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Monday, March 27, 2017

Young Russians Protest Government Corruption

Russia witnessed the largest anti-government protests in more than five years on March 26, 2017. At the urging of Aleksei Navalny, “tens of thousands of Russians—many of them in their teens and 20s—poured into the streets in scores of cities . . . to protest endemic corruption among the governing elite.”[1] The police responded by beating protesters—a barbaric and psychologically pathological response to peaceful protest—and arresting more than a thousand. As the protests were not directed against Putin, but, rather, corruption, the Kremlin should have been a cheerleader rather than antagonist to the protests.


The full essay is at "Young Russians Protest."

Aleksei A. Navalny at a court in Moscow on Monday. He told reporters that he was “amazed” by the number of cities and by how many people had taken part in demonstrations. Source: Denis Tyrin/Associated Press




1. Neil MacFarquhar and Ivan Nechepurenko, “Aleksei Navalny, Russian Opposition Leader, Receives 15-Day Sentence,” The New York Times, March 27, 2017.

Making a Joke Out of Liberty: Unmasking a Political Travesty


“Land of the free” is a ubiquitous expression that Americans use to describe the United States. Presumably those states esteem liberty as a political value even though it is oxymoronic for a government to voluntarily limit its own power over the governed. Hence, ratification of the U.S. Constitution was predicated on a Bill of Rights quickly to follow. Declaring governmental power to be limited was not enough. That many States have had “mask laws,” many still on the books as of 2017, testifies as to how invasive government power can be precisely at the expense of personal liberty wherein no one is harmed.
The full essay is at "Making a Joke Out of Liberty."

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Perspective on the European Union

At the signing of the Rome Declaration at the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Community on March 25, 1957, E.U. leaders expressed their intention to further strengthening the federal Union. Even as “regional conflicts, terrorism, growing migratory pressures, protectionism and social and economic inequalities,” as well as Britain’s upcoming secession provided a sense of pessimism, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, the E.U.’s executive branch, said, “Let us not lose perspective.”[1] I submit that this advice was at the time very important.


The full essay is at "Perspective on the European Union."


[1] James Kanter and Elisabetta Povoledo, “E.U. Leaders Sign Rome Declaration and Proclaim a ‘Common Future’ (Minus Britain),” The New York Times March 25, 2017.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Great Wall

William has come to China for rumored gun power, but what he really needs is trust. Therein lies his vulnerability, even if he views it better not to trust. Yet it could be that he is just afraid; Commander Lin Mae thinks so. The protagonist wants one thing, but in order to get it he must overcome a critical flaw. This is the basic form, or dynamic, of a screenplay. I submit that because film is an excellent medium in which philosophical principles can be explored and wrestled with, the protagonist’s vulnerability, raised to a principle, can efficaciously be more salient in a film than merely in the immediate struggles of the protagonist. In other words, the principle at issue in the protagonist’s flaw can play a more expansive role in a film, deepening it in the process.

The full essay is at "The Great Wall."


Saturday, March 18, 2017

European Officials at the G20 Grapple with a New American Trading Position: Beyond the Joint Communiqué

It is perhaps only natural---only human—for us to take ourselves and our produced artifacts too seriously. Diplomats and other government officials, for example, fret arduously over mere words. When those words are etched in governmental or treaty parchment, the effort is understandable. The flaw of excess is evident in all the time and effort that go into the joint communiques of international conferences and meetings. I submit that the real politic at such occasions is much more significant even if nothing shows from it for some time.
At the March 18, 2017 meeting of the Group of 20, which includes the E.U. and U.S., the joint statement “became an unlikely focus of controversy” issuing in “a tortured compromise stating, in effect, that trade is a good thing.”[1] I submit that the use of such language is spurious—certainly much less than the attendees and even their principals back home supposed. The real politic was instead that the U.S. was “overturning long-held assumptions about international commerce,” and such transformational change takes time even just to register in minds ensconced in the status quo. That is to say, the real shift in power would need to play out in actual negotiations on trade, rather than in how to word a meeting’s joint statement.


A European official, Wolfgang Schauble, perhaps straining at the meeting to understand the new American position. (source: NYT)

The full essay is at "European Officials at the G20."


1. Jack Ewing, “U.S. Breaks With Allies Over Trade Issues Amid Trump’s ‘America First’ Vows,” The New York Times, March 18, 2017.

A Religious Stockholder-Test for Wells Fargo: Confronting Mediocre Accountability

Orienting executive compensation to accountability is easier said than done. For example, it might be supposed that the cause of accountability was aptly served by John Stumpf’s forfeit of $41 million in unvested stock when he resigned under pressure as Wells Fargo’s CEO because of the bank’s systemic overzealousness in signing customers up for unwanted services. Unfortunately, he “realized pretax earnings of more than $83 million by exercising vested stock options, amassed over his 34 years at the bank, and receiving payouts on certain stock awards.”[1] In other words, the man who presided over unethical business practices at the expense of customers received double that which he was forfeiting. How can accountability have any meaning against $83 million? This figure connotes reward rather than punishment. Tim Sloan, who succeeded Stumpf as the bank’s CEO, received compensation in 2016 of $13, up from the $11 million in 2015. Interestingly, it may have been religion to the rescue.







[1] Stacy Cowley, “Wells Fargo Leaders Reaped Lavish Pay Even as Account Scandal Unfolded,” The New York Times, March 16, 2017.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The E.U.’s Central Bank: Beholden to State-Level Politics

Faced with the rise of anti-euro candidates for state offices throughout the E.U., Mario Draghi, the president of the E.U.’s central bank deemed it politically prudent to depart from the light world of cool economic data to mount a spirited defense of the euro and even free trade in March, 2017. With the UK having voted to secede from the Union, he could not assume that the state of the Union would continue to be inherently viable. Indeed, some political candidates at the state level were “questioning the whole idea of a united Europe and the European Central Bank’s fundamental reason for being.”[1] Were such questioning to reach the mainstream across the E.U., the ECB would face an existential crisis. The E.U. itself may have been in such a crisis since the British voted to secede—much like the U.S. faced an existential crisis during the Lincoln administration. Fortunately for the E.U., only one state had voted to secede, so I think the existential crisis facing the E.U. had been overblown since the British referendum. Nevertheless, the political climate in the E.U. was such that Draghi felt the need to take heed of political criticism.




[1] Jack Ewing, “As E.C.B. Charts Economic Course, Politics Complicate the Picture,” The New York Times, March 9, 2017.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Disentangling a Worsening Trade Deficit: Sector-Specific Industrial and Macro Economic Policy


The U.S. trade deficit rose 9.6% in January, 2017, to the highest level since 2012. The gap of $48.5 billion of exports exceeding imports looks daunting, yet the story is more complex at the sector level.[1] According to Neil Irwin of The New York Times, “What really matters is not whether the trade deficit is rising or falling. What matters is why?”[2] Distinguishing macro factors such as a strengthening dollar from sectoral strengths and weaknesses is thus necessary.
The full essay is at "Disentangling a Worsening Trade Deficit."


1. Neil Irwin, “The Huge January Trade Deficit Shows Trump’s Hard Job Ahead,” The New York Times, March 7, 2017.
2. Ibid.




The Port of Oakland (Source: Jim Wilson/NYT)

Monday, March 6, 2017

Federalizing State Warheads in the E.U.: The Problem of Excessive State Power in a Federal System

Only months after Donald Trump became the federal president in the U.S., an idea, “once unthinkable,” was “gaining attention in European policy circles: a European Union nuclear weapons program.”[1] The arsenal in the state of France would be “repurposed”—which is to say, federalized in American terms—to protect the European Union rather than merely one of its states. The command of the weapons, as well as the funding plan and defense doctrine, would be federal. Even though the question of whether the E.U. could continue to count of American protection—there being dozens of American nuclear weapons in the E.U.—was at the time most tantalizing, I submit that the matter of federalism in the case of the E.U. is salient too.



[1] Max Fisher, “Fearing U.S. Withdrawal, Europe Considers Its Own Nuclear Deterrent,” The New York Times, March 6, 2017.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Uber Tricking Law Enforcement: An Unethical Corporate Culture Externalized

A company with a culture in which in-fighting and heavy-handed treatment of subordinates are not only tolerated, but also constitute the norm can have good financials. With operations in more than 70 countries and a valuation of close to $70 billion in 2017, Uber could be said to be a tough, but successful company. Yet the psychological boundary-problems that lie behind such an organizational culture can easily be projected externally to infect bilateral relations with stakeholders. In the case of Uber, those stakeholders include municipal law enforcement. Even more than as manifested within the company, the external foray demonstrates just how presumptuous “boundary issues” are. Such presumption can blind even upper-level managers to just how much their company has overstep. In reading this essay on Uber’s program to evade law enforcement, you may be struck by the sheer denial in the company.

The full essay is at "Uber Tricking Law Enforcement."

Thursday, March 2, 2017

On the Vatican’s Conflict of Interest Regarding Accountability on Sex-Abuse


Integrity is arguably essential to the credibility of religious functionaries—even and especially those with considerable organizational power. So it was significant that Marie Collins, whom Pope Francis had appointed to the Vatican’s commission on sexual abuse by clergy and herself had been a victim of such abuse, resigned on March 1, 2017 due to “fine words in public and contrary actions behind closed doors.”[1] Notably, the commission suspended Peter Saunders a year before, “after he accused the panel of failing to deliver on its promises of reform and accountability” even including recommendations that the Pope had approved.[2] What is the basis of the problem? I submit that the conflict of interest that is inherent in having the clergy of a religious organization hold each other accountable is, much like industry self-regulation, culpable in this case.

The full essay is at "On the Vatican's Conflict of Interest."



[1] Elisabetta Povoledo and Gaia Pianigiani, “Abuse Victim Quits Vatican Commission, Citing ‘Resistance’,” The New York Times, March 1, 2017.
[2] Ibid.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Biblically-Based Investment Funds: A Matter of Priorities

Is it biblical to say a Christian can serve both God and money? In the Gospels, Jesus speaks to this point directly; it is not possible. In early 2017, Inspire Investing established two new exchange-traded funds having a “biblically responsible” approach to investing—meaning that they would avoid buying shares in companies that have “any degree of participation in activities that do not align with biblical values.”[1] That such activities include even tolerance for gay employees raises the question of just how practical an evangelical investment strategy is after the U.S. Supreme Court made gay marriage legal in all of the 50 republics making up the U.S.

The full essay is at "Biblically-Based Investment Funds."



1. Liz Moyer, “Alongside Faith in Investing, Funds Offer Investment Rooted in Faith,” The New York Times, February 28, 2017.

China and Russia Protect Syria’s Assad on Chemical Weapons: A Matter of Priorities


All bets are off when it comes to regulating war. Such a condition is virtually by definition beyond the confines of law. Even international law is but an impotent dwarf next to the raw force of a governmental regime at war—whether with its own citizens or another country. To be sure, the International Criminal Court had by 2017 made a dent in holding some perpetrators of atrocities such as genocide accountable for their deeds. Such efforts were still the exception, unfortunately, when Russia, China, and Bolivia vetoes a resolution in the U.N. Security Council that would have penalize Syria’s Issad regime for having used chemical weapons on Syrians. The reasons for the vetoes—and the fact that Egypt, Ethiopia, and Kazakhstan all obstained—implies that holding perpetrators accountable by international means had not yet become a priority at the international level.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Virtual Reality: Not Coming to a Theatre Near You

Virtual reality may be coming your way, and when it hits, it could hit big—as if all at once. The explosion of computers and cell phones provides two precedents. “Technologists say virtual reality could be the next computing platform, revolutionizing the way we play games, work and even socialize.”[1] Anticipating virtual reality as the next computing platform does not do the technology justice. I submit that it could revolutionize “motion pictures.” Even though the impact on screenwriting and filmmaking would be significant, I have in mind here the experience of the viewer.


The full essay is at "Virtual Reality at the Movies."

1. Cat Zakrzewski, “Virtual Reality Comes With a Hitch: Real Reality,” The Wall Street Journal, February 24, 2017.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Should Same-Party-Affiliation Exclude Investigations on an Elected Official’s Misconduct?

A survey taken in February, 2017 of 1,571 political scientists on democracy in America reveals a possible problem regarding the extent to which government officials are sanctioned for misconduct. More than half of the respondents believed that the United States only partly meets or does not meet this criterion, whereas about 80 percent of the scholars insisted that the criterion is essential or important to democracy.[1] I submit that partisanship is a major obstacle to performance being able to meet expectations.

The full essay is at "Same-Party-Affiliation and Misconduct."



1. Claire C. Miller and Kevin Quealy, “Democracy in America: How Is It Doing?The New York Times, February 23, 2017.