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In February, in one of its first acts of lawmaking, the Trump Administration, with the Republican-controlled Congress, rescinded a pending Securities and Exchange Commission rule that would have required oil companies to disclose details of their payments to international governments in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

A new culture for economy – what’s next? Redux

What follows is the very first post to The Blog of the Ancient Mariner. It was posted on April 5, 2013 at 2:AM. He could write the same post today. These thoughts seem more urgent, more dire than when this post was published.

The topic is what next? It’s mostly about us – the masses, the common citizens, the disenfranchised, the young who have no yardstick for the future because there is no means by which to measure the future; the jobless who have lost pride and station in life because automation and the global economy have dropped them by the wayside, the seniors who are hale, hearty, living extended lives but are pushed aside and left with little purpose. Wrapping all these demographics into a bundle, what is their purpose? What binds them? What makes them equal and whole individuals? What is the common social fabric?

The mariner is reminded of the Vietnamese immigration after the Viet Nam War. That was a set of people with no extra resources; all they had was hard work and imagination. Many had higher education, even postgraduate degrees that were of little use in the in the United States. The Vietnamese took labor jobs, families helped families, somehow saved a significant percentage of income, opened small, low overhead businesses like dry cleaning, beauty parlors, finger nail shops and small soup kitchens. Now, their children are going to college or growing the businesses of their parents.

What is the next purpose for the American masses? There must be one; there must be a value that is created by many millions of living people; There must be a unity – that is a natural law inherent in the homo sapiens species. The new hardship is that no one will invent it for us or do it for us; we have to invent it and do it ourselves.

The future is still in darkness but a light, a very, very, very faint light is sitting in the corner. It is, for want of a word unknown at this time, ‘sharing’. Sharing can be a purpose. Sharing can be an economy. Sharing has growth potential. Ah, but the light is so faint. What will common sharing look like? Can it draw from wasteful economies that no longer serve the masses efficiently? Can it invent new businesses – profitable businesses – that are based on sharing? Can local government become a protector of a sharing culture?  Does sharing mean we, the masses, must share ourselves in some way for the common good? The US citizen may be better off than the Vietnamese immigrant but the creativity they have for generating a small economy under the larger profit-intensive US economy seems a good model.

Can those who know share knowledge with those who don’t know without the overhead of educational corporations? Leading edge electronics and upstart businesses have no correlation to formal education. The same can be said for liberal arts, religion, and equal distribution of resources like food, water, manufactured goods – all of which possess extreme inefficiencies and waste when delivering a profit-only product.

Dare we dream that the cultural mandate for hoarding profit be converted to a cultural mandate for sharing profit? There are fragile signs: Habitat for Humanity; zero balance loans to indigent women in Africa; Americorps and the international version Peace Corps; Salman Khan (www.khanacademy.org), Project Hope, the floating hospital, even the woman interviewed on CBS News who shares her sofa by leasing it overnight. All are based on sharing – surviving off the excesses of the profit-only model. Remember Victory Gardens?

The mariner has a friend in Maryland who owns a 40 foot boat. He uses it occasionally but is concerned about the overhead. As a model for profit by sharing, he could lease the boat well below the rate of a profit-only charter service and still make enough to maintain the boat, keep a few dollars and share the rest of the income with another ‘share’ business that may provide a few jobs. The light is still too faint to imagine what an entire culture of sharing will look like but this seems a good example: use what you have to generate income.

The common citizens will have the burden of finding a way to survive financially. Giant corporations are just getting started as a global market emerges. The mariner suspects there will be economic room beneath the global markets. Twenty years ago an American steel manufacturer stayed in business by making specialty steel – something large volume steel corporations that moved overseas couldn’t afford to sustain. Genuinely organic farming still defies the ‘legislatively defined’ organic products produced by large scale producers. Organic growing is time and labor intensive – something that doesn’t fit the profit-only model.

Detroit, Michigan is about to go bankrupt. Population has dropped by a third and there are no jobs. A few years ago, the City had to come up with something to provide food for vast neighborhoods that had no grocery stores. Detroit leveraged the many vacant blocks by turning them into gardens and small livestock operations (sheep, goats). It is a fine effort but doesn’t generate the taxes the missing profit-only corporations provided before they left Detroit. Nevertheless, many common citizens have something to eat that otherwise would have nothing.

The profit-only culture has become so excessive that it can be undercut and still deliver services and provide jobs that profit-only business cannot afford. In Colorado, a one owner bakery thrives near a Dunkin Donuts shop.

For the conservatives among the readers, sharing is not socialism, it is personal profit by sharing what one can invest of his or her own resources; for the liberals, it is not communal living, it is profit through sharing outward – not dividing inward. The Vietnamese immigrants didn’t care what they were called; They were in the business of surviving.

Ancient Mariner

Health Care

Mariner has been pondering the health care issue. As someone once said, it is complex. It is complex because there are many facets to health care. For example, today health is managed as a marketplace rather than a healing place; a patient is a source of profit; medical practitioners no longer run hospitals, business specialists do. It has taken seventy-five years for this to happen. Mariner went back to the 1930’s and 40’s to track health care evolution.
In 1944, when the mariner went to the hospital with his ailing mother for a checkup, the hospital was not a fancy place. It looked more like an old high school with yellowed ceramic tile. The hall was the waiting room and patients sat along the walls on church pews. At night, the lighting was the same as in public schools, a depressing light not quite bright enough and intensifying the same worn, yellow shade.
When a patient was treated for a specific condition, the bill was one simple page. For example, going to the maternity ward to give birth to a child created a single line item: Maternity Care – $150.
Doctors were challenged to have the highest cure rate among patients. Further, doctors seemed to move about more slowly and seemed not jammed with appointments. It was all about the patients, not administrative efficiency.
Today in 2017, hospitals look fancier than many hotels. There are many more private and semiprivate rooms for patients; waiting rooms are expansive and off the halls. Billing for hospital services has become a hodge podge of line items worse than the various schedules of an income tax form. Doctors are encouraged to maximize income to the hospital. For example, tests are scheduled whether they are needed or not.
What happened?
In the mid 1900’s, health insurance was almost invisible. Most folks were covered by insurance paid for by their employers. The cost of services was related to real function and overhead – billed amounts had a close relationship to actual cost; in many ways, payment for services catered to the financial status of the patient. Eventually the mariner’s mother died after spending a year in the hospital. No one mentioned billing until after her death and payments were negotiated. Today, a patient risks being rejected at the door if a credit card can’t be presented.
The public experience was akin to free health: insurance coverage was virtually invisible to individuals. Further, health care was not a profit based market. It was all about patients and curability.
In the 1980’s and 90’s, business types discovered the lack of efficiency in health services. Further, all these MBAs saw a huge profit if health services were managed by what the market would bear rather than actual cost. As a consequence, maternity care today is $2,000 to $5,000 at a minimum.
Further, the one line item on the bill, called bundled billing, was replaced by unbundled billing: an aspirin, billed at $2 has its own line item. Further, a health service like maternity care is billed as a fixed set of services – whether they are used or not.
Health services also have different ways of taking profit from the system. Consider pharmacy markets, equipment markets, rehabilitation markets, specialist markets, insurance markets and many more. Each has their own profit earning model uncoordinated with other providers.
If a doctor thinks he has discovered an absolute cure for cancer, he will not be underwritten by any of the providers because, in effect, the cure will drive them out of business. This has led to a preference for continual care rather than cure.
Mariner could go on but the reader has the idea: health care, not a for-profit market, is treated as if it were. Naturally, over time lobbyists have tailored Federal and State legislation to protect this irrational alliance. Did you know hospital services, clinics and providers do not have to provide their cost for a given procedure or product? For the same procedures, one hospital may charge $1000 while another may charge $400 but you will not be able to acquire this information. It is almost as hard to acquire information about success rates. In general, this block also applies to the various providers; for example, one needs a go-between like a pharmacy to find out price differences in drug and insurance coverage for the same drug.
In government, there are no rational plans for correcting the US health delivery system. Conservatives want to cut cost by (a) cutting coverage and (b) issuing finite amounts of funding to States (block grants) requiring States to cover inevitable shortfalls in health coverage. States will have the authority to cut coverage to save cost, e.g., pre-existing conditions. Insurance companies will participate by requiring huge deductibles.
What goes unmentioned is the power of the State Health Commissioner and/or State Insurance Commissioner. These positions oversee health and insurance regulations, practices and rates. Theoretically, the Commissioner could, for a given state, slowly correct the delivery of health services by setting price limits for services that in turn would push profit market practices out of health delivery. The fatal flaw at this time is that the Commissioner is appointed making it a politically bound position – to say nothing of massive lobbyist interference.
Nevertheless, the best approach is to reduce the cost of health care without reducing health coverage. It is a mistake to assume today’s prices will always be the case making them too expensive to cover for a nation that has debt problems. Restructuring the health market, one-sixth of the nation’s economy, is a tall task. Tying adjustment to a big tax cut for oligarchs does not help.
Ancient Mariner

 

The Forgotten

The mariner deliberately has avoided most of the televised Donald show. One cannot avoid all of it, of course. It has given mariner time to reflect on causes and entropy – the unavoidable erosion of all things as they age. The Constitution has aged; its grand theories of democracy and self-government are romantic but inadequate today. The founding fathers had just emerged from war with Great Britain. They wanted a nation that would be difficult to overturn by a foreign nation. But today, the great difficulties lie in international sharing and global problem solving. Self-government may slow the resolution of international and global issues.

What brought Donald to the Presidency is a base of working class people. Despite the tweets, illegal business maneuvers, petty personality disorders, lies and lack of knowledge, one in three voters stand by Donald. Mariner in no way sanctions their tolerance; he feels the lack of electoral wisdom has brought angst to every citizen. Still, their persistence arises from a truth: they are the forgotten. Sadly, this will not change soon – and they feel this in their bosoms – no wisdom needed.

The truth is ninety percent of US citizens will feel forgotten during the rest of this century. Whether that can be remedied is a long shot. The line in the sand is between profit and sustainability. As long as profit is the reward both economically and personally, the forgotten will not prevail – perhaps not even survive.

Mariner has written previous posts about the philosophy of Will Rogers. His income was distributed among his family, professional staff, farm workers and the cost of maintaining his farm. There was no profit; there was sustaining the wellbeing of every individual. Everyone participated in the benefits of his career.

Can we imagine corporations and businesses reinterpreting profit for the wellbeing of the owners to that of seeing after the wellbeing of common folk – whether they work or not, whether they contribute to the wellbeing of our nation or not. That is the great cultural shift. Forget computer invasion of jobs; it is inevitable. What is the obligation of our culture to assume a responsibility to care for everyone?

The machinations of capitalism ensure “profit.” What is to be done with that profit?

The answer will make or break civilization.

Ancient Mariner

 

Governments and Citizens – Who Maintains the Norms?

Maybe too often mariner addresses circumstances about the future of mankind. Typically, the circumstances are beyond the focus of contemporary politics and culture. Nevertheless, the future presents dilemmas about which we are unaccustomed and we fail to recognize their importance in a timely manner – let alone prepare to deal with them as current political situations.

Even at this moment, the United States is struggling. It is struggling because we are not prepared to deal with global issues that did not exist when our Constitution was created. Suddenly, our leadership among world nations seems inadequate. Why?

In just a few years the attitude of the American Citizen has changed from tolerance to intolerance. Congress suddenly is drawing attention from its constituents. The Presidency has been struck a fateful blow by a wary and vulnerable electorate. Populism has emerged. The American Citizen senses a change in the wind.

Speaking in broad terms, eighteenth century capitalism is insufficient to support the moral obligations of global society. As corporatists and oligarchs leverage international markets which did not exist before the Internet and as data storage capacity expands to unimaginable size, common citizens are left behind in shrinking, community-based markets and economies whose norms, ethics and responsibilities are irrelevant to global economics.

When mariner was a much younger man, he lived near a small town in rural Pennsylvania. A town business, not very large as businesses go but the largest employer in the area, closed. Mariner stood looking at the empty buildings one day wondering why the business owners didn’t sustain their community responsibilities – they owed the town. If the business failed, go into another business; if it was a single-owner business, why not sell it to the community? The point was that the business owed the community something. Certainly the community gave to the business through its workers. The region’s economy failed. The personal obligations of commerce were ignored. The town be damned. Tough luck, folks.

Today, it isn’t a small business in a small town. It is Ford, Aetna, A.G. Edwards, 3Com, Amazon.com, Bank of America, Black and Decker, Cooper Tire… thousands of businesses. Leveraging modern technology, even if the business does not relocate to another country, it outsources jobs overseas or operates out of tax haven countries. These options are new because of computerization. These options have no ties to small towns or big cities or a community’s expected norms. And, to their benefit, corporations and oligarchs are no longer constrained by one nation’s regulations or one nation’s economy or one culture’s expectations; that means they are beyond the imposition of unions, worker benefit regulations, labor regulations in general and especially even paying taxes to support any national activity that may be of benefit to the nation or its people.

The governments of the United States, Federal, State and local, identify themselves in turn as keepers of the economy, of state-centric solutions to economy, and of infrastructure. None feel obligated to be champions for people – just economies and infrastructure. The citizenry senses a change in the wind but the governments are not addressing human exposure to international and global changes already occurring.

The changing wind is the source of the great schism between conservatives and liberals that exists today. Conservatives want to reduce the role of government, even take it back to the role of government in the middle of the last century. Liberals want to regulate corporations and wealth in behalf of the common man, even to the extent of using the economy as a tool to protect citizenry from new abuses occurring in the global economy. Speaking broadly, it is a conflict between capitalism and socialism. Speaking to readers, neither word is bad but they are different. It’s a question of functionality. Which is needed most to provide shelter for community norms, mores, and sustenance?

Ancient Mariner

 

Coming of Age

Many years ago, when mariner was learning about world religions, he learned that the land called Turkey today in another time was the origin of virtually every political and religious principal in the western world. Even revered early Greek poetry and Greek philosophical wisdom is rooted in the Hittite Empire.

The land of Turkey is also called Asia Minor or Anatolia. Anatolia, the cultural name for the area, has been the intersection of civilizations since the beginning of political organization. Babylonian documents note Hittite dominance in the region as early as the 17th century BC. Anatolia was the first region in the world to use iron tools, transforming its culture from Neolithic to Iron Age. These changes occurred between 4500 and 2000 BC. Given the Hittites existed at least by 1800 BC, we’re talking really ancient history – which is the point of this post, that aside from not assassinating each king to make room for another one, generally speaking, there isn’t much that’s original in politics. The last somewhat original idea was in the 18th century when the United States decided to let the citizenry run the country.

Today there is an urgent need to reinvent human culture; computers are forcing us into the future. We have no choice: we are facing new rules, new attitudes and new definitions, ergo new politics. When iron was mastered, it changed war, it changed agriculture, it changed politics, and it changed day-to-day life.

So here we are 3,800 years later. We suffer the end game of two ages at once: fossil fuel and a stable mammalian age, and the beginning of a new age – not iron, computers.[1]

Simple ways a new computer age will be noticed:

Today in 2017, 40 out of 100 car drivers drive alone. Almost as many use transit. Only 4 in 100 carpool. Some say the electric car will save the single passenger preference. Some say the electric car will be controlled by the highway just as traffic lights control traffic today. Cars using major highways may be little more than a seat, a cab and some wheels and be hooked electronically to the car in front and the car in back. Toot-Toot!

Another option mentioned is that a driver will pick up a specially built car at a depot like Hertz. Otherwise, one can drive the old clunker but not very far before one must take light rail.

Already emerging are neighborhoods or converted small towns that are designed to accommodate all the needs of a resident. Cars will be unnecessary within the confines of the neighborhood. Any storefronts that still exist will deliver to the home. Amazon will provide everything else.

One of the significant changes will be the definition of work. We aren’t making all these computers for nothing! Several books have been written about this subject and every significant magazine has published articles. A common observation is a description of the dream of every human being: independence and financial security. The way computers are taking away jobs, we all may be independent so financial security can’t be based on human labor or clock time. Whence one’s income?

Hmm, will one be able to vote from home? Miracles can happen….

Ancient Mariner

[1] Fossil fuel is widely assumed to be the cause of climate change. Carbon emissions certainly have exacerbated global warming but the planet has its own life to live and is by itself growing warmer. Much more damaging, and far enough along that it is irreversible, is the mammalian issue – caused entirely by human practices of blatantly destroying habitat and over consuming food sources like fish. Compared to air pollution, the ocean is in worse shape. We are living our way to the Sixth Extinction.

Dear Mister Trump

Dear Mr. Trump:

It is hard to steer a boat in stormy seas. The nations of the world, each and every one, are sailing in extraordinarily stormy seas – each and every one including the United States.

It is especially hard for the United States. Intentionally, the nation was founded with importance given to the spirit of freedom and equality – a new perspective on governance by law that evolved over many centuries of European history. The new perspective paid off with the United States becoming the premier nation of the world – the most powerful, the wealthiest, and the leader of all nations. Some say that the golden years occurred in the middle of the last century. Too soon we have discovered these troubled seas.

We learn from history that humans reorganize themselves according to the circumstances at hand. Some say that in a natural environment we are happiest being members of a tribe. But reality drives a hard bargain. Soon humans had to reorganize into territorial kingdoms. After that, problems were too sophisticated for simple kingdoms. Nations had to be formed usually with authoritarian leadership like Russia and Turkey have at the moment.

However, reality now calls the people of the world to smudge the edges of a nation’s independence. Reality calls not for authoritarians, and not for personal riches that temporarily protect the super wealthy. Reality calls for a global mentality because the problems are too big for individual nations to solve.

Collaboration in economics, population management and planetary behavior is the solution today. Nations are linked together according to the issues they have in common. Today, many issues truly are global – no country can stand alone anymore. The Earth is moving into a new planetary age. It will take all of us participating together to survive.

Blog of the Ancient Mariner

 

Arrived.

Ancient has arrived at an intellectual state not unlike running out of gas in the middle of nowhere; or it may be similar to arriving where one intended but there is nothing to be found; or it may be like arriving in a country ready to have a rich experience but no one speaks your language or cares to communicate.

In a word, Mariner, as Amos before him, euphemistically is retreating to shepherd his sheep.[1] The works of Amos in the Old Testament show that he was influenced by a very large Earthquake (8.0) that occurred north of Israel around 760BC. Amos 3.13-15 states the view of Amos about the collapse of the world:

13 “Hear and testify against the House of Jacob,” says the Lord God, the God of Hosts, 14 “that on the day I punish Israel for his transgressions, I will punish the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground. 15 I will smite the winter house with the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great house shall come to an end,” says the Lord.RSV In further verses, Amos makes it clear that no one will survive God’s wrath.

Today, we have no impending earthquake that will end civilization; perhaps a volcano may but none of the major volcanoes are due for thousands of years. Nevertheless, something is happening because God’s wrath has begun and moves ever faster.

 

The Dark Age

The model which defines the relationship of the present era to its future is the model of the Dark Ages, which lasted from the fall of Rome to the early years of the Middle Ages (450AD – 1000AD). It was a time when the social structure and ethic of the known western world had fallen into disarray. Governments (and the Church) disavowed responsibility for the underclass and anyone, for that matter, who could not participate in authoritarian power or its oligarchy. In that time, the general public lived a truly impoverished and brutalized life. The wealthy did not feel obligated to care about common folk. Food was scarce and never adequate; disease ran amok; the simplest barter economy was impossible because of abusive taxation; one third of all children died before age five; adults had an average life expectancy in the thirties; common land, where the populace lived, was treated as a permanent war zone where the powerful played constant war to improve personal power and wealth.

Does this sound relevant today?

The characters are the same. The failing cultural morality seems not to be restrained. War with inadequate purpose seems rampant. Governments ever increasingly seek to avoid responsibility for the growing underclasses. The Church lingers in the twentieth century with very little influence on twenty-first century society.

But ‘God’ is not waiting for an ultimate collapse. Even as the US Government denies the reality of global warming, the Earth is moving on to an environment that may not be suitable for humans. It certainly is not suitable for other species. Global leaders and the wealthy may grudgingly recognize that ocean levels are rising enough to be a nuisance. They do not acknowledge that as the Arctic Ocean and its accompanying permafrost melt, a rise of ocean levels to several feet is projected by the end of the century and that will not be the end of it – rising further in future centuries.

The weather is changing as well. The warming oceans evaporate unmeasurable amounts of water into the atmosphere – causing larger and more damaging weather patterns as well as drought zones that occur seemingly without reason.

‘God’ does not patronize authoritarian and otherwise imbalanced societies that disregard simple moral behaviors – behaviors that have deep genetic roots in a species with strong tribal social structures. The current US government reminds the mariner of a group of people grabbing as much wealth as they can before the end comes. ‘God’ will not be deterred.

There are too many humans. Far too many. Why is this? Give credit to man’s inventive abilities which produced the Iron Age, Industrial Age, the Fossil Fuel Age, the Technological Age and the current Age of Automation. Were humans still bound to the nature from which they evolved, there is no question that nature itself would oversee disproportional population. Man often is his own demise.

Even at this moment the US is fading from its leadership of the modern world. China understands global economics and is investing in newly defined trade and financing relationships with other countries that will ease transition from the twentieth century era. The US is doing its level best to return to cultural and fiscal values as they existed in the mid-twentieth century. True, that was the golden age but nothing escapes entropy.

Aside from the biosphere, world economies must change in concept if any country is to survive financially and culturally. Most critical is the relationship between jobs and income. The eight hour work day began in 1856. Accompanied by a concept of hourly wage, it has been the core device for redistribution of wealth ever since. But its role in the economy is waning. If the world population is to survive in any quantifiable measure, job and wage must be separated.

Mariner is confident that we approach dark times. Dark times will prevail longer than we will like; let’s hope not as long as the model from the Middle Ages – 550 years. For the last four years, mariner has probed endless subjects, admonished many for lax insight, and promoted newly required ideas drawn from modern but ignored commentary. Were that we could describe the collapsing world; perhaps even glimpse the edges of our dissolution as we can see the edge of a storm cloud – but each of us is an integral piece of the storm…. We are the storm.

We, the electorate, are the storm and we have no intelligence with which to steer ourselves to pleasant weather. The human species denies several global issues that may well end as Amos predicted.

Ancient Mariner

[1] Apocryphal works say that Amos was killed by the son of Amaziah, priest of Bethel. It further states that before he died, Amos made his way back to his homeland and was buried there.