We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

United Nations Extraterritorial Heritage Sites

Returning most major ancient artifacts to their countries of origin can be accomplished. With revenue sharing super museums with embassy type protection in international UN zones. 

The increasing wave of transnational requests to return invaluable pieces of history to their general geographic area opens up interesting opportunities for:

1) Novel tourist revenue sharing transnational mechanisms

2) Dramatically raising the power of UNESCO in its mission area of building global education and heritage preservation

3) General international cooperation in anthropology, archaeology, history, and architecture.

Imagine if most pieces of ancient Egyptian architecture and artifacts scattered in major (primarily Western) museums around the globe could be pulled into a sort of "mega" museum in Egypt. A truly immersive slice of an ancient world could thus be recreated with entire city blocks of a time long gone stuffed with artifacts. Considering the amount of region specific columns, building pieces, and statues that were looted from areas under former Ottoman, Chinese, Indian, etc control, entire Disney World type historical amusement tourist parks can be constructed. Rather than one giant entity like British Museum containing pieces of ancient Greece, India, or Egypt, it can contain all the most relevant pieces of historical Britain while super museums in Rome, Cairo, India, Athens can be fully stocked with their respective artifacts and expanded to contain much more.

Obvious major questions arise:

1) Why would countries ever part with artifacts that were acquired through either expensive archaeological efforts of their wealthy citizens, by conquest, or through superior geopolitical position?

2) Isn't it very dangerous to have all the eggs in one basket in terms of having all the biggest artifacts and pieces in one city in the case of man made or natural disaster?

3) On what grounds do we empower a specific nation state with custodial powers and allow it to potentially abuse the new monopoly on ancient physical history?

This is where UNESCO comes in. The World Heritage Convention currently provides for a reactive defense of cultural sites but UNESCO can flip that to become proactive creator of new heritage sites of sufficient transnational importance. Just as with proposals to make Jerusalem an international city, certain areas can become designated to become international heritage sites with extraterritorial protections of the entire 193 member body of the United Nations. In this manner, the host country, whether Italy, Greece, or Egypt can enjoy the full benefits of tourist traffic flying to its airports to get to the museum within its national borders while having the museum under long term control and protection of the international community. More mundane concerns of protecting the super museums from natural or man made catastrophe can be resolved with having the museums some ways away from major cities.

The powers holding on to these artifacts currently can be financially compensated with a proportional slice (based on amount of their contributed "sacrifice" of returning the loot) of the ticket sale revenue from the new international super museum complexes. Prominent countries holding the most amount of ancient history also happen to be on the UN security council. What was taken from areas such as the one under former Ottoman control can now be given back under an authoritative UN umbrella.

UN bureaucrats should always be on the look out on how to expand the powers of their organization. Focus on soft issue such as creation of new postmodern heritage sites allows precedent setting extraterritorial space building action that in the future can be utilized for more serious global projects involving energy, agriculture, and even industry. Creation of a giant Egyptian amusement park allows a foot in the door towards giving UN more teeth. Additionally, globe trotting professions like anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, etc can be provided with new streamlined travel and operational perks. An embryonic class of global citizenry does not necessarily need to wear helmets or always carry guns.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

2012 Election Year Retrospection: Failure of Obama Administration

The Pragmatist came about when the crisis began and now it is time to look back at what this site has gotten right politically, what wrong, and how election will wrap up

Barack Obama was put into office with Wall Street hedging 57% financial support towards him (it is down to 37% presently). It was widely expected that he will partially channel FDR and do for American finance top heavy capitalist system what FDR did for industry top heavy capitalist system of yesteryear. Namely, restructure it to extend its lifespan for a few more decades. The Pragmatist assumed that the nationalist minded elite clans (such as General Electric shareholders, etc) that put the current figurehead in, recognize that their privileges are in danger and will thus tackle the crisis vigorously and seriously. To keep milking the cow one needs to keep it alive and periodically update the milking equipment. Any such restructuring would require simultaneous dual push for a solid baseline industrial policy and dramatically different approach to liquidity provision.

The state hasn't pursued major rebuilding of the manufacturing base along with major restructuring of the financial sector (that is sitting/managing on top of the industry) to the degree that The Pragmatist predicted. There have been some mild efforts and platitudes concerning emulating a corporate/labor/state collaboration system like Germany but nothing serious yet. We can assume that this nationally self sabotaging behavior is due to a combination of two factors:

1) Major shareholders behind both political wings of the oligarchy are substantially internationalized so that the whole world is now considered a cow and that saving the cow on the North American continent is not as big of an issue anymore. The world's economic/financial system that US built is seen as sufficiently institutionalized that profits can continue to be made in a multipolar world. Greater amount of capital and energy is seen as required to save the American empire than to keep looting it and extracting from it. Thus..

2) The elites are emotionally ambivalent about which side to back. This allowed the status quo alliance of regional and internationalist minded shareholders behind the republican wing to reorganize and stage a current comeback. The nationalist Northeastern Yankee faction of the oligarchy simply does not have enough interpersonal power to modify the federal state apparatus anymore. In that they are very similar to the reform minded faction in the Soviet communist party in the 1980s (which was always stifled in its restructuring attempts by the reactionary majority that just favored "tightening some nuts and bolts" on an airplane that was struggling to even fly horizontally, much less lift up). This is explicitly seen in Obama faction's weakness towards the military generals to the present day.

Long term demographic trends still point to elite clans increasingly ruling from urban hubs rather than from wealthy suburban enclaves. The Pragmatist is probably correct in predicting a multidecade slide toward Brazil style authoritarian developmental system as the wealthiest cosmopolitans cluster in the coastal cities and as the interior descends into accelerated rot and South American style poverty. As for short term, even with democratic wing taking the brunt of the crisis (unlike GOP Hoover's administration that weathered 1929-1932), The Pragmatist incorrectly predicted in 2009 that Republicans will undergo a crushing defeat in 2012. That was due to 1) correctly predicting even more severe self cannibalizing infighting in GOP primary (and Ron Paul faction becoming co-equal to other major GOP factions) and 2) incorrectly predicting that the most strategic way forward for rich people generally (so called enlightened self interest and seeing writing on the wall) to preserve their system is major moves towards accommodation with the plebs. As we approach November, GOP would have underwent, if not a Mondale style defeat, but a paradigm shifting defeat if democrat backers took advantage of the crisis early on.

However, this dramatically changed with Citizens United, weakness, incredulity, and paralysis of New England power brokers, and seeming (at first glance irrational) inability of GOP backing elite clans to accommodate a new populist cultural paradigm shift (betting that they can use the crisis to hijack populism towards a new long term type of pro-corporate paradigm shift, similar to but qualitatively cruder than the one that began in early 1980s). At this point it is futile to disentangle multitudes of contributing factors that caused general paralysis ranging from 1) the passing ideological spasm of firebrush libertarianism cynically used by some elites in the last two years (similar to a rash of "genuine" communists in Soviet Union in the 1980s who insisted that the map is not the terrain) 2) need to continue to cause destabilization abroad to preserve force backed dollar hegemony (restructuring mentioned above would hinder militarism for a number of years) 3) A cancer patient type fear that the treatment is worse than the disease and that treatment will be even worse for social stability than kicking the can down the road.

We only have the present situation to work with.

Even in the headwinds of Citizens United changes in figurehead selection, Obama can still campaign on offering the 18 million opinion maker households (that generally decide elections) a Dow Jones that returned to almost precrisis levels and some reduction in stock market volatility from the 09-10 period. Paradoxically however, stabilization and normalization for elites and their butler class allowed both of them to relax and entertain the idea of a Romney presidency. This is a classic case of a loyal fall guy who went out of his way to help out and got discarded after the job. A sidenote: Obama can not be considered to have been a general weakling since he periodically showed surprising strength and spine when defending certain oligarchic interests against the progressive wing of the democratic party (as well as Obama's direct involvement in crushing civil unrest in fall of 2011). Another interesting sidenote: Citizens United may appear to overwhelmingly favor the corporate block but it also allows individual oligarchs new influence that they didn't have before. 2012 GOP primary infighting demonstrates that unlimited money in politics strangely generates a sort of top down pluralism among the elites (even if the pluralism is neo-feudal in nature).

In summer of 2009, it was predicted that major debt restructuring (well beyond the floating rate scheme planned currently) will need to occur before 2012 election or US risks keeping its economic system while seeing major changes in its political system. This will be tested in the next 4 years even if Obama is reelected. The Pragmatist's June 2009 (and admittedly safe!) advice to buy precious metals has generally proven correct with gold rising well above most asset classes from $950 an ounce to $1695 today and silver doubling from $15 to $32 today. Since austerity has never historically helped finances of countries, we will see where the can eventually lands.

It is time to put fiat where the mouth is with a very safe and tame prediction. Barring engineered economic jolts to help Romney or a paralyzing foreign crisis, Obama will probably narrowly win again considering roughly 1.5 million annual boomer mortality rate. Romney and Obama are tied now and are rather close in swing states. It appears that "the war on women" wedge issues will be utilized by the federal center of force to try to push Obama's coalition over the edge in terms of support. Considering that youth turn out will be depressed again, it is also a rather perverse race between amount of people recently disenfranchised by GOP state apparatuses, roughly 6 million boomers who died of old age in last 4 years (demographic that McCain won handily), and amount of minorities coming of voting age. Finally there is also the fact that it is a potent historic anomaly that Mitt Romney, a pure bred northerner, secured support of a party grounded in the south and it will be an even greater historical anomaly if he wins (looking at surprisingly regular election results going back to 1870s). The final 2 months should finally uncover some of that Obama spine as he uses federal apparatus backed stunts and that megaphone that was always at his disposal.

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