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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Fixing Federalism Sidestepped in Opposing E.P.A. Coal Regulations

In his letter to every state governor in March 2015, Mitch McConnell, the majority leader in the U.S. Senate, urged the state officials to ignore the E.P.A.’s regulations that when implemented would reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. In his letter, the senator complained that President Obama was “allowing the E.P.A. to wrest control of a state’s energy policy.”[1] Were McConnell the chair of the E.U.’ s European Council rather than the U.S.’s Senate, he would doubtlessly have pointed to the worsening “democracy deficit,” wherein regulators in the European Commission take power away from state legislatures. Yet, surprisingly (or many not), the majority leader did not frame the issue in terms of federalism. Why?

The full essay is at “Fixing Federalism Sidestepped.”

[1] Coral Davenport, “McConnell Urges States to Help Thwart Obama’s ‘War on Coal,’” The New York Times, March 20, 2015.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Conflicts of Interest in Europe’s Greek-Austerity Impasse

At the conclusion of the European Council session in March 2015, all 19 of the state governors in attendance still wanted the state of Greece to remain with the euro. As for whether Greece should continue its austerity program and reform its economy as per the ongoing agreement on continued bailout funds, the tally was 18 to 1. Although both federal and state officials in the E.U. overwhelming believed that the austerity program had been behind the growth in the Greek economy in 2014, the Greek finance minister and most Keynesian economists disagreed, pointing to the fact that the state had lost a quarter of its GDP under the austerity. Besides this honest difference of opinion on the effectiveness of the strategy, conflicts-of-interest compromise the “club of 18” and thus its position.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

American Students View College as Job-Training: Forsaking Education?

“What is your major?” is a mantra (and undoubtedly a pick-up line too) on college campuses. In giving students some exposure to a variety of academic disciplines, distribution requirements are meant in part to help students make more informed decisions of what to major in. According to an analysis of twelve randomly-chosen American colleges and universities in 2015, an increasing percentage of students since the recession of 2009 were circumventing this help by declaring their respective majors during their freshman year.[1] The reason, according to the business newspaper, is pragmatism, student debt-loads, and a difficult job market. “In 2012, nearly half of college graduates between the ages of 22 and 27 were unemployed or had jobs that didn’t use their degrees.”[2] In response, a higher proportion of students were going to college to get a job. Although The Wall Street Journal lauds the reduction of education to vocation, even more striking is how even academic administrators mischaracterize the intellectual mission of colleges and universities. 

The full essay is at “College as Job-Training.”

[1] Douglas Belkin, “Freshman Are Picking Their Majors Earlier,” The Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2015.
[2] A 2014 paper by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Quote taken from Belkin, “Freshman.” 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

California’s Elongated Drought: Warming to a Changing Status-Quo

With the winter of 2014-2015 failing to deliver much of a snowpack to California, Californians entered a fourth year of drought. The measurement on March 3rd of the snowpack was the water equivalent of five inches, or 19% of the average for that date.[1] The drought’s extension ran counter to the conventional wisdom that droughts last three years in California. Such “wisdom” is problematic not only for its specific content in this case, but also because of the underlying presumption of epistemological infallibility. Ok, I’ll unpack this bit of creative verbosity. Without being aware of it, we tend to assume that we can’t be wrong about things we have not studied. In fact, we even dismiss the knowledge of those who are learned in a given subject in favor of our own belief that we can’t be wrong about what we suppose we know. This tendency of the human brain gets our species in a lot of trouble, yet we as a species are nearly blind to underlying drought.

The full essay is at “California’s Elongated Drought.”

[1] Adam Nagourney, “Alarm Rises For a State Withered By Drought,” The New York Times, March 18, 2015.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On the Suitability of Starbucks’ CEO Triggering Conversations on Race

Should a company’s CEO use the vast tentacles of the local retail stores to prompt public discourse on race in America? Even though improving race relations is a good cause, extending a CEO’s personal influence beyond the products societally requires its own justification. For a week in March 2015, baristas at 12,000 Starbucks coffee shops implemented CEO Howard Schultz’s intent to “spark customer conversation on the topic of race.”[1] Schultz even made a video in which he told the baristas how they should steer their respective conversations. If this sounds a bit like George Orwell’s Big Brother in the novel, 1984, the question may be whether such societal influence is legitimate from a position of management in business.

The full essay is at “Starbucks’ CEO on Race.”

1. Bruce Horovitz, “USA TODAY, Starbucks Tackle Race Relations,” USA Today, March 17, 2015.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Affordable Care Act: Healthcare as a Human Right?

Did the Americans who were in favor of passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 believe that access to healthcare is a human right? Did the Americans who opposed “Obamacare” reject that assumption and thus favor treating health insurance as a commodity? We can look at political and economic indications to reach an answer.

The full essay is at “Healthcare in Obamacare: A Human Right?” 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The German Government Refuses to Pay Down Its Debt: How Un-German!

How should a government spend a budget surplus? In California, the Californian government put some of its surplus in a “rainy-day fund” in 2014. The following year, the German government made plans to use any surplus in 2016 “to increase investment instead of repaying debt.”[1] This means the government “could spend more to support the German economy and that of its neighbors.”[2] Undoubtedly, the E.U. economy would benefit, especially if the U.S. dollar were to continue to appreciate against the euro. However, the decision not to use even a portion of the anticipated surplus to pay down some of the government debt is problematic.

The full essay is at “German Budget Surplus.”

1. Andrea Thomas, “Berlin Moves to Spend Now, Save Later,” The Wall Street Journal, March 14-15, 2015.
2. Ibid.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Reforming Chinese Courts: A Fool’s Errand?

With Chinese courts revising more than 1,300 criminal decisions in 2014, the chief justice of the Supreme People’s Court, Zhou Qiang, told the national legislature in March 2015, “With regard to wrongful convictions, we feel a deep sense of self-blame and demand that courts at all levels draw a profound lesson.”[1] Six months earlier, President Xi Jinping had initiated legal reforms on the premise that the Communist Party needed a “better-functioning” legal system in order to be able to govern.[2] The question is whether this push will come to anything substantial.

The full essay is at "Reforming Chinese Courts."

1. Josh Chin, “Top Judge Apologizes for Wrongful Convictions,” The Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2015.
2. Ibid.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Right to Work or Destroying Unions: A False Dichotomy

On March 9, 2015, Wisconsin became a “right to work” State. That is to say, labor unions cannot force every worker of a unionized company to pay union dues and fees. At the time, 24 other States had the law on their books. I submit that both the “right to work” slogan and the unions’ charge that the law unfairly goes after unions are misleading. 

The full essay is at "Right to Work or Destroying Unions."

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Disney Re-Making Stories: The End of Creativity in Film?

Politicians running for re-election may “remake themselves.” Companies “reinvent themselves.” If the company happens to make films, are the stories necessarily reinvented—essentially being retold—too? If this becomes the norm, is the implication that storytellers have exhausted the story plotlines that the human mind can conceive? Perhaps retelling old stories is simply laziness and corporate expediency at the expense of substance.

The full essay is at “Disney

Monday, February 2, 2015

Interstellar: Being in Love as a Black Hole

As difficult as it is to grasp the nature of a black hole and its all-consuming gravity, Interstellar (2014) also traces the powerful yet mysterious gravitational pull of human love, including that utterly unfathomable condition we know as “being in love.” We fall in love, which is an expression that presupposes gravity. Yet such all-consuming attachment may not even in principle have as its object our species itself. Even falling in love may be dangerous—just look at Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The full essay is at “Interstellar.”

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Ethical Leadership and Wealth: A Buddhist Perspective

According to Gunawardana (1979:170):"The Buddhist tradition placed great emphasis on the importance of the king as a leader of men. The stability of the social system as well as the proper functioning of the whole universe depend on the conduct of the king".   This essay describes two ideal leadership types, the Cakkavatti and Bodhisattva kings, from the Buddhist literature.  Each of these Buddhist kings will be shown to have unique ethical approaches to the issue of wealth.  Following a general discussion of wealth from the Buddhist perspective, the Cakkavatti and Bodhisattva  leadership types will be argued to capture the process of wealth generation and distribution, respectively, together providing a complete ethical approach to wealth. Thus, a particular leader may enact a particular mix of these two ideal leadership types to formulate a comprehensive ethical approach to wealth.

The full essay is at "Buddhist Ethical Leadership."

Spirituality in Leadership: Rudolf Otto's Numen as the Object of Charisma

There is a transcendent quality to charisma which eludes those scholars, but can be incorporated in terms of Rudolf Otto's (1957) Idea of the Holy. In his inquiry into the non-rational factor in the idea of the holy(the numen), Rudolf Otto (1957) characterizes several inter-related feeling-responses to its object, the numen.  In basing these responses on the object of the holy rather than in the perceiver, Otto distinguishes these feeling responses from mere psychological and sociological occurrences, based in the subjective experience of the person rather than in the object itself.  There is thus posited to be a non-rational quality to the holy transcending self and society yet applicable to the human realm.  Charisma, too, has such a dimension, as evidenced by a residual of religiosity language even amid the modern behavioral studies which tend to assume that charisma is strictly a function of the follower's perception.

The full essay is at "Charismatic Leadership."