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Monday, October 24, 2016

Apple’s iPhone and the FBI: Recalibrating the Right-to-Privacy

On February 29, 2016, a federal judge rejected the FBI’s request to unlock the work-issued iPhone 5c of Syed Rizwan Farook, who with his wife killed 14 people at a 2015 holiday gathering of county workers. The FBI and DEA cited the All Writs Act, a law passed in 1789 that authorizes federal courts to “issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.”[1] The U.S. Justice Department was demanding that “Apple create software to bypass security features on the phone.”[2] In other words, Apple was to “write code that overrides the device’s auto-delete security function.”[3] In response, Apple’s lawyers argued that the statute does not give the court the right to “conscript and commandeer” the company into defeating its own encryption, thus making its customers’ “most confidential and personal information vulnerable to hackers, identity thieves, hostile foreign agents and unwarranted government surveillance.”[4] Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO at the time, said the FBI “was asking his company to create a ’back door’ that could be used to unlock other phones, exposing customer data. Agreeing to the FBI's demand would set a dangerous precedent that could lead to other calls for Apple's help to obtain private information, Cook said.”[5] Only weeks later, the FBI abruptly dropped the case because the bureau had found an outside company with technology that could serve as a master key. The FBI could use the “key” to unlock any iPhone. This left customers fearful that their data was now less than private even though Apple had promoted the iPhone product as not having a “back door” In the end, (t)he iPhone fight exposed a rift between the FBI and Silicon Valley technology companies over encryption, and sparked a debate about the right balance between privacy and national security.”[6] I suspect that although a trade-off, or tension between the right of privacy and the national-security interest of the United States existed at the time, electronic privacy would become harder and harder to protect as a result of the FBI’s tactics.  

The full essay is at "Apple's iPhone and the FBI."

1.  Jim Stavridis and Dave Weinstein, “Apple vs. FBI Is Not About Privacy vs. Security—It’s About How to Achieve Both,” The World Post, March 8, 2016.
2. The Associated Press, “New FBI Head in San Francisco Was Key Figure in iPhone Hack,” The New York Times, October 5, 2016.
3. Jim Stavridis and Dave Weinstein, “Apple vs. FBI Is Not About Privacy vs. Security—It’s About How to Achieve Both,” The World Post, March 8, 2016.
4. Jim Stavridis and Dave Weinstein, “Apple vs. FBI Is Not About Privacy vs. Security—It’s About How to Achieve Both,” The World Post, March 8, 2016.
5. The Associated Press, “New FBI Head in San Francisco Was Key Figure in iPhone Hack,” The New York Times, October 5, 2016.
6. The Associated Press, “New FBI Head in San Francisco Was Key Figure in iPhone Hack,” The New York Times, October 5, 2016.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Saudi Arabia Beheads a Member of the Royal Family: Justice for All, Atrociously

On October 18, 2016, Saudi Arabia executed a member of the royal family for committing murder during a brawl. Prince Turki bin Saud bin Turki bin Saud al-Kabeer was put to death most likely by beheading in a public square—as this was the usual method at the time. As horrific as such an execution is, the point that law applies to everyone is laudable—especially “on point” for countries in which the rich can “get away with murder” by hiring the best (and most expensive) lawyers.  The atrocious means of execution coupled with the dictum that the law really does apply to everyone renders this case particularly difficult to analyze from an ethical perspective. 

The full essay is at "Saudi Arabia Beheads."

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Housing Bubble in China: A Rationale for Government Intervention

As of October, 2016, China was in the midst of a dizzying housing bubble. A month before, “economists at the Bank of China warned in a report that worsening asset price bubbles were adding to a frothy market that could result in trouble.”[1]  Shanghai’s average housing price was up nearly one-third from a year before; prices in major cities like Beijing and Guangzhou were not far behind.  The recognition of the bubble—which does not come easily—should have triggered counter-cyclical measures by the Chinese government.

The full essay is at "A Housing Bubble in China."

1. Neil Gough and Carolyn Zhang, “In China, Property Frenzy, Fake Divorces and a Bloating Bubble,” The New York Times, October 16, 2016.

Monday, October 17, 2016

U.S. Government adds $587 Billion to Its Debt in 2016: Revealing a Fault-line in Democracy

The U.S. federal-budget deficit for the fiscal year that ended at the end of September, 2016, represented a reversal on the six-year run of declining deficits. The $587 billion deficit is equivalent to 3.2% of GNP; the previous year’s deficit had been $438 billion, which is 2.5 percent of the GNP.[1] The underlying reason for the altered trend has to do with democracy itself—something notoriously difficult to budge.

The full essay is at "U.S. Budget Deficit of $587 Billion."

1. Jackie Calmes, “U.S. Deficit Increases to $587 Billion, Ending Downward Trend,” The New York Times, October 14, 2016.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Christian Leadership in Pope Francis’s Naming of Cardinals

In naming 17 new cardinals in October, 2016, Pope Francis moved closer to putting his stamp on the sort of cleric who would follow him as pontiff. Similar to a U.S. president’s power to nominate justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, a pope’s power to appoint cardinals who presumably can vote in the next concave is decisive in terms of leaving a legacy. With the additional cardinals, Francis had appointed 40 percent of the cardinals who could vote in the next conclave. The fact that cardinals tend to be old suggests, however, that any lasting legacy would not be long lasting. I submit that the cardinals’ typical age and even other qualities suggest that the rubric a pope uses in selecting clerics for the red hat says a lot about how the pope approaches Christianity. 

The full essay is at "Christian Leadership."

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

E.U. Free-Trade After Brexit: Applying Domestic Requirements to International Trade

With the E.U. state of Britain set to secede from the Union, one major question was whether British businesses would continue to get unfettered access to the E.U.’s domestic market. I submit that subjecting free-trade negotiations to stipulations that are oriented to states rather than trading partners is unfair to Britain. Given the extraordinary influence of E.U. state officials at the federal level, this is a case in which the political influence of British business would be constructive rather than subversive of the public domain to private interests.

The complete essay is at "Free Trade After Brexit."

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The E.U.’s Border-Control and Coast Guard: Held Hostage by Confederalism

In policing its borders as late as 2016, the E.U. suffered the same plight as the U.S. did under its Articles of Confederation—only whereas in the case of the U.S. the States retained all of their governmental sovereignty under the Articles, some governmental sovereignty in the E.U. was already lodged at the federal level. I contend that this perplexing disjunction between extant federal competencies and state rights in the E.U. is not sustainable.

The full essay is at "E.U.'s Border-Control."

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Political Ideology in the U.S. Supreme Court: Undercutting the Court’s Legitimacy

As the U.S. Supreme Court began its 2016 term with eight justices, the Court stood “at the threshold of an ideological transformation unmatched in nearly a half century.”[1] Not since 1968, when Richard Nixon was elected U.S. President, had such an opportunity presented itself. Nixon’s four nominations ended the liberal majority begun by Franklin Roosevelt’s eight.[2] The conservative majority begun with Nixon’s nominations was up for grabs with the 2016 presidential election. I submit that the legitimacy of the ideological dimension itself dwarfs the matter of which ideology is dominant on the Court.

[1] Richard Wolf, “Court at Brink of Transformation,” USA Today, September 30 – October 2, 2016.
[2] Ibid.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

E.U. Defense Post-Britain: Beyond Multinational Military Cooperation

Just months after the British voted to secede from the Union, the E.U.’s Counsel of Ministers discussed “proposals for increased military cooperation” amid concerns from the British state government as well as those of some eastern States that “such collaboration could undermine” NATO.[1] The proposals being discussed were “part of a push by European officials and diplomats to strengthen European ties” after Britain’s vote to secede.[2] I submit that both the expression, “military cooperation,” and Britain’s involvement in the discussion are ill-fitting and inappropriate, respectively.

The full essay is at "E.U. Defense Post-Britain."

1. Julian E. Barnes, “EU Pushes for Deeper Defense Cooperation,” The Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2016.
2. Ibid.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Americans Can Sue Saudi Arabia over 9/11 and the Saudis Accept Lower Oil Production by OPEC: The Unraveling of a Deal?

On Wednesday, September 28, 2016, the U.S. Congress voted overwhelmingly—97-1 in the Senate and 348-77 in the House of Representatives—to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that allows the families of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center bombings.[1] As a result, American courts can seize Saudi assets to pay for any judgment obtained by the families. Saudi officials in turn warned that their government might need to sell off hundreds of billions of dollars in holdings in the United States to avoid such an outcome. In another place in the world, Saudi officials were dropping their resistance to OPEC—an oil cartel—cutting production. Even though positive correlation does not in itself indicate causation, the timing may point to the impact of political calculations by Obama. That is to say, the timing may suggest a political deal gone bad.

The full essay is at "Unraveling of a Deal?"

1. Jennifer Steinhauer, Mark Mazzetti, and Julie H. Davis, ,“Congress Allows Saudis to Be Sued Over 9/11 Attacks,“ The New York Times, September 29, 2016.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Comet’s Cosmic Song: Evidence of Plato’s Justice as Harmony of the Spheres?

On September 30, 2016, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft ended its mission orbiting Comet 67P. The mission added knowledge on how planets came together and how life arrived on Earth. “One of Rosetta’s key findings is that comets are probably not the source of Earth’s water.”[1] I submit that of even greater importance is a finding that can be indexed as philosophical in nature.

The full essay is at "A Comet's Cosmic Song."

[1] Kenneth Chang, “Rosetta Mission Ends With Spacecraft’s Dive Into Comet,” The New York Times, September 30, 2016.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Fraud in Selling Sub-Prime Mortgage-Based Bonds: Beyond Accountability

“In December 2011, the S.E.C. publicized its civil securities fraud charges against top executives from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for understating their exposure to subprime mortgages, which resulted in the government taking them over.”[1] Robert Khuzami, then the head of the S.E.C.’s enforcement division, said at the time that “all individuals, regardless of their rank or position, will be held accountable for perpetuating half-truths or misrepresentations about matters materially important to the interest of our country’s investors.”[2] Pursuing even senior ranks has the air of fairness economically as well as in terms of the dictum, no one is above the law. So much for words; how about the accompanying deeds?

The full essay is at "Fraud in Selling Sub-Prime Bonds."

1. Peter Henning, “Prosecution of Financial Crisis Fraud Ends With a Whimper,” The New York Times, August 29, 2016.
2. Ibid.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Facebook’s Zuckerberg Donates $3 billion to Medical Science: Some Major Implications

Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced in September, 2016, that they would invest more than $3 billion during the next decade to build tools that can facilitate medical research on diseases. The first outlay of funds ($600 million) would create a research lab of engineers and scientists from the area’s major research universities.[1] “This focus on building on tools suggests a road map for how we might go about curing, preventing and managing all diseases this century,” Zuckerberg said at the announcement.[2] Moreover, the couple had previously announced a year before that they would give away 99% of their wealth over their lifetimes through the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative in the areas of education and healthcare. I would like to point out a few implications that may not be readily apparent.

The full essay is at "Zuckerberg Donates $3 Billion."

1. Deepa Seetharaman, “Zuckerberg Fund to Invest #3 Billion,” The Wall Street Journal, September 22, 2016.
2. Ibid.

Monday, September 26, 2016

As the World Turns: A Troublesome Widening Gap Between Progressives and Traditionalists

In his last speech to the U.N.’s General Assembly in September, 2016, U.S. President Barak Obama pointed to a world more prosperous yet with political and security crises.[1] He called this combination a paradox arising from globalization—the converging of political, economic, and social systems around the world made possible by advances in technology. I contend that globalization is not the primary cause of the massive changes going on in some societies but not others (and in parts of a given society), hence Obama’s diagnosis and prescription fall short. In short, parts of some societies, and some societies as a whole were going through massive, deep changes that were reinforcing the tendency of traditional forces to resist and stay put. It is the widening of the gap, both within some societies and between them that is the real cause of the strife.

The full essay is at "A Troublesome Widening."

1. Carol E. Lee, “Obama Urges Course Shift for World in Conflict,” The Wall Street Journal,” September 21, 2016.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Russian Electoral Fraud: A Threat to Constitutional Governance

In spite of Ella Pamfilova’s appointment in March, 2016 to “clean house and oversee transparent, democratic elections,” . . . “a statistical analysis of the official preliminary results of the country’s September 18 [2016] State Duma elections points to a familiar story: massive fraud in favor of the ruling United Russia party.”[1] “The results of the current Duma elections were falsified on the same level as the Duma and presidential elections of 2011, 2008, and 2007, the most falsified elections in post-Soviet history, as far as we can tell,” physicist and data analyst Sergei Shpilkin said to The Atlantic.”  In 2008, Shpilkin estimated that United Russia actually won 277 seats in the Duma instead of the constitutional majority of 315 that it was awarded.[2] This means that Putin’s party could unilaterally amend the Russian constitution. From a constitutional standpoint, either the hurdles in the amendment process are too low or the election fraud has been so massive the entire form of government is impaired.

The full essay is at "Russian Electoral Fraud."

1. Valentin Baryshnikov and Robert Coalson, “12 Million Extra Votes for Putin’s Party,” The Atlantic, September 21, 2016.
2. Robert Coalson, “Russia: How the Kremlin Manages to Get the Right Results,” Radio Free Europe, March 7, 2008.