Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hunger and votes

In August 2012 I wrote in El Universal: "Assuming 600,000 Venezuelans were hungry for ten years, that is 2.190 million nights of hungry Venezuelans... If only the gasoline that is given away for nothing in Venezuela had been sold to international prices, that would have sufficed for much more than 2.190 million succulent and hearty dinners "

And recently I came across an excellent English translation of a fascinating novel published in Norway in 1890, "Hunger", written by Knut Hamsun, Nobel Prize for Literature 1920.

The book is about an unsuccessful writer who suffers from prolonged periods of intense hunger and during which, between consciousness and unconsciousness, he navigates between extreme feelings and emotions.

At one point he is capable of doing anything to eat, and the other would rather die of hunger before doing something unworthy. At one point he fails to see anything that happens around them, and on the other the smallest details overwhelm him with absolute clarity. One moment he is full of the deepest despair and depression, only to soon after be filled with an overflowing and senseless euphoric optimism.

I quote: " The poor individual looks around him at every step, listens suspiciously to every word he hears from the people he meets; thus, every step he takes presents a problem, a task, for his thoughts and feelings. He is alert and sensitive, he is experienced, his soul has been burned…"

Finishing the book my head was full of questions in reference to what happens in my country (Venezuela)…foremost… What does hunger mean for democracy?

One who suffers real hunger, is he capable of exerting any significant political activity? Who that to feed his children might have no choice but to spend all day exploring garbage cans (or in Venezuela spend the whole day in a queues for an opportunity to do some bachaqueo), can be interested in a unpaid political act?

In democracy, how can unscrupulous politicians use the hunger of voters? Looking for votes, will they offer a hearty meal hungry before the voting takes place – running the risk that the so strengthened will not vote for those they can hold responsible for their recent hunger... or not vote for those who injure their pride trying to buy their votes? Or would they offer abundant food once the hungry voters have voted “correctly” – risking that weak and confused, or furious, voters vote for someone else? 

Should the Election Supervision Authority install some equipment to monitor that voters have been sufficiently fed? And what if these computers can be programmed to exclude those who have other symptoms? Should the votes of hungry be worth more, given that for them is should be even more important that governments function well?

Talking with one of my daughters about this, she suggested that all candidates for public office should have experienced some prolonged period of intense hunger, so as to really understand the real extent of their compromise. And who can say she is wrong about that?

Anyhow… cursed be those who purposely, or because of vulgar sheer incompetence, cultivate and harvest their people's hunger, in order to satisfy their own appetites.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Can Cubans get back what was stolen from them by suing Cuba in the USA using the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act?

I went to see "Woman in Gold". It is an excellent film about how a Jewish woman, Maria Altmann manages to get back the "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Baauer” that depicts her aunt and that was painted by Gustaf Klimt. Sixty years ago that portrait and other painting in her family’s possession were seized by the Nazis.

Altmann is able to sue Austria after achieving that the Supreme Court in the USA 2004 decides that the "Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act" enacted in 1976, could be applied retroactively.

Leaving the film, I asked myself... could Cubans (and other brethren) recover what was expropriated / stolen from them by accessing this law?

Might Cubans want to contact E. Randol Schoenberg

Monday, June 29, 2015

For 1US$, I will look for 30 seconds, with reasonable interest, at any unsolicited ad, directed to me on the web.

I need legal advice of how to register a copyright of my own preferences as a consumer and as a human being. Why should that not be possible? Does that not include even more intimate and I would hold creative content than what most copyrighted books have? 

Now if I get that copyright then I would make the following public offer: 

For 1US$ (revisable), I will look for 30 seconds, with reasonable interest, at any unsolicited ad directed to me through any social media or any other site I visit while travelling the web. 

I hereby declare that I am a great consumer and I have a good history of easily falling for offers on the web. That said, nothing here should be interpreted as a commitment to purchase anything or to otherwise follow or do what is suggested in any ad for which I have been paid a royalty.

I will then contract an ad-blocker so as only those advertising sufficiently interested in me so as to be willing to pay me to see their ad have access to me. Depending on the efficiency by which I am served, and the little I would get bothered by unauthorized access to me, I will offer the ad-blocker up to 30% of any income derived by me in royalties on my copyright on my own preferences.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Is Political Correctness a Neo-Victorianism, Neo-Inquisition, or just some good old gossiping by windbags with nothing better to do?

The Nobel laureate Tim Hunt said:

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them they cry.” 

That could be taken as a joke extracted from many films and TV series that cross our daily path… and worse is often said in award winning rap or hip-hop music. 

But no, the forces of political correctness decided to came down hard on him. So hard he even resigned from his position as Honorary Professor University College London, UCL, Faculty of Life Sciences.

Is it obnoxious moralistic Neo-Victorianism?

Is it Neo-Inquisition which punishment of choice, for the time being, is destroying the heretics through media?

Or is it just some good old gossiping by good old male and female windbags with nothing better to do?

It behooves us to try to find out?

Friday, June 05, 2015

Our feeble democracies need to be re-launched on the web

The real effective distance between congressmen and senators to their constituency is way too long. If each one of these has to answer to more than a couple of hundred of citizens they are really not answering to anyone.

Every couple of hundred citizens should have the right to appoint a citizen delegate, and these delegates should be the one to vote on what congressmen and senators propose.

Every single citizen should receive real time information on how his delegate has voted. That would help to hold them accountable.

That would inject a lot of dynamism and real separation of powers into our feeble democracies.

If we want a promised a “representative democracy” “dependent on the people alone,” this has to be the modern way to get it.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

There’s nothing like family support and trust

I have for more than a decade now been questioning, for a couple of hours most days, the bank regulators… telling them they are 180 degree wrong and should go home… in shame… 
And none of the regulators has even given me one answer and yet… not for one second, have I doubted that my wife and my daughters do not think I am absolutely right in what I am saying and doing… and that my friends, is the bliss of family support and trust.

I really doubt current bank regulators in the Basel Committee have even a fraction of what I have of it... and that is why I know I am going to prevail.

Thanks my dear girls! I do love you all so much.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My father was freed 70 years ago by courageous American boots on the ground… not by drones.

Yesterday… on Memorial Day 2015, as I try to do every year as often I can, I went down to the Washington Mall to express my gratitude to those courageous American soldiers that, 70 years ago, April 1945, helped to free my Polish father from Buchenwald.

This year I was only able to speak to one single veteran of those days in Europe. Sadly most of them are gone by now… and I never got a chance to thank them all.

And while walking around the World War II Memorial, a question that has been haunting me lately came back over and over again... My father was freed by boots on the ground… not by drones… will America still have it in it to free other future fathers if need be?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Google, Facebook, Twitter take notice: I already bought the tuxedo shirt I was looking for! Take me off that ad list!

How long is my already fulfilled intention to buy a tuxedo shirt, now going to pursue me on the web… on social media? I mean sort of every hour and ad on tuxedo shirts pops up.

There should be a way to notify the googles, the twitters and the facebooks of this world, that I already bought a shirt and have no intentions to buying another one soon… but then they might not be interested in doing such a thing… since they might prefer to keep alive the advertising tuxedo-shirt vendors’ illusion that I will buy a shirt from him.

PS. Can I get a copyright on my preferences and my life?

Fostering small admiration club groupthink, World Economic Forum's Davos meetings could be doing more bad than good.

While being one of the 24 Executive Directors of the World Bank, 2002-2004, I told the other 23 ED’s “If by lottery we substitute with a plumber or a certified nurse anyone of you, I guarantee we will have a much wiser board”. And of course, they did not like that too much. And of course I did not include myself among the substitutable... my ego does not allow such nonsense.

And now, when there is to be a change of the CEO, of the World Economic Forum’s Davos meetings… a gathering of experts… I wonder if it is not high time to guarantee in Davos the presence of a more diversified gathering.

Indeed what a wonderful PhD thesis it could be, to have somebody study what really game-changing or game-savings have come out of all those yearly meetings in Davos… As I see it, by fostering groupthink and small mutual admiration club mentality, Davos could have done more bad than good.

For instance having invited a couple of aspiring entrepreneurs to Davos would have allowed these to cry out “What the hell are bank regulators thinking of by making it even more difficult to access bank credit than we already have it? For God’s sake we have never set off a major bank crisis”.

The problem of course for these non-profit organizations is that aspiring entrepreneurs cannot afford to pay the same as already successful ones... like Klaus Schwab.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Tale of Two Worlds…roaming the web or roaming the streets… drones or boots on the ground?

I have horrible visions of my descendants sitting in front of computers with ever more capacity and connectivity… sending drones and roaming the web… while some other people’s descendants roam the streets, and develop a higher capacity in being boots on the ground.

And then one day, these other descendants come... and knock the power out of my descendants’ computers.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” ― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Blocking citizens from venting their concerns, because of political correctness, is as dangerous as can be.

I just came back from a week in Sweden

If political correctness blocks the discussion of citizen’s ordinary and very human concerns, whether these are right or wrong, like those many have on what they feel is an excessive immigration, and the risk of diluting the meaning of being a Swede... that is a great growth-hormone for extremism.

In other words, if you use a “That’s like Hitler” in response to all of their concerns, then too many might end up thinking “That Hitler guy sound’s quite right for me”.

Never forget that the emotions involved in the not liking something for the wrong reasons, can be just as strong as that of the not liking something for "the right reasons".

Political correctness has, in the best of cases, turned into Neo-Victorianism... but seems more to become the Neo-Inquisition of our days.   

Friday, May 08, 2015

Stock markets and the real economy, c’est pas la meme chose.

Do not confuse the strength of the stock market with the strength of the economy.

The strength of the stock market can have to do only with the strength of owning what little there is to own. 

If central banks fueled share buybacks continue, we might end up with the strongest of stock markets, and the weakest of the real economies.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

We should dilute the influence of the influencers by increasing the number of those to influence.

Many, Lawrence Lessig included, feel that our political systems have fallen under the reign of “an engine of influence that seeks simply to make those most connected rich.”… And so they are doing their outmost to curtail the influence of the few.

Though I agree with the problem, I do not think that is the sustainable way to solve it.

The modern way, instead of augmenting to number of influential, should be to dramatically increase the number of those who need to be influenced. In other words we need to dilute the power of the few.

For instance, in the US, instead of having 535 senators and congressmen representing each 600,000 persons, there should be 600.000 senators and congressmen representing each one 535 persons.

Current technology allows that!

The more people you represent, the further away you are from representing each one of them.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Why is the social demand for hate increasing so much?

Why is the social demand for hate increasing so much, in a world where so much good advancements have supposedly been achieved? 

Might it be some are wetting the appetite for hate? Is that their business model?

If so, who?

You tell me.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

My early calls for the sort of antifragility expressed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his “Antifragile” of 2012.

"A mixture of thousand solutions, many of them inadequate, may lead to a flexible world that can bend with the storms. A world obsessed with Best Practices may calcify its structure and break with any small wind." 

And in my book "Voice and Noise" of 2006 I said the following:

"Too well tuned?:  Martial arts legend Bruce Lee, whom many people regarded as immortal, died at the age of only 32 of a cerebral edema, or brain swelling, after taking some sort of aspirin. I have not the faintest idea whether that pill actually had anything to do with his death but I have frequently used (or misused) this sad death as an example of how an organism could be in such a highly tuned and perfect condition that it could not resist a small external shock. 

And I used this metaphor to explain why companies nowadays, pressured by the stock market’s expectations for the next quarterly results; the latest theories in corporate finance as to how squeeze out the last drop in results; and, perhaps, even some bit of creative accounting, might be so well-tuned (no little reserve fat left) that they would not be able to withstand any minor recession. (Whenever I expose this theory, I can see in my wife’s eyes that she believes this is just my preparing an excuse for my growing—ok, grown—midline.)"

Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "Antifragile"

And here two of my early warnings on fragility

In 1999 in a Op-Ed in I wrote: “The possible Big Bang that scares me the most is the one that could happen the day those genius bank regulators in Basel, playing Gods, manage to introduce a systemic error in the financial system, which will cause the collapse of our banks”

In January 2003 in FT I wrote: “Everyone knows that, sooner or later, the ratings issued by the credit agencies are just a new breed of systemic error to be propagated at modern speeds”

And, Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb, please stop referring to the last financial crisis as a “Black Swan”… it was a perfectly predictable manmade event.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

My proposal for this Earth Day 2015.

Stop using purposeless, dangerous and silly credit-risk weighted equity requirements for banks, those which allow banks to earn higher risk adjusted returns on equity when lending to those perceived as safe than when lending to "the risky".

Purposeless: because major bank crises never ever result from excessive exposures to what is perceived as “risky” but always from excessive exposures to what was erroneously perceived as “absolutely safe”. 

Dangerous: because that completely distorts the allocation of bank credit to the real economy.

Silly: because why on earth should we taxpayers lend our support to banks if their only goal is to act as safe mattresses to stash away money in. Better to build a super-safe storage facility then.

Begin using more purposeful potential of planet-earth sustainability, job generation and poverty reduction weighted equity requirements for banks.

That way our banks will earn their highest risk adjusted returns on their equity when financing what is deemed useful for the society.

That way it makes sense for us taxpayers to lend our banks the support they need, in order for these to take the astute risks we need for the world to move forward in a sustainable way generating jobs and poverty reduction.

Who shall you tell about this proposal? All bank regulators starting by the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision and the Financial Stability Board; and to multinational entities such as the UN, IMF, and World Bank.

If they do not listen to you, at least force them to try to justify why they are supporting current credit-risk weighted equity requirements. These only impede the access to bank credit of "the risky", thereby killing opportunities and increasing inequalities.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

For each drone kill, the “home of the brave” might become more vulnerable.

I refer to Karen J. Greenberg’s review of Grégoire Chamayou’s “A theory of the drone”, Washington Post’s Outlook of March 22.

In it Greenberg writes: “Drones are the opposite of warfare… a warrior culture in which readiness to kill has been inseparable from the willingness to die. With drones the ethics of warrior cultures have been superseded, and the warriors have turned into invulnerable, cold-hearted executioners.”

As to “invulnerable”, I am not sure. For each drone kill, as opposed to a combat kill, the executioner distances himself more and more from the real world, and so becomes perhaps more and more vulnerable to it. What we already so often hear about “not wishing boots on the ground” might be just an appetizer of things to come.

Currently many kids, by the web, walk the whole world, but rarely set their feet out in the real world. Others have no access to the web, but keep on learning how to fight it out on the streets. When push comes to shove, who are going to prevail… those handy with drones, or those handy with pliers able to cut the power lines off?


A letter not published L