risk before the “discovery” of the mortgage crisis portrayed in the film.  In fact, when I met with the Richmond Federal Reserve in 1999, I pointed out that I had better visibility on intangible asset liens in commercial lending than banks had on pooled mortgages.  The President of the Richmond Fed at the time agreed with me!  While the protagonists in The Big Short were running around in 2005 and 2006 placing their bets against the market collapse, I was trying to wake people up to what was coming.  To the fact that President George W. Bush’s “patriotic” plea for Americans to over-consume and use their home equity as an ATM in the wake of September 11, 2001 was a horrible idea that blended short-term consumer debt dynamics with long-term real estate debt guaranteeing structural collapse.  To the fact that rating agencies admitted to not having any mechanism to measure the veracity of over 80% of the credit assets of the economy.  To the fact that the U.S. economy was built on plagiarized and illegitimate intellectual property.  To the fact that rating agencies were churning out ratings to sell products to investors and derelict in their fiduciary duty to measure risk.  And, when the dust settled, the public lost well over $5 trillion. 

The second reason was a bit more complicated.  There’s an even bigger certainty on the horizon and we’re either hypnotized or near-euthanized so much that we’re pretending not to see it.  Setting aside the nearly $19 trillion in national debt in the U.S. alone, there’s about $11 trillion in illiquid government associated financial products that are coming due over the next few years – social security, school loans, packaged mortgages, and depository insurance – products that are owned by retirees, ordinary citizens, and institutions and that will be subject to actual or manipulated default.  According to the Social Security Administration’s own numbers, the safety net for aging and disabled Americans vanishes around 2035 and that is assuming that benefits shrink by over 12% in 2017 and premiums rise by the same amount or more!  Where the GFC of 2007-2008 was a shock felt round the world, the current U.S. economic chasm is close to six times greater than the GFC.  This is NOT my estimate.  These are publicly available statistics.  And we’re pretending that the only news worth discussing is the theater between a xenophobic cartoon and a moral chameleon. 
"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.  If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property - until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered." Thomas Jefferson, 1802
See, my problem with The Big Short has nothing to do with the superb writing, acting, directing and production.  It is elegant and brilliant.  My problem is that we’ve become so accustomed to the stories of being lied to and robbed that we have seen it as entertainment rather than tyranny.  And while I’ve just come from Papua New Guinea where I’m repeatedly warned of government corruption, I look at an American economy that willfully lies to the public, willfully and negligently defrauds its citizens and it is this America that deigns to judge the corruption lubricated by U.S. and Australian dollars and Chinese yuan!  We pretend that trillions of dollars of losses and bailouts are just the price of doing business but we neglect the fact that each of those losses comes at the price of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness among the rank and file.  Slow bleedings, to be sure, but the body is already anemic and a financial plague is just around the corner. 

Together with the remarkable producer and director of the internationally acclaimed Future Dreaming, I have commenced work on a new film that seeks to preempt the “who could have seen it coming?” refrains that reverberated around the empty shell of what used to be Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers at the end of the past decade.  In the film I discuss the architecture of an economic system that is built on explicit ignorance to the all-in-consequence of our industrial and consumer behaviors and the fact that such systems have only been able to be propped up by intermittent, horribly violent military contrivances resulting in the deaths of millions.  Who could have seen this coming?  Well, once again, Thomas Jefferson stated that “…it is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.” 

Watching The Big Short reminded me that we’ve got an even more vexing challenge.  In the film, there is an effort to acknowledge that the celebrations surrounding winning the bet against the American economy were occasionally tempered with the sober knowledge that economic hardship would put people out of work, would expand homelessness and poverty, would lead some to suicide, and would have generational effects that will be slow in their evolution.  The fiduciary “obligation” that the fund managers had to maximize investor returns led the anonymous wealthy to curse the prognostication of fraud before the collapse and then dismissively cash in on their spoils with no regard for the lives that they’d cost after the fact.  At no point does it dawn on someone that a >400% profit may mean that the public was as robbed by the opportunist short investor as they were by the Federal Reserve and Treasury Ponzi scheme.  And this leads me to my own paradox.

I know that the U.S. market is well past the point of no return with respect to indebtedness and illiquid pension liabilities.  I know that hundreds of public companies – many of whom have been off-shoring assets for years – have massive liabilities for securities and financial misrepresentations.  My guess is that off-shoring has as much to do with known fraud as it does “tax efficiency”.  I know that several countries have adopted U.S. market models only to run the risk of greater instability.  Australia, for example, is drinking the Kool-Aid around venture capital and making illiquid markets part of its pension scheme without realizing that the U.S. VC model required highly nuanced tax loss harvesting, robust middle market private equity, and price collusion – none of which are suitably in place for the average Australian investor.  The ECB is pretending that the quantitative easing (read Ponzi scheme) that has failed in the U.S. will somehow have a better outcome in fractious Europe.  The oil rich Middle East is now realizing that its gilded age may be losing some of its glint with oil depressed and unlikely to rise soon.  And Pandora’s box has had some lid slippage with the Petrobras corruption allegations in Brazil.  In other words, the current system has run its course and the Bretton Woods experiment has concluded. 

And I’m not alone.  In his March 9, 2016 note entitled “Japanese Policy Failure Means Disaster for Us All”, John Mauldin details what he and others see in the near future with the “major economic disruption in Japan.”  Citing work by Mohamed El-Erian, he details the reflexive and unchartered courses being implemented by central banks which have been using classical economic theory in a market that has not fully understood the implications of demographic shifts, productivity challenges, quantitative international trading techniques and countless other anomalies.  El-Erian concludes that the, “implications go well beyond economics and finance, extending also to national politics, regional and global negotiations, and geopolitics.”  He continues, “Unless we understand the nature of the disruptive forces, including tipping points and T-junctions, we will likely fall short in our reaction functions.  And the more that happens, the greater the likelihood we could lose control of an orderly economic, financial, and political destiny – both for our generation and future ones.”  As was the case in the turns of the 19th and 20th century, these transitions are not without their opportunistic winners.  The few wealthy individuals who, in moments of crisis, can offer bailouts to governments (often to pay for wartime indebtedness) are the ones who set the tone for centuries of predatory enslavement of the general population.  Only this time, the denomination of “wealth” might be a bit tricky as the mere accumulation of debt-based currencies may in fact render the “wealth” quite ephemeral and fleeting.  While synthetic derivatives and swaps, agency debt, “risk-free” bonds, and the like may be proliferating once again like fungal spores in a rainforest, the arbiter of the impending dislocation will likely be those who have elected to secure control of resources and means of production.  A world awash in financial instruments and hedges will likely become a barren landscape when those who have been chasing amoral yield for its own sake are exposed.

So, do I take the path – like the traders in The Big Short – and bet against the fact that you’ll never read this post or understand it if you do?  Or do I work to tell a better story – one that is built on Integral Accountability where returns may not come in currencies (fiat, debt, or crypto)?  The answer is that I’m choosing humanity.  I’m investing my time, my creativity, and my efforts on getting into the trenches with those who want to be part of a human experiment that learns from the past and explicitly forgoes the predation on ignorance that was celebrated in the film.  I may wind up with a lot less money.  I may wind up with less gadgets and gizmos.  And in the end, I may underestimate the long arm of fraud and corruption that will continue to fool a public through cunning illusions.  Over the next several months, together with a great team of luminaries, we’re launching Future Dreaming: The Awakening which will be a series of gatherings around the world in which we’ll build new models of enterprise.  I’m honored to stand with amazing colleagues who have committed to go LONG humanity!  Let’s tell that story!

Sunday, March 6, 2016



On Saturday morning, I had the distinct honor of watching the sunrise over the cannon battery at the Middle Head Gunners point in Mosman overlooking the Sydney Harbor.  Nearly a year since our collaboration that resulted in the critically acclaimed Future Dreaming, Dan Freene, Kaya Finlayson and I traded the chilly rocks of Antarctica for the balmy breezes of a Sydney morning to commence our next film.  What a reunion!

A few hours later, we were joined by a luminous group of individuals who are working to expand understanding around how persons living with a variety of mobility and physical challenges can bring their exceptional talents and perspectives into productive engagement with enterprises and social interactions.  Sitting in the shade of a massive tree inhabited by a juvenile kookaburra who wanted to join in our conversation, we began filming the stories of four and then five amazing Australians who had maneuvered across the battery in power chairs and with the aid of a cane.  We discussed a variety of themes ranging from the importance of eye-to-eye communication, to care-giving and travel, to perceptions of condescension from those who are not similarly impacted by mobility challenges.  Why is it that something like a power wheel chair stands in the way of a smile, a simple “hello”, or an invitation to join in a social function?  How is it that a simple technology that is designed to facilitate integration and access can actually heighten a sense of separation and isolation?

With the cameras rolling, the boom mike bouncing from one and then the other, we shared a rich exchange about life, living with purpose, and gratitude.  And then came the moment that defined the day.  I asked each person to define what wealth means to them. 

“Spending the day with friends.”

“Being able to travel to be with family and friends.”

“Greeting someone on the street with a smile and having them smile back.”

As we dove deeper into the meaning of wealth, I found it quite interesting that none of the individuals mentioned a number.  None of them mentioned money.  None of them mentioned physical artifacts like houses, cars, boats, planes, or stuff.  Each of them saw wealth as what I’ve used to define the principle of Well-Being:  the capacity to engage in the ecosystem at liberty without diminishing the options for other to do the same.

According to those who wish to classify and categorize, these individuals were “persons with disability” or “disabled” and they are a “cost to society”.  But during our conversation, the technology that was the apparent barrier to humanity melted in everyone’s experience and was replaced by an overwhelming sense of connection and deep appreciation.  More profound, however, was the recognition that each of these individuals, when pressed on their life purpose, all had a common impulse to care for others.  Several wanted to be psychologists or counsellors.  One already worked for a crisis intervention hotline having himself experienced a near-death experience.  What became immediately evident was the fact that each one of these people was, in fact, the direct outcome of the sum of their experiences.  Knowing the pain of condescension and rejection, they had heightened empathy.  Having experienced care necessitated by physical limitations, their definition of value was inextricably linked to connection to others. 

Our gathering was not about finding a nostalgic “good story” to accommodate the “unfair” or “difficult” narratives to which we’ve become accustomed.  Our gathering was to listen to the wisdom that was seeking to burst forth from those whose voice is so frequently unheard.  And in our interaction, what became evident is that a better humanity is not some sort of elusive utopian ideal.  When we elect to enter our daily activities with gratitude; when we conscript the matter and energy that is around us and integrate our wisdom into its engagement; when we provision ourselves and maximally utilize the social and physical technologies that allow us to manifest our purpose; then the outcome is one that naturally evokes connection, compassion, and collaboration.

My life is richer thanks to Phillip, Shane, Kate, Shanais, Marc, and Monique.  And so are the lives of all of us if we meet them eye-to-eye and listen to the wisdom that comes from a life considerately lived.