Thought Provoking

Mariner and his wife consider The Atlantic the premier magazine in print today. The Atlantic provides thoughtful, rational and valuable articles that cover society from one end to the other. Below, mariner presents the opening portion of an article by Eli Cook that tells about how in the 1700’s we measured people not by their worth in dollars but rather by other qualities.

The article starts here:

Money and markets have been around for thousands of years. Yet as central as currency has been to so many civilizations, people in societies as different as ancient Greece, imperial China, medieval Europe, and colonial America did not measure residents’ well-being in terms of monetary earnings or economic output.

In the mid-19th century, the United States—and to a lesser extent other industrializing nations such as England and Germany—departed from this historical pattern. It was then that American businesspeople and policymakers started to measure progress in dollar amounts, tabulating social welfare based on people’s capacity to generate income. This fundamental shift, in time, transformed the way Americans appraised not only investments and businesses but also their communities, their environment, and even themselves.

Today, well-being may seem hard to quantify in a nonmonetary way, but indeed other metrics—from incarceration rates to life expectancy—have held sway in the course of the country’s history. The turn away from these statistics, and toward financial ones, means that rather than considering how economic developments could meet Americans’ needs, the default stance—in policy, business, and everyday life—is to assess whether individuals are meeting the exigencies of the economy.

At the turn of the 19th century, it did not appear that financial metrics were going to define Americans’ concept of progress. In 1791, then-Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton wrote to various Americans across the country, asking them to calculate the moneymaking capacities of their farms, workshops, and families so that he could use that data to create economic indicators for his famous Report on Manufactures. Hamilton was greatly disappointed by the paltry responses he received and had to give up on adding price statistics to his report. Apparently, most Americans in the early republic did not see, count, or put a price on the world as he did.

Until the 1850s, in fact, by far the most popular and dominant form of social measurement in 19th-century America (as in Europe) were a collection of

social indicators known then as “moral statistics,” which quantified such phenomena as prostitution, incarceration, literacy, crime, education, insanity, pauperism, life expectancy, and disease. While these moral statistics were laden with paternalism, they nevertheless focused squarely on the physical, social, spiritual, and mental condition of the American people. For better or for worse, they placed human beings at the center of their calculating vision. Their unit of measure was bodies and minds, never dollars and cents.

Yet around the middle of the century, money-based economic indicators began to gain prominence, eventually supplanting moral statistics as the leading benchmarks of American prosperity. . .

. . . What happened in the mid-19th century that led to this historically unprecedented pricing of progress? The short answer is straightforward enough: Capitalism happened. In the first few decades of the Republic, the United States developed into a commercial society, but not yet a fully capitalist one. One of the main elements that distinguishes capitalism from other forms of social and cultural organization is not just the existence of markets but also of capitalized investment, the act through which basic elements of society and life—including natural resources, technological discoveries, works of art, urban spaces, educational institutions, human beings, and nations—are transformed (or “capitalized”) into income-generating assets that are valued and allocated in accordance with their capacity to make money and yield future returns. Save for a smattering of government-issued bonds and insurance companies, such a capitalization of everyday life was mostly absent until the mid-19th century. There existed few assets in early America through which one could invest wealth and earn an annual return.

By the Progressive Era, the logic of money could be found everywhere.

Capitalization, then, was crucial to the rise of economic indicators. As upper-class Americans in both the North and South began to plow their wealth into novel financial assets, they began to imagine not only their portfolio but their entire society as a capitalized investment and its inhabitants (free or enslaved) as inputs of human capital that could be plugged into output-maximizing equations of monetized growth. . .[1]

Stop article.

Mariner finds it almost inconceivable that commerce was once valued by how much it helped common man. Yet this concept existed at the beginning of our nation. Is this the concept that must return in order to balance fairness and human dignity in the future? Is that even possible? It is the nature of capitalism that more money and investment make more money – and limits human dignity to nothing more than a source to make profit for someone else. Common man may not be chattel slaves but it sure sounds the same. Are common people slaves to capitalism as an investment? In 1860, the nation fought a war about this notion. Mariner always thought the movie Matrix[2] was an allegorical representation of capitalism; humans are born and placed in a casket for life to be used as batteries. An artificial reality is fed into their brains so they think they are living a normal life. Don’t let this image frighten you; thanks to television, computers, the Internet and Amazon.com, it is how we live now.

In a related article from The Atlantic,[3] economic trust becomes a measure of benefit to the common man. Intellectually, ‘trust’ could include other values to the common man as well; not the same thing as pre-capitalist commerce but at least a distraction from capitalism.

Ancient Mariner

 

[1] How Money Became the Measure of Everything: Two centuries ago, America pioneered a way of thinking that puts human well-being in economic terms. The Atlantic, Eli Cook Oct 19, 2017. See:

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/10/money-measure-everything-pricing-progress/543345/?utm_source=nl-atlantic-daily-101917&silverid=MzEzNjI5ODkxNjczS0

 

[2] Released in 1999 with sequels; available online.

[3] Reimagining Money: What if markets were designed to build trust instead of wealth? See:

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/03/douglas-rushkoff-reimagining-money/472335/

 

The Basic Donald

If one believes in an Old Testament God, one would join Job on his pile of dung and lament the incursion of Donald at such a critical moment in global history. Change in culture is painful enough. Why, God, have you visited this plague upon us?

Fortunately, the Wizard of Oz facade is wearing away rapidly in recent weeks. Voters who are capable of comparative thinking have begun to see that a terrible situation is at hand. Truly, the United States and the global community are witnessing a bull in a china shop. We have learned the following about Donald:

  • He is narcissistic. Donald is incapable of sympathy and empathy. This condition greatly diminishes both his judgment and his decisions; Donald can only be King. A White House informer said the most irritating event of all in recent days was the appearance of Rex Tillerson’s face on television instead of Donald’s.
  • Donald’s motivations are simplistic and unaffected by the reaction of others. A blatant example is his desire to eliminate Barack Obama from the history books. Beginning with the birther attack and continuing immediately upon becoming President, it is obvious that Barack is his nemesis. Donald desires only to purge Obama’s policies and submit unreasoned Executive Decisions but does not have the ability to supersede Obama policy with newer policy; that would require an awareness of other people’s needs, that is, political motivation. Donald is not political – he is King.
  • The only interpersonal skill available to Donald is character assassination. Think back… Has Donald ever defended a policy in all his pontifications? No. He can only attack character, not substance. His latest example is tweeting that “Liddle Bob Corker was set up by the New York Times…”
  • Being King, Donald can do no wrong. In every interaction – without fail, not even one exception – Donald responds to failure by placing the blame on someone else or another situation. The reason Donald must always have a scapegoat is it is the only situation where he can apply character assassination; for example, ‘Fake News’ and Congress. However much we may wish that Donald would consciously acknowledge personal failure, he never will. His ego cannot allow it.
  • Donald has no allegiance to anyone or anything. His narcissism does not understand loyalty to anyone but himself. Evidence is the ease with which he switches back and forth on his own comments and his broken promises to others – to say nothing of nuclear war if that is what it takes to win the match of character assassination with Kim Jung un.

In another time with a different Congress, Donald would be under impeachment proceedings by now. However, the current Congress needs the Trump base to survive elections in 2018. This Congress is one of the entities that feel the pressure of change in today’s world. Members have lived a life under Reagan economic policies that are brittle and dysfunctional today. Members are old. Members have served in an era of abundant wealth and kleptocracy. They hide behind Donald – a windbreak against the inevitable winds of change.

Ancient Mariner

Health Care – Captive of Capitalism

 

Mariner wrote a post recently that said the first thing to fix in health care is its costs. In the nineties, administrators and a new breed of eager MBAs decided to change how health care was billed. Instead of the old-fashioned idea of billing based on cost, health services henceforth will bill what the market will bear.

Mariner visited a health care person (doctor) who prescribed a medicine (pharmaceutical industry) that costs $10,000 each month. Health insurance companies don’t cover this medicine – even they recognize fraud when they see it. Mariner does not intend to accept a health care policy that says, for all intents and purposes, “Wait. Don’t die yet; let us take your assets first – then you can die.” Mariner has no intention of following this advice.

Nevertheless, Chicken Little is pacing about. The destructive President, GOP controlled Congress, state governments, and a conservative Supreme Court bode disregard for common class quality of life in the future. The primary advisors to Congress are the health insurance companies who desire only to maximize profits with no regard for social responsibility – after all, it’s a health service… Of course, all US governments are not interested in social responsibility either – only profit. Obama took the leash off Big Pharma in order to pass the Affordable Care Act; someone must catch them soon and put them back on the inadequate leash they had.

Health insurer CEOs made big bucks in 2016:

Michael Neidorff     $32,161,754

Centene Corp.

Bruce Broussard    $17,019,300

Humana

Mark Bertolini        $41,676,887

Aetna

Stephen Hemsley  $33,368,652

UnitedHealth Group

Joseph Swedish      $17,057,940

Anthem

David Cordani        $21,990,392

Cigna Corp.

Dr. J. Mario Molina  $3,816,395

Molina Healthcare

Kenneth Burdick      $4,687,059                             Source: U.S. Securities and

WellCare Health Plans                                            Exchange Commission documents

Ancient Mariner

Let’s Visit Economics

The intense distraction swirling around Donald masks economic reality. Mariner has gathered some insights from expert observers of the economy who pretty much are not swayed by the soap opera involving Donald and Congress, Donald and Russia, Donald’s cabinet secretaries, Donald’s White House staff, Donald’s racism, and Donald’s petty tweets.

To provide some parameters, what is important over the next ten years is growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – the dollar value of all US production. Also important is the 19 trillion dollar national debt – especially as it relates to growth in GDP. The third parameter is government income, that is, the tax structure and whether it is fair and sufficient.

Finally, as an indicator, the trade balance between nations is changing. We are accustomed to measuring plus and minus trade balances between each nation. For example, Donald cites trade balances between the US and Mexico or Canada or China. The future will be driven by global economics instead of national economics. This means that trade balances will be relative to global markets and how the trade balance is distributed among nations participating in a given global market. In principle, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between nine nations is an example of how trade agreements will be developed in a world of global markets; one of the key negotiations is how to distribute each nation’s role among other participating nations to assure a viable trade balance for each nation.

So we know the ways to measure US economic health going forward: Establish policies that encourage growth in US production, establish policies that constrain further indebtedness as a ratio to the growth of GDP, restructure taxes to underwrite the costs of future growth, and restructure US trade agreements to accommodate global participation.

What are the issues that interfere with the goals implied above?

The single largest block to improving GDP is the US demographic profile. Like Europe and Canada, the US population is aging rapidly. 60 percent of the workforce will be retired by 2030. Retirees do not contribute to GDP; rather, they become a drain on resources needed to grow GDP. The solution is an aggressive immigration policy. As long as our government pursues a nationalist policy of racial isolationism, we are cutting off our nose to spite our face.

Next in importance is something called monetary policy. Basically, this means we allow the Federal Reserve to control interest rates and the cost to banks for borrowing money. This practice protects the US economy from recessions but it also limits the amount of money available to encourage growth in GDP. If the US is to underwrite an improvement in infrastructure, Congress must set legislation in place to allow private industry to borrow against future growth. The political issue is on whom tax increases will be imposed to create the funds.

Associated with the tax issue is to find a way to increase profit margins in small businesses. The problem now is that large corporate entities want in on this deal. Hence the desire of the GOP to impose massive tax cuts to the most profitable sector of the US. Also associated is a need to close tax loopholes and offshore avoidance of taxes.

Easily addressed in this post, the politics of achieving economic goals is massive. The importance of the 2018 election cannot be overstated. Our antiquated Congress is not prepared for economic success.

Ancient Mariner

Heaven is Taking a Beating

Way back in time, before mariner was a grandfather, he worked for a living. He had an interesting job as a consultant who designed computer system upgrades for large corporations then developed the project parameters for accomplishing that upgrade.

It was a busy job that had a lot to do with stress, timelines and budgets. Consequently, for a number of years in January, mariner would take the family sailing in the Caribbean Sea – specifically up and down the Lesser Antilles. Mariner often has said that the Lesser Antilles is where Heaven touches the Earth.

But storms have taken a devastating toll on the northern group of islands, the Leeward Islands. Most of us know about major islands like the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands but there are many dozens of smaller islands that virtually are uninhabitable at this point. Populations on these small islands always have been fragile and originally consisted of Arawak and Carib Indians who migrated from South America. During the period 1990-2000, there was fascination and joy in sailing to various islands to discover differences in dialect, cuisine, and subtle, unsophisticated economies. The islanders mariner met then were survivors of centuries of brutal colonialism beginning with Columbus and the Spanish invasion in the early 1500’s. Even today, most islands are protectorates of many European nations and the United States.

Sadly, at least to mariner, a new age of colonialism has invaded the Antilles from Puerto Rico to Granada: tourism. Over the past twenty years wealthy folks have purchased whole islands, destroying the cultural uniqueness of those islands. Further and even more damaging to uniqueness, large tourism corporations like cruise ships and spas (one example is Sandals) buy up habitable portions of islands thereby completely wiping out Carib culture.

When mariner sailed the Lesser Antilles, there was a sense of experiencing a natural bond between nature and humanity. Though meager, the islands were balanced in the needs both of humans and the island ecology.

Mariner finds it painful to watch the cruise ship and spa advertisements on television. It is profane. It is an artificial and ecologically expensive reality that humans continually create. It is arrogance and disrespect.

The new rule is, whether technologically or economically, just because you can do it, you must do it.

It’s not mariner’s rule but he’s a grandfather now; He isn’t in the game anymore.

Ancient Mariner

Populism – a Grist Mill for Change

The United States is not the only nation suffering an interruption caused by populism. Remember Brexit? And Greece, France, Italy, and just about everyone in South America? Don’t forget Ukraine, thrown into civil war by nationalist intentions.

The mariner has been looking into the phenomenon of populism, drawing from several websites on the subject, respected magazines and journals, and a book or two, particularly David Goodheart, a Brit who has received notable accolades for his book, The Road to Somewhere – the populist Revolt and the Future of politics. One may also want to read Ivan Krastev’s Democracy Disrupted: The Global Politics of Protest.

Any reader who has studied history knows that politics, economics and status quo do not want change, e.g., fossil fuel; there is comfort in a well-rooted establishment that provides a modicum of security with some guarantee of regularity. It is inevitable that folks are pushed aside to sustain the status quo. Eventually, enough citizens are dissatisfied with the growing imbalance between the benefactors of the establishment and themselves that what results is an uprising, certainly rowdy and disrespectful in nature. In fact, conflicts have often become wars and on occasion restart the entire culture, noting Denmark’s citizen rebellion that tossed out capitalism and created a socialist state.

Americans are well aware of the populist movement in the United States. Accustomed to a two party political system, a progressive, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump, an advocate of change with no political experience, became the leaders of the populist movement. In the wake of the 2016 election which Donald won, the conservative populists have settled into a conservative group generally referred to as ‘the base.’

Nevertheless, many more citizens still with rebellion in their hearts remain a grumbling presence. Signs suggest there will be another storming of the Bastille in 2018.

Populist response to inequities is more common in democratic societies than in authoritative ones although authoritarian societies have more violent rebellions. The United States, known for its ‘experiment’ of self-governance and citizen freedom, has frequent populist uprisings. The first of significant note – aside from the Revolutionary War – was the Boston Tea Party. Every thirty or forty years since, populist uprisings have been the gearbox to keep governance in line. Within the experience of citizens alive today is the suffragette movement, the labor rebellion, the Great Depression, the Viet Nam war resistance, Civil Rights, and, in real time experience, the job rebellion happening today.

Populist uprisings have a singular purpose: disrupt the establishment. There is no other purpose. The present and future be damned; they are of no consequence. Logic and reason are irrelevant; populism is a battle between emotions and authority. Within a family, populism is a teenager’s rebellion against parental authority. Despite the belligerence, the crassness, the destructiveness, populism is good. It is good because it makes the establishment listen. Petty accommodation, persuasion and doubletalk will not suffice. New definitions of the social order must emerge.

The establishment will defend itself – especially in matters of money and elitism. This may go on for years; the common classes still are rebelling against monetary policies put in place in the 1980’s. Only now have a significant number of citizens felt enough is enough. Sharing wealth, having job security, feeling opportunity, and a sense of a better life ahead are disappearing at an alarming rate – all to sustain the establishment to the exclusion of the greater citizenry. The 2016 election was one of many breaking points; there are many more to come that will, sooner or later, tackle social issues, the definition of citizen rights and a settlement of economic policy in manners of governance; for example, the cost and process of campaigns and elections, minimum wage and redefinition of the term ‘job.’

Back to the populist phenomenon, it evolves from the liberal side of voters. Over decades the working class was the heart of the Democratic Party in the United States and of the Labour Party in Great Britain. In both countries, liberal party workers slowly evolved into successful groups still loyal to the liberal side but slowly became a minority to fellow party members who stayed at lower class labor jobs. It is this lower class of liberals that abandons the ‘elitist’ membership and in the midst of foment becomes populist. An example of this abandonment clearly was present in Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President; Hillary represented the Establishment – the enemy – to the disdain of her own party. The majority, still left of center, flocked to a fellow revolutionary, Bernie Sanders, and left the Democratic Party quite diminished. In a populist mood, many voted for the Republican anti-establishment candidate rather than support their party – the beginning of ‘the base.’

The conservative government clings to the awkward election of Donald Trump. He is their windbreak from populists but his inadequacies are weakening his hold and may serve to lay exposed the wealth-centric philosophy of the Republican Party as the 2018 election approaches.

In Great Britain, populist surge led to a defeat of British participation in the European Union. This is a glaring, visible setback to the strength of Great Britain as a nation. The same disaffection occurred in the US and similarly has damaged the status and leadership of the nation. It is not as visible as the cleaving of Britain from the EU but the US has lost leverage in several international arenas of immediate importance.

This time around, however, populism has become international. Virtually every democratic country around the world is suffering from the same dilemma: struggling economic systems that facilitate the centralization of wealth in a few at the cost of supporting the common citizen.

Donald Trump recognized, in a simple way, that trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA and TPP had something to do with job distribution but failed in recognizing that trade agreements are the vehicles through which populism may have a voice in international change and further, trade agreements are the conveyance that will define the global future, whatever it may be.

The future cannot change too much from what populism provokes today. The chasm between have and have not, skilled and unskilled, opportunity and oppressed, will remain and likely increase. Populism can only interfere; it cannot dictate. Especially in an international marketplace, populism will be fragmented. The best populism can do is draw our attention to the misbehavior of power. It is only the gristmill, not the wheat.

Ancient Mariner

Donald has been Busy

Today’s post is a copy of the Washington Post article about what Donald has undone. The press has under-reported this activity which is as damaging as the absence of legislative progress. It is recommended that the reader not skip through the list; each one has seriously damaging intent and reeks of special interests that intentionally expose risk to US citizens.

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President Trump has repeatedly argued that he’s done more than any other recent president. That’s not true, as measured by the amount of legislation he’s been able to sign. It is true, though, that Trump has undone a lot of things that were put into place by his predecessors, including President Barack Obama.

Since Jan. 20, Trump’s administration has enthusiastically and systematically undone or uprooted rules, policies and tools that predated his time in office. Below, a list of those changes, roughly organized by subject area.

The economy

Withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The trade deal would have established a trade partnership between the United States and countries on the Pacific Rim.

Revoked a rule that expanded the number of people who could earn overtime pay.

Reversal of a rule that would mandate that oil and gas companies report payments to foreign governments. The Securities and Exchange Commission will no longer receive this information.

Ended limits on the ability of states to drug test those seeking unemployment benefits.

Revoked an executive order that mandated compliance by contractors with laws protecting women in the workplace. Prior to the 2014 order, a report found that companies with federal contracts worth millions of dollars had scores of violations of labor and civil rights laws.

Repeal of a rule allowing states to create retirement savings plans for private-sector workers.

Cancelled a rule mandating that financial advisers act in the best interests of their clients.

Repeal of a bill that mandated that employers maintain records of workplace injuries.

Killed a rule mandating that government contractors disclose past violations of labor law.

The justice system

Rescinded an Obama effort to reduce mandatory sentences. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered that prosecutors seek the most stringent penalties possible in criminal cases.

Cancelled a phase-out of the use of private prisons.

Reversed a ban on civil forfeiture. Law enforcement officials are now once again able to seize assets from suspects who haven’t been convicted of any crime.

—-

When will he be gone?

Ancient Mariner

What hath God Wrought?

If you want to know what the special investigator, Robert Mueller, is investigating, the following article from New Yorker Magazine tells you where he is wandering. The powerful oil industry, long beyond the grasp of a nation’s legislators, is corrupt to the point that many smaller nations’ economies are sucked dry as if invaded by leeches.

Trump has been in the middle of the oil business with money laundering schemes (a criminal violation in US code) and bribery (also a criminal violation of US code) and in addition participates in a similar fashion using real estate to cover money laundering.

The Trump Administration Rolls Back Anti-Corruption Efforts in the Oil Industry

By Steve Coll August 10, 2017 – The New Yorker Magazine, Friday, August 11, 2017.

In Nigeria, one anti-corruption campaigner fears that if the era of U.S.-led transparency initiatives is over, the relapse will be stark.

In February, in one of its first acts of lawmaking, the Trump Administration, with the Republican-controlled Congress, rescinded a pending Securities and Exchange Commission rule that would have required oil companies to disclose details of their payments to international governments in connection with oil and gas production.

The rule, which was mandated by a law co-sponsored by former Republican Senator Richard Lugar, of Indiana, and Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, of Maryland, was designed to combat bribery and corruption, especially in poor countries governed by kleptocrats. Thirty other countries, including Canada and the members of the European Union, had already adopted similar requirements. Yet the American Petroleum Institute and companies such as ExxonMobil, at the time when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was still its C.E.O., had lobbied against the rule. They said that it was costly to implement and gave unfair advantage to overseas competitors to which it did not apply. When Trump took power, the lobbyists got their way.

A month later, Trump’s Interior Department signalled that the Administration would also withdraw from a certification process of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. The E.I.T.I. is another corruption-fighting effort in the oil and mining sectors that involves governments, corporations, and civil-society groups. The United States officially endorsed the initiative, in 2004, because the George W. Bush Administration believed that it could promote better governance worldwide. The E.I.T.I. standards for transparency in oil finance were initially imposed mainly on poor countries, but, under the Obama Administration, the U.S. agreed, along with other wealthy countries, to adopt the standards. Trump apparently intends to reverse that decision. This is one more area, among many, where the U.S. no longer leads by example.

President Trump frequently talks about repudiating Obama Administration regulations and “bad deals,” but in some fields of international policy he is moving with equal conviction to tear up programs promoting democracy and human rights that were embraced by the Bush Administration and congressional Republican internationalists such as Lugar. In effect, Trump’s nationalism and the example of his own indifference to ethics and financial disclosure risk incentivizing corruption abroad.

“I get a bit worried listening to the rollback that the current government of the United States is actually pushing around the issue of transparency and accountability,” Olanrewaju Suraju, an anti-corruption campaigner in Nigeria, said this week at a conference on graft and the oil industry that the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted in Washington, D.C. Nigeria has a growing middle class and pluralistic, if venal, politics. The country’s anti-corruption activists and some elected reformers have pioneered attempts to battle mass oil theft, through financial-transparency initiatives supported by Europe and America. If that era of transparency policy is over, Suraju said, the relapse will be stark. Under military rule, Nigeria witnessed what Suraju called “the mainstay of the economy operating like a criminal enterprise,” bloating billion-dollar accounts held in foreign banks. Things today are not wildly better, but at least there is a struggle over policy and accountability, and the occasional meaningful arrest. Still, the temptation to steal is great. Nigeria is a country, Suraju pointed out, “where it is possible for two hundred thousand barrels of crude oil to disappear on a daily basis.”

The problem is not just Trump’s indifference to promoting clean government and the democratic rule of law but the persistent and determined lobbying influence that the American Petroleum Institute and other arms of the fossil-fuel industry wield in Congress. “We won the argument about revenue transparency in 2003,” when Bush, no enemy of big oil, was President, Simon Taylor, a co-founder of the investigative and advocacy group Global Witness, said. “So what are we doing still talking about it? It’s because of the capture of politics by industry.” The American oil industry promoted transparency initiatives when participation was voluntary, and the numbers to be reported were more generalized, but it has balked at the kind of specific, mandatory reporting that Lugar and Cardin urged.

It’s not as if oil-fueled bribery or its corrosive effects on the citizens of poor nations were diminishing. In April, Global Witness published e-mails documenting the case of a payment of more than a billion dollars that Royal Dutch Shell and the Italian oil company Eni made to Nigeria through unusual channels. According to Global Witness, Shell “knew it was party to a vast bribery scheme,” and international investigations are under way. Shell has said that the payments were proper. In June, Human Rights Watch published an extensive report documenting how Equatorial Guinea, a small and impoverished oil kleptocracy in West Africa where ExxonMobil operates, has diverted national wealth away from investment in health and education, partly because of a lack of financial transparency. (ExxonMobil says on its Web site that its local affiliate has “dedicated considerable resources” to programs aimed at “improving education and health,” providing drinking water, and empowering women.) In July, the Justice Department announced civil-forfeiture proceedings to recover more than a hundred million dollars from two Nigerian businessmen whom the department accused of paying bribes to a former oil minister in order to win favorable oil deals. (The former minister has denied the charges.) The prosecutors are hoping to recover a fifty-million-dollar condominium at 157 West Fifty-seventh Street, in Manhattan, and an eighty-million-dollar yacht, the Galactica Star, which were among the men’s purchases.

There is something about oil production that fosters baroque corruption. Oil cargoes trade in a liquid global market in which it is relatively easy to mask ownership of an oil shipment or convert a stolen batch of oil to cash. In many low-income countries, oil theft presents a unique opportunity to obtain sudden transformational wealth, akin to drug trafficking.

In 2014, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released a study of more than four hundred international bribery cases, dating back to 1999. The O.E.C.D. monitors a convention against bribery signed by forty-three countries, and the study sought to identify patterns in public corruption. It found that almost two-thirds of all foreign-bribery cases involved just four industries: resource extraction, construction, transportation and storage, and communication—all fields in which government contracts or licenses are often required. The schemes reviewed were often high-level conspiracies; in more than four out of ten cases, a management-level employee paid or authorized the bribe, and in twelve per cent of the cases a chief executive was directly involved. The Trump Administration, which celebrates chief executives as fresh and effective leaders of government, inherited imperfect but useful policies to combat this scourge. It evidently isn’t interested.

Steve Coll, a staff writer, is the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, and reports on issues of intelligence and national security in the United States and abroad. He is the author of “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power.”

When will Donald be gone?

Ancient Mariner

Cultural Resistance

Having presented Gar Alperovitz’s idea that if a democracy is to sustain itself in the future, citizens must become personally and physically active in supporting their policy issues – whether local or national. Mariner feels this is a tall order for today’s common culture. There was a time in the past when a telephone line was the only door to the outside world. In rural and exurb areas, a caller shared one line with four or five neighbors. Individuals could learn a bit about what was going on by listening to the radio and reading newspapers but to communicate with one another was more difficult than we may remember.

Consequently, “clubs” were common. Churches, too, played a role as a central location where neighbors could gather and talk to one another. When mariner moved to a small Iowa town in the 1960’s, he had a choice of a stamp club, coin club, VFW, Masons, Eastern Star, Lions, garden club, American Legion, playing card club(s), Rotary, sewing club, bars (where everybody knows your name) and informal groups that met regularly in hardware stores, gas stations and morning coffee shops. Outside activities were frequent and included ice cream socials, dinners, corn festivals, lunches, baseball, a larger county fair (larger inclusion than today because of the farming community and forgotten homemaking skills along with as many local booths on the midway as professionals). Size of the town? Nine hundred, tops.

Television was new. Areas contiguous to the town didn’t have electricity until after the war (1946-54). Television provided something to do at home besides darning socks, sewing buttons, crocheting, canning, playing cards and working jigsaw puzzles… and going to meetings.

The Internet and powerful multipurpose telephones that need no wires have crushed face-to-face group participation. The closest thing to a club is a special link of users many of whom have never met one another and frequently don’t share a common neighborhood or state.

The reader gets the point. Today’s culture is fast; it is comprehensive in content; it is dismantling not only human contact in neighborhoods but even the need to visit a retail outlet where humans used to gather – Amazon takes care of that.

Alperovitz suggests our survival requires us to reverse this trend. Civility, fairness, honesty and all the other virtues unattended by corporations et al, are in our hands. However, culturally today’s folks are unaccustomed to physically leaving home to have discussions with other humans. That requires a lot more overhead than watching CBS News. Has the reader ever accompanied a group to visit their state legislator’s office? Governor? US Senator?

It is refreshing to see organized groups who fight for ownership of their policies. Can we turn the cultural norm? Even if wildly successful, it will take time – maybe even a new generation.

Ancient Mariner

Phoenix in the China Shop

Forgive the mixed metaphor but it seems appropriate. The phoenix, burned to an ash, arises to live yet again. In the process, the current status quo will undergo a bit of thrashing about and much will be broken.

Mariner has been in a quandary for some months about the approaching tsunami of economic failure. He is one of the tiniest voices expressing concern as giant corporations, think tanks, the United Nations and many global prognosticators share the mariner’s concern. In recent days mariner has been blessed with two very cogent and focused sources that have resolved his quandary. The sources don’t have all the answers but importantly, they are wise and have promoted new concepts of government beyond capitalist piracy and socialist complacency.

The first, a book brought from the local library by his ever vigilant wife[1], describes the current status quo as one caused by shifting demography mixed with competition for a positive trade balance – a strategy put in place at the end of the Second World War[2]. Zeihan blames this economic philosophy, among other things, for stagnant wages and higher prices. Zeihan suggests that the American economic crisis is accelerated by the retirement of baby boomers that largely stop generating products and marketplace cash flow upon retirement and instead draw down on savings. The imminent retirement of the boomers (and the same in other nations) has led to one of the highest savings percentages in history. Recognizing only current economic practices, that is, sustaining positive trade in a fading world market, spending is more important than saving – even for indebted governments. But one cannot blame those nearing retirement for self-protection in a roiling capitalist environment as the world moves to global economics.

For many reasons – from a better demographic spread of young people to the fact that our trade economy is spread across the continent because of eleven navigable rivers (far more than any other country) to the fact that the continental trade picture already is in place (Central America [CAFTA], Mexico, US and Canada [NAFTA]) – free trade AKA Bretton Woods already is fading. As the rest of the world’s nations scramble to seek stability within the old economic order, America, that is, a united trade market covering North and Central America, is set to emerge as the leading economic power by 2030.

A good example of the plight of stand-alone trading nations is Germany: Germany has a large trade surplus making it the prominent economy in Europe. However, the side effects of maintaining a strong free trade position keep paychecks low, leading to a declining domestic economy and therefore less imports. Free trade is a two-way game.

Peter Zeihan’s book falls short of describing a new economic philosophy. His content covers the broad world of economy and suggests that economic power alone will solve America’s problems. There is a human side to economics that must change significantly. For that information, mariner turns to Gar Alperovitz and his online organization, TheNextSystemProject[3].

In the introduction (see footnote) Alperovitz suggests not only is the political system failing but the capitalist economy is collapsing as well. Evidence is the expanding gap between wealthy and poor; it breeds pain, decay, disillusionment and discontent that call for a new form of government. Alperovitz suggests that already the transition to new systemic processes has begun in spite of the presence of Donald.

To keep this post from becoming a book, mariner will reduce a large amount of data to a paragraph or two. If the reader is interested in more clarity or connectivity, see the footnote below, go to the website and enjoy. The scope of Gar Alperovitz’s future is comprehensive. Mariner will mention a word or two about each area. Each area is available on the website in the footnote.

“If the design of corporate capitalism is unable to sustain values of equality, genuine democracy, liberty, and ecological sustainability as a matter of inherent systemic architecture, what systemic ‘design’ might ultimately achieve and sustain these values?”

“Further, how specifically might it be possible to move forward, especially in difficult political times, to lay foundations for a transformation in the direction of a serious new systemic answer?”

It is suggested that change already is happening. New institutions, that is, officially formed groups that are part of the political landscape, have begun to form. Alperovitz mentions Black Lives Matter, the women’s movement, global warming, and other special cause organizations. The term ‘institution’ implies more than just incorporation; it means a group of citizens who own political policy on the political scene. One can only affect change through membership in an institution. At the turn of the twentieth century, organizations such as Grange and trade unions ‘owned’ their politics rather than being controlled by traditional government parties. Consequently, elected officials had to consult these institutions when creating legislation that affected them.

Alperovitz suggests that the current institutions, corporate policy, wealth management and banking, do not feel obligated to represent the ideas of democracy, life, liberty and equality. The underlying point is if democracy is to flourish, citizens must belong to meaningful institutions with sway. Democracy does not take care of itself. One immediately thinks of the rebellion to changes in health care. Incumbent officials don’t know how to deal with an active electorate and struggle with allegiance to their party at the peril of losing their next election. At the moment, the rebellion owns its politics.

Mariner opines that local institutions may be diverse and influential enough to overcome gerrymandering whether that practice is eliminated officially or not. District majorities may have to be formed by coalitions of institutions – very much like parliamentary majorities.

Mariner will stop at this point to avoid ideological drowning. He will draw from Alperovitz’s book over several interspersed posts.
Ancient Mariner

[1] The Accidental Superpower – The next generation of American preeminence and the coming global disorder, Peter Zeihan; published 2014 by Twelve Hachette BookGroup; ISBN 978-1-4555-8366-9.

[2] The chief features of the Bretton Woods system were an obligation for each country to adopt a monetary policy that maintained the exchange rate (± 1 percent) by tying its currency to gold and the ability of the IMF to bridge temporary imbalances of payments. Also, there was a need to address the lack of cooperation among other countries and to prevent competitive devaluation of the currencies as well.(Wikipedia)

[3] Principals of a Pluralistic Commonwealth, Gar Alperovitz. See: http://thenextsystem.org/principles-introduction/ Also use search engine to find other sources on CSPAN, YouTube, video and lectures.