Tuesday, December 22, 2015

No More Illusions

Change continues to accelerate. If human agency isn’t soon re-imposed on human consequences we stand to exterminate ourselves, if we haven’t already, the consequences are so delayed and the science so new we don’t yet really know. Enlightenment cultural prejudices for materialism, humanism and a Christian conception of progress have all played out to a point where each puts the others at peril. Something happened some five centuries ago in the Western mind, now manifesting the globe over that, if it fails to manifest positively in our genes soon, will likely end us. As a species we are in a state of population overshoot who’s deleterious affects surround us. The deluded souls at the self-styled Climate Summit just concluded in Paris congratulate themselves on progress, in the absence of evidence anything in particular has in fact been done. In actuality, carbon release into the atmosphere continues to accelerate with exponentially growing future consequences unchecked. Even as we charge our atmosphere with solar heat, degrade our topsoil with fossil nitrogen and design ever more energy intensive military implements of self extermination, our chemical detritus, despite its marginality to our collective consciousness, acidifies our oceans and deforms the endocrine systems of every living animal on earth. If you buy the notion of "punctuated equilibrium" in evolutionary theory, it appears to be our only hope.

Like almost all of earth’s life, we live off the energy of the sun. While there are other beasts to have evolved technologies (hives, nests, webs etc.), we are alone in owing our nature and cognitive capacity to a technology with which we co evolved: the marshaling of fire transformed the solar harvest we consumed, concentrating it enough to power our disproportionately large brains even as they grew. Our minds grew in parallel to our perfecting of this refinement of the very energy of life it self, human cognition is energy intensive. We have transitioned as a species just recently through a second great technological evolution for harnessing external power, but unlike the first, our planet cannot absorb our activities in an ecological band suitable for our own survival without our active self-management. Over the hundred thousand years since our first unselfconscious energy-concentrating breakthrough, our external ecology became increasingly stable even as our population grew. In the relative heartbeat of the last two centuries, the fossil fuels era has disrupted that ecology so dramatically that an evolution in our consciousness will be the only thing that can save us. A constitutional self consciousness is now all that can save our ecology: we must categorically change our behavior and do it consciously. If this change fails to mark our genes, we’re unlikely to make it.

It is a harsh reality we face, one of our own making, however unintentionally or well intentional along the way. At the apex of the food chain, the cleverest predator on the planet has as yet proven unable resist devouring its own future. While we’ve always been just another beast, our communal nature has repeatedly aggregated us into increasingly large societies, both horizontally and vertically integrated. Tribe, city, state, nation, empire, the forms have recurred like the bubbles forming of themselves at the bottom of a boiling pot, tracing their trajectories through the roiling soup of history until, expanding as they rise, the imperial bubbles eventually burst when they reach boundary membrane of population pressure where the energy in the froth discharges into the void. Of late these cultural bubbles, superheated with fossil energy are not just poisoning the soup, but also irreparably changing its chemistry. We are poisoning the land, air and water and charging each with man made artifacts that tangle with the chemistry of life itself. If we fail in the near future to take responsibility for these changes we are delivering, it is we who will be driven into extinction along with most of the species we know and love most.

The consequences are already in play, just not generally recognized as such. Those paying attention will have noticed the last several fire seasons have been exceptionally bad. Not just here, where California had the worst fire season ever this year, following the worst prior last year, but around the world. Exceptional weather with record wind, rain and heat is being recorded everywhere. Reported as isolated events, no one wants to make the connections. There have been courageous realists trying to communicate with us the consequences of our actions now for two generations, but they remain isolated and professionally pilloried by a class of their peers more susceptible to the appeals of power than those of truth. In this instance power has taken the form of money, offering these men of science career opportunities not available for truth seekers. Nature’s sense of irony has bequeathed us a world where the accelerated melting of the arctic and Greenland ice sheets has created an abnormally temperate temporary micro-climate in the North Atlantic which happens to provide the communicative infrastructure of the worlds current money power an unusually pleasant climate dramatically at odds with that of the remainder of the world. Nature chuckles as it asks us, "can you save yourselves?"

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What Is Wealth?

Wealth is what makes us well in the world. It is the existential necessities of food and shelter followed closely by community. We are social animals and life means little without the sharing we do with family, friends and society. Even less without food and shelter. In the urban world most of us now inhabit these existential necessities are entirely or largely mediated by money: we live in a market society where the means of subsistence are accessed only indirectly, through a complex and stratified division of labor bequeathed by industrialization. Even our private lives have become monetized with our parents in assisted living and our children in day care. Ever more of our existence is mediated by the division of labor and channeled through markets by the psychological pull of money.

Money looks like wealth because we can exchange it for necessities as well as luxuries. That money makes no distinction between the two highlights its amorality. Money is morally neutral, real wealth is not. In fact, I'll argue here that real wealth is necessarily moral as it is what makes life good, it provides moral value. Money is a tool that like all others lacks moral agency: it is neither good nor bad on its own and achieves what moral meaning it can only through the agency of the people that use it. Real wealth is existential goods that propagate our genes into the future. Wealth is what is necessary for the long term prosperity both of ourselves individually, and our species. Where it fails on either count, it is not real wealth, at best it is extraction which can parade as wealth only to the extent it escapes scrutiny while it wastes what is real beyond view.

Most economic activity is purely extractive and cannot earn the moral appellation, wealth. This activity and its product is none the less commonly considered wealth despite its destruction of individual and species wide futures through its waste of what is real, living and valuable. This destructiveness usually happens beyond the immediate environment where money falsely parades as wealth. How and why is this self destructive delusion sustained? And how does money maintain the penumbra of wealth's positive association despite its destructive effects?

This is tied up in the illusory value of money where we let it stand in metaphorically for wealth. It is an artifact of our fast, heuristic thinking eliding the complex meanings of the systems we have built, stretching them over emotional templates evolved for an environment these systems have replaced. We elide our existential dependence on life, the ecology from which we actually feed, and seize the abstraction at hand, money that delivers it to our table. To understand how and why this happens wherever civilization obtains lets look at the usage of the word "wealth".

From Merriam-Webster on line:

WEALTH, noun \'welth also 'weltth\:
  1. a large amount of money and possessions
  2. the value of all the property, possessions, and money that someone or something has
  3. a large amount or number
Full Definition of wealth:
  1. obsolete: Weal, Welfare
  2. abundance of valuable material possessions or resources
  3. abundant supply: profusion 
  4. a.  all property that has a money value or an exchange value, b. all material objects that have economic utility; especially: the stock of useful goods having economic value in existence at any one time
Lets flesh these out:

  1. a large amount of money and possessions: This is the practical day to day usage to which civilization puts the word. A large amount of money or possessions is what we think of when we hear the word and underlying questions of what value is and why don't enter out thoughts. As supported by the institutions of a money issuing central bank, courts and their executive agencies, governance and the resulting markets that call forth what goods and services we need as we need them, this definition is a good short hand for those who have wealth and deploy it into civilizations infrastructures. 
  2. the value of all the property, possessions, and money that someone or something has: Is our next most common usage, essentially a summary of an individuals or institution's endowment of 1. above.
  3. a large amount or number: Having taken the implicit value of the two definitions above at their face, a large quantity of anything is by virtue of its number alone, "wealth".
Full Definition of wealth:
  1. obsolete: Weal, Welfare: Now things get interesting. Again from Merriam-Webster, weal is a sound, healthy or prosperous state: well-being. Quite different this, nothing about money at all. Further, as a second meaning, now doubly obsolete: body politic, commonweal. Then, welfare, the state of doing well especially in respect to good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity. 
  2. abundance of valuable material possessions or resources: in the above context, this would be shelter and food, of the healthy, sustainable variety. This is the very essence of real wealth, where an individual can command it in security or where for collective security it is commanded by a society, an amalgam of our fellow beasts for which we are obviously socially evolved despite our selfish predilections otherwise.
  3. abundant supply: profusion: This abundant supply or profusion becomes a commutative part of the word usage, porting the idea elsewhere as metaphor.
  4. a.  all property that has a money value or an exchange value, b. all material objects that have economic utility; especially: the stock of useful goods having economic value in existence at any one time wealth: And finally we collapse back into our habitual, civilized usage: money and other "values" as measured by money. 
Our caloric weal is the most useful entry point into understanding what real wealth is. We all need around 2,000 calories a day of food. Within that, there needs to be a particular distribution of nutrients. The calories alone aren't enough, it is the balance of nutrients that make a diet healthy, which is, from

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Money Power

Shortly after I began this blog the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) dramatically changed and narrowed my focus. My early posts were about the incipient shifts in geopolitics that were surfacing in the superficially unipolar world the collapse of the Soviet system had bequeathed us. Systems as expressed in geopolitics and the tectonics of socio-political infrastructures had always been my framework for trying to sort out world events, but the GFC underscored the power of a particular system. It may be the deepest extant system and is itself coterminous with civilization: it is money. I've devoted a series of posts to what money is and a few more to how it works. And I've quoted Mayer Amschel Bauer Rothschild, whether apocryphally or not I don't really care: "permit me to issue and control the money of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws" because it captures the megalomania of those charmed by the devils legerdemain with the invisible, insidious, enervating and up to the point of physical violence, omnipotent power of money.

These posts again and again I fear have failed to impress people with the dangerousness of money power to anywhere near the degree they should distrust it. The weaponization of finance as deployed by the US in the "Global War On Terror" (GWOT), first against the failing states where Al Qaeda festered, then against Iran and Venezuela and now against Russia, has evolved since 2001 into a bold and entirely unselfconscious financial imperialism that struts and pontificates a hollow morality in the absence of similarly lethal opposing alternatives, alternatives it systematically undermines wherever it divines their bloom. Is it any wonder the Pope himself has weighed in against it? While the Bretton Woods system which underpinned the prosperity both here  and abroad in the years 1946 to 1971 was subtlety transformed with Nixons shift to fiat money, the politics of the system retained it's New Deal ethos until the Supreme Court threw the 2000 election and Imperialism finally came home to roost. The decomposing residue of prestige earned with the post war global roll out of the New Deal, an effort sustained mostly in resistance to the totalitarian perversion Stalin imposed on juvenile communism in Russia, is now sloughing off, revealing the reptile skin of the anti-humanist leviathan Western Capitalism has become.

Without the Soviet sustenance of its better angles this system has proven incapable of containing the psychotic avarice of those who lust for power through money. Let's take this moment to build a new mythology from the tragedy Greece has become. Through this clear manifestation of the money psychosis, where the lethal power of money is on full display, let the liquidated cradle of democracy stand as a parable on the evils of money power: the democratically elected government of a supposedly sovereign European nation, which nation first practiced representative government, has been publicly, deliberately and humiliatingly enslaved by a claque of unelected bankers subject to an assortment of socio-pathologies that assuage their consciences for what may turn out to be genocidal acts: at a minimum they are political acts, which to achieve results, casually threaten a Greek genocide. This is precisely the banal evil of which Hanna Arendt warned: collective rectitude in adherence to an ideology physically and temporally removed from its deadly consequences leaving those consequences conveniently and willfully ignored.

By denying liquidity to a modern industrial society, these bankers have threatened that population with extermination by starvation and in so

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Not Yet Checkmate, But Close, Links

What's happening in Greece makes Crassus look dignified. Moderate citizens assuming they live in a European Civilization have now been disabused. A situation so fluid now exists that no one can say how it will resolve, but the bad faith with regard to representative government in the Euro zone is now on open display. Neither the electorates of Greece nor Europe, nor the emperor have had their final say, but that Finland can block a deal or that NATO can force one both belie all democratic pretenses.

It is not to late for Europe to save itself, but the precipice is near. If Eurocrats continue to terrorize the victims of corruption rather than the perpetrators, as they have done now in Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Greece while threatening the Italians and French, men with guns will take from them such power as they have. At present it is the comparatively benign guns of NATO insisting on a civilizational deal, but should this fail more radical alternatives are preparing themselves in the wings.

The Eurocrats seem quite happy with the men with guns they've supported and who support them in Finland, Spain and Latvia, but at some point men with guns will not brook bureaucratic power and will turn. And this will complete the cycle. What Latvia, Lithuania, Greece, Spain and Portugal all have in common is their recent military dictatorships. While this governmental structure has formally expired in each instance, it's residue of power constitutionally unscripted lives on and is what we like to call "corruption" when it is not found in our allies. Tariq Ali summarizes below.

Athens Dairy: Tariq Ali: LRB
Plus Ca Change: Neil Clark: RT

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Greek Lives Don't Mater: Ed Walker: EmptyWheel
Setting Them Up For Slaughter: Raul Ilargi: The Automatic Earth
Neo-Liberal Seas: Ian Urbina: New York Times
It's Not Just Fox News: Thomas Frank: Salon
Fixing Money: Adrian Kuzminski: ClubOrolov

Money is an IOU from civilization. Those who would prefer gold would prefer that they owe nothing to the civilization that feeds them and wish they could extract the richness that is civilization and carry pieces of it away for themselves.

In their folly they cannot see that any piece they pull free and abscond with is worthless once absented from civilization.

Gold, art, real estate, and any financial assets are worthless without the dense network of human bonds that give them what value they have within consensual networks of exchange, only within the constraints of civilization does this so called wealth bear fruit.

War, an acute absence of civilization, is the perennial reminder that it is civilization that lends value to wealth, not the other way around, need we be reminded?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Thomas Friedman

A friend, in discussion of the proposed TPP, referred me to this column by Thomas Friedman, what follows is my response.

This is more or less where I stand on trade, that it's good in theory but only marginal in importance as compared to maintaining full employment, which we haven't. The most salient feature of the proposed treaty about which Thomas Friedman (TF) is opining is its secrecy: no one really knows what is in it except for the corporate lawyers who wrote each of its thousands of clauses, but none of them really have an umbrella understanding of the whole. I support fair trade, which is different from free in that "free" has so many meanings as to be an empty signifier: if TPP were fair what would be the point of its secrecy? That it is secrete states a clearly as one could hope that its contents would be disagreeable to someone. That someone would not be who wrote it. Who do you suppose might not like it if they could see it?

So before tackling Friedman's column I suppose I have to clarify where I'm coming from and the interpretive schema I use to evaluate a column like this. It is to my eyes is an almost infinite Russian doll of nested assumptions. Then I want to look at what case can be made for the current TPP proposal.

Only then will I return to TF and his rhetoric.

Part 1

Morality is what we owe one another directly in our face to face relations, ethics is what we owe one another through the operation of our systems, through our social, economic and political interfaces. Such interfaces, beginning with language and mathematics, are man made artifacts I'll be referring to by their ironic quality as infrastructures. These infrastructures are systems that to the extent they work appear to be natural, like the air we breathe. Words or numbers just seem to be there, the irony is that although they are our inventions, they change our underlying realities so extremely as to defamiliarize us instinctively with our resulting environment.

Even as we make them, they re-make us: as electricity, telephony, highways and aqueducts have made our cities an environment alien from the savannas on which we evolved, language and math have made our social spaces even more remote from that of our evolutionary progenitors. Language is a symbolic system that lets us say anything, math is an alternative system where everything reduces to zero. Money, which will be central to my argument, aggregates the two into a confounding system that scrambles our ethics and morals. Our

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hacking The President

Today's stories in the Times and Guardian about hackers, supposedly Russian, who were able to access the President's emails, among other things, and penetrate fairly deeply into State Department computers fastidiously miss the central point of both the hacks and the public disclosures of them. The President and the State Department are secondary and only loosely defended. Real power now lies elsewhere and the importance of legacy institutions like the Presidency or State Department are found in the domestic theater of "legitimacy". The real power centers, wherever they are, are secure, or are they?  At least they think they are, whatever and wherever they are. These stories "surface" to use what residual legitimacy the Presidency and State Departments have to validate the powers of new and secret institutions who thus advertise their necessity with their own failures.

I don't pretend to know where real power now lies in our erstwhile system of representative government, but I speculate that it is diffuse, increasingly distributed and more and more transparently at cross purposes. In my last long post, I made reference in the third section to Philip Bobbitt's conception of the "Market State". The Market State is in his schema the organic successor to the decaying Welfare State and a fair representation of what our system appears to think it is trying to become. With the Citizen's United ruling, this system inverted the interpretive armature for US jurisprudence to codify a new representative constituency for who's benefit the cannon of US law would need to be re-interpreted. Rights newly extended to business entities who's executives have access to enormous cash flows combine with the market codification of politics since the 70s to usher in a governmental structure where citizen's legacy voting rights are legally circumscribed to choices explicitly funded by the individuals at the helm of these newly enfranchised corporate entities giving those individuals at the helm uniquely large and unconstrained power.

We witness now, in the US, a sub surface scrum amongst the elite to lock down or improve existing advantages and subsidies. Real tensions are building between business sectors with conflicting interests, but thus far the focus has been on extending market protections these incumbents enjoy into the satraps of our empire. The obvious current manifestation is our President's parsimony with the truth in trying to sell the TPP. But this obvious, headline fact combines uncomfortably with the adjacent front page fact that he's been hacked. This presents two possibilities, both of which may be to some extent true: first is that the real center of power is so little concerned with the Presidents efficacy and influence as to leave him unguarded; the second is that hubris is so high within the Surveillance State that our cyber spooks have lost a step to Russia's, or perhaps someone else's.

Again in that last long post I speculated about a corporation that succeeded in offering to its staff all that a state can offer. To engender a similar "patriotism" needing, in order to secure it's continued access to the physical resources that allowed it to make such an offer, ultimately to physically embody itself on a territory, becoming by that act, in fact a State. With my second proposition above, I believe what we are seeing is precisely this kind of move on the part of Vladimir Putin's government which had been content to manage the Russian people's needs to the interests of its home grown oligarchs until it became clear on the Maidan last year that the Western Empire was insisting on their fealty to it.

Having experienced directly the commodification of all that's valuable in life with the Shock Doctrine era of Yeltsin, the Russian people have been happy to have a slightly more nationalistic oligarchy looking to butter its own bread. But the weaponization of finance, indeed money itself through SWIFT, has, along with our activity in Ukraine and eastern Europe, focused the Russian President's mind: he is Chairman of the Board of the greater Russian oligarchy, why not consolidate the corporate state into that company that can command patriotism up to the willingness to fight and die, why not restore nationalist Russia? While the oligarchs, like our own over here, have been content to accommodate themselves to the dictates of the American imperial system, the Russian state has now formally refused to do so.

I have no romantic notions about the architect of Grozny's ruin in the Kremlin, in fact in devastation he executed with dispatch there what we've blundered through these last ten years in Baghdad and Tripoli, but precisely that clarity with regard to his own interests suggests he is more likely to strengthen the social capital that is the comparative advantage of every civilization to strengthen his own position in both it and the world. Our "richer take all" version, driven as it is by a semi-religious faith in markets, can not as yet see that the plunder by which the rich grow richer is not a national virtue. Putin's Russia struggles with capital flight where it's plutocracy tries to expatriate its loot into the broader pool of loot that is increasingly all that remains of our western social capital while we lure it here, building it palaces in the sky.

But a nationalist Russia concerned with power will sooner provide for the fitness of its people, their health and well being, than will our delusional Market State where every etiology leads to money alone where people without it are seen as nothing more than costs. In extremis patriots will not require money to fight, the Market States mercenaries always will. So while it appears that Vladimir Putin is turning Russia Inc. back into Russia proper, Barack Obama has been reduced to corporate figurehead for USA Inc., a global corporation run by a board made up of its financial/military industrial complex and operated for only their benefit. But the Market State vision of benefit as money and money alone is, by monetizing all value, destroying the civilizational infrastructure that underpins it. Only by seeing people rather than money as the purpose of society can a civilization stand. Money will not buy the loyalty that only real community can, and without that even Presidents will be hacked.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Euro Foie Gras

From Wikipedia: "Foie gras (Listeni/ˌfwɑːˈɡrɑː/French for "fat liver") is a food product made of the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened. By French law,[1] foie gras is defined as the liver of a duck or goose fattened byforce-feeding corn with a feeding tube, a process also known as gavage. In Spain[2] and other countries outside of France it is occasionally produced using natural feeding.[3] Ducks are force-fed twice a day for 12.5 days and geese three times a day for around 17 days. Ducks are typically slaughtered at 100 days and geese at 112 days.[4]"

The contract of adhesion the "Institutions" of the Eurozone are in process of imposing on Greece is nothing less than financial gavage: fiat money conjured by the totalitarian theocracy ECB is force fed to a nominally sovereign state to engorge its liver into the only delicacy in the body of state suitable for consumption by the Eurozone Finance Ministers and like minded "Institutions." The remainder of the carcass will be butchered and sold at market.

The treasury in combination with a central bank is the motivational power center of a sovereign state. It is the place where the decisions of state get boiled down to the pure nutrient of money deployed to the larger body to energize its actions. I have above referred to Greece's treasury as its "liver", the place where nutrient is separated from waste, the one fed on to the body and the other excreted. But to do that I've italicized nominally with regard to sovereign. The States of the Eurozone, while they have treasuries, have abdicated the central bank function to the theocracy in Brussels, making them something less than sovereign: as Mayer Amschel Bauer Rothshild said in 1791, "Allow me to issue and control a nation's currency and I care not who makes its laws."

Beyond this, the nations suffering from the tender gavage of the ECB have another important thing in common. Nominally sovereign and democratic since independence in 1916, Ireland has never shaken the economic yolk of its historical antagonist across the  Struth na Moile. This lack of real control of its economic fate is what joins Ireland with our other three subjects where this reality is a good deal more obvious. Greece, Portugal and Spain were all well within living memory military dictatorships. Military dictatorships quite like hierarchy and serve to preserve a particular elite, an oligarchy, at the expense of the larger societies they actually, not literally, command. In shaking free of this overtly exploitative governmental form, our three remaining subjects all agreed to nominal republican, that is to say loosely, democratic forms of government: they are representative governments until such point as legislation might impinge on the conserved privilege of that elite, at which point power vanishes.

In a healthy State, the "liver" distills political direction from an elected executive. With money as both incentive and constraint, it distributes the peoples' money, for that and nothing else is what fiat money is, both taxing and spending to motivate or inhibit human action along the vectors expressed in executive decision and authorized by an elected body representative of the citizenry. Taxation is the tool by which the healthy liver drains away toxins in the system and spending is the way it promotes health. Our variously corrupted nominal sovereigns have all experienced a marked inability to collect taxes from their old oligarchy allowing a toxic build up. This inevitably increases the malign power of that oligarchy over time. What Syriza ran into at the start of this week was the concerted efforts of the combined oligarchies to maintain their toxic, protected position. Should Greece be allowed to reform, to actually tax its oligarchs, why, no oligarchy anywhere could possibly be safe. The blunt terms imposed on Athens could not make more clear that the force feeding must continue until the goose is ready to slaughter, and slaughter it will be because there is manifestly no way this goose can survive.

The body is to be "privatized" sold off more or less at auction. The liver, however, suspended hydroponically, will continue to be force fed Euros because the delicate stomachs of Northern Europe's banks can't digest anything else. The only food they can still metabolize is the false fat of bailout cash tube fed through the livers of bankrupt and dying nations. Only Euro Foie Gras can sustain the monumental and lethal gluttony of the oligarchy that has seized Rothshild's money power in Europe. If you pull the gavage tubes from these geese, the only way to preserve the oligarchy will be to stuff it with Euros directly from the ECB which would reveal once and for all that fiat is conjured from the trust of society, and that banks no longer actually do anything to deserve it, the trust or the money. Syriza? Podemos? Front National? Who? Someone, somewhere soon must pull the feeding tubes from the ECB's geese and let Western Finance finally purge itself of the NeoLiberal lard that has bloated its body these last thirty five years.