Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Profit Us Maximus

The deal is closed.  American democracy has been sold. The US Constitution, discovered in a discount bin at a cheap dollar store at the Mall of America will now be fully privatized to serve the greater corporate interests of America.  The deal will enable the global fraternity of capitalists to finally unlock and fully realize the hidden value of an unencumbered American dream.  Profit-Us-Maximus  will replace E Pluribus Unum as the national slogan.  Undoubtedly it will appear on our national currency for the freedom of commercial interests and the uninhibited power of capital has triumphed.  Commercial interests have trumped “we the people”.  American liberty, a political currency once recognized as the worlds leading example of representative democracy has been severely devalued.

The Supreme Courts decision overturning laws that restrict corporate freedom of speech now allows corporations the unrestricted right to financially support candidates for public office.  This paves the way for an installation of  a more corporate friendly oligarchy to rule over the citizens of the worlds first and now defunct representative democracy.  The courts ruling in the Citizens United vs. the US Federal Election Commission overturned existing laws that prohibited corporations from exercising free speech.  The ruling now sanctifies the corporate purchase of air time to fund media campaigns that support or attack candidates running for public office.  The wisdom behind the overturned law was to protect the interests of citizens from a corporations ability to use its considerable capital resources to finance and influence the election of  political candidates favorable to their corporate interests.  That law is yesterdays newspaper.

The decision opens the possibility that the governance of our nation, states and townships will be administered by elected officials financed and paid for by corporate largess proffered with the proviso to do their bidding.  America risks becoming one giant company store.  Once free citizens endowed with the protection and empowerment of a Constitution and a Bill of Rights will become beholden to the whims of corporate paternalism.

If your a shareholder in one of the corporations this is a bullish market event and your equity position has surely appreciated in value.  The special dividend of political power born from purchased access to legislators will accrue favorable returns to investors in The United Corporate States of America.  No longer will senators hail from the great state of Georgia or the Live Free or Die State of New Hampshire.  It’ll be the senator from “Do No Harm” Google or “Have It Your Way” Burger King.

There will be a million unintended consequences resulting from this decision.  How government administers and delivers services and how institutions fulfill their social mission will drastically alter.  Institutions and functions that serve and support education,  military, roads and infrastructure, health care, consumer and  environmental regulations, labor protection laws and provision of social services will be transformed.  The very nature of the liberal nation state will change.

This decision will create conditions for the privatization of governmental assets and institutional service structure  to accelerate at mind numbing speed.  The New Jersey Turnpike can now be sold to a private equity firm from China.  Drilling and the exploitation of resources found on National Parks will proceed without prohibition.  Public schools will be offered on a Dutch Auction hosted on e-bay; attracting the participation of a well capitalized confederation of publicly traded Charter Schools.  The mission to acquire the listless brick and mortar carcass of a once  venerated public school system will commence.  The promise of the systems renewal with the breath  of a new life fired by entrepreneurial zeal and taxpayer support will create a new Dow Jones Index constituent,  Education Inc.   Many functions of government will be downsized and outsourced to sophisticated data processing and business process companies.  Military units will also be privatized, becoming mercenary divisions of corporate security firms.   This will enlarge their market opportunities because they will no longer be beholden to exclusively serving the needs of a single client, the USA.

As Keith Olbermann pointed out in his Special Comment concerning the Supreme Court decision, the parallels with Dred Scott Decision are ironic.  The decision ruled that Dred Scott was not a man, but merely a commodity to create wealth for a person with full rights of citizenship.   Now corporations are blessed with all the rights and privileges of a person and the rising ascendancy of their power will soon supplant the interests of individuals.  In so doing, the Supreme Court has once again proven itself to be an activist  political tool to protect the interests of political and economic elites.

We can at least be thankful that the Supreme Courts decision allows us to dispense with the charade of participatory democracy.  Rampant cynicism about the unfair influence of money on the political process has always been understood as a problem.  This has undermined the people’s trust in the electoral process.  It has  eroded a collective sense of political enfranchisement.  It has contributed to creating a pervading  malaise of ambivalence within the electorate.  The monied interests with fathomless pockets can now come out into the open and make their presence plain for all to see.   It remains to be seen how this will alter the structure of K Street.

A new business model for how money is dispensed to politicians will need to be considered .   Perhaps a new derivative  called  a PIMP, (Politician In My Pocket) should be considered.  A PIMP Exchange could be set up in Washington DC.  This future exchange would surely prosper and would propel Washington DC as the fast rising global financial center on  the come.    PIMP trading would be recognized as a fast growing emerging market.  The trading in PIMPs would attract capital from all over the world and may even rise to supplant the future pits in Chicago as the place “where the world goes to manage risk.”

The PIMP Exchange will add that much needed transparency on how the political influence market is performing and what the going price is to buy and sell politicians.  We should be grateful to the Supreme Court  Decision  that laid the judicial foundation that will finally shine light on this aspect of our political process.  Now that its out in the open its all above board.  No more under the table deals will be necessary.  This ruling and the PIMP Exchange makes it very easy to follow the money.  Perhaps legislation should be considered that require senators and congressmen to wear the corporate logos of their three largest sponsors.  If a corporation wishes to remain anonymous feeling that the  interests of their shareholders are better served they can continue to operate under the radar.  A Generic Omnibus  Politician In My Pocket or a (GO PIMP) will be  designed specifically for this purpose.

The laissez faire approach to freedom of speech unfortunately confers all the power to those with the deepest pockets.  “Politicians will be bought and sold by the gross”, according to Alan Grayson a congressman from Florida.  Mr. Grayson is proposing legislation to protect citizens rights from being trampled by an avalanche of corporate money.  The first amendment guarantees citizens that no one shall abridge or prohibit the free and open expression of ideas.  Unfortunately money speaks the loudest and facilitates access to media channels and distribution. The free and open internet provides an individual little protection.  The tussle in China between Google and the government is an instructive warning of what we can expect to occur as corporate control of the internet grows.  It is an indication of a growing rift born from competitive postures of power capitalist institutions.

Our birthright of liberty was orphaned by a pervading cynicism and the seeming ambivalence of citizens who cared little for the rights democratic republics confer and understood less about the responsibilities required to guard them.  The decision by the Supreme Court is a watershed event.  Our political culture has changed.  The United States model for governance is moving closer to the Chinese model of governance.  The state capitalism of the United States is is a mirror image replication of the Chinese model.  A ruling oligarchy of economic interests acting in concert with its hand picked governmental representatives is common to them both.

Did we awaken this morning to the sober realization that American’s best hope is a trust in a benevolent corporate paternalism?  Can we believe that the rule of unencumbered enlightened capitalists is the way to realize the promises of a post scarce society? Can we still believe in the promise that innovation and social progress  and our democratic impulses will continue to inform America’s historical evolution?  Has America and the rest of the world arrived at a tipping point, a harbinger of a dystopian future where property right trumps human rights and the hard edges of economic deprivation, class marginalization and political disenfranchisement are ills that continue to infect society.  We need a doctor.  We need a strong antibiotic to cure this disease metastasizing in the body politic.

You Tube Music Video: Tennessee Ernie Ford: 16 Tons

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January 22, 2010 Posted by | China, Civil Rights, corruption, culture, democracy, economics, elections, environment, Federalism, government, infrastructure, institutional, LGBT, military, politics, private equity, psychology, regulatory, taxation, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Convergence and Innovation Inhibitors: 011110

As we start the second decade of the new millennium, innovation is understood as a critical driver to overcome the economic malaise plaguing the global economy. Economic stasis and political factionalism has made it increasingly evident that faltering economic and social institutions cry out for sweeping reform. These reforms can only be achieved with innovative approaches in policy and practice. Innovation is realized by giving flight to uninhibited thought and the clear application of ideas with decisive action. Though most agree that we badly need reform, we remain at painful odds as to what those reforms should be and how to implement them. The destructive legislative debates on health care and the ugly political theater of town meetings that occurred in the United States over the summer accomplished little in regards to meaningful reform. The exercises  only served to drive a deepening wedge into the ability of a democratic culture to form a transformative consensus.

Our society is a complex ecosystem comprised of many competing interests. The classic definition of politics, “the means to decide how limited resources are allocated to disparate interests” is clearly a truism that must be applied if we are to realize the reform that we desperately need. In a post scarcity society that definition may seem a bit crude or antiquated. America’s history is marked by a culture of innovation and the incubation of industry. Innovation and its commercial expression in entrepreneurialism is a national asset that tempers the hard edges of stringent allocation or resources and has been the source of our great social wealth. Democracies continually require citizens to arbitrate how competing interests are reconciled and converge. As a self professed democracy the United States must break down the barriers that inhibit innovation by confronting the challenges posed by convergence.

Convergence has been the watch word in the tech industry for the past few years. Convergence aggregates, joins and aligns discreet trends, competencies, technologies and missions to spawn innovation and progress. Masters of business innovation understand that a precondition of convergence is the ability to collaborate. Collaboration requires extended conversations and dialog to understand how competing interests can be reconciled and brought together so that innovation and progress can be achieved. Marketeers invent neologisms like coopetition to brand the idea and lend heft to its thrust. We believe that innovation borne from convergence is the path to rebuild our economy, heal cultural wounds and take a step toward political maturity the United States needs to sustain the great experiment of our democratic republic.

With that in mind we offer a list that outlines the inhibitors to innovation. It is hoped that our nations leaders and people can begin an earnest conversation to address these barriers to growth. Maybe I’m wrong with offering this modest list but I remain willing to discuss it, hopeful that people of good will with a different viewpoint will be open to correct my thinking and contribute to my enlightenment.

1. War: War is inherently wasteful. The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are grievous examples of waste and national distraction that hampers the United States economic recovery. At an  Ecumenical Memorial Service held at Yankee Stadium following the 9/11 terror attacks  a Buddhist Monk stated that  he believed “it was wiser to drop refrigerators on Afghanistan then bombs”.  Almost a decade later and two wars on I can’t help but to think what a meager $100 billion investment in Afghanistan would have returned to the United States tax payers.  More importantly it would have shown the world that above all else America values the sanctity and preservation of life.  It would have also minimized the rising toll of casualties of both citizens and soldiers.   We developed some great bunker buster bombs but we can’t figure out a way to stop a suicide bomber with exploding underpants.  We succeeded in stirring up a hornets nest of angry insurgents and failed to build innovative pathways to peace with steadfast bridges to secure allies and pacify combatants.

2. Politics: To be sure politics is omnipresent  but the politicization of faith institutions and government functions is a great separator of people. When politics infects faith institutions their ability to breach the social divide and  join people together is seriously compromised or downright destructive. The Catholic Church’s practice of denying the Eucharist to parishioners based on political biases of the communicant places politics at the center of the Lords alter.  The recent occurrences of  radical Islamists burning down Christian Churches in Malaysia  is tragically ironic.  The violence, a response to the Christians appropriation of the word Allah as a name for God; is  a violent rejection of  language convergence of two great faith traditions.  It would seem that unity is a  threat that God cannot abide and is a growing threat that must be abolished.  In the secular world government agencies  were instructed to withhold scientific climate change research of the National Science Foundation because it did not conform with the politics of the party in power.  The extent of the politicization of the judicial branch of government under the Bush Administration was a seditious move worthy of dictatorships.  Innovative application of constitutional law in defense of civil liberties is one of the greatest challenges the war on terror poses to this country.  The creation of kangaroo courts to support the politics of the ruling party would undermine our system of justice.  It would  transform our judiciary  into a repressive apparatus of the state, our laws into  stale dogmas ill suited to meet the legal challenges  of our time and a  justice system that is indistinguishable from the justice offered by our opponents.

3. Ideology: Only good ideas need apply. Deng Xiaoping said it best “does it matter if its a communist or capitalist mouse trap. The question is, does it catch mice?” Seeing this as a threat, Mao Zedong unleashed the cultural revolution and routed the capitalist roaders as a threat to the Great Proletarian Revolution. After the death of Mao, Deng would be rehabilitated and play a key role in China’s adoption of a market economy and its current ascendancy as a world economic power.  In my mind there is a striking resemblance to the debate about heath care.  Socialized medicine is bad.  Do you want to turn into France?  Canadian health care is too expensive.  UK heath care system is overloaded and can’t cope with demand.   These problems would be solved however after the death panels had a chance to meet  and decide who shall live and who must walk the plank.

4. Entrenched Commercial Interests: Though we are ardent believers in capitalism as an engine of innovation the dictatorship of ROI, entrenched concentrations of capital and an unwillingness or inability to adopt longer term investment horizons hamper innovation. The failure of the United States automobile industry to develop fuel efficient vehicles is a good example of market intransigence. The development of junk bonds by Michael Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert dismantled the manufacturing base of the US economy accelerated the countries decline as a net exporter of products creating the foundation of a debtor nation. During the presidency of Jimmy Carter solar panels were installed on the roof of the White House. The succeeding administration had them removed. Imagine where the alternative energy industry would be today had it developed this leading edge idea and capitalized on this first mover advantage.

5. Unbridled free markets: The economic carnage of the banking meltdown is a startling example of the excesses the pursuit of profit will create. The boom in commercial and residential real estate construction created massive stocks of unused inventories that misdirected and wasted enormous resource. The energy and capital expended on these wasteful endeavors misdirected funds and created huge social hazards that requires massive amounts of capital to mitigate. Also worth mention is the development of video gaming. Lots of energy and creativity is being expended on the best techno music to use while your Mafia Avatar bashes open the head of your opponent with a baseball bat. We are not suggesting censorship or a prohibition of video games nor centralized economic planning. Its a compensation and social value issue.  Perhaps a communicants denial of participation at the Lord’s Table lead them to leave the church and miss the message about social values.

6. Technology: It may seem odd to include technology as an inhibitor to innovation but technology for technology sake may inhibit the development of innovative applications solutions that are not technological in nature. The technorati of the world is transforming technology into a religion. Deprived of its human dimension it can become a dogma that grows in an antagonistic relationship with its human masters. The United States continues to trumpet its technological prowess as the deciding factors in its war in Afghanistan. But that paradigm was explored during the war in Viet Nam where pungi sticks ultimately trumped napalm bombs. The power of an idea and how it connects and motivates people is force that is mightier then the sword.

7. Fundamentalism: The Pharisees once asked Jesus, “is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?” Jesus answered that it was always the right time to heal those who are sick. The world recoils in horror at the capacity for destruction fundamentalism regularly visits upon the world. The denial of equal civil rights to LGBT people creates a  bifurcated system of citizenship.  It is an ugly stain on our democratic heritage.  The gravest peril to democracy is the abridgment and denial of civil rights to any group of citizens. Democracy necessitates that all republicans enjoy equal access and rights in order for it to function. The denial of that right based on a fundamentalist reading of religious scriptures makes it particularly abhorrent because civil rights of citizens in a secular democracy is not an issue that is decided by theologians or the adherents to a particular theology.

Tolerance and consensus are both antithetical to the precepts of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is not the sole province of religion. It has its secular and ideological adherents as well. Fundamentalism is a pillar of dictatorship; either of a political or theocratic nature both are enemies of secular democracy. Secular democracies require tolerance to respect the diverse ideas and competing viewpoints require in the democratic process. Secular democracies require the trust to converse and hash out the best ideas that serve the greatest good. This is only possible if consensus can be achieved. It is how “out of many becomes one”. It is the true genius of America. It is a worthy innovation of governance that every freedom loving citizen should jealously guard and consciously pursue.

8.  Public Education:  The public education system that the United States built is the true arsenal of democracy and the nations source of wealth and its many contributions it has made to the world.  Without the vast network of learning institutions built and supported by successive generations of Americans the worlds great experiment in representative democracy would have long ago perished.   The public schools sole charter is to create an enlightened citizenship with the skills to discuss, discern and decide in a civil and constructive manner the ever evolving dialectic of a democratic consensus placed at the service of the republic.  It is one of the true geniuses of America and remains her enduring strength.

Today public schools are under attack by forces whose agendas are the pursuit of parochial goals that first and foremost seek their enrichment and interests at the expense of the greatest good of the republic.  The charter school movement is a trend that threatens the public school system by privatizing some of the systems assets and draining away much needed resource and financial support.  It forces public schools to dispense with curriculum offerings like music and arts, sports programs and civic excursions that will convey an understanding of how institutions  interact and support the greater social good. This aspect of the educational experience is supplanted by an exacting examination regime that destroys the love of learning.  Secular learning is also being threatened through the introduction of theological precepts like creationism into the science curriculum of public schools.  Religion and faith are important precepts to offer in a public educational curriculum;  however theology that masquerades  as   science  is an ideological stricture that has no place in public schools.    These  trends are pose great challenges to the  public  schools mission to form enlightened citizens free to think and free to act in the sole service of liberty and participatory democracy.  Innovation and progress is in danger of becoming a secular sin a disease of the soul that needs to be eradicated from the public schools as its threatens to infect the greater body politic.

You Tube Music Video:  Louis Armstrong, I Get Ideas

Risk: innovation, convergence, progress, tolerance

January 11, 2010 Posted by | 9/11, business, Carter, China, Christianity, culture, democracy, economics, faith, history, institutional, manufacturing, Muslim, politics, real estate, recession, regulatory, sustainability, terrorism, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Prognostications and Expostulations

We’re going out on a limb with this one or given thats its winter we’ll say we’re walking on thin ice. We’ll gaze into the crystal ball and pontificate on eleven subject areas for 2010. With some we hope we will be wrong. With some we hope we will be right.

1. Stock Market: Buoyed by well managed earnings by the large multinational companies in the DOW, principally as a result of cost reduction initiatives and exposure to global markets the Index will finish up 6% and close at 11, 011 on the last trading day of 2010. Given an inflation rate of 4% investors will realize a 2% gain on equity investments in DOW constituents. S&P 500 and NASDAQ will be flat gaining 2% for the year.

2. Iraq War: The war in Iraq will continue to wind down. America will scale down its military presence in the country. Troop levels in the country will approximate 85,000 by the close of 2010. Though direct American military involvement in conflicts will decline, Iraq will experience civil unrest as Kurd nationalists, Shiite and Sunni Muslims seek to protect their political and economic interests.

3. Afghanistan War: The escalation of America’s military presence in Afghanistan will move the theater of war further into Pakistan. The Taliban will be satisfied to harass US forces by engaging in a guerrilla war. Taliban and Al-Qaeda supporters will use the opportunity to increase the level of urban terrorist attacks in the large cities of Pakistan. Al-Qaeda confederates will seek to reestablish base of support in Somalia, Yemen and ties will begin to emerge in Latin American narco-terror states.

4. Iran: The political situation in Iran will continue to deteriorate. This is a positive development for regional stability because it will force the ruling regime to cede its nuclear program development initiatives. Iran will not be able to capitalize on the US draw down in Iraq. It will become increasingly isolated as Hezbollah and Hamas pursue actions that are less confrontational to Israel in Palestine and Lebanon. The ruling Caliphate position will weaken due to internal political dissent and external economic pressures.

5. China: It will be a year of ultra-nationalism in China. Its stimulus program that is targeted to internal development will sustain a GDP growth rate of 8%. China will use this opportunity to strengthen the ideological support of its citizens to fall in line with the national development initiative. Globally China will continue to expand its interests in Africa and will cull deeper relationships with its Pacific Rim club member Latin America. China will continue to use US preoccupation with its wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and skirmishes in Yemen and Somalia as an opportunity to expand its global presence with a message of peace and cooperation.

5. US Mid Term Elections: Republicans will gain a number of seats in Congress. The continued soft economic conditions, state and local government fiscal crisis, war weariness and cut back in services and rising expenses will make this a bad year for incumbents and the party in power, namely the democrats. Sarah Palin will play a large role in supporting anti-government candidates drooling over the prospect of winning a seat in government.

6. Recession: Though the recession may be officially over, high unemployment, home foreclosures and spiking interest rates will hamper a robust recovery. The end of large government stimulus programs and the continued decrease in real estate values also present strong headwinds to recovery. We predict a GDP growth rate of 2% for the US economy. Outsourcing will abate and a move to reintroduce SME manufacturing will commence.

7. Technology: The new green technology will focus on the development of nuclear power plants.  The clash of the titan’s between Google’s Droid and Apple’s I Phone will dominate tech news during the year.  Lesser skirmishes  between Smart Phones makers or the war of the clones will continue to explode altering the home PC market and continue to change the market paradigm for old line firms like DELL, Microsoft and HP.   SaaS or cloud computing will gain on the back of lean business process initiatives and smart phone application development and processing infrastructure will encourage cottage industries fueling the cloud and making for some new millionaires. The tension between the creators of content and search and delivery will begin to tilt back toward the content providers. Litigation involving social networking sites will be filed to create safeguards against its use as a tool to control and manipulate behaviors thus threatening civil liberties and privacy rights.

8. Culture: The Googlization of civilization will allow individuals to embrace more corporatism as a pillar to add efficiency and order to their lives. Multiculturalism will continue to grow in the US. However a growing political backlash against it will become more of a prominent theme as Teabaggers agitate for a return to the true values of America. Electronic arts will make major leaps and bounds as commodification continues to be a driving force in the world of art. Printed words like books and newspapers will continue to dramatically decline. Writing, drawing and playing musical instruments skills will ebb as people prefer to develop digital skill sets. Texting and Tweeting make for poor practice for extended compositions.

9. Latin America: Instability will grow in Latin America as narcodollars continue to undermine political stability in Columbia, Venezuela, Mexico and Panama. The US will increasingly become involved in the conflicts between petro and narcodollars. Mexico’s stability will be increasingly undermined by the power and corruptible influence of the drug trade. China’s influence on the continent will grow.

10. European Union: The EU will continue to manage itself for stability. It will yearn to return to its aristocratic roots and will become increasingly conservative. It will continue to have a complex relationship with the expanding Muslim community. A call to deeper nationalism will arise out of a growing influence of Islam and the inefficiencies of EC bureaucrats in Belgium. The EU will continue its union of expediency to counterbalance their distrust of Russia and their distaste for America.

11. Environmental Justice: Though awareness continues to grow concerning the need to mount and implement large scale solutions to halt the problem of global climate change; the political will and resources required to drastically alter the planets current trajectory in growth of carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels remains unaltered. Social responsible enterprises, small businesses and individuals continue to make a difference. Eco friendly small businesses, urban farming, capital formation initiatives around renewable energy businesses are hopeful signs of a market response to the pressing problem. China is investing heavily in becoming a market leader out of business savvy and environmental necessity. Until the great powers of the world can come to some collective agreement on how to limit , cap or trade carbon credits we’ll have to be content to separate the trash and recycle, reuse and reduce.

You Tube Music Video: Donald Byrd, Stepping Into Tomorrow

Risk: unfulfilled predictions will make me look bad

January 5, 2010 Posted by | business, China, commerce, corporate social responsibility, culture, ecological, government, inflation, unemployment, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bring the Warriors Home

Heart of my heart, is it meet or wise
To warn a King of his enemies?
We know what Heaven or Hell may bring,
But no man knoweth the mind of the King.
Of the gray-coat coming who can say?
When the night is gathering all is gray.
Two things greater than all things are,
The first is Love, and the second War.
And since we know not how War may prove,
Heart of my heart, let us talk of Love!”

The Ballad of the King’s Jest

Rudyard Kipling

The irony of President Obama’s selection as the Nobel Peace Prize winner for 2009 was not lost on the recipient. In one of the receptions held to honor him, Mr. Obama spoke about Alfred Nobel’s invention of dynamite and its use as a weapon of war as the source of wealth that funds the prestigious peace prize.   Earlier in the day during his acceptance speech, Mr. Obama spoke eloquently on the motives for his decision to continue the prosecution and escalation of the Afghan war.  As a war time President, Mr. Obama sees war as a tool to bend the will of history toward justice and good.  He believes the greatest global good will be served by the pursuit of the Afghan conflict.  I respectfully disagree.

The greater irony in Mr. Obama’s acceptance speech for a peace prize is that it was essentially a discourse of war apologetics.    Mr. Obama delivered a speech void of any contrition and never once equivocated as he outlined his commitment and reasoning why a nation should engage in war.  To be fair to Mr. Obama, his decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan is not a surprise. Throughout his Presidential election campaign, Mr. Obama was explicitly clear that he intended to pursue Osama bin Laden and his band of murderous terrorists to the Gates of Hell.  Even if those gates led to a protected compound in downtown Karachi,  Mr.  Obama’s resolve to check mate al-Qaeda remains steadfast.

The problem with the continued prosecution of the Afghan War is that our enemies are not a nation state nor do they occupy a single geography.  Al-Qaeda and their confederates are stationed throughout the globe.  They exist in underground sleeper cells waiting to be summoned by unconscionable puppet masters.  They are guided by an ideology of hate neatly disguised and wrapped in a hajab of religious orthodoxy. They use asymmetric strategies and tactics to wage war on citizens and soldiers alike.  A conventional army garrisoned in a provincial  hamlet is ill suited to fight an enemy that knows no bounds in territories and tactics and is prepared to conduct a military operation that spans multiple generations.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda’s access and control of Afghanistan’s lucrative opium trade forms the socio-economic base that allows them to leverage considerable political power to pursue their terrorist agenda.  The opium trade is weaved into a complex tribal culture whose power and prominence supersedes a weak and corrupt central government that derives its right to govern by the tepid consent of friendly tribal leaders and the military might of foreign armies.    Afghanistan like other narco dependent states will remain politically unstable and continue as a terroristic threat to the United States until the opium trade is supplanted as the countries principal source of economic and political power.

Afghanistan is not the world’s sole narco-terrorist state.  A number exist in the Western Hemisphere and one need look no further then across the Rio Grande to witness the growing power of a narco-dollar financed state subversion.  Mexico’s difficulties serve as a reminder that the risks to the stability of our republic lie much closer to home and is in fact in full residence within our borders.  Engaging a war in Afghanistan is a clear and present distraction from addressing the pressing issues that undermine our national security.

True al-Qaeda’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon conjures up many unimaginable and terrifying scenarios.  Unfriendly regimes that are hostile to the United States like North Korea and Iran control nuclear capabilities.  But we have  no armies attacking them.  Perhaps the solution is to remove nuclear weapons and uranium devises beyond the reach of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other avowed enemies of our republic.  If this is the major threat, its mitigation can be achieved without the prolonged deployment of 130,000 troops.   It can be accomplished by having an international force guard and quarantine Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.  Certainly the Bush Doctrine allows for this type of intervention.  Some will object to this course of action on the grounds that we must respect Pakistan’s sovereignty.  But Mr. Obama’s escalation of the Afghan War will require unilateral incursions into Pakistan.  This action to eliminate the ultimate horror of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists is the surest way to mitigate this pressing threat.

The multifaceted omnipresent dangers to the United States transcend nuclear terrorism. Economic degradation is compounding social problems and creating deep political fissures within the country.  Our countries fractured culture is being exploited by powerful self serving interests.  A cabal of corporate elites equate national security with their economic well being.  They employ armies of lobbyists  and ply multi-channel media platforms to stoke fear and division to advance their narrow interests.  Usually at the expense of supporting initiatives that address the complex threats that weigh on the security of the country.  These special interests attack programs that stabilize social safety nets.  They finance expensive media campaigns condemning aid for local government fiscal stability, universal health care, meaningful environmental policy, expanded funding for public education, infrastructure improvements, support for trade unions, job creation programs and social assistance programs.  The well being of our people is the basis of our national prosperity.  The sources of social instability remain strong and continue to grow.  The recession,  a jobless rate of 10%, 4 million foreclosed homes, 30 million citizens unable to have access to affordable health care, failing school systems, bulging prison systems and environmental degradation represent a greater threat to national security then 100 al-Qaeda fighters holed up in an ice cave in the Tora Bora tribal regions.

No doubt  the United States was attacked by terrorists enjoying protection of a friendly regime in Afghanistan.  On 9/11 I witnessed first hand the horror of fellow countrymen jumping to their deaths from the upper floors of the World Trade Center.  Moments later as I stood in front of Trinity Church I escaped the pyroclastic cloud of the falling South Tower through a revolving door on Wall Street.   I understand the irrational hatred terrorists harbor in their hearts and the devastating consequences of their insane acts.  They are a cancer that must be eradicated.

Mr. Obama, has stated that the Afghan insurgency enjoys no popular support.   Afghanistan has a long memory and a longer history of a people subjected to the designs of imperial powers and foreign invaders since the time of Genghis Khan. The resistance to foreign occupation by the Afghani’s is legendary.  From the massacre of Elphinstone’s Army trying to escape blood thirsty tribes through the Khyber Pass, to the Soviets disgraceful retreat from the hail of Stinger Missiles supplied by the United States; it now  may be our time for a  ride in this horrible wheel barrel.

Afghanistan is a region of the globe where the great powers and trends of history clash.  It is a vortex of a turbulent maelstrom that brings the powers of China, Russia, India and Islam into a volatile mix.  The forces of national interests and modernity is held at bay by tribesmen toting WWII rifles, expedient tribal allegiances and ancient codes of honor.  Why doesn’t China and India have a more prominent role in ending this conflict?   It is in their geopolitical interest.  Better let the United States  send its nations finest young people to chase phantoms and fight in the endless canyons of the Hindu Kush; while Chindia builds their economies at home and forge new alliances abroad.  Perhaps they hope that this war could be the Pax Americana’s Waterloo?

Mr. Obama quoted from Dr. Martin Luther Kings Nobel acceptance speech, stating, “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.”  This above all else may prove to be the most prophetic and ironic truth to Mr. Obama’s war.

The United States cannot afford this war. It is a distraction. It weakens us.  National security is more then a well provisioned and gallant army. A nations strength and its ultimate security is based on an enlightened, well fed, healthy and industrious people.

Mr. Obama acknowledged his indebtedness to those that went before him.  He stated that, Mahatma Gandhi, George Marshall, Albert Schweitzer,  Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela are worthy figures that we should emulate.  Their greatness showed us that a better path must be chosen if we are to progress as a people.  Their choices and examples of leadership were not based on expediency and some came at  terrible cost.  The pathway of war is worn and old.  The world is much too weary from the familiar journey.  Its time to choose a better path.  End the war now Mr. Obama.  Bring the troops home.

You Tube Music Video: Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Battle Hymn of the Republic

Risk: war, peace

December 14, 2009 Posted by | 9/11, China, economics, Obama, recession, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Welcome The Year of the Ox.

The Year of Ji Chou is the 4706th year in the Chinese Calendar.

The celebration of New Year’s Eve in the Chinese calendar will be observed tonight with several popular traditions meant to attract good fortune and health, prosperity, closer family ties, and peace in every household.

Festivals, parades, dragon and lion dances, fireworks, family gatherings, and visiting friends and relatives traditionally mark the celebration of the eve of the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays.

We wish all prosperity, happiness and health during this Year of the Ox.

You Tube Video:  Song for the Year of the Ox

Risk: Forgetting our cultural history

January 25, 2009 Posted by | China, folk, holiday, seasons | | Leave a comment

No Transparency from Corzine

Whats on Corzine’s Agenda?

Gov. Corzine is calling a meeting at NJIT of New Jersey’s best minds to deal with the economic crisis. The meeting will be closed to observers and to the public.

Corzine should open up a window of transparency. All these closed door meetings only serves to estrange the government from the public trust. Remember Cheney’s closed door meetings and the role it played in formulating the nations failed energy policy. All American’s paid dearly for that one.

The economic crisis will seriously effect state and local governmental institutions ability to fund and provide services. Its amazing the degree of involvement governmental agencies and officials are stepping in to manage the crisis. Mr. Cozine’s Goldman Sachs pedigree will serve him well. It seems the collegian club of GS alums are in control of everything.

Is Corzine meeting with friends to carve up state regulated banks and insurance companies that are on the brink of insolvency?

Is Corzine discussing the closure of the public school and transportation systems because the state has cash flow problems?

Is Corzine discussing the seizure of state pension fund assets to fund the current cash flow needs and further deplete the pensions assets?

Is Corzine finalizing a deal on the sale of the NJ Parkway, Turnpike, The Port Authority and the State College & University system to a syndicate of private equity funds lead by the Chinese Investment Corporation and other large Sovereign Wealth Funds?

We don’t actually know. Thats why Mr. Corzine needs to provide a little transparency and let the citizens of New Jersey know whats going on and how it affects them.

Risk: transparency, accountability, public trust,

Music: The Rays, Silhouette on the Shade

September 22, 2008 Posted by | China, credit crisis, government, pop, private equity, sovereign wealth funds, taxation | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let 100 Flowers Bloom

The FT reported that the China Investment Corp. (CIC) a Sovereign Wealth Fund with $200 billion in assets is looking to team up with the private equity firm JC Flowers to make acquisitions in the financial services industry. CIC has been somewhat active in acquiring financial services assets in the United States. CIC’s portfolio companies now include, Morgan Stanley, VISA and Blackstone Group.

After walking away from it’s commitment to buy Sallie Mae JC Flowers is loaded for bear and sees tremendous investment opportunities in the distressed asset valuation of financial services firms. It is a classic vulture fund mentality that sees great opportunity in the depressed equity valuations within a sector.

The US banking industry is ripe for rationalization. During the height of the credit marketing orgy, small banks were popping up like mushrooms after a soft summer rain. Cheap credit and funding sources flush with cash from the surging values in real estate and public equity markets put a banker on every street and an equity line of credit for every home. Risk aversion in the credit markets and dried up liquidity are changing the face of the sector and many of the publicly traded community banks need to attract equity capital to strengthen their balance sheets or merge with other banking institutions.

Vernon Hill, the former CEO of Commerce Bank, (recently acquired by TD Bank) has set-up a private equity fund to make acquisitions of small and mid-cap banks. The face and ownership of the banking sector is evolving. A drastic change in the systemic and regulatory structure of the banking industry is a welcomed inevitability. Global investors, regulators and industry executives will be hard pressed to balance the interests of bank stakeholders while serving the vital social function of facilitating commerce and finance for communities, corporations and consumers.

You Tube Video: Bird and Diz playing Hot House.

Risk; financial services, credit, regulatory, private equity, SWF, community banking

June 19, 2008 Posted by | banking, China, credit crisis, hedge funds, jazz, private equity, sovereign wealth funds | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Riding The Acela Express

I don’t really know what Acela means.

I imagined it to be a Greek or Latin word perhaps the name of a divine conveyance or swift footed messenger from Roman mythology. It’s probably nothing that deep. Most likely it is one of those made up words invented by a high powered marketing firm on Madison Avenue. Most know it as the rebranding of Amtrak. A kind of corporate rechristening available only to the well capitalized and those blessed with fat marketing budgets. They had to do it. After the supply-sider victory of the Reagan Revolution the legacy of losses and unending government subsidies to the failing railroad industries had to be purged from the new American political lexicon. It’s kind of like when Khrushchev was removed from power in the USSR. History books had to be rewritten to exclude the memory of Khruschev’s glorious contributions to building a workers’ paradise with Stalinist absolutism.

Riding the Acela Express from Newark New Jersey to our nation’s capitol in Washington DC provides a front seat view of a sad and sobering survey of our quickly evaporating manufacturing base and our country’s diminished industrial strength.

Riding the Acela Express down the spine of our county’s once formidable east coast industrial corridor presents a sad irony. The former Soviet Union unintentionally destroyed its economy due to its inefficient deployment and allocation of capital. While the United States, the USSR’s great historical antagonist and seeming victor of the cold war, destroyed it’s manufacturing base through the carefully considered rationalization of our industries by reallocating capital to foreign markets in search of superior returns.

In practice, this meant closing old inefficient factories and moving them overseas. From an economic standpoint it makes perfect sense. Capital seeks its best return. If that return can be found in an overseas market where labor costs are lower, tax rates are more favorable and regulatory oversight is non-existent the shareholders of the firm that closed the doors on US workers will realize a better return on their equity investment. That’s how capital markets work. Michael Milken and other predators would have a ball and build many fortunes instructing corporate America on the finer points of financial alchemy and demonstrate how easy it was to spin gold from the junk of old rust belt industries.

At first it kind of made sense. We didn’t want those kinds of jobs anyway. They were dirty and caused pollution in our communities. These types of businesses were highly unionized and susceptible to industrial disputes that only antagonized the uneasy relationship between labor and capital. Many of these industries were too capital intensive and the investment needed to maintain world class competitiveness was just too high to see any kind of acceptable return within the required time frames that benefited management and shareholders. The US was moving to a service oriented economy that obviated the need to manufacture anything. We would be an economy of designers, merchants, consultants, marketers and bankers. We did retain some clean, high tech, lite and lean factories that would rely on assembling machines from various components sourced just in time from overseas manufacturers. That was the industrial and economic vision of post cold war America.

But the vision outside my window on this Sunday morning Acela Express ride looks very different. They say that Georgian’s know their home when they see the red clay soil of their beloved state. As I pass through the metro areas of Trenton, Camden, Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore I see miles and miles of half demolished factories whose crushed emulsified bricks have turned the earth of these abandoned industrial brownfield to blazing acres of red ochre.

The landscape offers a view of row after row of empty disassembled and decaying factories. They litter the landscape like forgotten industrial sarcophagi that was long ago broken into and pillaged, its contents whisked away by savvy tomb raiders.

The abandoned shipping docks whose bills of lading long since posted last orders that disembarked decades ago. Old forges, not fired since our Great War now stand as furtive tombstones to a productive past. These committed sentinels still stand post, watching over rusted rails that once creaked under the weight of bulging freight cars delivering goods to defend the arsenal of democracy. Now the rail yards serve no purpose other then rusted planter boxes for some invasive plant species. Closed beer gardens stand next to empty Union Halls whose cheap tin signage proclaims solidarity from a bygone day. You can still barely make out the union local number if you catch the right light from this mornings emerging sun. And the church steeples and factory smokestacks both covered in many layers of hard earned coats of gray soot stand in each others holy presence reminding us of the solemn Shaker proverb, “hands to work hearts to God.”

Last we witness the awful toll the dismantling of our industrial base has claimed on our urban communities. We pass archaic schools that rise like Gothic anachronisms, resembling prisons not Lyceums of learning. We see the tiny wooden row houses of Philadelphia and Baltimore and wonder how the inhabitants will sleep through a night where temperatures will remain uncomfortably hot. Nature and capital both abhor a vacuum. In the absence of legal industry and commerce such areas will become incubators for the growth of black-markets whose social cost and commercial thrust poses great risk to the heath and efficiency of free markets and the personal liberties of free people.

The USSR failed miserably in its attempt to build a workers state. Centralized bureaucratic planning, totalitarian political control, and the parasitic drain of capital by a class of ruthless self serving party elites strangled all entrepreneurial initiative and any hope for an efficient economic system. The possibility for workers to fully enjoy the fruits of their labors vanished as nothing more then an idealistic dream.

The current state of our manufactures and how we got there may turn out to be one of those funny ironies of history. What the Soviets did to their economy by accident and incompetence, we did to ourselves through intention. The industrial policies and practices we have pursued have strengthened the economies and industrial capacities of Russia and China. Both countries economies are experiencing robust growth. Russia due to its extensive oil and natural gas reserves is once again an emerging superpower that the United States must consider in its global political, economic and military strategies. China due to its rapid development of its manufacturing capacity now boasts tremendous balance of trade surpluses. China’s exports far more then it imports and it puts its surplus into its massive Sovereign Wealth Fund. This SWF is an investment vehicle that loans money to the large US banks to bolster their fragile balance sheets so we can get through this dangerous and debilitating credit crisis. The tables have dramatically turned.

The Acela Express. What a window it provides on the state of the American economy. After an exhaustive search I discovered a reference to Acela. In a far eastern language it refers to “a cloth less one.” Or in other words naked, as in the emperor has no cloths or perhaps we are vulnerable and exposed as a naked child in a blizzard without a strong industrial and manufacturing base? Or as in the “clothless one” hides nothing and always presents the naked truth. However you interpret Acela, let us hope that the Midnight Special continues to shine an ever loving light on you.

Music: Lonnie Donagen, Midnight Special

Risk: capital flight, manufacturing, labor unions, urban communities, political, global competitiveness, balance of trade, railroads,

June 14, 2008 Posted by | China, culture, folk, manufacturing, sovereign wealth funds, unions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fallout from China’s Quake

The fallout from the earthquake that hit China could have severe global ramifications as the extent of the damage is becoming more apparent.

As of this writing, 19,000 people have been reported dead. Hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless by the disaster and are living mostly on the streets. Numerous cities have been completely leveled. Many more are in urgent need of medical attention. The nation is experiencing a traumatic emotional shift from the building euphoria from the hosting of the Olympic Games to the national nightmare of this deadly quake.

The earthquake has also opened the door to a potentially larger catastrophe. The New York Times reports that the Red Army has been deployed to examine and buttress a number of dams that may have been damaged as a result of the quake. Further, the Times also reported that it believes the area has a number of nuclear fuel processing facilities. If true this heightens and changes the severity of the events geo risk profile. The consequences of the failure of either or both of these energy producing infrastructures is unimaginable.

The economic fortunes of the United States may also be directly affected by the China quake. The quake may spike inflation in China making its exports more costly for US consumers. Though there has been no indication that China’s manufacturing capacity was broadly affected by the quake, capacity may be required to address domestic consumption.

China may also need to repatriate some of the investment assets of its Sovereign Wealth Funds. China’s SWF is a large investor in US securities and some of that investment may be redirected for domestic purposes.

This power of this quake will move the earth under many peoples feet. We wish China and her people our prayers for a speedy and full recovery.

You Tube Video: Carol King, I Feel The Earth Move

Risk: Geo, China, Capital Markets, United States, Inflation, Credit, Nuclear

May 16, 2008 Posted by | China, commerce, community, environment, nuclear, pop | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Disaster Response Triad

The earthquake that devastated the Sichuan Province in China, the cyclone that flooded the Irrawaddy River delta in Myanmar and the hurricane that leveled the beloved American city of New Orleans is an interesting study in comparative approaches to disaster response.

All of these natural disasters were terrible human tragedies. The significant loss of life, the destruction of property and environmental damage has forever altered the way of life for millions of people. These disasters have also revealed telling insights into the values of the national governments responsible for rescue, relief and recovery efforts.

The Myanmar effort or more appropriately, non-effort to address the mass misery of its people is a stunning example of authoritarian ambivalence towards the suffering of its subjects. This abomination is more criminal then tragic and is a striking example of the lengths a despotic ruling clique will go to preserve its power through control of the means of subsistence.

Myanmar’s paranoid government uses obfuscation to conceal the impact of its governance practices on its people is damning. Clearly the world has a clear understanding that the Emperor has no cloths and hopefully it will not be long before the people of Myanmar will be able to fully execute its will and rid itself of a repressive government that’s sole purpose is the perpetuation of its oppressive rule.

The Peoples Republic of China’s response is the antitheses of Myanmar’s government’s non-response. China has quickly and efficiently mobilized its state apparatus with military precision. China’s militarization is pervasive and its army is a powerful extension of the state that touches many aspects of daily life and serves as an organizational focal point for the culture and the country’s rural political economy. Here the military is an instrument of relief not of repression as in the case of Myanmar. To be fair the economic strength of China puts it in a better position to respond and provide the relief that a disaster of this magnitude demands. The earthquake has silenced the public relations debacle of the worldwide tour of the Olympic Torch. The Olympic Torch tour has served as a focal point of protest and has eroded the stature of China’s reputation. The earthquake has helped to create some sympathy for the people of China and has shown that the rulers of the Forbidden City are very capable managers of a very formidable state apparatus.

The US Government’s rescue and response efforts following Hurricane Katrina have been scrutinized, dissected and politicized since the time of the event almost three years ago. Lots has been written and we should examine in more detail the risk management lessons from the numerous historical, political, economic and cultural dimensions of the Katrina event. The most salient feature of the US response was how FEMA and Homeland Security could organize and manage a market solution to Katrina. Wal-Mart had the trucks and the logistics, Home Depot had the generators, AT&T the phone cards, General Honore brought the honor and President Bush dispensed funds from the Federal treasury.

I suspect that the Federal Government’s initial reticence to respond to the Katrina crisis was the ideological conviction that the market will provide a solution. Bush’s circle knows that capitalism like nature abhors a vacuum. The spirit of entrepreneurialism will fill the breech that Katrina blew into the intricate levee structure of America’s most idiosyncratic city.

You Tube Video: Dr. John, Sweet Home New Orleans

Risk: Force Majeure, Government, Market, Political, Civil Stability

May 14, 2008 Posted by | China, government, infrastructure, military | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment