Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wall Street Bail Out: Crony Capitalism

In 2008 it appeared that Wall Street and associated financial institutions, huge Too Big To Fail (TFTF) banks were endanger of collapsing. A clarion call was made by Hank Paulson, U.S. Treasury Secretary and former Wall Street bank at Goldman Sachs for $800 billion rescue. To some this was absolutely required to stem the panic in Wall Street. Others like myself wonder if other solutions couldn’t have been considered besides a giant giveaway to the Wall Street Banksters. I would rather characterize it as knee jerk Crony Capitalism.

Let me provide some details about this huge corporate welfare scheme. In 2008 the highly leveraged Wall Street investment banks started to “Go South” after betting on the mortgage market. Highly leveraged means their capital was a mere fraction of their investments. Maybe 2 or 2.5% of their investments. This money making game sounds like fun until somebody gets hurt, of course. And they looked to the U.S. government to provide corporate welfare to bail them out.

To put it in perspective, it’d be similar to the average Joe or Jill who went out and bought a million dollar home on the a downpayment of say $10,000. Of course in large part that’s what the average person was doing during the housing boom. Borrowing to the hilt in anticipation that housing prices would continue to rise, and then quickly sell for a profit far greater than that little down payment, of say $10,000, [or no downpayment at all in some cases], when they “flipped” the house.

The Investment bankers were betting on the same thing in this highly leveraged way, 40 to 1 or more. These sketchy mortgage loans that Joe and Jill Q. Public were making were packaged into “investments” and sold to Wall Street and to their clients. Wall Street began to trade with its own money after a time, in addition to representing their clients.

The most famous of those banks is Goldman Sachs; it’s a beehive of money making activity working just about 365 days a year. Recruited from the best business schools, those hires that survive the 30 interviews will see themselves working 110 hours a week, 7 days a week. They are all about the money. Nothing wrong with that I suppose. Just don’t ask me to finance your lifestyle through my tax dollars.

Anyway Goldman Sachs was the first to determine that the housing boom was coming to an end and they started to bet against it. In fact they were selling these mortgage backed securities to clients AND betting against them at the same time. They were fined $500 million in spring of 2011 by the SEC (Security Exchange Commission) for this very arrangement. The SEC are the guys who are supposed to watch over Wall Street but fall asleep a lot. (Does Madoff come to mind?) (See Money and Power, by William D. Cohan about Goldman Sachs).

The $800 billion TARP in 2008 that was rammed through Congress, with dire prognostications about the economy, if it failed to pass, was just the start. This money was used to prop up banks and purportedly save “Main Street” in the process. Of course 3 years later there are some six millions fewer people unemployed than in 2008 but Wall Street has been made safe for Democracy. But as I said this bail out was just the start.

Now comes another recipient to Federal government largess. The huge insurance company AIG insured these mortgage backed securities with something called Credit Default Swaps; it’s just insurance on failure of a bond. AIG figured this was easy money: money for nothing. They just collect the premiums and would never have to pay. Something like hurricane insurance for Michigan, right? Remember these are the smartest guys in the room. But OOOOPS! When the bottom fell out of the market, they didn’t have the funding to back them up.

Outrageously, Wall Street chose collectively not to aid itself, we find out. The Federal Reserve in late 2008 asked the Wall Street banks to ante up to save AIG; these are the guys that would be most affected by this failure of AIG. Wall Street refused. Now mind you, AIG held the insurance that was backing Wall Streets mortgage related investments. They would only be helping themselves if a consortium of banks contributed to their own rescue. And thus …

JPMorgan and Goldman offered no public explanation for rejecting [U.S. Treasury official] Geithner’s proposal. The public wasn’t even told the banks were asked to do their part. Nor did Federal Reserve officials argue with the decision or try to apply persuasive pressures. [Unattributed internet quote]

With Wall Streets refusal to help themselves, the cost to U.S. taxpayer was $182 billion to prop AIG up. I figure that’s about enough to support about a half a million welfare queens for about a 20 years to my calculation. (I just saw a story of couple swindling welfare $1,200 monthly for the last 10 years living in a $1 million dollar house….lets see how many years would they have to live to have taken as much as AIG….counting fingers, toes, I still counting … ok, just 12.5 million years) Instead we’re supporting a few millionaires, who will eventually buy a few Governorships or Senate seats like Jon Corzine or a sports team or two [only if the stadiums are supplied by the public of course]. These banks had the gall or audacity to refuse to ante-up when we were told that “we” were all in the same boat together, Main Street and Wall Street, one big happy family. The fact is when it came to saving themselves they wouldn’t even pony up and left the taxpayers with the bill.

So without further adieu Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, makes taxpayer billions available to AIG. This was backdoor bailout to the Wall Street banks including Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and foreign banks like Deutsche Bank. Of course it wasn’t until a year and half that the Federal Reserve disclosed the deal that made these banks good.

Just for your information, the financial wizard said to be the most responsible for AIG’s collapse was Joseph Cassano who made $280 million in the eight years he was employed there plus he was allowed to keep the $34 million of bonus, when he walked away in 2008. It seems kind of unjust that the person most responsible for tanking AIG to the cost of $182 billion to taxpayers was made rich as Croesus in the process. I guess that’s why I got to believe in Hell; some people might think it sufficient to suffer someone like that to read my blogs for eternity….sounds fitting. (FYI: Mr. Cassano’s eventual disposition in the afterlife is only known to our Creator. I make no judgment as to his true character.)

I’m told we should feel better that AIG paid back most the bail out and they only owe $ 50 billion now. Like I say, just give me $182 billion today and I’ll gladly give it back to you tomorrow. The interest overnight would allow me to retire and all of my family, as well, for life. Meaning of course that capital is scarce and absolutely key to success of any enterprise, borrowing a few hundred billion here and there and giving it back sometime later is a fantastic gift and to a massive failure like AIG boils down to the dreaded “unjust enrichment”.

We’re not done yet with the chicanery. Big Ben (not the dope, Ben Roethlisberger, that plays quarterback for the Pittsburg Steelers and likes to mash young women and eat for free but Ben Bernanke, Fed Chairman) decides to allow Goldman Sachs to declare itself a member of the Federal Reserve banking system like a consumer bank. Voila! They have access to the Federal Reserves funding. Christmas came early and often for Goldman Sachs.

What Goldman Sachs could take advantage here was what is called the Primary Dealer Credit Facility, something only a very few financial institutions have privilege to, which is access to short term lending in the billions, at an interest rate that remains at a very low .5% interest. Goldman Sachs made use of $782 billion in loans from this “facility”.

In the same year Goldman Sachs made $13.4 billion in profit (2009) and their employees averaged a cool $500,000 a year. I suppose that “Main Street” should be breathing easy that “Wall Street” returned to profitability so quickly. But in fact the consumer sector, 70% of the economy, has been taught a very hard lesson with the Great Recession by the bail out of Wall Street. The financial elites made out but in doing so “Main Street” was largely left behind. More importantly consumer psychology had been radically changed into something like a bunker mentality with continued long term affects on economic growth.

What’s the solution? Not necessarily more Big Government. It’s Big Government that contributed to this mess in the first place. The guarantee of the banks’ “deposits” (actually payables) to begin with in 1933 put the U.S. taxpayer on the hook for bank stupidity (or rather speculative risk) since the depositor was much less concerned how the bank “invested” (lent out the deposits) and the bank had less fear to lend at dangerous risk.

And oddly many people place the blame solely on the Republican Party, the party of Business. But a Democratic administration under Clinton and a Democratic congress removed barriers to interstate banking under Riegel-Neal Act in 1994. This essentially allowed the creation of the mega-banks, TBTF’s (Too Big to Fails) , that we see today. In addition Robert Rubin, another former Chairman of Goldman Sachs, and Treasury Secretary for the Clinton administration, was instrumental in undoing the wall that Glass-Steagall of 1933 erected between commercial/consumer banking and investment banking (stocks and bonds). This added to the risk these large TBTFs could take by betting on the stock market using deposits guaranteed by the Federal Government.

Add to that Rubin, as Treasury Secretary under Clinton, deflected any oversight of the huge derivative mark in 1998. Brooksley Born, the director of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) at the time advocated oversight of this multi-trillion dollar market. Rubin, Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve Chairman and Larry Summers, the next Treasury Secretary under Clinton all opposed any oversight. See below as to the import and meaning of derivatives:

Derivatives are highly volatile financial instruments that are occasionally used to hedge risk, but mostly used for speculation. They are bets upon the value of stocks, bonds, mortgages, other loans, currencies, commodities, volatility of financial indexes, and even weather changes. Many big banks, including Bank of America, issue derivatives because, if they are not triggered, they are highly profitable to the issuer, and result in big bonus payments to the executives who administer them. [Avery Goodman, 2011]

Credit default swaps would fall under this category. AIG sold them and Wall Street bankers bought them, thinking they would insulate them from risk, much to their peril. The reliance on these gave a false sense of security to Wall Street.

Continuing on this vein of how much influence Wall Street exerts in Democratic administrations read below:

Goldman [Sachs] employees and their relatives contributed almost a million dollars to Barack Obama's presidential campaign — making it "the company from which Obama raised the most money in 2008" — and Blankfein [Chairman]has visited the White House ten times as of February 2011. (wikipedia)

Have you had a chat with the President lately? Chairman of Goldman Sach’s has had numerous talks with the President, something akin to full access. It’s amazing what $ 1 million will buy you.

Instead of substantive reform, the Democrat solution in 2009 Frank/Dodd bill relied soley on more regulation. It does little to prevent another massive bailout since it doesn’t reinstate Glass-Steagall with its separation of investment and retail banking nor does it reasonably reduce the size of the TBTFs. It leaves it up to governmental agencies to scrutinize them. One of its provisions carries the risk of increasing the chance of a bailout; FDIC is allowed to borrow from U.S. Treasury thus providing for another avenue for a bailout.

As evidence as to the efficacy of Frank/Dodd regulation we have the recent MF Global failure, run by no less than Jon Corzine, former Governor and Senator of NJ and Co-Chair of Goldman Sachs. It appears that despite the oversight of governmental agencies envisioned by Frank/Dodd, MF Global crashed and burned and ended up losing $1.2 billion dollars of their customer’s funds in what might turn out to be massive fraud. In the last few months before they declared bankruptcy their clients funds may have been used to fund the “proprietary” accounts, that is the ones that the MF Global themselves bet with. As the company was losing money this would be a ready source of cash.

Once again there’s a tale of collusion between Wall Street and government despite the enhanced regulation meant to have been provided by Frank/Dodd. CFTC, the regulatory agency designated to oversee MF Global was led by Gary Gensler, a former colleague of guess who? Jon Corzine, at Goldman Sachs. Congress will be asking Mr. Genlser how he was asleep at the wheel, while MF Global burned, while using what appears to be customer money which is supposed to be completely separate from the firms trading accounts.

And wait it gets better. Another former Goldman Sachs associate, President of the New York Federal Reserve bank grants MF Global access to that Prime Dealer Credit Facility I spoke about above, that is to be a primary lender in February, 2011. This is after MF Global had several losing quarters. Granting primary dealer status generally takes several years, I understand. As a result they can borrow from the Federal Reserve at near zero rates of interest. It might appear that Mr. Corzine’s connection may have some to do with the approval. Nonetheless it was good money after bad.

I almost forgot former President Clinton was on their payroll at $50,000 a month. What were they buying there I wonder?

I think this throws the ability of Frank/Dodd to regulate the financial markets into question. The bottom line is that regulation is ever liable to influence peddling. Somethings like MF Global or Madoff somehow just get missed.


I won’t run through all the sensible solutions; admittedly regulation of markets is all important to assure transparency. Using the Federal Government as a big piggy bank is NOT.

One solution that I rarely hear about is the need for adequate capital requirements. That is how much “downpayment” is required to be kept on hand. Currently, if you go try to borrow for a house the bank is going to ask you for a 20% downpayment. I was in banking for 15 years. The old bank, run by the McPherson family, since 1865, leant out only about 50% of its assets. The remainder was in U.S. Treasury bonds. That bank survived several panics and the Great Depression. It was bought out to a “hot shot” lumber guy from Bay City, Michigan. They started the New Century Bank and began to liberalize their lending requirements where the vast majority of you assets were leant out, say 90% or some such. Of course much more money can be made lending than simply buying low yield but very secure U.S. Treasury Bonds. That New Century bank didn’t make it past a couple of years and managed to lose about $ 30 million in a year or so and was bought out by another regional bank shortly after.

Lesson is that today’s banks are far too leveraged, I realize there would be screaming world wide from the financial community but capital accounts requirements of 20%, not the 5% or so that’s now typical, should be mandatory. Each time these financial institutions are trouble, the cry is that they can bring down the whole economy, if so, they should have very high capital requirements and better yet they should be rationally downsized. Former Federal Reserve President, Alan Greenspan, was the only other person I’ve heard call for increases in capital requirements. The retails banks along with the investment banks are too highly leveraged and need a much larger cushion to protect the taxpayer and the economy.

Just a heads up, October 21, 2011 Bank of America shifted $55 trillion dollars of derivatives from its Merrill Lynch division to its retail consumer bank, Bank of America insured by the FDIC. FDIC, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has opposed this shifting of risk from Merrill Lynch investors to U.S. taxpayers. Another bailout?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Judicial Taliban

There are at least some laws that depend for their “authority” not on some pre-existing human convention, but on the logical relationship in which they stand to moral standards.*

The current pack of Judges, state and Federal, are self proclaimed champions and crusaders of political correctness. They reject any basis or foundation in any ethical and moral philosophical systems. They subsist solely within an American Judicial ethos of their own making. In addition these Judicial Taliban insist on granting rights that frankly aren’t for them to bestow. Judicial activism is rampant and largely unfounded.

Examples of activism abound. Recently judges demanded that California arbitrarily reduce its prison population by thousands without regard to how this will affect the public safety. Yet, there’s no law that dictates this reduction.

In another instance in Texas Federal District Judge ordered a High School graduation speech have no mention of prayer or God or some such. 1st Amendment rights aside, what business does a federal judge have adjudicating the very content of speech at something like a High School graduation? That’s simply judicial overreach which goes against a key element of our successful representative democracy, its limited nature.

Do we have a government Center for Politically Correct Language or rather a Federal government with constitutional limits insuring Free Speech? It’s especially odd considering any time an “artist” wants to portray Christ in Piss it’s deemed their right under the Constitution. I just wish he didn’t do it with taxpayer money.

These renegade rulings continue as I write. Federal judges struck down Michigan’s popular constitutional initiative banning “Affirmative” action programs, which represent reverse discrimination. Concerns for popular will aside it seems as if judges are acting like “independent voices of the infinite” that Judge Holmes mocked nearly a century ago.

An issue I hesitate to broach has been thrust upon the public square. Judges have found rights to same sex unions in constitutions which seem pulled out of thin air. These unions may seem equitable and trendy but the will of the people has been expressed numerous times against expanding the meaning of marriage. Is there something the judiciary doesn’t get about role of popular will in democracy?

In a democracy government was meant to be of the people for the people and by the people, whose will is expressed through popular elections and referendum. Judicial fiat should play little part in the public square.

Within this writing New York legislature acted on extending marriage contract to same-sex individuals. I don’t agree with this policy but nonetheless this was enacted through the popular process not judicial fiat.

The reference for this activism is the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. 14th Amendment was initially enacted to insure former slaves would not be deprived of their civil rights. After the Civil War the white Southerner was in the process of reducing the emancipated slave to a status of indentured servant by restricting their right to movement, ownership, voting rights and employment among others things. This amendment insured individual states couldn’t take away rights guaranteed by the Federal government. Good idea, right?

Well, one hundred fifty years later the Judiciary has seem fit to carry this ball out of stadium it seems. Strange and wonderful legal measures continue to be taken under “Substantive due process” doctrine said to be originated from the 14th Amendment. Basically speaking the Court wants to grant even more rights than was first realized under the Constitution. This doctrine arose in the 1930’s, during the struggle with the Supreme Court to enact the New Deal agenda.


The Supreme Court is a body less representative than the British House of Lords, the hundreds of the upper nobility, who were to have maintained the interests of the aristocracy.
Many on the Supreme Court over recent history seem largely interested in making over society in a manner to their liking not simply interpreting the Constitution. If that’s the true purpose of these geriatric legal giants then maybe it should be expanded by 426 some members (to 435, the same as the House of Representatives) and make it truly representative. The appointment for life might not be a good thing in this case.

It had relied on the 14th Amendment in 1954 to knock down the “separate but equal doctrine” of two unequally funded school systems, white and black. This was not the original intent of the law, but still a fitting thing, it seems. It righted a social injustice allowed in another Court ruling Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896) which failed to apply the 14th amendment to dual segregated school systems, white and black of the South.

In the 1960’s activist judges began to promote there own social views beginning with family reproductive “rights” whose rectitude were best left to the legislatures to ascertain. An issue with some popular support but initiated by judicial fiat nonetheless and not much different than the Dred Scott rulling of 1856. Both denied a segment of humanity of their civil rights.

Once again as compelling as the issue is it’s not up to the judicial clique to determine what the will of the people may be on a certain issue; that’s why we have popular elections.

Iran has its Islamic Mullahs; we have our Judicial Taliban in the courts, it seems. The Mullahs have their sharia, Islamic Law and the Judicial clique make law not interpret it, buttressed by their bed rock belief that any attempt to ground law in universal principles is anathema. And thus they’re open to make it up as they go along.

Let me say emphatically that Law is too important to be left up to Lawyers. Lawyers are not disposed to engage in deep thought. I can’t recall a lawyer who has ever been moral philosopher. Yet, moral philosophers have spoken on Law, such as Immanuel Kant and Thomas Aquinas, great moral philosophers.

Current crop of attorneys are largely schooled in a social relativist version of law. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is their champion: a Civil War hero who fought at bloody Antietam battlefield, and was wounded 3 times in the Civil War and discounted any attempt to apply principles to law. He wrote:

…men make their own laws; that these laws do not flow from some mysterious omnipresence in the sky, and that judges are not independent mouthpieces of the infinite…

My response is that, for one, arguing from principles doesn’t make justices “mouthpieces of the infinite”. Once again he’s creating a straw horse, a false image to contradict. He’s quoted further to say:

The common law is not a brooding omnipresence in the sky.

I ask myself who thought common or non-statutory law WAS some “brooding omnipresence in the sky”? Then I guess him to mean to say any omnipresence is suspect and whose idea should be kept from influencing formation of Law.

Law should be viewed from the stance of the bad man.

Law here is based on no higher principle then agreeing not to harm one another, it seems. If this were true there’d be no seat belt or helmet laws I suppose.

'The prophecies of what the courts will do in fact, and nothing more pretentious, are what I mean by the law. A judge must be aware of social facts. Only a judge or lawyer who is acquainted with the historical, social, and economic aspects of the law will be in a position to fulfill his functions properly.

The social context is all important to Holmes.

"General proposition do not decide concrete cases."

Holmes seared by his experience in the Civil War refused to see the possibility of application of general moral principles to law and adhered to the idea of law at “bad man” level. Holmes leaves much unsaid. But I can guess; for Holmes law is an agreement between brutal men, who agree to not hurt one another. I won’t harm you if you won’t harm from me kind of thinking.
Admittedly, the farther from universal principles one wanders the difficulties of applying law increase. This doesn’t negate the possibility of their application. However, Holmes refuses to make any attempt at all to argue from principles.
The ancient traditional ideas held view law was to make us better. Prevalent thinking is little can make us better and it’s best not to try. For example this thinking would concur with the idea that the habit of watching porn movies all day probably is not a good thing to do, but not much worse than watching motivational tapes, since in the end not much about us will be affected by it. Oddly enough current society does make law to improve us: restriction in smoking in public places or seat belt laws seek to change behavior.

But nonetheless it is thought that moral precepts like Ten Commandments or Buddhist Eight Fold Path are useless things to reference and instead let’s just let the judiciary make it up as they go along. It’s surprising to learn that a depiction of Moses giving the Ten Commandments is on facade of the Supreme Court House. Somebody thought at some time in American History we can be informed by general principles.
Natural law philosophy presumes law’s origins are universal. The Declaration of Independence written by the Thomas Jefferson, who would become the 3rd President of the United States, used natural law as a basis. It reads:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Please note that these truths being self evident are those that can be discerned and in addition we are “endowed” with unalienable rights by some “brooding omnipresence”…. wait …no, a CREATOR. So we know two things here: there is truth or law, if you will, that can be discovered and it’s granted by a Supreme Being. This is in sharp contrast to what we just reviewed that Holmes was saying.


Lawyers are rightfully held suspect since they are the inheritors of the sophistic rhetorical tradition. The Ancient Greek assembly of 500 members would try cases each day in Athens and were shown susceptible to being swayed by persuasive rhetorical flourishes. The trained rhetorician, much like our modern lawyer, was held in much esteem for his abilities to sway the assembly. Law was very much was what the assembly was feeling that day.


Mandatory minimum wage laws and overtime laws were first thought to violate the right of contract between employee and employer. Judges struck these down as violating the inviolate property rights imbued in the constitution though not specifically stated. This is reminiscent of the judges today who see all manner of rights within the constitution based on their particular social views.

Of course there was no specific protection of property rights in the constitution but judges made that up and began to strike down overtime laws and such. The court was “reformed” from its errors during the social legislation of the New Deal Roosevelt.

The Supreme House of Lords, I mean Court, the Dred Scott case is famous for denying the Negro slave rights as human beings. The ruling understood the Negro as people, they just didn’t have any rights under the Constitution, as such. They were deemed chattel or tangible property like a horse or cow or barn. This ruling did as much as anything to precipitate the Civil War.

So we see U.S. House of Lords, I mean Supreme Court, sorry I keep slipping up there, is not a entirely reliable. In regards to slavery and property rights as seen above. Nonetheless, it seems as if the Court is granted supremacy over other branches of government in the eyes of the public. They were on the right side of the civil rights with Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) which ruled separate was not equal but one must remember it was civil rights legislation in regards to voting and housing and employment, not judicial fiat that fully addressed this issue.

Ideal purpose of law is to build a better person. Of course the sinister aspect to building a better person is that it’s been the state, whether authoritarian, Fascist or Nazi or totalitarian, Communist that has aspired to build a better person. Any effort to advocate such is thus suspect.

* Unattributed quote.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Ghost Behind the Mask

If you say, show me your God, I should like to answer you, show me the man who is in you Theophilus of Antioch (A.D. 180)

Science has largely dispelled, in the common mind, the notion that the hand of God rather than blind natural forces are behind observable events such as thunder and lighting, so terrifying to the pre-moderns. The Ancients most commonly attributed such things as earthquakes to God’s wrath. We now understand plate tectonics and continental drift. The question ultimately becomes just where is God acting? Science, we might gather, looks throughout the universe and provides us with empirical answers for seemingly every question.

Thus with the explanatory power of science God no longer explains the world for us. God becomes relegated to a feeling or disposition, something merely personal. God is killed as an active agent in the world so to speak. Some are content with that conclusion and see belief as a dangerous myth. Let me say I don’t think they fully understand the implications. Science is making one surprising step further.

If science can demonstrate it kills God, then most surprisingly science kills “YOU” too. When I say “YOU” this is the commonly held understanding that the “ME” or self, we sense and of which are aware, is a certain concrete reality. Virtually everyone will argue to the contrary, that the “Me” they experience does indubitably exist. Modern brain science has put that assumption to question.


Fundamentally, science has made great strides in understanding brain function. What science has found are interworking parts rather than a unified whole. Science has mapped out the brain and different sections have various operations. There are areas for eye movement, voluntary motor functions, sensory areas, vision, and language comprehension, as well areas for higher mental functions, of course, and for smell and coordination.

Studies of the brain show it working something like a component system. For example damage to what is called the Broca area leads to loss of ability to use words properly. Those affected can use nouns but no verbs, when asked to describe a scene. On the other hand, damage in another related area of brain, Wernicke’s, allows for use of nouns and verbs and proper grammar and intonation but they have lost understanding and when they speak, it’s gibberish. The link between thought and language is lost. The Broca area is not damaged so they can speak with proper intonation and facial expression and such but the area that translates thought to words is broken, thus the nonsense.

Speaking is a very complex process: thoughts are meant to become words, then sounds, finally to become muscle movements to produce them as ordered by the motor area of the brain. Broca’s area controls speech but Wernicke’s area maintains comprehension, where thought translates to language. Language involves the working of several areas of the brain.

Another disease of the brain puts in question how much our imagined integrated SELF can truly control. Huntington disease destroys our ability to control facial expressions, resulting in abnormal involuntary writhing movements. It’s caused by the absence of production of a protein that results in damage in specific areas of the brain. This also calls into question outside brain chemistry, what exactly is the “YOU”?

A further example, the damage of connections from Limbic area, seat of emotions, to Frontal lobe can cause debilitating indecision; we’ve lost emotional guidance.

Most profoundly science sees no center of consciousness. That is Science can find no Inner theatre; no projection screen of the brain; there’s no tiny guy (homunculus) inside our heads as some ancients speculated in the past. And this analogy of the projection screen of the brain breaks down completely when considering sound, smells and touch. All these functions seemed to take place in diverse parts of the brain.

What we experience as consciousness is a very hard thing indeed to grasp. It’s not continuous. We seem to go in an out of consciousness throughout the day. Have you ever driven down the expressway and then realized you weren’t truly conscious of driving for a few seconds? Or maybe you were daydreaming. You were on auto pilot so to speak, as you drove down the road. When you sleep walk, and are unconscious yet alive, we can be zombie like. We sleep and lose consciousness, and yet we hold ourselves to be sentient beings.

Common sense tells us we have free will and we seem to censor our urges and reflect before we act. Science tells us part of our brain, the frontal lobe, does much to monitor our behavior. A classic example is an injury to the frontal lobe of the brain. Phineas Gage in the mid-1850s was injured in a railroad accident by an iron rod through the skull; his frontal lobe was damaged. He exhibited radical personality change. Formerly a model worker, he became irreverent, fitful, profane, impatient, and obstinate; a marked change from his former conscientious self. So despite claims we have a Self that commands us, science shows us that that Self is really a contraption, intermittently present, composed of many working parts.

The argument that we are products of a function brain seems compelling. We can use an illustration. If we destroy part of the automobile, the brakes for instance, an automobile fails to function properly; it can’t stop. The question becomes, apart from the working components, is there an automobile “spirit”, apart from functioning parts, that remains? Probably not we’d guess. Under this analysis the “YOU” appears to be a production of a functioning brain, when it stops working it disappears.

Of course it’s not really that simple. Flexibility of the brain, nonetheless, belies locality of brain function, the automobile parts model. If one area is damaged then the brain can train other areas to do the work. For example the Broca area of the brain, a language area, can actually retrain itself to use another area of brain to process language.

This raises all manner of questions. Who’s doing the retraining? Which part of the brain decides to retrain the other? Since for many scientists we are fully products of evolution, which adaptive mutation of which neuron, would have made this, since evolution needs to work on specific gene mutation. This is markedly different than the component model of the brain. No automobile can reprogram itself to change the functions of other parts.

Science seems to think it might find conscious “YOU” under such devices as MRI that detects various “brain states”. Brain states are detected by such devices as MRI. A particular area of brain will “light up” denoting various brain states, operations of the brain such as speech, hearing, etc. Some scientists say they have even found “God” in these brain states. Distinct areas vividly light up in the brains of nuns and monks, during what might be reported as otherworldly episodes. But a connection between a particular thought and recorded brain activity has not been established.

Is the science on brain function and consciousness settled? No, but the underlying premise, just as is the notion that science dispels God, remains that science is the tool we use to discover ultimate answers, not observable events.

In other words, “all knowing” Science hasn’t found what is commonly known as consciousness. The presumption is that it just doesn’t exist as a separate entity.

In other words where is that integrated personal reality you commonly understand as “ YOU”? Science can’t seem to find it. Science concludes it doesn’t exist or only as an illusion. Frankly, I prefer not to draw that conclusion.

The Turing Test, named after the scientist who conceived it, aims to prove there might not be any difference between you and a computer. The effort is to make a computer sufficiently responsive to inquiries such that a normal human being couldn’t tell the difference between the computer and a human response. The conclusion that’s meant to be drawn once again is that our mental processes are no different than a machine’s.

Steve Speilberg’s movie Artificial Intelligence showed us how sophisticated robots might take on human characteristics. The obverse view is implied as well, that humans are simply electro-mechanical evolutionary generated biological robots.

The prowess of computing was demonstrated with IBM’s Big Blue defeating Kasparov, the chess master. Another that is about to challenge champions from the trivia game show, Jeopardy. And in this writing we find out that Watson, the IBM computers, indeed beat the unbeatable human champion, who had been victorious in more than 200 straight wins on the show.

What does it meant, when your SELF only exits as a mistaken illusion? One scientist puts it: just as they once believed in witches, captive to demonic spirits, who needed to be burned, we can no longer believe in a dualistic partition of the brain: a “Me” and my body. Mental processes that lead us to believe we have a SELF are as mistaken as fairies and witches and such.

And carried to its logical conclusion, just as in the case of the denial of the existence of God, if it can’t be demonstrated scientifically, then that YOU, common sense seems to tell you exits, simply doesn’t exist or exists simply as a part of a functioning apparatus like any machine like an automobile for example.

And science will tell us that we can’t always rely on what common sense tells me; the earth looks flat, but science demonstrates otherwise. Integrated consciousness is an illusion; just as there’s no evil spirits causing the schizophrenic to act crazy.

Science’s most profound challenge remains; how can immaterial, “YOU”, cause things to happen in your body, that are demonstrated to be a function of brain chemistry? For example when I, the integrated “ME”, desires to raise my arm, how does that lead to my arm raising? The YOU outside of brain states and neural electro-chemistry is scientifically very illusive.


Death of “YOU” does it matter? The prospect of human dignity being degraded to a zombie or computer-like status should alarm you. Ideas are powerful. The construction of the socialist utopia, in Russia and China, was based on the idea that nothing existed beyond the material world. Socialist man was a composition entirely material and whose consciousness was extinguished upon death. The demise of a few, or as it turned out countless millions, in the construction of a socialist paradise was considered expedient, in contrast to the grand socialist society that was being scientifically engineered. Enemies of the State were simply eliminated not murdered. Their suffering and death was not a crime against any innate human dignity. The shining results of a modern society would speak for themselves.

Much could be said in the same vein about the NAZI’s idea of man and his place in the Germanic Folk, and the absence of value of those outside their group. Society was defined by its people’s evolutionary struggle, not individual worthiness.

Conclusion: in regards of the heroic, the sainted, and the caregivers: science has little to offer in explanation. I believe in them.

Science ultimately can only offer questions. The singularity of the Big Bang, which is the incredible idea the entire universe, arose from an infinitesimally tiny speck spontaneously. This belies the given assumption that the cause of the effect must be greater than the effect. A whole universe can’t arise out of nothing unless we believe pink rabbits can suddenly appear on our office desk like magic. What is the ultimate cause and purpose of the universe? Science can only throw up its hands and offer silly multiple universe scenarios.

Or consider the astounding world of quantum universe, more like Alice in Wonderland with its maze of virtual particles and “spooky” action at a distance. “Action at a distance” is the fantastic circumstance where two photons or electrons, initially linked at the atomic level, will act in complementarity no matter how distant from each other, violating the “laws of physics”, if you will. This behavior has been proven by rock solid experimental science; Einstein spent the last several decades of his life trying to disprove this phenomenon without success.

Science futilely grasps at the fundamentals, the Ultimate Ground, but ground continues to move farther away with each discovery. Great effort and billions of dollars are being expended to locate the Fundamental substance. An explanation for the zoo of sub-atomic particles has been devised with quarks and such, yet there’s no end in sight to arrive at the scientific Shangri-la of this fundamental substance; the pre-Socratic philosophers, more than 2500 years ago, thought the fundamental elements were earth, fire, water and air, silly fools not having any understanding of sub-atomic particle psychics like we do. The funny thing is: Science is still looking for that fundamental substance.

I believe a Jewish Rabbi who was One with God rose from the dead two thousand years ago. Revivifying a corpse is a whole lot more plausible than believing there’s trillions of other worlds out “there” one of which just popped into existence… puff! as current science purports.

Truth is revelation. And this revealed story reconciles our fallen world with eternity. I believe in an Other World; it’s a spiritual realm ordered by God, but I don’t need science to prove it. I have the testimony of the Saints and my God given reason to convince me.

How will I be convinced to behave more humanely to my fellow man by theories that deny our fundamental value? Only when values are based on the existence of a Loving Supreme Being whose creation is deemed good, and who created an individual in His likeness, flawed but with dignity and inner worth.

Science gives us no ultimate answers as I’ve stated previously. As to what is happening in the brain, I would hazard to guess its much more like a quantum event than any digital computer would be. Under quantum physics a tree falling in the woods doesn’t make a sound unless there’s someone to hear it; only when it’s observed does the quantum wave function “collapse” and become observable.

I’m guessing that the immaterial “YOU” participates in a quantum event at the level of the brain synapse. This is no more mysterious than a universe that pops into existence or quantum’s “spooky action” at a distance: two particles inexplicably connected to each other. This is how the spirit can “move” the body.

Nonetheless, the story of faith is not meant to explain the observable universe but to provide a framework or context to explain the mystery of life and how we are to act in it and act towards others. Just because science provides many answers about the world around us doesn’t give it authority to provide the story.