Thursday, December 15, 2011

Persons of the Year

Persons of the Year-The Oligarchs

This was the year in which it was confirmed that corrupt politicians come in all flavors; ethnicities, colors, sexual orientations, and educational attainment levels. For anyone paying attention, the self interest of world leaders reached a level of such proportions that even the most docile acted up and out against them. It is yet to be determined if the activists have changed anything. The continued reliance on the processes of governance, without structural change, forebodes that where uprising happened, the net effect was to change the faces of the players, but not the game.

"Peanuts", first year psychology courses, ad-men and comedians all extol the truth of negative reinforcement, "don't care what you say about me, just say something". GM execs used to say of Nader, when he was busy critiquing the safety of their autos, he wasn't knocking the use of autos, (which claim 1 million lives annually), he was worried about them rolling over. Nader was occupying their space. He was critiquing them. He was not out advocating for something like public transportation.

As long as we validate the brutes, the greedy, the killers, by occupying their spaces, we insure that we are not contemplating what the alternative might look like.

No better evidence can be cited than the results of the COP 17 on global climate change that just ended in Durban, South Africa. There the players from all perspectives, pro-business, big oil,, or reps from the so-called 99%, pointed at "governments' policy" to increase, limit, change, control, or modify behavior by the imposition of rules. As if large third parties, can by the force, control the inclination of individuals to destroy their world. Evidence to the contrary abounds: speed limits, FDA's inability to regulate the food and drug industries, anti-smoking regulations, the SEC, are just the tip of a list, exclusively American, that would give credence to the observation that humankind is it's own worst enemy, and they are ungovernable.

Naomi Klein wrote a piece for the Nation that she discussed with Andrew Revkin here. "The piece begins with Klein’s conclusion, reached after she spent time at a conclave on climate sponsored by the libertarian Heartland Institute, that passionate corporate and conservative foes of curbs on greenhouse gases are right in asserting that a meaningful response to global warming would be a fatal blow to free markets and capitalism.

She challenges the environmental left to embrace this reality instead of implying that modest changes in lifestyle and shopping habits and the like can decarbonize human endeavors on a crowding planet."

These are statements well worth reading, within the context of seeing the world as left/right, corporate/individual, or as organized or randomized. What neither Andrew or Naomi can say, they do make their livings being pundits in mainstream media, is that the revolution, if you actually want it, is within our means. It is not dependent on powerful governments, or NGOs, or corporate reform.

What Gandhi knew, what MLK knew, was that margins are razor thin. The boycott is the easiest and most effective weapon for change. Outstanding examples are the refusal of American colonials to buy British goods after the passage of the Stamp Act (1765), the Chinese boycott of U.S. goods (1905) because of the poor treatment of Chinese in America, the refusal of Gandhi's followers to buy British-made goods in India, and the Arab League boycott (1948) of all companies dealing with the state of Israel.

The "market" and specific targets within it, cannot withstand a withdrawal of even 10% of their customer base. Here's a list of net margins.

Want to integrate a bus system, stop riding. Want to bring a consumer driven economy to its knees, stop buying. Want to change the global demand for carbon, stop driving. Don't appreciate one or another corporate policy, find out what they produce and stop buying it. Koch Industries is in the news a lot and produce many consumer goods. The Wonkette had some advice on the subject.

There are some very dedicated boycott organizers out there. Scan this site for inspiration. The point is to stop being driven by "their" agenda. That was the anti-message the OWS tried to deliver. The irony was that they validated (by occupying) Wall Street as the power center. What if all those college students prevailed on their institutions to stop dealing with the street? What if they implored their parents to move their money off "the street"? What if, like the example of these young Canadian delegates to COP 17, they turned their collective backs on the systems that oppress them?

"Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it."

Mahatma Gandhi.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Learning to count

You go girl

It is not enough to simply shout or sign that the system is unfair and thus has to be reformed. It would help if protesters knew how it was unfair and could target their rage appropriately. Protesters must learn to count.

OWS, strikes by British government workers, Greek citizens demanding political reform, are all doomed if the participants don't know how to count. The most recent example of the so-called liberal media getting it wrong and misguiding their readers occurred in today's NYT op-ed by Nicholas Kristof. In his article he recounts the confessions of a former Chase banker who cooked the country. He then goes on to report the findings of the Bloomberg revelation that has minds whirring; "as Bloomberg Markets magazine published a terrific exposé based on lending records it pried out of the Federal Reserve in a lawsuit. It turns out that the Fed provided an astonishing sum to keep banks afloat — $7.8 trillion, equivalent to more than $25,000 per American.
The article estimated that banks earned up to $13 billion in profits by re-lending that money to businesses and consumers at higher rates. The Federal Reserve action isn’t a scandal, and arguably it’s a triumph. The Fed did everything imaginable to avert a financial catastrophe — and succeeded. The money was repaid."
There's the rub, "the money was repaid".

To understand why the money was not repaid you have to know about an important fundamental: This is the definition of the Bond Carry Trade:
For the bond market, this refers to a trade where you borrow and pay interest in order to buy something else that has higher interest. For example, with a positively sloped term structure (short rates lower than long rates), one might borrow at low short term rates and finance the purchase of long-term bonds. The carry return is the coupon on the bonds minus the interest costs of the short-term borrowing. Of course, if long-term interest rates unexpectedly rose (and long-term bond prices fell as a result), the carry trade could become unprofitable.

The second fundamental is to understand that the long tradition of the Fed NOT signaling what moves it was about to make re. interest rates kept the process of a free market capitalism alive and cost players money in that they had to hedge (protect themselves) if the Fed were to change interest rates. Now the fed has spoken and told the players that they will not raise rates for at least two years. The effect of this is to allow the banks (the major players) to borrow Fed money at virtually no interest rate and invest the same money in long term treasuries. That is what they are doing with the majority of the money, not lending it to business or home buyers. They then pocket the difference, firm up their balance sheets, and return the loan when they want to.

What was lost to the Fed was the opportunity costs. Money they might have made in their portfolio had they not given it to the bankers for free.

Opponents of bailouts complain that to help "main street" or home owners, is impossible because of "moral hazard", picking winners and losers, giving one group an unfair advantage. But that is just what the Fed has done.

Imagine the following scenario for example. You own a failing cupcake business. The Fed decides that your business is critical; you employ people, are in the stream of commerce, and anchor a block of retail shops. They decide to bail you out. They lend you let's say 3 mil at no cost which you promptly invest in 30 year government bonds yielding roughly 4%. You pocket the 120k annual cash flow, (money the Fed would have earned) keep your business running, and when all turns bright again, you repay the original 3 mil loan. That opportunity doesn't exist for you. That is what is, has, and continues to be the unfairness that those who are suffering the consequences of Fed policy haven't been able to articulate. Make no mistake. Central Banks all over the world have made up some of the losses (most still remain off the books) of their member banks and allowed the underlying failures on investments wiped out in the crisis to fester. So housing value remains low, which limits tax revenue, which breaks governments ability to function (Teachers are fired, tuitions rise, services are privatized). Pension trusts losses mount and therefore are unable to meet their obligations. Businesses can't get loans, there is no job creation, and the economy craters.

Not to worry. the Fed triumphed and they are being repaid.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Enough is enough

Collee was an apple man. He grew them, picked and packed and shipped them himself from his several hundred acre orchard in the Shenandoah Valley. He brought Carrie and me an apple ladder and pointed toward a small grove where he kept his heirlooms; smokehouse, maiden's blush, and a variety of pippins. We strapped on pickers' vests, deep barrel chested leathers for collecting as you climb up into the trees. After we nearly toppled from the weight of it all we staggered back up to the farmhouse chomping on an apple that contained the nectar of the gods. I offered one to Collee and he refused: "I've had my last apple," he told us. "Every week for 60 years I've delivered apples to market. I would place a peck in the cab and eat as I drove. One day it occurred to me that I had eaten near a million apples. I surmised that that was all the apples God intended a man to eat. I quit then and there. Haven't had an apple since."

I brewed beer. English style ales. It is a relatively simple process, one you can learn, and was a great source of "real" beer in an era of PBR, Bud, and Corona piss. I never had a fail or any of the horror stories associated with brew your own. When we moved south I gave the works away. There were nothing but piss beers in Florida at the time, Sierra Nevada had to travel a great distance to get there, and so like Collee, I told myself I had had my last beer. Then we arrived in Maine. There is a vital micro brew industry here and it was easy to reconnect with a product. There are five breweries within 5 miles of where I live and we have visited them all. They make good beer.

I read an article in which a bar (Ebenezer's, Lovell, Maine) was mentioned as the best place in the country to sample Belgian beer. A perfect excuse for a day trip. We went and challenged the boss to tell me why my cost point was about to jump by a factor of three, and what all the fuss was about? He asked what our taste preferences were and when we told him we didn't appreciate fruit in our beer he offered that Coke nearly killed Belgian beer. The demand for sweet changed the brewers style in an attempt to keep up with the market BUT, there were many traditionalists that were making historic beers. The Trappists were the gold standard. This became one of those days. I'm sure this is old news to some of you, it brought us to our knees. We drank incredible beers and American crafters have learned the art.

I've done some research and I came upon this article which brought my attention to the economics of the enterprise. I am not moved to take on the cloth, but I appreciate the life lessons containing in the following quote:
"St. Sixtus brews just 60,000 cases of beer a year. The famous Westvleteren 12 sells for about $33 a case, the blond 6 is the cheapest at $23 for 24 bottles. That makes enough money to cover the costs of maintaining the abbey, where 28 monks work. There's also a little extra to help the needy. The brewery currently is running at maximum capacity. And the monks are not interested in raising prices or production, because that would require hiring more outside workers (they have three) and working with distributors."
An intentional community coming together, creating a great product, making enough money for themselves and those less fortunate, that is an ethic we can all learn from.

As we enter the gift giving season consider these other representative samples of great product being produced at other monasteries:
Trappist jams which distributes a variety of products from around the world.
Fruitcake, cheese, bourbon and fudge from Gethsemani Farms
Fruitcake, truffles, and honey
Simply divine cookies
Some of the world's finest liquors are crafted by monks.
and this story featured vinegar produced in the Hudson Valley

I am sure you can add others, please do, and any other examples of successful small scale commercial enterprises that suggest an alternative to business as usual.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Myth Busting

Myth Busting

For the first 6000 years of human organization armed forces were required to enslave or indenture a workforce to break their bodies doing something they didn't want to do; Build a pyramid, a temple, an edifice that ennobled the "king" who managed to employ those forces. Now we have evolved to the point that thousands line up for the privilege of enslaving themselves. We have instituted a set of fundamental myths that reinforce the process of self enslavement: There is a protestant work ethic that purports to demonstrate a person's grace through the observation of their hard work. Thank you Martin Luther.
We have instilled in the culture a corruption of Spencer's observation of natural selection and reduced "survival of the fittest" to a mano-a-mano fight for life.
We have embedded "what do you do for a living" so deep into our language that our job is now synonymous with our human value and the lack of job implies death.
Compensation for labor is said to be proportionate to the value of the earner and, as if you didn't have millions of examples of that myth, the new data by-product of OWS is proof enough, that those who have the most, do the least.

Of course 6000 years of this has made us insane and thus we contradict ourselves. We worship at the feet of the lucky; the heirs, the attractive, the criminal, those who have done nothing to deserve the inordinate wealth they possess. We devalue the uncompensated work of the people that perform our most critical tasks; rearing our young, or being companions for our aged. When we try to reform these behaviors we deflect from the personal to the general and get caught in the impossibility of revolution. There is nothing wrong with Marx's foundation logic. He nailed the issues all those years ago. What confounds his intellectual heirs is that portion of human activity that seems to bred in the bone, or worse, is excited by behavior en-masse, our fears and demons.

The myth of scarcity has forced us into a hoarding behavior. If there is not enough to go around, I must ensure mine.
The myth of the rugged individual is actually getting some juice from the Republican campaigns. Thank you Ayn Rand. We are not going to march 7 billion people across a prairie and settle them in single family homes. We are linked to each other from the womb to the grave and its time to acknowledge that mutuality.
The myth that people will not perform critical tasks necessary for our survival is belied by the fact the majority of us take out the trash, mow the lawn, read the bedtime story and make the coffee. The way we compensate for those tasks that require special talents or for which people will not volunteer is upside down. Why the basketball player, who would do his/her job for nothing makes more than the garbage man is absurd. We should compensate inversely to the degree the person doesn't want to do the job or perform the service. I love it when on a snow day the announcement goes out, "all non critical employees" need not show up for work today. They should never show up. They should be paid to stay home and save us the fortune it costs us in infrastructure to support them.

First Principles:
To fill the policy vacuum being created by OWS lets begin at the beginning and establish a set of first principles upon which we can build a workable society.
My first principle is that people have choice and the behavior of others is, (with few exceptions) none of my business. Intentional communities can come together to articulate common objectives, distribute responsibility, and achieve their objectives. Self selection happens everyday in the lunchroom, the disco, the neighborhood, the place of worship. So be it. The tribe, the club, the gang are viable forms of small scale groups that have the ability to unify around common cause. They don't delegate or elect representatives. They assume direct responsibility for the preservation of their lives.
Let's start here. We can determine how we get to the bigger issues later. For now small groups inventory our stuff, our capacity, our talent, and see what we have and how we can exploit it, in common. Enough of the madness of go it alone.

notes for a constitution in process:
We have to come to terms with stuff and when it matters a lot what other people do. Take for example the Atlanta man who in the midst of a drought consumed 60 times what the average person uses and got caught. The city can roll him back. What of the person flying the private jet, or driving the Escalade, or killing the tuna. The idea that affordability, one's ability to pay, is the sole criteria for a person's consumption is so disrespectful of the context in which we live, that the behavior is going to have to be checked. How? That's the beginning of the process. That's what OWS is starting to contemplate. It took us centuries of unbridled capitalism to get us where we are today. To unravel is going to take time and thought.
The idea that a person can behave in such a way as to suffer a medical consequence of their indulgence is a classic example of the effect of us all having to pay. The victim of smoking or alcoholism, or speeding, or drug abuse, drags us into his health care system. He may be "able to pay" but the fact is he syphons capacity away as cruelly as the water abuser in Atlanta. I should not be asked to pay for his abuse. We live in a world of limited capacity IF we extract resources at irreplaceable rates with no consideration of conservation. We have to muzzle the pigs at the various troughs and limit the excesses of unbridled capitalism. When we agree on limits, we can proceed.

Friday, October 7, 2011

And Now?

Occupy Wall Street reminds me of the occupation of the administration offices of Columbia U. and other universities across the globe in the late 60's. Net effect?; Nada. It seemed that what those protestors wanted 40 years ago was to change the occupants of the chairs, not fundamentally change the system. What was then, and is still required, is a fundamental change in the system. The system wherein Columbia U faculty is revealed to be co-conspirators in the financial collapse of 2008. See what the University intends to do about the problem here. For the forty ensuing years from the time of the protest and the revelations from the film "Inside Job", students were content to pay their money and earn the tickets they needed to be employed in the companies that perpetrated the greatest financial crisis in history. What they had protested for and won was greater inclusion in the system. They got it. Women and people of color now have equal opportunity to exploit and game a system in which they too can become members of the 1% club.

Many students from Columbia U are on the streets and participating in Occupy Wall Street. While celebrating the act up quality of these actions the fact is that they will come to naught unless protesters focus, and get very specific about who they are targeting. Wall Street is amorphous. It is at home in Greenwich, at work on K street, and their puppets are peppered all through Capitol Hill. Lap dogs are fighting any reform that might prevent the next collapse, any tax reform, and any remedial legislation. The extent of the spider web that is Wall Street extends to international banks, the IMF, and the World Bank, and the collusion of governments world wide. Nothing less than a world in evolution is going to change the foundations on which Wall Street thrives. Therefore protesters are going to have to get very strategic, If, and this is a big if, they really want to change any element of system that exploits them.

As long as the protesters understand the symbolic nature of their protest, and exploit the excessive police push back, they can gain the time they need, and the public forum in which some of them can specify what they demand in outcomes, and the policy changes that will correct the underlying problems they identify.

Maybe the single most horrible aspect of the collapse that has prompted this act-up is the foreclosure crisis.

Not only did Wall Street, (and here I use the terms to indicate the interlocking system of money men in allied agencies), create the systems that crashed on the backs of home owners, they continue to refuse to rectify the conspiracy they created, that is throwing people out of their homes. Let's demand that Fannie and Freddie reset the principle on the loans they control. We own them. We ought to demand they modify mortgages. The same energy that is being harnessed in protest on Wall Street should move to Washington in front of the responsible agencies. We can do this.

In terms of the pragmatics, what we can do to implement an outcome that will signal a change is gonna come, is the boycott. We vote with our pocketbooks. Let's see if there is any willingness to "sacrifice", do without the toys, that are manufactured by the companies represented on Wall Street. Let's begin with the hallowed. Don't like the fact that Apple off-shores the manufacture of all those devices that Steve Jobs created, Boycott Apple. That's what it is going to take. To get beyond the pettiness of personal gain we are going to have to accept our complicity in a system that while it is working to our advantage, is exploiting others. We've been here before. When it was revealed how and by whom, and at what wage rate our sport shoes were being made, we were asked to boycott in protest. We didn't. To protest is easy. To delay the purchase of an Iphone, or a pair of Nikes, that's an act of courage.

We are going to have to rethink what we mean by jobs. We are going to have to get beyond the myth of so called "free markets". We are going to have to stop adoring the rich, and being jealous of the less fortunate who get assistance in life support. We are going to have to fundamentally change a system that is extractive, that measures GDP in terms of the exploitation of nature, and that extends the worst aspects of capitalism to developing nations. We cannot count on politicians and organizers of any stripe that suggest what is needed is more inclusion, more of the same, more, so called, infrastructure development. Roads and bridges and cars got us here. They are not the way out.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rotten to the Core

The school year has begun. It reflects the triumph of the "reactors" to the cultural changes that were behaviors of the actors of the 60's. Nowhere is their impact more keenly seen than in the new "national core standards of education" that is being adopted around the country.

The curriculum doesn't reflect any accommodation to the real world implications of the universal accessibility of knowledge, cross border economic activity, environmental degradation, or full earth pressures on the capacity of the earth to sustain its ever rising population. It is as if the last 50 years of educational progress never happened. This curriculum guide would look familiar to any educator from the 60s. There is lip service paid to some diversity in the suggested readings that teachers might pull from, but the thrust, tone and temper of the core curriculum is red state, Kansas, conservative. It is a finger up the ass of the reformers who would have our children integrated, capable of speaking to others in their native tongue, aware of the moral and ethical responsibilities of being a passenger on spaceship earth, and sensitive to the gender, race, ethnicity, age, class, and specific history of their fellow human beings. It is a testimony to the persistence and perseverance of those for whom change is a threat. It is the perpetuation of the school as factory, with universal evaluations, and the denial of individuation of students in the process. It is a political and contemptuous document. It is a perfect representation of professionals caving to the mean spirits of the reactors.

Though we are constantly told that reactors hate the elite liberal establishment and that it is the dominance of those persons who have stolen their country from them, that provokes their ire. I believe the objects of the reactors' contempt are not so far afield; They hate their own. While they dwell in/on the over written, over studied, over analyzed, fin de siecle, what is most galling to them is that their own children continue to turn on them with a fury. (Footloose 2 is about to be released). I thought that was history you say. Can't we get past those persistence analyses of the culture wars? The fact is that those wars have never ended. Their children elected O'bama. Their parents reference back to Reagan, harboring a desire for a big daddy that will spray hose the protestors, and reaffirm the cowboy tradition,

The turn against status quo happens in waves. That is why it is so persistent. Whereas coastal inhabitants of big integrated cities were the hot beds of the breakout of counter culture, it is only recently that, let's find the appropriate symbol, earrings started to be worn by local postmen in Salina, or full sleeve tats are seen on the arms of the short order cooks in Wichita.

In 2004 Thomas Frank, What's The Matter With Kansas, got real smart and historical about the process of the conservatives effectively taking over a group of people who should, by all rights, loath them. And that was before the Tea Party, before Obama, before the financial crash that threatens the very ground they plow on. Now they are only more entrenched.

Liberals fear these people. They fear the push back. They accommodate them despite all the evidence that they have been rendered ineffectual. They tolerate their rights to have hair brained opinions, their pro any business activity, their anti science, anti compassion, anti democratic, venomous rhetoric. The Core Standards is evidence of the depth of the fear of alienating these radicals.

No one I speak to has read the Core Standards. "They" take the time to write them. We should take the time to read them. Here are written the specifics of how it is that we will condemn our children to a life of missed opportunity. It has been so refined to conform to the 'taste" of the reactors, certified by the professionals who vetted it, and passed the political stress test, that it insures our students will have no tools to effectively negotiate their world.

The debate re. the effectiveness of this curriculum, see comments in the NYT is joined by those persons on the front line of the impacts of these dicta. Teachers argue with administrators re. whether teachers will be hand-cuffed by these standards and how they will be evaluated.

No one challenges the content of the curriculum. The chapters on English language skills and how through them students will also touch on social studies through readings in non fiction are so moribund as to be hilarious. Take for example the reiteration of a curriculum component I suffered through all those years ago. "The ability to write logical arguments based on substantive claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence is a cornerstone of the writing standards, with opinion writing—a basic form of argument—extending down into the earliest grades."

Now I imagine two alternatives to this standard: 1. Crap detection. By subjecting students from the earliest years to media hype, exploitation, hyperbole, exaggeration, outright lies, false claims, bad data, and marketing ploys, students will learn how to recognize these propagandistic means of mind shaping and develop the tools to resist them, They will also study political speeches, legal arguments, and debate techniques that are designed to obfuscate the truth. or, conversely 2. they will study the techniques of the big lie, the exaggeration, the creation of bad data, the fallacious argument, and marketing technique. They will make them their own.

Of course reactors are victims of and perpetuators of the big lie so when you peruse the non prescriptive but suggestive reading list you see the continued veneration of the founding fathers, the Bard, and the mundane. So Twain is represented by Tom Sawyer not Huck and Orwell's reading suggestion is Politics and the English Language not How the Poor Die

A Prof at Va. Tech looked at the "standards of learning" from 2009 and formed the following opinion re. how they are so much self serving propaganda.

There are alternatives, effective parents are going to have to create them. All of the following examples fall neatly into a world of ideas that so gall the reactors.

Bucky Fuller used to give a talk to that began with his blowing up a balloon on which was printed a globe. He tossed it among the children and asked them to find the spot where they were from. He grounded them on earth, and suggested that they work from the grand to the particular when learning their sense of place. It begins an understanding of where am I and shifts away from the parochialism of state citizenship. Having established that we live on a water planet we might build an aquarium in every learning environment and in the process create a microcosm that requires sensitivity to the delicate nature of eco-balance. By placing learners in a position of care re. the health and welfare of this micro environment we establish a baseline of human responsibility. We drill down into this environment and allow students to examine the structural nature of this/their world. As they examine the building blocks of life forms they are introduced to the concept of their place in the continuum of life. As the living elements in their aquarium have adapted so too have the creatures on the earth and the myriad of those forms are identified at least in the largest categorical forms. Moving through an overview of the evolutionary process they come to terms with the "family of man". We have begun the examination of "who I am". As we have come to appreciate the variety of adaptation of the creatures in our pool, we can begin to appreciate the same adaptive practices on earth. We examine the flexibility and mutability of creatures in their struggle to survive. We observe the art and culture that are the building blocks of adaptation. We realize that individuals live within the context and frameworks of groups. Within those groups there is shared responsibility and by sharing, the greater good for all is obtained.

You can see how this evolves. It is but one alternative to the linear, hind-bound, curriculum of yesterday. I wouldn't even broach english as a subject.. I would teach form, style, and manner in the context of substantive content.

I would introduce "foreign" language at pre-school, and again, as I have said in this blog, I would pull my kids out of school, form a cluster of up to 10 others, hire a teacher set, and turn them loose.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Had Enough Yet?

The systems of empire, totalitarianism, institutional slavery, indentured servitude, and the divine right of kings are concepts that have slipped into the trash bin of history.

We are at the threshold of yet another momentous change. It is hard to get your mind around it. There are many vested interests that are in the business of distraction in order to allow them to extract the last vestiges of what they have wrought. This weekend's Iowa nonsense and the media attention to it have the effect of exciting people of all the political spectrum into frenzies of irrelevant mind numbing excitation. The call to prayer, or the return to some imagined time in history when all was well cannot halt the inevitability of the end of an era.

What has quickened the process this time has been the global expansion of an economic system, desired by all, and demonstratively doomed to failure. The evidence is constant; the corpus, be it person, or company, (which have now morphed into the same "being") grows, (capital is drawn to capital), greed engorges the beast and it dies. The neo-liberal expansion of the multi-national corporation, the insatiable desire of the world's population to drive a car, and the most pernicious of all the elements in the drama, the expansion of debt as a "growth" lever all converge and the system collapses of its own weight.

The Economist publishes this world debt clock: 46 trillion and counting. This number is in current dollars and counts debt that we can see, obligations that are actually transparent. It does not take into consideration the debt obligations of say the entitlement obligations of future Americans, estimated to be 65 trillion dollars, to site just one example. We cannot cover this debt. It will be cancelled.

This is but an excerpt. The entire interview is on the WSJ website.

Disbelievers will have all the visual cues they need to reject the premise of this clip. Roubini has an accent and probably hair on his back. He is not a true American. Another darkie bringing the communist manifesto to light. Ironically China, the last great satan state, is closer to collapse after adopting the tenants of unbridled capitalism then it has ever been. It will not be able to sate the demands of the billions to drive that car.

For those with a sharp pencil and a keener understanding than I have are directed to the BIS. This is the world settlement clearing house that monitors debt and to the extent they can, the non transparent OTC derivatives that none of us understand. If you cruise around this site you will see that the value of derivatives (the instruments that precipitated the collapse of 2008) has actually increased to over 600 Trillion dollars in the last two years. You will also read that this is but the notational amount and their true asset value is only 20 some trillion. I don't understand it either. Here is what I know. They will all be settled or else. In the same way bond obligations, no matter how long they are kept off the books, will also be settled or else, default. In a rational world derivitives allowed a commodity producer to stabilize a price, say for a steer. A rancher owned a steer, an option was written of the future price of the steer, he delivered the steer, the option was cleared. What the geniuses who destroyed the world as you knew it did, was create a system of "Open Interest" which meant that persons could place side bets on the steer's price without any underlying interest in the steer. This is the easiest tell on the subject so if you have a problem here skip away. The impact will still effect you. You just won't know what hit you. And some of these bets, the poison ones placed on housing stock, already blew up and we are still paying off the gamblers. The argument is that if they default the world collapses. They will default, the world financial system will collapse.

Had enough yet?

We have to add in the problem of the underlying basis of the entire system, extractive economics. At exactly the same time that we are in a fiscal crisis, which is just a counting game, we have the all too real set of facts that the growth limits models of commodities that we extract from the earth to support all of this economic activity, predict that they are getting scarcer.

The following were excerpted from the NYT this weekend:

Can Jeremy Grantham Profit From Ecological Mayhem?

When prices go up and stay up, it’s not a bubble. Prices may always revert to the mean, but the mean can change; that’s a paradigm shift. As Grantham tells it, oil went first. For a century it steadily returned to about $16 a barrel in today’s currency, then in 1974 the mean shifted to about $35, and Grantham believes it has recently doubled again. Metals and nearly everything else — coal, corn, palm oil, soybeans, sugar, cotton — appear to be following suit. “From now on, price pressure and shortages of resources will be a permanent feature of our lives,” he argues. “The world is using up its natural resources at an alarming rate, and this has caused a permanent shift in their value. We all need to adjust our behavior to this new environment. It would help if we did it quickly.”

here is his conclusion “But it’s never absolutely too late,” Grantham said. “It’s never too late to do what we can,” which includes making a lot of money you can use to try to protect whatever and whoever matters to you — biodiversity, family, nation, everybody.

He’s an impassioned environmentalist not only for the usual reasons but also because he believes humanity’s vexed relationship with the planet is the great economic story of our time. “This commodities thing may turn out to be the most interesting call of my career,” he told me. “I have no doubt we’re going to have a bad hundred years. We have the resources to gracefully handle the transition, but we won’t. We apparently can’t.”

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Grantham doesn’t dwell on the potential for disaster on an unimaginable scale, but it looms behind his measured language. The world’s population is seven billion and counting. “Whether the stable population will be 1.5 billion or 5 billion,” he said to me, “the question is: How do we get there?”

This is probably the darkest article I have read in my lifetime. Not the least because of the value free way it is reported. Within the article and this consultant's "letter" to his clients is the understanding that in a zero sum game, the world may collapse but you can profit from it, and, with the gains, put your money to work to secure yourself. But more insidious is his understanding that a stable earth will only support half of its anticipated population. How we eradicate the surplus is the issue. Implying, we can allow them to starve, or more likely, given our history, is we unleash the holy war on them and simply kill them off. This is the behavior of those "vested interests" I alluded to at the top of this post.

There are options to consider that you might want to contemplate. Nothing like world revolution. How about an adjustment of a few basic destructive behaviors that might take the pressure off the world. End the fiscal derivitives market immediately.

End the concept of "growth" and change it to sustainable regardless of how that term has been abused

End the practice of planned obsolescence, and redundancy

Constrict advertising and marketing

End the practice of inflation

Educate, educate, educate, to the realities of the world

End the auto-cracy

It appears Elizabeth Warren is going to run for the senate from Mass. Pity.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Elizabeth Warren for President

Under no circumstances am I going to support President Barack Obama for re-election. A short list of broken promises, failed policies, and outright lies iterate the reasons:
The escalation of war in Afghanistan, and Libya, while tolerating the horrors of Syria and Bahrain for expediency.
Bank bailout while refusing to implement mortgage reform
Larry Summers, Rahm Emmanuel, William Daley
Cave in to health insurers and drug manufacturers
Support for ethanol
90 unfilled Judgeships, 50 of which haven't even been nominated
Re-up of the Patriot Act and extending FBI warrentless searches
Prosecution of medical marijuana
No support for same sex marriage
Little push back on Republican budget proposals
Acceptance of Bush Tax cuts
No push on Dream Act
Cave in on "for profit" college reform
No support for victims of Haiti, New Orleans, Joplin, Japan, Alabama, or recent flooding victims
Expansion of off-shore drilling
This is so depressing I'll stop here.

I will not be frightened by the prospect of whoever the Republican's nominate nor will I succumb to the argument that Obama is incrementally better than the alternative. In talking about this with others we always come up against the "who would you chose?" question coupled with the supposed impossibility of a third party movement. The last time we had this discussion the President was caving in on Elizabeth Warren and refusing to nominate her as his agency head for Financial Consumer Protection. has a fundraiser to support her while she fights for the implementation of the United States Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

I say let's go all the way and push her, and Moveon to create an independent party that nominates her for President of the United States. (Rumors fly that she might try a senate run.) Read her resume here and visit her website here.
Mrs. Warren is from Oklahoma, and a champion of the middle class. I won't accept the opinion that those in the middle so outraged by the behavior of their government that they are in rebellion, will allow themselves to be co-opted by the cynical exploiters of their frustration. If they had a choice, an alternative, they could rally behind, a woman of Warren's character, what a coalition we could form.

I would go further and ask her to name her cabinet nominees as she ramps up her campaign. Sheila Baer for Sec of Treasury, Brooksley Born for Department of Commerce, Ralph Nadar, Dept of Labor, Bring back Colin Powell for Defense, and keep Chu at Energy. The point being that we would know what we were getting and not have persons like Summers thrown at us.

Jon Stewart expressed his disappointment with Obama on Fox the other day. He need look no further for an option than his guest from the Daily Show.

And in anticipation of the accusation that she lacks experience in foreign affairs; to the person, everyone on top of the subject knows that our most important foreign affair, is getting our economic house in order.

Monday, June 13, 2011


This June every student will participate in some form of graduation or more precisely gradation; to arrange in grades or gradations; establish gradation in. That's what our students have been doing for however many years they have joined in the process. They have allowed themselves to be gradated in carefully calibrated beakers. They have absorbed the most critical component of their respective curricula, they have come together and agreed to participate in the ranking game.
The curriculum itself has always been perceived as but a means to the end. The practice of the curriculum contained little of inherent value but was set up as a way and means of developing obedience and conformity. The fact that battles are fought over what constitutes a core curriculum reveals how arbitrary it really is. One side wins, gender studies or evolution theory is thrown out. Another side wins and Thackeray is exchanged for Naguib Mahfouz.
Students have moved through a nationally agreed upon process whereby it will be determined who amongst them will win the prizes that were held out as the values they have worked so hard for. Or not.

Some of those prizes are now being re-evaluated:
The next, more exclusive level of on-going formal education is being examined from a cost/benefit perspective.
At a post graduation, material level, a single family house for example, once considered to be the great storehouse of wealth (the estate) has lost its primacy in the hierarchy of "things". A broad portfolio of blue chip equities has taken a hit as has prospect of retirement in comfort. Some of the more mundane prizes, the gourmet meal, the high priced wine, the flashy car are like pins in the lane, about to be knocked off as their underlying value is challenged, or realized to be unsustainable, going the way of the lynx wrap.
At a corporate level (the employer of the winners), the ability to maintain advantage is being challenged by a whole new set of players. The prospects are not good that business as usual, the curriculum in practice, will sustain them.
At the governmental level, the power centers from which the corporation and the prize winning individuals are protected, the process of sustaining themselves seems to be cracking as the numbers of losers and their ability to coordinate swell.

Not surprisingly, given the ends are being questioned, the means are being scrutinized. It is being observed that students are being stressed out in the "Race To Nowhere" as the documentary film of that name points out. Don't expect too much from this effort. The "deal" that has been struck by the parents who screen and then discuss this film is that; I won't make the changes by myself. Only if we all agree to stop the resume inflation, cheating, achievement by any means possible, will I relent. I am not going to put my child at a competitive disadvantage by doing the right thing.

No one questions the lesson plans. More math, more science = better rocketry, more fire power, more stealth, better spying technology, these are the core elements we need to "win the future". No world language, no geo-political reality, no deep cultural studies of others, no family practice, no diet and nutrition. We can't afford art, and physical exercise is reserved for the combatants. No peace studies, no alternatives to violence, and no alternative to so-called free market economics.

Paul stopped by to check and tune up the furnace system he installed two years ago. He came up from the basement slightly ashen. "Have you been aware of a bang when the furnace cycled on?" he asked. Yes, we thought it was normal. "Well it isn't normal. What has happened is that there is a leak at the gas fitting and when the ignition comes on it burns off that excess gas. I have to replace the ignitor." What he didn't say and that I could surmise was left un-repaired the house and its contents were at risk. Paul doesn't have an advanced degree. Paul inherited the business from his dad. Paul's value to me and the society is immeasurable.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bet, Call

You can bet the following paper, prepared by two military consultants to the Joint Chiefs, and published under the pseudonym "Y" was released with the chiefs' knowledge and permission. The forward was written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff. It is fair to conclude that this paper has broad administration support.

Foreign Policy did a piece on the paper and referred to it as "the Pentagon's secret plan to slash its own budget".

Don't believe it. There is nothing secret about this push. The Pentagon has been fighting congress for years, trying unsuccessfully to limit the expansion of their budget, being forced to acquire weapons that satisfy a congressperson's need to bring home the pork. This must read transcript from a 1992 show on "AMERICA'S DEFENSE MONITOR" proves the point.

Another discussion of the Y paper is far more cynical and provides a context for understanding the military's internecine branch competition.

All of the above discussions are by wonks with a history of commenting on military affairs. What jumped off the page for me was the extent to which the military accepts as real threats; the global social unrest, climate and environmental issues, and problems of developing meaningful work for the youth of the world. These concepts are not what we think of when we imagine what is being discussed in the Pentagon. That the Pentagon is willing to run around congress and try to agitate for a more relevant peace agenda and a budget to support it, can not be ignored by the rest of us. The following is the preface to the paper.

By Anne-Marie Slaughter

Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs

Princeton University

Director of Policy Planning, U.S. Department of State, 2009-2011

The United States needs a national strategic narrative. We have a national security strategy, which sets forth four core national interests and outlines a number of dimensions of an overarching strategy to advance those interests in the 21st century world. But that is a document written by specialists for specialists. It does not answer a fundamental question that more and more Americans are asking. Where is the United States going in the world? How can we get there? What are the guiding stars that will illuminate the path along the way? We need a story with a beginning, middle, and projected happy ending that will transcend our political divisions,

orient us as a nation, and give us both a common direction and the confidence and commitment to get to our destination.

These questions require new answers because of the universal awareness that we are living through a time of rapid and universal change. The assumptions of the 20th century, of the U.S. as a bulwark first against fascism and then against communism, make little sense in a world in which World War II and its aftermath is as distant to young generations today as the War of 1870

was to the men who designed the United Nations and the international order in the late 1940s. Consider the description of the U.S. president as “the leader of the free world,” a phrase that encapsulated U.S. power and the structure of the global order for decades. Yet anyone under thirty today, a majority of the world’s population, likely has no idea what it means. Moreover, the U.S. is experiencing its latest round of “declinism,” the periodic certainty that we are losing all the things that have made us a great nation. In a National Journal poll conducted in 2010, 47% percent of Americans rated China’s economy as the world’s strongest economy, even though today the U.S. economy is still 2 ½ times larger than the Chinese economy with only 1/6 of the population. Our crumbling roads and bridges reflect a crumbling self-confidence. Our education reformers often seem to despair that we can ever educate new generations effectively for the 21st century economy. Our health care system lags increasingly behind that of other developed nations – even behind British National Health in terms of the respective overall health of the British and American populations.

Against this backdrop, Captain Porter’s and Colonel Mykleby’s “Y article” could not come at a more propitious time. In 1947 George Kennan published “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” in Foreign Affairs under the pseudonym X, so as not to reveal his identity as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. The X article gave us an intellectual framework within which to understand the rise and eventual fall of the Soviet Union and a strategy to hasten that objective. Based on that foundation, the strategic narrative of the Cold War was that the United States was the leader of the free world against the communist world; that we would invest in containing the Soviet Union and limiting its expansion while building a dynamic economy and as just, and prosperous a society as possible. We often departed from that narrative in practice, as George Kennan was one of the first to recognize. But it was a narrative that fit the facts of the world we perceived well enough to create and maintain a loose bipartisan national consensus for forty years. Porter and Mykleby give us a non-partisan blueprint for understanding and reacting to the changes of the 21st century world. In one sentence, the strategic narrative of the United States in the 21st century is that we want to become the strongest competitor and most influential player in a deeply inter-connected global system, which requires that we invest less in defense and more in sustainable prosperity and the tools of effective global engagement.

At first reading, this sentence may not seem to mark much of a change. But look closer. The Y article narrative responds directly to five major transitions in the global system:

1) From control in a closed system to credible influence in an open system. The authors argue that Kennan’s strategy of containment was designed for a closed system, in which we assumed that we could control events through deterrence, defense, and dominance of the international system. The 21st century is an open system, in which unpredictable external events/phenomena are constantly disturbing and disrupting the system. In this world control is

impossible; the best we can do is to build credible influence – the ability to shape and guide global trends in the direction that serves our values and interests (prosperity and security) within an interdependent strategic ecosystem. In other words, the U.S. should stop trying to dominate and direct global events. The best we can do is to build our capital so that we can influence events as they arise.

2) From containment to sustainment. The move from control to credible influence as a fundamental strategic goal requires a shift from containment to sustainment (sustainability).

Instead of trying to contain others (the Soviet Union, terrorists, China, etc), we need to focus on sustaining ourselves in ways that build our strengths and underpin credible influence. That shift in turn means that the starting point for our strategy should be internal rather than external. The 2010 National Security Strategy did indeed focus on national renewal and global leadership, but this account makes an even stronger case for why we have to focus first and foremost on investing our resources domestically in those national resources that can be sustained, such as our youth and our natural resources (ranging from crops, livestock, and potable water to sources of energy and materials for industry). We can and must still engage internationally, of course, but only after a careful weighing of costs and benefits and with as many partners as possible. Credible influence also requires that we model the behavior we recommend for others, and that we pay close attention to the gap between our words and our deeds.

3) From deterrence and defense to civilian engagement and competition. Here in many ways is the hard nub of this narrative. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen has already said publicly that the U.S. deficit is our biggest national security threat. He and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have also given speeches and written articles calling for “demilitarizing American foreign policy” and investing more in the tools of civilian engagements – diplomacy and defense. As we modernize our military and cut spending the tools of 20th century warfare, we must also invest in a security complex that includes all domestic and foreign policy assets.

Our credibility also requires a willingness to compete with others. Instead of defeatism and protectionism, we must embrace competition as a way to make ourselves stronger and better (e.g. Ford today, now competing with Toyota on electric cars). A willingness to compete means a new narrative on trade and a new willingness to invest in the skills, education, energy sources, and

infrastructure necessary to make our products competitive.

4) From zero sum to positive sum global politics/economics. An interdependent world creates many converging interests and opportunities for positive-sum rather than zero-sum competition. The threats that come from interdependence (economic instability, global pandemics, global terrorist and criminal networks) also create common interests in countering those threats domestically and internationally. President Obama has often emphasized the

significance of moving toward positive sum politics. To take only one example, the rise of China as a major economic power has been overall very positive for the U.S. economy and the prosperity and stability of East Asia. The United States must be careful to guard our interests and those of our allies, but we miss great opportunities if we assume that the rise of some necessarily means the decline of others.

5) From national security to national prosperity and security. The piece closes with a call for a National Prosperity and Security Act to replace the National Security Act of 1947. The term “national security” only entered the foreign policy lexicon after 1947 to reflect the merger of defense and foreign affairs. Today our security lies as much or more in our prosperity as in our military capabilities. Our vocabulary, our institutions, and our assumptions must reflect that shift. “National security” has become a trump card, justifying military spending even as the domestic foundations of our national strength are crumbling. “National prosperity and security” reminds us where our true security begins. Foreign policy pundits have long called for an overhaul of NSC 68, the blueprint for the national security state that accompanied the grand strategy of containment. If we are truly to become the strongest competitor and most influential player in the

deeply interconnected world of the 21st century, then we need a new blueprint.

A narrative is a story. A national strategic narrative must be a story that all Americans can understand and identify within their own lives. America’s national story has always see-sawed between exceptionalism and universalism. We think that we are an exceptional nation, but a core part of that exceptionalism is a commitment to universal values – to the equality of all human beings not just within the borders of the United States, but around the world. We should thus embrace the rise of other nations when that rise is powered by expanded prosperity, opportunity, and dignity for their peoples. In such a world we do not need to see ourselves as the automatic

leader of any bloc of nations. We should be prepared instead to earn our influence through our ability to compete with other nations, the evident prosperity and well being of our people, and our ability to engage not just with states but with societies in all their richness and complexity. We do not want to be the sole superpower that billions of people around the world have learned to hate from fear of our military might. We seek instead to be the nation other nations listen to, rely on and emulate out of respect and admiration.

The Y article is the first step down that new path. It is written by two military men who have put their lives on the line in the defense of their country and who are non-partisan by profession and conviction. Their insights and ideas should spark a national conversation. All it takes is for politicians, pundits, journalists, business people, civic leaders, and engaged citizens across the country to read and respond.

The paper continues here.

These ideas are far too important to be narrowly debated by the beltway crowd. The authors have upped the ante, made a bet, and I for one am going to call. I am going to share this document with everyone I know. I am going to alert my representatives of its presence and my support of it, and I am going to find ways and means to disseminate this paper as widely as I can. I hope you will do the same.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Truth will save you bucks

Harold McGee was inducted into the James Beard hall of fame last night. For thirty years his book "On Food and Cooking" has been my go to guide when I wanted to know what was happening on the stove or in the oven. In addition to applying basic scientific understanding to the cooking process he is a great myth buster, and can save you a great deal of money if you heed his advice.

You will notice that I added his blog site to the roll on the right column of this page. I go there constantly.

One of his entries that I particularly appreciated was his discussion of the testing he did on cooking oils. When I could still watch the food channel I would cringe every time Mario would insist that you had to fry or saute in EVOO. It was clear what brand he was using and though I don't know that this was a product placement, it smelled of it. In any case the effect must have been to convince viewers that he knew what he was talking about, he was Mario. So McGee subjects a variety of cooking oils to the taster, smell, test as they are heated and concludes that his testers could not discern a difference between the oils he used. Something changes when you heat them and in fact olive oil scored poorly for taste when heated. Use olive oil for dressing and finishing food, not for cooking. There is more bad news re. olive oil. Most of the so-called EVOO isn't. This confirms an earlier test. In the course of the initial study Berio was consistently identified as an honest brand. Why pay more?

While on the subject of oil consider the idea that frying chicken at lower temps, 300 instead of 350 and up, is a preferred temp as it allows the interior moisture more time to dispel without burning the surface.
Here are some counter intuitive tips for deep frying.

The following article points up another frying practice that makes for better cooking:
"While European and Western cooks deep-fry with a single frying, the Chinese deep-fry in stages. After being marinated, foods are then deep-fried at a low temperature, maybe 290°F, and later finish-fried at a high temperature, 365°F to 385°F. This staged cooking increases crispness and color. Batters reduce surface moisture, and a dryer surface reduces initial boiling. In addition, batters add color, flavor, and texture to many deep-fat fried foods, with green tomatoes, eggplant, okra, and even ice cream being examples of foods that are battered before they are fried. A meunière is a thin, light breading, or flour dusting, often used on fish and popular in traditional French kitchens. But batters can also be thick, as in the case of double, triple, or breaded coatings used for fried fish and chicken." Mark F. Sohn enotes

David Chang changed many cooking practices for me. I had treated brining as a gimmick that never seemed to change the moisture content of turkey and so the concept was dismissed as ineffectual. Then Mr Chang suggested I brine my chicken wings in salt/sugar water for a few hours before I dried and deep fried them. You will taste the difference. The science is explained on this page from the Exploratorium in SF.
The contents of this page dispel another myth; searing meat retains its moisture. What happens when we heat meat in a pan is called the Maillard reaction. It is explained as the browning phenom that gives meat flavor as the heat caramelizes sugars on the meat's surface. You want this to happen but not because it retains moisture, it doesn't.

While we are on the subject of surface temperature lets dispel yet another myth; gas is a better heat source than electric. It might look cooler and the grates suggest real cooking is going on here but the fact is that gas is wasteful and in some cases unhealthy. Gas does not burn at 100 percent efficiency meaning that some noxious gases are released into the environment. It is no more accurate or controllable then an electric dial and the idea that it burns hotter is foolish as you don't want to use extreme high heat. High heat kills pans. I have praised the virtues of induction cooking and hope the price point drops as the stove tops and portables become more available.

Here is a truth that is so simple one wonders why anyone buys ersatz mayonnaise. Some will argue they can taste the difference between blender and hand whisked mayo. Harold, are you listening?