Saturday, January 26, 2019

Trump's Wall As Metaphor

                                                                                                written 20 January 2019
                                                                                               published 26 January 2019

            As I sat bundled up on our covered deck, enjoying the sounds and sights of a good rain storm, appreciating the muted earth tones of the western hills of the Ukiah valley, I thought about the nature of vision.  Light energy comes in packets called photons, which are quanta of energy with a specific frequency or wavelength.  The colors humans see are a narrow range of light wavelengths, and the brightness is a measure of the quantity of photons.  Since our eyes perceive only differences in wavelength and intensity, if there were no differences, we couldn't discern anything.  If there is only one frequency of light, or only one intensity in every direction, our vision is useless.
            Quantum mechanics tells us there is a vast ocean of energy everywhere.  What we experience as light or dark, red or green, are very small ripples on the surface of this energy ocean.  When we perceive anything, we are experiencing shapes in the surface of this ocean, not the common ground of the ocean itself.
            This western scientific description of physics arose during the last century, representing a paradigm shift in human understanding.  A paradigm is a set of beliefs so fundamental that they are easily overlooked.  Thomas Kuhn's book "The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions" describes how paradigms change in time, with the death of the old generation that rigidly defines the cultural "truths", or by the introduction of new evidence that demands a reshaping of understanding.  
            Thich Nhat Hanh's quote, "we are here to awaken from the illusion of separation", is one of the guiding concepts of my philosophy and perspective. Reality is unity, and our discerning perspective, like our eyeballs, experience only relative distinction, not the absolute foundation from which all things arise.  This idea is found across the spectrum of thought, from Buddhism, through all the spiritual traditions, to quantum physics.  A unity reality understands all lines and separations are only relative; none are absolute.
            Humanity is in the middle of a fundamental paradigm shift, or awakening, in consciousness.  For thousands of years, sociological, political, and religious structures have shaped the world using exclusive gain and power domination to separate by gender, race, religion and class.  The physics paradigm shift from Newtonian to quantum mechanics, has produced powerful technologies reflecting the power of unity, resulting in a computer driven global economy and communication network of radical disruption.  The unity power of the new technologies has amplified the limitations and flaws of separation in the old order such that every traditional system is reaching a breaking point.  
            Former economic giants like Sears, General Electric, and Pacific Gas and Electric are bankrupt and collapsing.  The Roman Catholic Church, dominant for millennia, is disintegrating from internal corruption, and the socially constipated Evangelical movement is losing their younger generations.  The Republican party, embracing separation as a virtue, has demonstrated it is incapable of governing a democracy.  People increasing realize the climate crisis is real and accelerating, putting the entire biosphere at risk.
            Which brings me to Trump's wall, an iconic expression of separatist thinking. Trump's core is told the reason for their economic disenfranchisement is illegal immigration, and a wall will prevent this.  However, the real reason is computer automation and the extreme economic inequity created by the 1% in a collapsing economic empire.  The wall debate is just a loud distraction, preventing any attempt to notice the fundamental economic dysfunction.
            Republican governors of border states oppose the wall, and the conservative Cato Institute calls it pointless.  The Berlin Wall, a terrible model for a democracy, didn't work, despite a heavy military presence.  Most illegal immigrants arrive legally, and then overstay their visa.  A border wall will be environmentally impractical, and have little impact on drugs, which arrive primarily by trucks.  As proposed, the wall will require massive taking of private land through eminent domain, generating years of litigation, driving cost to many times more than the $5.7 billion Trump is currently blackmailing the country.  Finally, Trump promised Mexico would pay for his wall, not the 800,000 federal workers laid off or forced to work without pay, risking economic recession.
            As a metaphor, the wall is the last gasp of an obsolete, bankrupt perspective.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Fundamental Fallacies Within Capitalism

                                                                                                written 13 January 2019
                                                                                                published 19 January 2019

            Trading goods and services, essential to a healthy civilization, eventually evolved currency, which allowed increased precision by fiscal quantification.  But money is a concept of confidence, with no inherent reality, thus equating money and real value is a mistake.  Some values are easily quantified, such as the number of sheep in a field, but essential values such as peace of mind, clean air, water or food, are difficult to quantify. The black-market value of a healthy human heart is $120K, but would you willingly trade your heart for the cash?  How about your child's?  The relationship between monetary value and personal or societal values is at best an approximation.  Our cultural preoccupation with fiscal value is destroying vital social values.
            Capitalist theory assumes a price includes all costs, allowing honest comparison in the marketplace, but such faith is naive in the real world.  Many costs are ignored because they are difficult to quantify, some are simply overlooked by the accountant, and others are deliberately excluded in order to transfer costs onto others.  These are called "externalized costs", a sanitary way of saying the price is a fraud.  Not accounting some of the real costs of an item allows for price reductions, which distort the "free market" to shift market share.  The pollution from destructive externalized costs is degrading the environmental and social commons through climate change, homelessness, and the obesity and opioid epidemics, to mention a few.
            After WWII, the Bretton-Wood agreement defining one dollar as being worth a specific quantity of gold, and fixed the exchange rate of other currencies to the dollar.  This ushered in a period of unprecedented global economic stability and real social growth.  In the early 70's, when the American economic empire peaked, the value of the dollar was allowed to float, and fiscal value became uncoupled from real value.  The last half century experienced a series of speculative financial booms, with limited increase in social value, each followed by a spectacular economic failure, which destroyed real value across the planet. 
            Fiscal growth is part of the "free market" dogma, but when monetary growth is decoupled from the real economy, money becomes worth less over time. An ounce gold cost $38 in 1972, and $1285 today, despite gold having the same economic functions.  The quest for ever greater "return on investment", independent of increased real value, accelerates the degradation of the monetary value because riskier investments promise a larger rate of return.  Unfortunately, the promise is fiction, being divorced from reality, and the economy eventually crashes. 
            In the early 2000's, the housing market heated with a speculative fever and mortgages were packaged into securities bought by global investors looking for good returns.  The demand was greater than the quantity of solid mortgages, so mortgage standards were lowered.  By 2007, hundreds of thousands of borrowers with no declared income and no down payment, had been loaned large mortgages with low introductory interest rates. These were sold to large banks, bundled into securities rated as "AAA investment grade" by commercial ratings agencies, and sold all over the world.   
            Regulators and business leaders, devout followers of the "free market" cult, quashed attempts to regulate the industry, believing that the market would not allow bad investments to be created or sold, and trusted the rating process accurately defined and isolated real risk.  The mortgage originators, knowing there would be defaults, sometimes even before the first payment, believed that once the mortgage was off their books, it was not their problem.  The companies packaging and marketing these securities devised elaborate risk management schemes to protect themselves, which ignored systemic low probability, high loss scenarios.  Participants made millions of dollars at each stage, by selling trillions of dollars of this debt around the planet.  Federal interest rates eventually rose, the mortgage interest rates reset higher, the housing market cooled, and the entire Ponzi scheme collapsed in a matter of months.
            But fines were small, and nobody went to jail, so no lessons were learned and the cycle is set to continue.  Repeating the same thing and expecting a different outcome is insanity.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Chick In The Egg

                                                                                                written 5 January 2019
                                                                                                published 12 January 2019

            A chicken embryo begins to grow from a spot on the yolk which provides nutrients and energy within the security of the shell.  The growing chick fills the space within the shell, living off the yolk, eventually exhausting both.  The resolution to this apparently dire situation is for the chick to hatch into the larger world and continue to grow.
            For hundreds of thousands of years humanity has been growing within the secure protection of the Earth's biosphere.  We lived off the bounty provided annually by other life forms.  The use of fire provided access to stored energy, first, the energy stored in wood, then, fossil fuels, which has provided us with an incredible amount of stored solar energy.
            More than 6,000 years ago, when the world population was less than 10 million, the Chinese began burning coal for heating and industrial uses.  Population doubled ever thousand years until 1000BC, and then doubled every 500 years, reaching 750 million in the mid 1700's when the Industrial Revolution began.  Fueled by coal, which is twice as energy dense as wood, food production, water quality, and health care increased, extended life spans and allowed rapid population growth.  In one century population increased 60% to 1.2 billion.
            Oil was first developed on an industrial scale in the 1840's.  The first wells in larger reserves literally shot out of the ground in powerful geysers.  One and a half times as energy dense as coal, oil was more versatile, and extremely profitable.  This allowed even more rapid expansion and growth, similar to the yolk nourishing the chicken embryo.  
            The years from 1900 to 1950 saw global oil production increase by 3800%, from 275 thousand barrels/day to 10.4 million barrels/day, and humanity grew to 2.6 billion.  In 20 more years, 1970 global oil production reached 48 million barrels/day, an additional 460% increase, and population jumped 40% to 3.7 billion.  
            Oil, however, is a finite resource, found in limited locations.  As fields matured, the initial gushers failed, requiring pumping, and then water injection, to extract the remaining oil.  Despite these efforts, production eventually peaks and declines.  To replace depleted production, and satisfy increasing demand, a global exploration for new reserves scoured the planet.  By the 1960's the volume of new discoveries peaked, and only modest reserves remain to be found.  Since 1970, per capita oil consumption has held steady, as oil production barely kept pace with population growth, each doubling to today's values of 7.6 billion people consuming 98 million barrels/day.  
            Conventional oil, found on land or a shallow continental shelf, peaked in 1971 for United States domestic production and around 2005 for global production. To satisfy demand, unconventional sources, such as deep-ocean fields, fracking, and tar sands, were developed, which are expensive and energetically less efficient.  The economy runs on the surplus energy left after expending the energy required to access the energy resource.  100 barrels of oil from early conventional fields required the energy of 1 barrel to access.  To provide the same energy by fracking requires the energy of 25 barrels, and tar sands requires 50 barrels.
            Oil has fueled an amazing expansion of humanity, but we are now at the point of the chick about to exhaust the energy that allowed it to flourish so far. We know what happens when the chick hatches, but we haven't experienced what the "hatching" of humanity will look like.  Perhaps there is a critical mass phenomenon, which requires unprecedented densities.  
            There are almost as many people alive as there are neurons in a human brain. That's over 11 million tons of cerebral cortex, interacting in electromagnetic resonance and globally connected.  There are more educated women and more post-menopausal women, alive now than ever before, representing an unprecedented wisdom and understanding.  There is more appreciation of democracy, and the ideal of equality of all people.  The spiritual teachings of the ages are no longer secret, but available to everyone.  Perhaps none of this is significant, but we do know that the way we have been living is no longer sustainable, and must soon come to an end.  For the chick, the choice is to hatch, or die.  We seem to be facing the same options.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Evaluation Of Trump's First Half Term

                                                                                                written 29 December 2018
                                                                                                published 5 January 2019

            Trump won the 2016 election with the support of a few wealthy individuals and major corporations, the Christian right, a disenfranchised white middle class, and the Russians.  Two years into his term, we can evaluate how he has served those supporters, and at what cost to the rest of the country and the world.
            The most significant legislative accomplishment was the tax cut, a primary goal of Trump's wealthy, corporate donors, reducing Federal taxes by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.  While most taxpayers will experience some tax reduction, the primary beneficiaries are the top 1%.  Corporate tax rates are reduced permanently, while individual reductions will expire over time. The Federal deficit will increase, but Republicans promised that the tax cut would "pay for itself" through increased economic growth. 
            The first half term saw the appointment of 85 conservative judges, including two to the Supreme Court, with a possible third, depending on the health of Justice Ginsberg.  This is a goal of the Christian right, which wants to overturn Roe versus Wade abortion rights. But the new Supreme Court members also serve the wealthy and corporations, because they support the primacy of corporate rights over voter rights, thus furthering corporate domination in America.
            As investigations continue, Russian influence in the 2016 election is becoming well documented.  Trump has destabilized American alliances with Europe, and unilaterally decided to cede Syria to the Russians, abandoning our Kurdish allies.  By constantly pushing the fake-news agenda, and questioning the integrity of votes, Trump has eroded trust in both a free press and the foundations of democracy.  His tacit support for misogyny and racism nourish these parts of the American citizenry, building polarity and dissention.  America's decline as a moral and strategic leader in the world furthers Russia's rise to dominance.
            The only group of Trump supporters not already served in his first two years are the disenfranchised white middle class.  Rather than "draining the swamp", he contributed to an ever more dysfunctional swamp of incompetence, corruption, and self-promotion.  Rather than replacing Obama-Care with a promised "even better health care system", he has dismantled a system that was working, and replaced it with nothing.  His promise to make better trade deals has replaced NAFTA with NAFTA-lite, which improved wages for Mexican workers.  He started an ongoing trade war with China that burden the national and global economies, hitting American farmers hard.  The tax cut that was supposed to make the economy boom, increased the deficit and enriched stockholders with stock buybacks, but work force layoffs continue and the stock market has already lost the value gained from the tax cut bump. His war on immigrants has weaponized the borders and terrorized children, but done little to address immigration.  Instead of a "beautiful wall paid for by Mexico", he has shut down the government, demanding American taxpayers foot the bill.
            By making good on his promise to kill the Iranian nuclear deal and applying sanctions, he destabilized the global oil supply, and drove Iran closer to China and Russia, accelerating the shift away from the dollar as a reserve currency.
            He pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, fulfilling his promise to promote "clean coal", but coal power is still uneconomical and continues to decline.  Multi-billion dollar "natural" disasters are increasing every year, yet climate change deniers are in every level of this administration.  Only America, Russia, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia withheld support for the latest climate accord, even though the Pentagon is on record stating climate change is a matter of national security. 
            In summary, few people have benefited from this presidency.  The white middle class is beginning to have buyer's remorse, as this economy isn't helping them, and even the very wealthy are beginning to worry about the stability of the global economy.  Christians rooting for abortion repeal are discovering their kids are concerned about climate change and being good stewards to the Earth.  Trump may have begun his campaign to enhance his brand net worth, but must now have regrets as investigations are getting to the core of his businesses and family.  The rest of us had regrets on election night.  The only winner seems to be Russia.