Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Offshore


The April issue of Vanity Fair has an in-depth article on the network of offshore tax havens that support the corporate shell holdings in Hyde Park in London. It's one of many articles and studies that have appeared recently because of the scale of this problem. Other publications have examined this issue in broader scope, such as Financial Services Technology

The discussion of this issue has come to the forefront because tax evasion by multinationals and corrupt leaders has emerged as a key issue ahead of the third substantive meeting of a UN high-level panel this week to discuss a framework for global development after 2015. It's basically follow the money, and the developing countries are trying to structure their tax bases rather than relying upon foreign aid, and this requires transparency in global capital flows. Paul Krugman speaks out on it with respect to Cyprus, whose banks are on the brink of failure due to the capital parked in their accounts from expat Russian money: "But the truth, hard as it may be for ideologues to accept, is that unrestricted movement of capital is looking more and more like a failed experiment".

These capital flows are critical for support of not only the emerging global economies, but also as a means to fund the essential changes in all countries for providing carbon-free energy and conserving remaining natural resources and watersheds.The transfer from the old carbon-based energy sources will necessarily happen quickly, and so the capital must be made available. But how should this capital be captured and allocated?

As it stands right now, governments are legally taxing vibrant small-scale capital, while the old capital that resulted from the earlier industrial development and later corporate growth flees into tax havens. The capital generated from the developed countries, especially the USA and Canada, were generated from the old railroad industries that started with coal, and employed the railroads to develop land that was essentially given to them for free by the government during the expansion phase of the 13 colonies as they evolved into the 50 states. This shifted later on into the oil industry that again used government subsidies to develop roads and highways, and the auto industry came into prominence. During this time, the oil resources claimed by the oil industry were nationalized by various governments in the Middle East (OPEC) and South America. As industries evolved through WWII, their growth came from global industry and government military contracts which funneled money to other governments and countries throughout the world. Technology emerged in the 1970's that basically drove a massive expansion into the digital and electronic information industry, much of which was outsourced to third world economies. Not only that, as the corporate sector bloated in the 1980's and beyond, the banking sector became way outsized in the global economy in the late 1990's, driving speculation into a bubble which the world economy has yet to recover from. These hot spots of banking have coalesced in illegal tax-free havens that are very small countries unto themselves and don't support a large local population. They're entities that basically bleed the money system and exist as private corporate vaults, and the scale of this top tier money, especially in the last decade, has become unprecedented, particularly the expat money from Russia. Meanwhile this top tier money (legal and illegal - drug trade and arms) consumes the resources that belong to global citizens and the natural ecosystem of the planet.

Because of this situation, it now appears that international capital flow restrictions are going to become the only rational way to balance global capital flows and put them to use effectively, whether for ecological restoration, carbon emissions reduction or rebuilding industry and human habitats. These capital flows, as one can see, are funneled through scattered tax havens in quantities that dwarf even the large economies of North America and Europe, and China's economy (its government) has yet to shed its veil. It's a wicked problem.

One method which could address this problem is to establish currency zones that capture these tax havens as well as countries that have large populations and balance out the capital flows with a "regional" approach. It could work in tandem with a regionalized trading system that supports local resource preservation rather than immense supply chains fueled by cheap oil. The scale of these systems must be brought into congruency in order to support the necessary shift in human activities that await us in the future.

Update 4/2/16: Huge New Global Corporate Bribery Scandal, Explained

Update 4/3/16:  Trans-Pacific Partnership pact would fuel climate chaos and empower corporate polluters to challenge environmental laws across the globe.

Update 4/4/16:  Huge document leak exposes shell companies
and this shows how it's done 

Update 5/5/16: Shell corporations are effectively located in the US in these states, which are then used to hide the offshore accounts.

Update 5/13/16: The western banking system has assisted the world’s kleptocrats and tax dodgers.

Update 6/6/16:  Panama Papers - US clients hid millions abroad

Update 10/23/16: UN expert urges next UN chief to focus on ending tax havens

Update 12/24/16: How it's done: How to Hide $400 Million

Update 12/31/16: The Panama Papers

Update 1/29/17:  Black Hole for Assets: Mossack Fonseca exposed by the Panama Papers

Update 6/1/17: The ultra-rich are hiding way more money overseas than anyone realized

Update 6/2/17: Companies That Just Don't Pay

Update 6/5/17: Study: The ultra-rich hide 25 percent of their wealth in tax havens

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

It's Time


There's a conversation emerging among the climate modelers, and it's about how these models have not only accurately presaged the climate changes we're seeing now, but that things are moving very quickly to a much worse scenario than these models predicted. Why? There's no feedback from natural processes accounted for in the relatively straightline projections contained in these models. The permafrost melt in the arctic, as well as other changes in the ocean, will compound an effect that human activity has set off in the ecosphere. A record Greenland ice melt occurred in June of last year, creating global concern around this issue because of the methane emitted from this process, an extreme positive feedback mechanism, which has not yet been factored into the models.

The warnings from the science community ramped up last year after Superstorm Sandy hit New York city, and the International Energy Agency has warned that on current emissions trends the world would be in for 6C of warming – a level scientists warn would lead to chaos. Scientists have put the safety limit at 2C, beyond which warming is likely to become a runaway change. Increasingly, there are models and numbers that show that we're quickly approaching that limit. The popular press has started to publish the even more alarming predictions that are based on this last years' climate events, and warning of the coming impacts of these changes.

Recently, Secretary of State John Kerry has taken an official position in Washington on the urgency of climate change. Kerry called climate change an economic and national security issue — as well as an environmental one — because it affects oceans, aquatic ecosystems and the food they produce. This is a very strong call to action by the USA. It's critically important for the decision to be made on specific actions and goals in response to climate change.The decisiveness of this particular historical moment is highlighted by an important new paper in Nature - the International Weekly Journal of Science, which finds first, that when we start serious change is the most important factor in limiting the damage from climate change, and second, that we have to start serious change now, with policy shifts comparable to an international carbon price of $60 a ton by 2015 in order to mitigate climate change in time to stop irreversible warming.

At this point in time, lawyers and lobbyists are waiting for the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality to issue the long bottled-up standards for how agencies should address climate change under the National Environmental Policy Act, signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970. Evidently Washington has decided to take this very belated action and establish standards for approving all manner of projects and initiatives that affect the amount of carbon emissions allowed in the atmosphere. This will have major impacts on the economy and businesses, but as the increasing global public outcry shows, the time has arrived to deal with the issue.

We hardly have any time left.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Changing the Game


Although their development and implementation can be costly, techniques to artificially remove and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere may become increasingly important as the planet potentially shifts into a permanently warmer state of dangerous climate change. As it stands, removing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere has been going on for decades on a small scale to maintain air quality in submarines and spaceships. Commercial processes currently used to liquefy air also require the removal of both water and CO2. Emerging techniques to pull carbon dioxide from the air will be a necessity, say researchers from Columbia University’s Earth Institute. The concern with this approach is the unknown cost impact of these technologies, however, these costs can also drive profitable industries. The research paper from PNAS dated June 28, 2012 is here (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA).

Abstract: CO2 capture and storage (CCS) has the potential to develop into an important tool to address climate change. Given society’s present reliance on fossil fuels, widespread adoption of CCS appears indispensable for meeting stringent climate targets. We argue that for conventional CCS to become a successful climate mitigation technology—which by necessity has to operate on a large scale—it may need to be complemented with air capture, removing CO2 directly from the atmosphere. Air capture of CO2 could act as insurance against CO2 leaking from storage and furthermore may provide an option for dealing with emissions from mobile dispersed sources such as automobiles and airplanes.

As I've discussed before, this is approach is only one part of a multivalent set of ways to actually reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere. It must be done in concert with a shift to non-carbon fuel sources, as well as the actual regeneration of natural systems. It's a carbon reduction framework that can incorporate many strategies.

Some examples of experimental approaches (i.e., Geoengineering) that are developing in the industry:

Sucking CO2 from the skies with artificial trees

A Canadian company has developed a cleansing technology that may one day capture and remove some of this heat-trapping gas directly from the sky. And it is even possible that the gas could then be sold for industrial use.

Revolutionary new technology that produces “petrol from air” is being engineered by a British firm

And in a different approach, Holistic Land Management:  Grazing animals are the path to restoration of the world's grasslands, which has the potential to pull all of the legacy carbon out of the atmosphere and put it back into the ground where it belongs.  There are roughly 12 billion acres worldwide, mostly ruined by human misuse, which we can restore.  At a modest one ton per acre we can pull twelve billion tons of carbon out of the atmosphere every year.  That's 6 parts per million (ppm) - and even if we foolishly continue to add 2 ppm annually, it's still less than a 30-year trip back to a stable pre-industrial 280 ppm, down from today's perilous 393.

These few example processes not only relocate the CO2, but the technological processes can recycle it as a fuel, which is what got us into trouble to begin with. But, it makes it possible to leave the existing oil, coal and gas reserves in the ground instead of extracting it with very expensive processes and transport, as well as put a stop to the environmental damage it does. The urgency in addressing climate change is well-founded, and could be the instigator of a new kind of industry that complements the current renewable and non-carbon energy sources.

Could it even be possible to mitigate climate change faster than we created it? Anything is possible once the old fossil fuel industries get out of the way, encouraged by a global agreement on climate change and a commitment to restorative processes.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Structures


The structure shown above is a tensegrity icosahedron, developed by Bucky Fuller, which demonstrates the dynamic of tension and rigidity that produces a system far stronger than its individual elements. Everything in this universe has different kinds of dynamic structure, even chaos, which is an evolving state. Proportional harmonies, the structures of Phi and the underlying quantum mechanics are the inherent patterns of the universe that interact with all systems.

These structures are systems that emerge and shift, responding to a changing environment, sometimes from the instigation of human societies. A view of these systems is fundamental to understanding the evolution of physical, ecological, cultural, economic and social systems in human culture. Structures are not static, and the interrelated patterns create new possibilities. An article on economics, by Sara Robinson, is part of a series in Alternet's "New Economic Visions" that discusses the emergence of new economic and social structures from the currently failing economic system.

How is the emergent new economy different? Her points are as follows:

Small Is Beautiful - it's local
Marx 2.0 - shared profits are smaller
Systems Theory - interrelated systems
A World Like the Web - matrices and connected frameworks
Reform, Revolution, and Evolution - evolution of the new within the old

This kind of flexible, smaller and nexus-linked structure is the necessary framework for a new economy that is responsive to a sustainable scale of human existence on this planet. It has to emerge, since the existing structures are producing destructive and corrosive situations throughout human society that are detrimental to the entire ecosystem. This is as outlined by Share The World’s Resources (STWR), a privately funded NGO:

Another fundamental concern is how a deregulated and globalised economy has locked large swathes of humanity into unsustainable patterns of overproduction and overconsumption. This irresponsible economic model is the real cause of our environmental problems, which include the rapid depletion of the world's natural resources and surging carbon emissions that governments seem unable - or unwilling - to contain. We are also confronted by an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, the excessive influence of corporate power, on-going financial instability and economic uncertainty.

A commentator in Future of Hope identified one of the root causes of their financial collapse as the domination of aggressively masculine business practices sanctioned by their government. These, he went on to explain, would still be considered successful strategies if they hadn't ultimately precipitated the country's collapse. The same blinkered approach to commerce applies across the world. The inherent flaws in the 'business as usual' model remain largely unacknowledged despite the grave financial and environmental crises it has exacerbated, and policymakers continue to blindly pursue their intimate relationship with the corporate sector.