“Well written and an interesting perspective.” Clan Rossi --- “Your article is too good about Japanese business pushing nuclear power.” Consulting Group --- “Thank you for the article. It was quite useful for me to wrap up things quickly and effectively.” Taylor Johnson, Credit Union Lobby Management --- “Great information! I love your blog! You always post interesting things!” Jonathan N.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Oligarchs in Ukraine Decide the E.U./Russia Question: Big Business on Top of Democracy?

One of the many lessons shimmering in the sunlight from stars such as Gandhi and Mandela is the possibility that popular political protest really can matter after all. Alternatively, managing (or manipulating) the crowd could be a mere front dwarfed in influence by that of a rich and power elite. Although the Ukraine will serve as our case study, democracy itself is under the microscope here.

The full essay is at "Oligarchs in Ukraine."

Two Sizes Fit All: America’s Two-Party-System Stranglehold

A Rasmussen Reports poll conducted in early August 2011 found that “just 17% of likely U.S. voters think that the federal government . . . has the consent of the governed,” while 69% “believe that the government does not have that consent.”[1] Yet an overwhelming number of Congressional incumbents is reelected. Is it that many Americans stay away from the polls on election day, or does the two-party system essentially force a choice? Voting for a third-party candidate risks the defeat of the candidate of the major party closest to one’s views. Such a vote is typically referred to as a protest or throw-away vote. Is it worth driving to the polls to do that?

The full essay is at "A Two Party Duopoly in American Politics."

1. Patrick H. Caddell and Douglas E. Schoen, “Expect a Third-Party Candidate in 2012,” Wall Street Journal, August 25, 2011.

President Obama and Goldman Sachs: A Quid Pro Quo?

U.S. President Obama nominated Timothy Geithner to be Secretary of the Treasury. While president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, he had played a key role in forcing AIG to pay Goldman Sachs’ claims dollar for dollar. Put another way, Geithner, as well as Henry Paulson, Goldman’s ex-CEO serving as Secretary of the Treasury as the financial crisis unfolded, stopped AIG from using the leverage in its bankrupt condition to pay claimants much less than full value. At Treasury, Mark Patterson was Geithner’s chief of staff. Patterson had been a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs. It would seem that the "real change" president put together a Wall-Street administration.

The full essay is at "President Obama and Goldman Sachs."

Congress: Hitched to the Status Quo

To lead is to be out in front, pointing the jet’s nose one way rather than another. Leadership is not that which causes drag at the back of the plane. Leadership is not that which holds a society in place or protects the vested interests. Whether envisioning something new or a return to a better time, a leader is not oriented to the status quo. It is significant, therefore, that the Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, one of the two chambers in the American Congress, has stated publicly that the Congress is rigged to advantage the status quo. The stunning implication is that members of Congress are actually anti-leaders.

The full essay is at "Congress and the Status Quo."

Sunday, November 24, 2019

American religion and politics: Overreaching Realms

Even though they are formally separated in the U.S. under the constitutional rubric that the federal government cannot lawfully establish a religion and infringe on the free exercise of religion, religion has ventured into politics and vice versa. Valued ideals pertain to both even though the highest in religion are transcendent, meaning that they extend beyond the limits of human cognition, perception, and sensibility, according to St. Denis (aka Pseudo-Dionysius) in the sixth century. So far is the political variety from such ideals as being in heaven! Yet the political sort has enjoyed a near monopoly in the world, including its public discourse. At least as 2019 was giving way to a new decade, captivation on President Trump’s tweets (i.e., brief statements made on the internet’s social media) and the process of impeaching him in the U.S. House of Representatives was strangely devoid of any religious discussion in the public square. This is all the more extraordinary because of the significant role that religion had played historically in presidential politics.

The full essay is at "American Religion and Politics."

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Externalities Management in Business: Heliogen’s Breakthrough in Combatting Climate Change

A company’s values and norms can resonate to some extent with their societal counterparts by the company providing goods and services of value to customers resulting in a reduction of their suffering or increase in their happiness. Providing a net-value (the value to the customer less the price) to people can resonate with societal values and norms that esteem happiness and frown on suffering from want. Indeed, a utilitarian ethic can apply to the provision of as much value as possible in the form of goods and services that reduce the suffering or increase the happiness of as many people as possible. Legitimate wealth can “result from having provided a significant amount of value to a significant number of people.”[1] Even fortunes, according to this ethic, are justified by the provision of “a very unusual form of value to a very unusual number of people.”[2] Utilitarianism is popularly known from the expression, the greatest good to the greatest number (i.e., of people). Of course, an ethic justifies what should be, whereas the extent to which a company’s values and norms approach those of society is a descriptive matter. Describing the degree of fit is not to say that a company’s values and norms should (i.e., normatively) have that degree of fit, or even more. Ethical reasoning would be needed to supply the normative contention; such reasoning involves argumentation that the extant societal values and norms should be held generally speaking and specifically by companies. The fact that the values and norms of many German companies in the NAZI era resonated with societal values and norms is not to say that the managements should have sought to fit organizational values and norms with NAZI values and norms. The field of business & society, which is oriented to the degree of fit that exists descriptively between a company (or the business sector) and a society (or internationally-held values and norms), is thus distinct from business ethics, which is oriented to providing ethical justification for what managers and companies should do. With regard to the former field, companies can orient themselves even closer to societal values and norms than by providing value to customers and even taking other stakeholder interests into account by being primarily oriented to taking on a serious societal or global problem. In terms of business ethics, such an orientation can be said to be one that a company should have because an unusual number of people (even beyond customers and other stakeholders) could receive an unusual amount of value. Climate-change is such a problem, and Heliogen’s breakthrough exemplifies such an extraordinary mission.

1. Rod Burylo, The Wealthy Buddhist: Buddhist Ethics, Right Livelihood, and the Value of Money (Nepean, Canada: The Sumeru Press, 2018).
2. Ibid.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Will Breakthroughs Save the Planet?

The dire predictions concerning the probable impact of climate change on ecosystems, ocean-levels, and food-production, as well as on our species itself have understandably been made without taking into account the countervailing impact of technology yet to be invented. Instead, the focus has been on governmental, rather than business, efforts aimed at reducing carbon emissions. This too is understandable, as companies have consistently been oriented to their own profits rather than reducing externalized costs, such as pollution. This focus has left the element of technological innovation or invention out of the equation. Moreover, because it is not possible to predict whether our species will have invented technology in time for it to counter the predicted impacts of climate change, relying on such technology so as to obviate the need to act so as to limit or reduce carbon emissions would be foolish and reckless. Put another way, it was irresponsible as of 2020 at least to say that government restrictions on carbon emissions were not necessary because technology will be invented that will substantially reduce emissions or even remove the excess carbon from the atmosphere. This does not mean that such inventions will not be made in time to make a significant positive impact. It is indeed possible, moreover, that our species, homo sapiens, will be saved by its own knowledge after all, even though we do not seem capable of regulating the innate desire for instant gratification even if the species’ survival lies in the balance. An invention by Heliogen in 2019 was such a breakthrough that it was arguably the first invention capable of giving people such hope. That is, the step-forward represented by the invention was such that people at the time could hope that the most noxious future impacts of climate change might not be inevitable.

The full essay is at "Breakthroughs in Climate Change."

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Bolivia's President Morales: A De-Facto Dictator Undemocratically Removed from Office

Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, resigned on November 10, 2019 after an audit by the Organization of American States found that the results of the election held the previous month could not be validated because of “serious irregularities,” including “failures in the chain of custody for ballots, alteration and forgery of electoral material, redirection of data to unauthorized servers and data manipulation.”[1] Election officials had stopped the count for about 24 hours without explanation; when the count resumed, Morales’ lead was much greater. Accordingly, along with Morales, the vice president, and the president of the state senate, the president and vice president of the electoral council resigned. Before the end of the day, the two officials of the council had been arrested for “electoral crimes.”[2] Although the state police were justified in arresting the officials, I submit that the police acted beyond their proper sphere when they joined with the military, which also acted beyond its sphere, to force Morales to resign.

[1] Kay Guerrero and Dakin Andone, “Bolivian President Evo Morales Steps Down Following Accusations of Election Fraud,” CNN.com, November 10, 2019 (accessed on November 12, 2019).
[2] Ibid.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Financial Scandal in the Vatican: A Historical Perspective on Christian Economic Ethics

In the history of Christian economic thought, theologians, with the exception of Clement of Alexandria, interpreted the biblical story of the rich man who refuses to part with his wealth in order to follow Jesus as meaning that having wealth is itself indicative of the presence of the underlying sin of greed. The dominance of this anti-wealth paradigm only began to give way during the Commercial Revolution in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, when the expansion of trading made it possible for ordinary people to save, and thus hold wealth without any sense of an underlying sin. Hence, Aquinas differed from Aristotle in allowing for moderate profit without the assumption of any underlying greed. In the Renaissance, theologians generally agreed that the Christian virtues of liberality and munificence could justify even being rich. Even Cosimo de Medici, who made his fortune from the sin of usury (i.e., interest on loans), gained the approval of the Pope in Rome by donating a fraction of the fortune to the Church. Under the dominance of the pro-wealth paradigm, Christians could be wealthy without being assumed to be greedy.[1] As for the Church itself being able to hold wealth, the collective wealth, gained from donations and selling goods, of monasteries in the Middle Ages was the door-opener. It was not as if a greedy individual could be said to exist if a religious organization owned the wealth. Aquinas approved of such wealth, a stance that, with his approval of moderate profit earned (and held as wealth) by individual Christians, began the shift that would result in the hegemony of the pro-wealth paradigm.[2] Unlike individual Christians holding coin without being presumed greedy, monasteries owning substantial wealth could be subject to a critique based on Jesus’ objection to money-changers in the Temple. When I visited a convent in Tucson, Arizona once, a sister rebuffed my request to pick a couple of oranges from the trees behind the building. “We make juice that we sell,” she replied. I had the impression that I had witnessed greed over charity in a religious vocation. Such hypocrisy, enabled by the allowance for collective monastic wealth, rivals Pope Eugene IV’s absolution of Cosimo de Medici, in spite of his fortune having been gained entirely from usury, because he renovated a monastery in Florence. This historical background can help us situate the Vatican’s financial scandal that culminated in five Vatican officials being suspended in 2019.

The full essay is at "Financial Scandal in the Vatican."

1. Skip WordenGod’s Gold: Beneath the Shifting Sands of Christian Thought on Profit-seeking and Wealth, available at Amazon. The related academic treatise, Godliness and Greed, is also available at Amazon.
2. Ibid.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Perception-Based Healthy Reputational Capital as a Strategic Competitive Advantage: The Case of CVS Health

In 2014, CVS drug-stores stopped selling tobacco products. The strategic choice rendered CVS Health more internally consistent on wellness. To be sure, the company continued to sell alcohol products, such as wine and hard liquor, which are harmful to human health. Yet the incremental correction was significant both in regard to the short-term hits to the bottom-line and the salubrious contribution to the health of customers. If the share of revenue (and profit) from the sale of alcohol increased in the meantime to make up the difference, the net effect on the bottom-line could have been zero or even positive, and the net impact on the health of customers and the company’s healthy image could also have been nugatory or even negative. Writing in 2019, however, Larry Merlo, President and CEO of CVS Health, saw a perfect convergence of the long-term bottom-line and making a contribution to society even at the expense of short-term revenue.

The full essay is at "Perception-Based Healthy Reputational Capital."

Thursday, November 7, 2019

China's Population: Demographic Imbalances and the Climate Emergency

In his treatise on Understanding, David Hume posits that we don’t know as much about causation as we think we do. Often times, positive correlation (i.e., two or more things present at the same time) is confused with causation (i.e., one thing causing another). That umbrellas tend to be out when it is raining does not mean that umbrellas cause rain (or that rain causes umbrellas). Rain and umbrellas have their own distinct causes, which Hume would say we don’t understand as well as we think we do. It is very difficult, for example, to determine whether climate change caused by methane and CO2 emissions caused October 2019 to the hottest October globally on record; more data-points covering long stretches of time are needed to distinguish even a few outliers from being part of a broader trend. By October of 2019, not only had scientists obtained and analyzed enough samples over a long enough time-frame to be confident (99%) that climate change had been occurring due to human carbon emissions. Not since roughly 60 million years ago had the carbon parts per million in the atmosphere stood at 410 ppm. In having to repeatedly accelerate their forecasts regarding the various impacts, such as sea-level rise due to melting ice (on land, such as Greenland), scientists had demonstrated that our understanding of the causation on the various impacts was still far from perfect. Even so, 11,000 scientists knew enough by November 2019 to declare unequivocally that humanity was facing a climate-change emergency. That is to say, drastic changes in terms of carbon emissions (e.g., energy sources, lifestyles) would have to be quickly made to avoid the worst-case scenario (e.g., mass food shortages, mass migrations from coastal areas and the loss of cities, and disease). This scenario is in line with Mathias’ theory of population ecology wherein a population of a species increasing without reaching an equilibrium maximum faces an increased risk of war, disease, or starvation. Once a species’ population pierces the semi-permeable constraints of the wider ecosystem (i.e., natural environment), Nature has its own ways of arresting the schizogenic growth of a species if it fails to limit its increase. During the twentieth century, the global increase of our species’ population was expediential, going from 1.6 to 6.1 billion. Sadly, even many policy-makers were oblivious to the fact that such a huge change must surely have consequences, at least some day. China’s one-child policy was an exception, making the relatively unconstrained population growths in India and Africa more noticeable as potentially problematic. Why did China need its policy while India, also with a population of over a billion, did not? In fact, the growth mantra generally subscribed to by countries across the globe acted as an incentive to make matters worse! Even a population with a low birth rate was generally taken as a problem. The negative impacts on a labor force and economic growth more broadly gave governments an incentive to increase birth-rates and thus populations (even though immigration served as an alternative). I want to look further into the case of China as a means of assessing how seriously the world was taking the climate emergency.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Democracy Held Captive by Claims of Racism: The Case of a Street Name in Kansas City, Missouri

Claims of systemic racism can also be attacks on democracy itself. In fact, if overdone, such claims may themselves be racist. The situation would then be that of racists holding democracy ransom in the mistaken belief that the whole must be consistent with the interests of one of its parts to be legitimate; otherwise, the democratic principle of majority rule is itself presumed to be invalid. The case of the change of a street's name in Kansas City, Missouri, can serve as a case study.

The full essay is at "Democracy as a Mechanism of Racism?"

Monday, November 4, 2019

Goldman Sachs' Revolving Door: Regulatory Capture

In July 2012, Andrew Williams, a former spokesman for U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, announced plans to head over to Goldman Sachs at the end of that month.[1] Williams was the second of the Secretary’s spokesmen to head to theWall Street bank. Such moves may reflect a standing policy at the bank to have a revolving door. The previous U.S. Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, had been the CEO at Goldman. This suggests that the revolving door was to include populating high offices in government, presumably not out of a sense of civic duty, but, rather, to see that Goldman's interests would be protected and even promoted through public policy. Hence President Obama was said to have had a Wall Street government with respect to positions bearing on Wall Street. I submit that deconstructing such a revolving door would be very difficult. 

The full essay is at "Goldman Sachs' Revolving Door."

1. Bonnie Kavoussi, “Andrew Williams, Ex-Treasury Spokesman,Headed to Goldman Sachs,” The Huffington Post, July 12, 2012. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Do You Believe in Global Warming?

On September 16, 2012, “Arctic ice covered just 1.32 million square miles—the lowest extent ever recorded. ‘The loss of summer sea ice has led to unusual warming of the Arctic atmosphere, that in turn impacts weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, that can result in persistent extreme weather such as droughts, heat waves and flooding,’ NSIDC scientist Dr. Julienne Stroeve noted in a press release. ‘There's a huge gap between what is understood by the scientific community and what is known by the public,’ NASA scientist James Hansen said, adding that he believed, ‘unfortunately, that gap is not being closed.’ What the scientific community understands is that Arctic ice is melting at an accelerated rate -- and that humans play a role in these changes. According to the panel, humans are ‘really running out of time’ to prevent atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from reaching levels that would precipitate runaway climate change. Hansen warned that even maintaining current concentrations of approximately 390 parts per million for several centuries ‘guarantees disaster.’”[1] Nevertheless, record amounts of carbon dioxide were emitted into the atmosphere in 2016 to at least 2018, and 2016 was the hottest year on the planet as of 2019.[2] What makes an intelligent species, homo sapiens, go in the wrong direction even from the outset of an announced, guaranteed disaster? Timing and mentality have a lot to do with it. 

The full essay is at "Believing in Climate Change."

1. Joanna Zelman and James Gerken, “Arctic Sea IceLevels Hit Record Low, Scientists Say We’re ‘Running Out Of Time,” The Huffington Post, September 19, 2012. 
2. Kelly Levin, "New Global CO2 Emissions Numbers Are In. They're Not Good," World Resources Institute, December 5, 2018 (accessed October 21, 2019).

Members of Congress Secretly Lobbied the Fed

As of late September 2012, more than one hundred members of Congress had lobbied the Federal Reserve and other regulatory agencies on the Volcker Rule, the part of the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act of 2010 that prohibits banks from operating like casinos (e.g., trading with proprietary funds, rather than those of customers).[1] The rule stems from the importance of banks in our financial system. In September 2008, the world nearly witnessed the collapse of that system when banks stopped trusting each other (e.g., via commercial paper market) because of the risks that some of the big ones had been taking with mortgage-backed derivative securities and the related insurance swap securities. Awash in healthy-seeming fees, the banks purchased risky subprime mortgages and bundled them into bond-like securities that could be sold to investors.

The full essay is at "Congress Secretly Lobbied the Fed."

1. Ben Protess, “Behind the Scenes, a Lawmaker Pushes to Curb the Volcker Rule,” The New York Times, September 21, 2012.