Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Sustainable Economics

We have put our good mother through a lot over the past few million years. Ever since we walked out of the great rift the biospheres dominant species has really left a mark. I know that mark is but a tiny spec on the archaeological record of the earth which spans a few billion years but our impact is unmistakable.
 
I guess it started with the invention of hand tools, fire, wheels, shelter construction, water cultivation and agriculture. You can’t forget hunting in packs, weaponry, domestication of animals, speech, art and writing. A consciousness of a portfolio of skills, specialization, division of labor and the ability to discern exchange value within the community birthed a notion of governance. Our social nature was crowned with our ability to transmit craft and knowledge to successive generations, assuring continuity and cohesion with a common history and a well articulated cosmology. Put it all together and I think you got your basic modern Homo sapien.
Oh yeah, we also developed a psychology, an ego, that incorporates the primacy of ourselves and our selfish needs. It rationalizes and guides our interactions with nature, transforming the intention of our labor into a transaction that alters the conditions of the environment. It also serves as indisputable empirical evidence of the master species, elevated above all others as time marks the progress and dominion of the human race.
 
Our dominion has been codified into our sacred literature. Our creation stories and cosmic mission statements expressly state to exercise our dominion over nature, to propagate the species and to be fruitful and multiply. The screaming unencumbered id, left to its own devises, unchecked in the grand supermarket. We human’s have succeeded beyond our wildest expectations and the species continues to be fruitful and multiplying. 
 
We sojourn on, notching the ladder of history with marks of our progression through the ages. Along the way we Cro-Magnons expropriated the Neanderthals and moved into their Mediterranean digs complete with fire pits, burial chambers and the best take on modern art until Picasso came along.
 
I guess that’s the point. Our survival comes at the expense of other creatures and things. I’m no Malthusian, but Tom Friedman’s flat world is getting crowded.    And as we celebrate the 44th Earth Day a midst the greatest die off of species since mankind coronated himself as master and commander of all things earth; it may be time to consider how our dominion is hampering the well being of the lesser flora and fauna kingdoms and what we can do to begin the practice of a more sustainable economics.
 
When I look at Las Vegas, I behold a garish mecca of capitalism on steroids.  I’m overwhelmed by the banality of the the things we so highly esteem. A community venerated and propped up on the foundation of vice, hedonism and the radical pursuit of money. Unbridled development of a crystal neon city constructed in the middle of a desert, recklessly consumes water and energy resources and misdirects human capital to maintain the facade of an unsustainable economy. 
 
Phoenix poses the same paradox. Darling child of the credit boom, Phoenix is a city consuming itself. The rising threat of climate change, blistering heat, dwindling water supplies and raging haboobs would give any urban planner reason to pause. A bustling city of many millions of striving citizens consuming energy, water and human capital built on the unsustainable foundation of excessive consumption and an unrealistic valuation of the capital required to maintain it. 
 
The explosion of fracking natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale formation is another example of sacrificing long term sustainability for the immediacy of shareholder returns. The Marcellus Deposit has proven reserves that only last a decade. As evidenced by the hyper development occurring in North Dakota,  economies tied to resource extraction are prone to experience classic boom bust cycles. During boom times all is well. But the good times don’t last all that long and communities are left in the wake of the bust cycle to deal with the aftermath. 
 
The Keystone XL Pipeline and the rapid expansion of the LNG extraction industries are being touted as the foundation of American energy independence. But this energy resource extracts a high cost on the land and its natural bounty. It poses significant risk to water aquifers, air quality, wildlife and the storage of waste-water byproducts will present long term remediation challenges to communities for many decades after the last well is capped.
 
Our new found fortune of LNG comes with a significant opportunity cost to develop alternative energy sources as it continues to tether our economic dependence on a dwindling supply of fossil fuels. Perpetuating this dependence also requires us to expend huge sums of money on the military. The political arrhythmia in the Ukraine and the keen interest of the United States has much to do with the changing political economy of fossil fuels and the protection and accession of markets.
 
Sustainability requires a new approach to the emerging realities of the global political economy. Recognition that competing interests bring important capital to the table, and that all must be recognized and fully valued in the new algorithms of sustainability is the keystone and pipeline of sustainability. The practice of unfettered development is unsustainable. Regulation, arbitration and revitalization cannot be sacrificed at the altar of laissez-faire politics that only serves to widen the wealth gap at tremendous social cost. The politicization of economic policy cannot continue to be beholden to rampant monetization. Sustainability is the creation of long term value for a diverse community of stakeholders. It needs to become our guiding mantra as the global population approaches 8 billion souls. Happy Earth Day.

 

Music Selection:

Risk: fracking, political, water, air, war, opportunity cost, renewal clean energy, climate change

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April 22, 2014 Posted by | cities, commodities, community, compliance, corporate social responsibility, ecological, history, politics, psychology, regulatory, sustainability | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Hungry Heart

ImageIts amazing what money can buy.  Former VP Dick Cheney just copped a new ticker to replace his old worn out heart. Cheney’s been waiting two years to trade in his God given heart for a new one.  Its rare for a 71 year old receive a heart transplant.  I guess the thinking is that at three score and ten a man has lived a full life in a biblical sense.  Its time to square accounts with The Man maintaining the celestial ledgers.  Its time to reckon what one did with the time apportioned.

Cheney’s days inhabiting the dark bunkers of power thoroughly polluted his heart.  The burdens and stresses of reconciling the needs of government and big business takes its toll on a persons spirit.  Planning and executing three wars, untold Black Op forays, displacing millions of people from their homes, throwing nations and regions into total chaos, destroying sovereign nation states and executing heads of state while insuring that the war profiteers maintain an acceptable rate of return for their investors does tend to make the heart heavy.  You would think that a man who has achieved so much glory in this life would be anxious to stand before his maker and go to his reward.

This is not the case with Dick Cheney.  He’s still got a hungry heart.  He’s not through gobbling up the spoils of war.  He still thirsts to chug the kegs of light sweet crude paid for with the blood of young American soldiers.  Cheney’s heart beats won’t stop until every last Appalachian mountain top has been fracked to bits by Halliburton explorers pumping toxic chemicals into the water tables of Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.   Dick Cheney’s heart will not rest until every pristine river valley is poisoned with the dreck that flows from the polluted veins of his scabby ventricles.

Maybe a change of heart will alter Cheney’s mindset?

I understand that heart transplant recipients must maintain an exacting regime of anti-rejection drugs.  I heard one commentator say that the drugs are most unpleasant to ingest and Mr. Cheney will have to take them for the rest of his life.  Its an ironic ending for a man with a history of heart trouble.  No heart ever found peace in the cavity of this mans soulless chest.  Cheney’s power enabled him to purchase another heart with taxpayers money.  Yet his new heart must be drugged into a stupor to prohibit it from rejecting him.

Mr. Cheney’s money and power can’t buy the peace of a troubled soul.  It always infects the heart.

Music Selection: Bruce Springsteen, Hungry Heart

Risk: politics,

March 26, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Marking Veterans Day

Veterans Day is marked today with solemnity, sadness and a renewed expectation that people will find a way to peacefully resolve conflict in a complex world.  Veterans Day serves as a reminder that the cost of war is measured in the sacrifice of human life, the tragedy of casualty and the broken hearts of family, lovers and friends of those wounded and lost in the struggle of deadly battle.

Veterans Day gives us reason to pause and consider the sacrifices of our country’s citizen soldiers.   America’s professional armed services personnel comprise a very small percentage of our citizens.  Yet the brave and select few are asked to shoulder a disproportional burden in the prosecution of our decade long wars.  In many respects the great majority of Americans are insulated from the cost and pain of war.  We go on with our day to day lives while at this very moment a soldier, sailor, airman or marine is walking post under the gray and uncertain clouds that shroud their theater of conflict. Veterans Day helps us to remember that war is real, ever present and remains closer then the names of the honored dead silently scrolled on this weeks honor roll.

Veterans Day is good day to remember the special needs of returning servicemen and women.  They have offered much in service to our country and we must be mindful of their special needs.  Jobs, education, social services, health-care, substance abuse, family counseling and suicide prevention are critical support programs this acutely at risk population dearly needs for their successful integration back  into society.  It is also important that we recognize and care for the emotional and psychological scars of returning warriors.  The  emotional wellness  of the returning veteran is critical to the restoration of their wholeness as a human being.  This takes time, patience, understanding and a good portion of unconditional love to heal the spiritual wounds of our beloved brothers and sisters.

Veterans Day is also a good day to remember that peace is a virtue and that there is no higher calling then its pursuit and preservation.  The wastefulness and abomination of war defiles our humanity and denigrates the Holy Spirit.  Today indeed is a good day to remember that peace is superior to war as life is to death, wholeness to woundedness and understanding to intractability.

We mark today’s Veterans Day with sadness, solemnity, gratefulness and a fervent expectation that the grace of  peace may be with us soon.

Selah

You Tube Music Video: When Johnny Comes Marching Home

Risk: war, peace, freedom

November 11, 2010 Posted by | armed services, death, military, peace, seasons, war | , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

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

Ghetto of Fear

Banksy BangAmidst our poverty of riches we tremble with fear and loathing. We resent the blessings The Almighty has so richly conferred upon us. A maddening clamor of a million incessant voices ceaselessly whisper “be afraid, be very afraid” dispatching us on an endless war with the infinite armies of darkness that we perceive to encircle us. This provokes an intense inner struggle with a seditious soul, a self saboteur, that endlessly works to undermine our emancipation from the ghetto of fear.

Our state of the nation mirrors our psychic state. Barraged with a fusillade of negativity from a multichannel digital discourse of real time bad news our physical state of being and virtual emotional resources are more depleted then the Treasury Department’s account balance after a TARP payment. War, terrorism, recession, home foreclosures, wealth dissipation, culture wars, job losses, the calamities go on ad infinitum. This is our daily bread. During the height of the Civil War in Northern Ireland I recall the picture of a child passing a graffiti strewn wall scripted with the question, “what will the monster bring today?” Indeed, what will our monsters bring today? Most likely more of the same. And it is the ongoing sameness of ever increasing distress that makes the crisis du jour just another routine day. Crisis has become the new normal.

We think ourselves to be unique in our victimization. Victimhood is a bad damn hood to be from if there ever was a bad hood to be from. Our national posture during the past 8 years under Bush has exclusively been about our victimization at the hands of the terrorists. We believed our victimization to be peculiarly ours because the evil doers hate us for who we are. Bush nursed it into a xenophobic obsession that led us to surrender our civil liberties, invade a sovereign nation to depose its head of state and use interrogation methods and tools refined by Spanish Iquisitioners 4 centuries ago. We rationalize it by promoting the fear that the consequences of another strike will be to terrible to suffer. It as if the entire history of civilization had never known the slaughter of innocents, the sacking of cities, the devastation of blight, plague and famine and the excessive collateral damage from the clash of civilizations. Indeed if history teaches us anything it is that egregious conflict is just another day at the office.

Fear has taken up full residency within many houses of worship. Too many sermons emanating from the pulpit preach of a vengeful God, heard by the trembling souls of congregants filling the pews responding with an affirmative amen. Fundamentalist preachers, imams and priests of all religious stripes and secular ideologies carefully construct a theology of fear to avoid eternal or temporal damnation. They warn against having your soul cast into eternal lakes of fire. Said Thomas Paine, “Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man.” The admission price to the eternal paradise promised demands a vengeful soul fired by the vulcanism of fear.

Guarding your eternal well being or next life manifestation is available only by strict adherence to the fundamental precepts of a narrow belief. Non-believers are damned. Backsliders are shunned. Heretics are tortured and beheaded. Given the choice between a beheading and fearful submission to a jealous deity most will eat the bread of fear a jealous deity abundantly offers. Thomas Paine wrote that “Of all the tyrannies that afflict mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst. Every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in, but this attempts a stride beyond the grave and seeks to pursue us into eternity.”

These victims of conviction don’t get better they just continue to be victimized. The Pharisees warned Jesus that it was unlawful to heal on the Sabbath. Right wing conservatives need to consult this passage to understand why they should support universal health care. True conservatives are fearful this program is the sure road to socialism. Jesus asks what is more important, to cure the sick or worry if it meets the criteria of some stale dogma? I agree with Jesus and ask conservatives not to be fearful to heal on the Sabbath.

There is a comfort with the certitude the ideology of fear offers. One need no longer wrestle with the great cosmological questions of a universe that is older then 6,000 years or Darwin’s theories of natural selection and the theory of evolution to understand how species evolve. The tenants of secularism, liberalism and humanism as flowering ideals of the Age of Reason can be dispensed with as well. As we disallow the satanic verses concealed within the learned tomes of humanist literature; America, the grandest political expression of the Age of Enlightenment democratic foundations will crumble due to a poverty stricken citizenry ignorant of the cradle that suckled our legacy of liberty.

Fearful that these ideas threaten a fundamental understanding of God as the source and creator of all things they demand that their deity hide away from the prism of science, anthropology and history. Such a God is a small God indeed. It demonstrates how fear robs the human experience of a rich spiritualism and deeper relationship with a God of their understanding; condemning the true believer to a bankrupt religion of stale dogmas and inert ritualism. The Infinite One’s knowableness surpasses all understanding. All of humanity’s trite scientific inventions and worldly philosophies occupy but a minuscule portion of a single cell within God’s cranium. The All Knowing One would not have allowed the sciences, arts, philosophy and other branches of knowledge to flourish if it was not useful to serving the development of humanity and enriched our understanding of the Beneficent Ones love for all creation.

A truth I heard spoken in the rooms is that as children we are afraid of the dark. As we grow into adulthood we become terrified of the light. This profound truth speaks plainly about our mental, emotional and spiritual condition.  Children fear darkness because they think that they are alone. They tremble under their covers unaware of the protection and security of their home and a guardians presence in an adjoining room who sits ever mindful of a duty to protect the child. Darkness confronts children with a wall of uncertainty conjured from an untamed imagination. The capability to comprehend and understand the condition of darkness is merely an absence of light and is not a lair of monsters and bogymen. In workplaces all over the world workers tremble with fear in the cubicles and workshops fearing the delivery of the dreaded pink slip that condemns the worker to an awful redundancy and a certain downsizing in their standard of living. It may come or it may not. Fear and conjecture will not make it go away.

Fear is abolished when the child becomes safe in the knowledge that their guardian is near and remain fully secure in a comfortable bed. Darkness then becomes a place that doesn’t threaten but is an ideal condition where rest and the restorative power of sleep can be realized. We should engage the darkness that surrounds our nation not hide under the blankets or blindly flail away at it in an exhausting exercise of shadow boxing. It presents numerous opportunities for our nation to engage our demons and gain a better understanding of our country’s enemies and how we can disarm conflict by discovering the common ground of our shared humanity.

Paradoxically as adults we become fearful of the light. We ignore Socrates advise about the undesirability of an unexamined life. We prefer pathways of avoidance to stay secure in our ignorance. Agonizingly fearful about confronting the personal demons that continually haunt us we prefer to sit in darkness content to engage our guilt and shame in an ongoing conversation with ourselves; chaining us to the paralysis of a broken past.

We are only as sick as our secrets. Think about the sick soul of Bernard Madoff. Had he only brought to light many years ago that some of his investments did not perform well. His clients would have understood and forgiven him. He would have been off the hook and not beholden to the damnable demands of a larcenous ego and the financial ruin it brought to the people who trusted him. Or think about the obsessive mania of Dick Cheney to withhold information about events and discussions he held with parties that determined the fate and well being of all Americans. Transparency shines the light of disclosure and assessment on things vitally in need of clarity. Mature adults shine a light on themselves to conduct sober assessments and initiate corrective actions to grow and become more perfect.

The Apostle Paul reminds us not to be anxious in anything. It is an unfortunate circumstance that we don’t embrace this teaching. We have allowed fear to move into our neighborhoods and it has fully expropriated the fine residents of our communities. Fear has commandeered our country and bent it to its ugly will. Fear forces us to react to challenges with anger to engage in an endless vendetta that imprisons and tortures our spirit. It has separated us from one another with suspicion and denigrates our sacred relationship with the natural world.

We have allowed fear to become the omnipresent existential condition of our soul. It has fully eradicated the holy spirit from its rightful place as the unifying force that brings us all together in the human family. Fear is a pernicious millstone that grinds away our earthly home. Fear can be eradicated with courage reason, tolerance and faith. Certainly worthy vehicles to consider for an exodus from the ghetto of fear.

You Tube Video: War, The World Is A Ghetto

You Tube Video: Elvis Presley, In The Ghetto

January 26, 2009 Posted by | Bible, culture, democracy, faith, jazz, life, religion, terrorism, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No Man is an Island

Banksy

As I witness this mornings bombings of Gaza I cannot help but think of John Donne’s Meditation XVII. The Palestinian-Israeli war is an intractable conflict whose seemingly ceaseless nature confounds understanding almost to the degree of our revulsion for the blood lust of the combatants. This conflict is not confined to the walled in inhabitants of Gaza. The victims and complicit accomplices of this conflict is all humanity. As in Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia et al, this is happening on all of our watches. We can pretend we don’t see, politically justify it or roundly weep in the condemnation of our failure as humans to cease and desist our endless propensity and voracious appetite for genocide.

The bombing of Gaza must stop.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…

This war diminishes us all. It is slowing killing our respect for life and our common shared humanity. It is hardening our hearts and threatens to make us less human and less divine. As a Christian I believe that these conflicts denigrate the Holy Spirit. Threatening to reduce it to a ghostly apparition of stale dogma. The Holy Spirit envelops everyone as one. An injury or assault on anyone wounds us all. The slaughter of innocents must stop.

Why do we respond with abhorrence and not positive action? Don’t we hear the call to our humanity. Everyday we bemoan the state of human kind and the diminishing respect and love we show for one another. Donne’s meditation also speaks of the opportunity borne from our shared human afflictions and wounds. Our infirmities help us to understand the sickness that we see in others. It makes us excellent physicians to diagnose our shared illnesses and proscribe the appropriate medicine to heal our common malady. Eye for an eye justice blinds everyone.

Words fail to express our shared grief and despair as we witness combatants extract blood from one another. We pray for an end to hostilities in Gaza. We pray that the passion for war will dissipate and a reverence for life grows. We pray that combatants will lay down their arms and find a way to peace.

Perchance he for whom this bell tolls, may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me…may have caused it to toll for me…and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne, Meditation XVII

Selah

You Tube Video: John Lee Hooker, Carlos Santana: The Healer

Risk: war, psychology

December 30, 2008 Posted by | Gaza, Palestine, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

FAS 157: Allegory of the Cave

In Plato’s magnum opus, The Republic, he devotes a chapter to Socrates’ discourse with his young student Glaucon. Socrates uses an allegory to explain the difference between truth and appearances. The Allegory of the Cave has remained a powerful philosophical metaphor and cornerstone of metaphysics. It outlines how the human perception of reality can be at odds with and diverge widely from what actually is true and good.

The cave is a controlled environment where humans are held captive. The only light they are allowed to see is from a dimly lit fire that casts shadows of images on a far wall. Enclosed in darkness save the faint projections, their inability to see the source or understand how those images appear to their senses gives them the perception that the shadows of things that they see are in fact the real things themselves. It’s not until the cave’s captives are brought out into the light of day that they are able to see that the shadows are only a poor reflection of a manipulated truth.

Socrates’ lesson to young Glaucon, whose name is very close to glaucoma, serves as a proper metaphor to understand the debate concerning FAS 157 and the concept of Fair Value.  For the uninitiated, the issue of Fair Value under FAS 157 addresses how to determine the “value” of securities held in investment portfolios. FAS 157 provide guidelines for three categories of valuation methodologies. Large banks and brokerage firms are increasing the reclassification of their assets using Level 3 methods. The valuation and projected cash flows from assets such as CMOs, CDOs, CLO, and Credit Default Swaps are being derived by sophisticated computer models developed by each firms in-house risk management group. Many of these risk models failed to perceive and detect the melt down in the credit markets that so far has led to $100 billion in balance sheet write downs for the large investment and money center banks. Socrates allegory is similar to the models developed by bank risk managers. These “black box proprietary applications” shines light on the Level 3 assets to determine an approximation of market value. It’s a self created reality of a risk manager’s perception of an assets value.

So what.

Esoteric stuff to be sure but the debate concerning this issue is most relevant to understanding how the current credit crisis evolved, how banks, brokerage firms and hedge funds value and trade securities, how risk mangers make informed decisions concerning risk tolerance and how industry and governmental regulators determine weather a bank is sufficiently capitalized to remain solvent.

The political fallout from the Bear Stearns shotgun wedding is yet to be played out. Main Street wants some relief for mortgage defaults and Wall Street feels that the Fed reacted too quickly and is resisting additional regulation and market intervention into the workings of the capital markets.

Pervasive credit and macroeconomic risks are still present in the global capital and debt markets. Mortgages, municipal finance and commercial paper markets were the first wave of credit market dislocations. Credit card receivables, student loans and other securitized asset classes may pose some acute challenges for our central bankers, accountants, regulators and risk managers in the not to distant future.

Once we emerge from our caves Socrates’ quote to young Glaucon become most prescient. Said Socrates, “And if they were in the habit of conferring honors among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honors and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer, Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?”

Thank you Socrates. I waited 30 years to use this knowledge that Dr. Choi excitedly taught me in Introduction to Western Philosophy as a freshman at William Paterson College in 1974. Now that we have experienced the light may we never have to slip into darkness again?

Music Video: War, Slippin Into Darkness

Risk: credit, regulatory, accounting, banking, market, risk management

May 18, 2008 Posted by | banking, credit crisis, FASB, hedge funds, jazz, movie, philosophy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment