Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Leaking Visions of a New World Order

Every once a while an event happens that shifts the prevailing scheme of things. Julian Assange’s dump and release of US State Department cables (CableGate) for global distribution on WikiLeaks is such an event. It radically alters existing convention and the public’s general perception of normalcy, acceptability and protocol.  It brings into question the motives and interests of nations and their leaders. It squarely plops an 800 pound gorilla on the sofa in everyone’s living room and provokes questions that naggingly insist answers.   Asking leaders about duplicity, conflicts of interest, distortions, fabrications, fibs and outright lies all done in the national interest.  It is how a new Weltanschauung is cast and forged to conform to the needs a new world order.  The sun has set on the American Century.  Blessedly, America’s days as a self righteous post Cold War marauding superpower are coming to a close.  The WikiLeaks disclosures gives us some insights into the thinking and banter world leaders engage as they move the Chess pieces across the board on the great global game  of new world order.

There are moral considerations and ethical arguments to be made on each side of Mr. Assange’s incendiary action.  CableGate raises complex multidimensional issues of national security, informed citizenry, the protection of information, its public disclosure and citizens right to know.  The natural tension between  the simultaneous need for confidentiality and transparency is a reality of our complex and interconnected world.  The management of these issues have escalated to become a preeminent dilemma of our time.  This raises significant  challenges to democratic societies and the governance structures of both public and private institutions.  It threatens institutional sustainability and undermines institutional capability to function in highly interdependent stakeholder ecosystems.  The risk of seeking pathways to safely navigate the virtual minefields of a digitized global world is great and continues to grow.

The most impassioned issue raised by CableGate is the ethical violation of stolen property.  The cables were not Mr. Assange’s property and what gives him the right to publish and violate diplomats right to confidentiality and privacy? His actions could endanger diplomatic relationships, compromise government initiatives or derail delicate negotiations.  Do governments have a right to privacy?  If so, what information needs to be classified as secret and confidential?  If all documents are secret then the designation is meaningless and government nothing more then a ruthless leviathan lording over a clueless citizenry.

Another critical question CableGate raises is who is served by the publication of these cables? Certainly American citizens in whose interest the State Department purportedly acts benefits from the added transparency.  US citizens must admit there is a certain level of comfort in being able to track the satchel of an Afghanistan Vice President stuffed $52 million of taxpayers money through the U.A.E. Customs.

Detractors of CableGate assert that the leaks are a danger to America and its citizens.  If so why is the public aggrieved and who exactly is the “aggrieved public”?  Soldiers and servicemen fighting in Afghanistan?  Does State Department Cables provide tactical and strategic information on troop deployments?  Highly doubtful.  More likely it is the special interests enriching themselves at the public troughs by cutting deals to shamelessly engorge themselves as insidious war profiteers.  Better to ask why our country has placed our young servicemen and woman at risk in wars that makes little sense and accomplishes nothing.

Another set of critical questions CableGate raises are “Do citizens have a right to truth?  Is access to information meaningful?  Does the information help citizens of democratic societies understand the actions and motivations of their government?  Why do diplomats pursue certain course of action and who is profiting from the course of action pursued?  These are critical tenants citizens require to make informed decisions in a democratic society and CableGate certainly supports the notion of information empowerment for citizens.

Arguing the contrary one must ask “is it better to be mislead and be lied too in the name of propriety and protocol then to be victimized by the truth?  I’ll take conviction in a court of truth and pray for a life sentence every time.

If you believe that the public can’t handle the truth or needs protection from it; imagine yourself living near a nuclear power plant and it was leaking radiation into your drinking water.  Would you like to know about it?  What if disclosure led to wide spread panic?  I believe that truth and transparency always serves to discover and determine the best course of action to pursue.

CableGate has also shed damaging light on the power exercised by private corporations and the commercial control and open access and free availability of information.  Amazon’s cloud computing service had no silver lining for WikiLeaks.  After the WikiLeak dump it shut down access to the cables due to the unacceptable risk posed by denial of service attacks mounted by computer hackers.   This was followed by PayPal’s closure of WikiLeaks donation solicitation account.  Was PayPal’s motive purely patriotic?  Where they just pissed at WikiLeaks or were they at risk of  aiding and abetting a subversive organization that risked prosecution under certain provisions of  THE USA PATRIOT ACT?

Academic freedom also seems to have taken a blow due to CableGate.  This weekend, Columbia University warned its students not to download or distribute WikiLeak cables because it may affect future employment opportunities with the State Department. Government employees were also warned not to read or access the cables because they had no security clearance to do so.  If they were caught accessing the leaked cables it could cost them their jobs.  Even though the cables are published in great detail everyday by newspapers throughout the world, government employees must be careful not to notice for risk of losing their employment.  This is truly a Kafkaesque dilemma for some, a divine comedy for others and a growing political drama for everyone.

I’m still not sure that Cablegate is what it purports to be.  As the old saying goes and the cables affirm nothing is ever as it seems.  I find it  most improbable that a Private First Class sitting at a PC in Baghdad could download the Iraq War Logs and throw a great superpower into a first class crisis of the new world order.  I liken the leaks  to the past practice  of “special unnamed high placed sources” leaking inside information to the liberal mainstream media outlets.  Its done to float trial balloons about new government directions.  They do it to test the waters of public sentiment to new ideas, or change in policy course or  potentially damaging information to see how the public reacts.  Not one to be of a conspiratorial mindset, I perceive CableGate in this light.  As expected the public reaction thus far  has elevated our collective sense of outrage to a heightened level of ambivalence.

In many respects Iraq War Logs supports the construction of a new narrative about an exit strategy from Iraq and Afghanistan.  The revelations of wastefulness, corruption and back room deal making with a full caste of sordid characters reinforces  the public perception about the uselessness of these wasteful and expensive misadventures.  The cables may prove to be the documentary evidence  of  America’s Waterloo and CableGate  may be seen by future generations as the  historical high watermark of an expired global empire.

As the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs helped to prepare the public psyche for an exit strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq; CableGate helps construct a narrative surrounding the need to “cut off the head of the snake in Iran”.  These cables implicate Arab States in a desire to undermine the apostate Persians and abrogates Israeli culpability as the driving force behind an attack on Iran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the cables psychological warfare.  I don’t doubt for a second that atomic weapons in the hands of Iran is a dangerous development that needs to be mitigated.  That does not mean that we should employ bombers to destroy Iranian nuclear processing facilities.  This would only create an environmental disaster and political crisis  that further destabilizes the region.  It would secure the enmity of new generations of Muslims and no doubt stoke the escalation of the Crusade against Islam.

In the Far East,China’s growth as a world super power and ascending rival to US dominance makes for compelling reading.  Here its no surprise that cables assess a strengthening China, its growing nationalism and military readiness.  Reading these cables against the backdrop of rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, China’s complicity in helping North Korea ship nuclear materials to Iran and the changing sentiment in the US concerning the largest note holder of government bonds may prove to  carry grave consequences for harmonious US/China relations.   The cable revealing China’s ambivalence toward its North Korean surrogate state is laid bare as long as it can secure preferred trade agreements with a unified Korea.

The revelations offered by Pakistan’s leaders about support for the Taliban and a growing concern about the safety of their nuclear arsenals raised the possibility of a US military move to quarantine or neutralize Pakistani weapon systems.  Though so far India seems to come off unscathed by the cables it must be heartening for India’s leaders to know that its budding friendship with the US may encourage a move to disarm the nuclear capability of its northern antagonist and the worlds sole Islamic atomic state.

These WikiLeaks offer up a brand new narrative for an emerging new world order.  The damaging realization of the spillage of confidential proprietary discussions and dialogs between world governments and the mishandling of those documents diminishes the stature of US federalism.  The undermining of federalism and its suitability as a governance structure for the new millennium foreshadows the growing antagonism of global corporate entities like Google and the nationalistic government of the People’s Republic of China augers an era of  conflict between statism and corporatism.

CableGate is a deliberate attempt to have institutions open up with greater transparency and construct a democratic narrative that force governments to change.  Mr. Assange’s  avowed goal is to, “allow governments and institutions to become more transparent or force them to become more opaque”  Depending on the what side of the fence your sitting on, openness and transparency benefits the public interest.  The struggle for democracy requires the open access and the free flow of information.

In the digital age denial of free, open and equal access to information is tantamount to fascism.  Withheld, it will encourage people to rise up demanding the means to pursue conscious enlightenment.  This may spur political activism that demands institutional accountability,  and the practice of democratic governance based on constitutional principles.  Failing that once free citizens will be forced to accept the meager lies and obfuscations of leaders and power elites whose self interest is the sole interest of government.

So as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tries to plug the leaks in a failing dike system, we cannot content ourselves to live with our heads buried in the sand,  filling our minds with reality TV reruns of Jack Ass Three and Bristol Palin bustin a move on Dance Fever.  I’ve heard it said that the best way to influence the future is to invent it.  Mr. Assange has given us a world of insights and a basic tool set to start constructing a foundation for a new world order.

You Tube Music Video: REM, End of the World As We Know It

Risk: diplomacy, international relations, governance

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December 6, 2010 Posted by | Cablegate, corporate governance, corruption, culture, democracy, ethics, government, institutional, Iraq War Logs, legal, nuclear, peace, politics, psychology, reputational risk, terrorism, values, war, WikiLeaks | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leaky Reactors, Cyber Terror and Police States

This is how the world ends
This is how the world ends
This is how the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
The Hallow Men TS Elliot

A few interesting  news items recently passed without much notice.  Two nuclear reactors located in the Northeast had to be  brought offline due to operational failures.  The Vermont Yankee reactor sprang a leak and had to be shut down.  The other incident occurred at the thirty six year old Indian Point reactor located about twenty miles north of New York City.  The cause of the problem at Indian Point was a transformer fire.  Both reactors  are owned and operated by Entergy and mirror similar problems at the Excelon operated Oyster Creek reactor located in south central New Jersey.

These incidents are endemic to aging nuclear power facilities.  These plants came on line during the the 1970’s and are now approaching the half century mark of service.  When these plants were commissioned it was believed they would have a shelf life of 40 years.   As the expected useful life span of these facilities approach regulators routinely grant extensions to the operators.  Operating these facilities past that point heighten potential risk factors.  As nuclear reactors age, the stress on these complex systems and containment facilities raise risk factors heightening the potential of system failure that lead to catastrophic events.

Leaky plumbing at the Oyster Creek nuclear plant is the culprit in poisoning the Cohansey Aquifer with 180,000 gallons of tritium contaminated water.  Regulators and environmental officials assert that the level of radio active isotopes in the water supply that serves South Jersey and parts of Philadelphia is well within acceptable levels for human consumption.  I guess that all depends on your definition of human; but I and many others remain skeptical on the subject of drinking radioactive laced water.

The aging nuclear infrastructure of the United States is a growing cause for concern.  The nuclear power industry was halted in its tracks in the 1980’s by a strong No Nukes environmental movement.  At the time it was generally understood that the cost of catastrophic risk and the industries inability to solve the long term problem of disposal and management of nuclear waste turned the public against the industry.

The Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania and the disastrous meltdown at Chernobyl in the Russian Caucuses led to a moratorium on new plant construction in the United States leading to the actual abandonment of plant construction in the Washington and New York.  It created a capital market crisis as the fear of defaults on WPPSS  revenue bonds spread to cast long shadows on the entire Muni Bond market.  The state of  New York stepped in to purchase the facilities of Long Island Power in order to make bondholders of the closed facility whole with tax payer money.  It was kind of like socialism for investors.

While most of the world has continued to build nuclear plants to address growing energy needs; the United States has not built a nuclear plant since the 1980’s and has lagged the world in using nuclear power to address energy needs. Sentiment on the desirability of nuclear power is beginning to change.  The Pickens Plan, former VP Dick Cheney’s secret meetings to develop a national energy strategy, the Gulf Oil Spill, the need to reduce dependence on foreign oil and the growing acceptance that the burning of fossil fuels is slowly cooking the planet has placed nuclear power back on the table as a viable component of America’s energy portfolio.

China is committed to building 100 nuclear power plants to wean itself from its crippling dependence on coal.  The United States is charging hard to keep up with its fast growing Asian competitor in a 21st Century nuclear power race.  The aggressive pursuit of nuclear plant development will increase the power and control of corporate entities charged with their construction, management and on going administration.  To accomplish a dramatic build-out in nuclear infrastructure large areas of  land situated near a plentiful water supply will need to be secured.   Environmental impacts, regulatory oversight and public transparency will be sacrificed at the alter of cost efficiency, expedience in implementation and security to protect the vulnerable facilities against the pervasive armies of terrorists that lurk in the shadows near every nuclear plant.

The controversy surrounding the collusion of government and business to exploit the Marcellus Shale natural gas vein is an instructive model of what we can expect from the stakeholders pursuing an aggressive campaign to develop Americas nuclear power infrastructure.  The dismissal of regulatory controls, the eminent domain of corporate interests, the opaque wall that shrouds risks factors and hides the environmental degradation resulting from the practice of fracking and the sacrifice of watersheds and aquifers to the expeditious extraction of natural gas are some of the documented behaviors of  a wanton corporate will imposed on the body politic.  Tragically this near sighted perspective willfully sacrifices the sustainable ecology of communities to the sole purpose of the profitable extraction of resources to serve shareholders of private corporations.   The nature of the nuclear beast will require that its interests be enforced by courts of law guided by extreme prejudice and protected by police battalions, state  guard units and private security groups in the name of national security interests.

The recently discovered Stuxnet computer virus is an indication of how the stakes are being raised in the nuclear power shell game.  The launch of a successful cyber attack on a nuclear facility anywhere in the world is a real game changer.  Self deluded uber patriots act more  like real pinheads if they believe that the destruction of Iran’s nuclear power capability is a harbinger for Middle East peace or enhances the   security of either Israel or the United States.  A nuclear event in Iran or North Korea are real game changers for the course of human history and the well being of  humanity. A clandestine service that can take out Iranian nuclear reactors can also be deployed to take out a reactor that is twenty miles north of New York City.  Or consider the consequences of a summer heat wave ravaging the citizens Philadelphia dying of thirst because the water supply is contaminated with radiation.  The extent of civil unrest would be extreme overwhelming the local law enforcement and judicial capabilities.  If these bleak scenarios come to pass,  Americans will be pining away for the good old days when a quick feel up at the airport by a TSA gendarme is fondly recalled like a high school make out session.  The pernicious yoke of marshal law under the nuclear challenged corporate security state will be incessant in practice and swift, sure and dire in its execution.

You Tube music video: No Nukes Concert 1979: Doobie Brothers Taking it to The Streets

Risk: democracy, energy policy, nuclear power, civil liberties

 

November 22, 2010 Posted by | community, culture, democracy, disaster planning, ecological, energy, environment, government, military, nuclear, regulatory, risk management | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Regulation and Social Democracy

Last year during the height of the banking crisis I remember Larry Kudlow stating that the US market has a choice. It could pursue the EU model of high regulated markets producing low consistent returns or the American model of less regulation and volatile cycles of high risk and potentially higher returns. If the sole focus of government was the peace of mind and well being of investors Mr. Kudlow’s observation would be valid. Government however must consider a larger community of stakeholders in its scope of concern. Regulatory oversight, the harmony of capital and labor and the incubation of an economic culture that is favorable to and supportive of SMEs are the critical questions confronting all governments particularly those in developed economies.

The EU’s social democratic economic models embody the best and worst aspects of these issues. The social democratic state attempt to combine entrepreneurial impulses of capitalism with the management and administration of social welfare for all its citizens. Democratically “elected administrators” use the apparatus of the state to facilitate and manage the competing interests of capital and labor, free markets and regulation while seeking to balance an entrepreneurship friendly culture with long term sustainability.

Yesterday a toxic tsunami of aluminum sludge coated 16 square miles of pristine Hungarian countryside. It is a telling example of a severe risk event that confronts modern life. A lassiaz-faire approach to the event is not viable and offers no solace to those harmed by this assault. Communities cannot be asked to suffer a market response that promises to correct the problem of the next instance of this event. The construction of better berms and the implementation redundant protection devises to safeguard against this risk for the future is little compensation to those who were killed, injured and lost property or livelihoods as a result of MAL Zrt poor risk management practices.

Better to suffer a regulatory initiative that is based on an understanding of an economic ecosystem as complex and inhabited by competing interests of diverse stakeholders. The ecosystem including the shareholders of MAL Zrt, residents of the surrounding communities, plant workers (also community residents), small businesses (SME) and down stream farmers making a living on arable land and access to clean water all have a stake, albeit competing, in the safe operation of the plant. The possibility that the toxic sludge may find its way into the Danube poses a threat to the water supply of other eastern European nations. This elevates this catastrophic event to other EU jurisdictions. The inter-dependencies and interconnectedness of the pan-regional and larger global economy requires vigorous regulatory safeguards, mitigation initiatives and enforcement response.

The true cost of this event is potentially staggering. It supersedes the narrow interest and economic value of shareholders rights and capital invested in MAL Zrt. Bad economic behavior exemplified by BP’s Horizon Deepwater failure to install redundant protective devises to keep production costs to a minimum, ended up costing BP shareholders and Gulf Coast stakeholders dearly.

State intervention in markets and the reemergence of managed economies is a reality of the global economy. The “managed economy” of the Peoples Republic of China places western style “free market” economies at a disadvantage. The managers of the PRC efficiently deploy and manage capital, effect trade and market protections and scrupulously manage currency valuation. It has created enormous social wealth for China and has contributed to its rapid rise as a preeminent world power. China’s rise requires better coordination of private capital and government to marshal a competitive market response to the challenges posed by managed economies to free and open markets of western democracies. The massive pools of capital deployed by sovereign wealth funds of oil producing regencies and the growing insurgency and power of underground economic activity also pose significant challenges to the viability of unregulated markets.

America’s free market model that eschewed regulation since the 1980’s evolved into a mercantile economy with a weakened economic base. The outsourcing of manufacturing infrastructure loosened free market impulses that left in its place a debtor nation whose warped economy depended on housing/commercial real estate construction (collateral creation/securitization), credit marketing, retailing and a service sector that was designed to support the new economic paradigm. It is a model that has proven itself to be wasteful, costly and unsustainable.

Deregulation has led to the dislocation of the capital markets from the real economy. It has contributed to the massive disparities in social wealth and a crumbling infrastructure. Milton Friedman’s mistaken belief that free market impulses would preserve infrastructure investment has been proven incorrect. Ironically this has added to the government’s burden to provide social assistance to segments of the population disenfranchised from economic participation. Some believe that the basis for the prosecution of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are economic stimulus programs designed to keep the economy going due to the vacuum created by the loss of manufacturing.

China’s example nor the resurrection of the soviet socialist model is not a desirable alternative for western democratic capitalist societies. Centralized control and state economic planning is rife with inefficiencies. State run economies threatens liberty, stifles innovation and encumbers economic dynamism. The virtues of capitalism (innovation, dynamism, liberty) needs to be encouraged and blended into the new economic reality of a highly dependent and interconnected world that requires cooperation, coexistence, sustainability, fair asset valuation, and the equitable sharing of resource and responsibility. SME’s are at the forefront of innovation, value creation and dynamism and will play a leading role in the creation of new social-political values as sources of sustainable growth and wealth in the emerging economic paradigm.

You Tube Music Video: Franz Liszt, Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 Orchestra

Risk: regulatory, capitalism, sustainability

October 6, 2010 Posted by | democracy, economics, government, labor, politics, real estate, recession, regulatory, risk management, SME | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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