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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Steve Jobs at Apple: A Visionary

Typically as a company transitions from an enterprising, creative new venture to a large organization to be managed, a staid CEO replaces a visionary founder. In the case of Steve Jobs at Apple, the very nature of the man’s vision was not only inherently at odds with the status-quo underpinning of a large organization with a budget, but also essential to the company’s business model. Hence, the company, including its shareholders, paid a price for years for jettisoning Jobs. The film, Jobs (2013), is centered on the distinctiveness of Jobs’ vision. Although the film also hints at why this distinctiveness is such that the company would (and did) lose as a large organization after making the typical founder-to-CEO transition.

The full essay is at "Jobs."

Friday, October 12, 2018

On a Blatant Conflict of Interest in Georgia

A coalition of advocacy groups launched a lawsuit on October 11, 2018 to “block Georgia from enforcing a practice critics say endangers the votes of more than 50,000 people in [the upcoming election] and potentially larger numbers heading into the 2020 presidential election cycle.”[i] Kemp was at the time Georgia’s Secretary of State, which means he had considerable discretion concerning how the election would be run. The conflict of interest lies in the fact that he was running for governor—interestingly against Stacey Abrams, a candidate who had been a voter-rights lawyer! I submit that such a conflict of interest should never have been permitted.

The full essay is at "Georgia's Conflict of Interest."

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Congressional Cuts to Food Stamps: Violating a Human Right?

During the debate in the U.S. House of Representatives in June 2013 on a proposed $20.5 billion in cuts over 10 years to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps, proponents of the cuts denied that they would make it more difficult for the poor to feed themselves. Rep. Rick Crawford claimed that the cuts would be “eliminating abuse.”[1] For example, some drug addicts sell their “food stamps” for something like half value and use the cash to buy drugs. The addicts manage to get their food at pantries and soup kitchens. While such fraud exists, the proposed cuts would have hit bone. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, nearly 2 million people would lose SNAP eligibility were the cuts to become law.[2] After the debate, “Tea Party” Republicans wanting even more cut combined with Democrats against any cuts defeated the proposal.

The full essay is at "Congressional Cuts to Food Stamps."

1. Ned Resnikoff, “House Debates $20.5 Billion Cuts to Food Stamps,” MSNBC, June 18, 2013.
2. Dottie Rosenbaum and Stacy Dean, “House Agricultural Committee Farm Bill Would Cut Nearly 2 Million People Off SNAP,” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, May 16, 2013. “By eliminating the categorical eligibility state option, which over 40 states have adopted, the bill would cut nearly 2 million low-income people off SNAP.”

Food as a Human Right: A Basis in Rousseau

The natural right to food unconditionally in society is based, I contend, on the assumption that it is because a person without food is in society that he or she is going without. In other words, were he or she in the state of nature, acquiring enough food would not be a problem. Rousseau makes this point in his Discourse on Inequality.[1]
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)  Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The full essay is at "Food as a Human Right: Rousseau."

1. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Discourse on the Origins of Inequality, Harvard Classics, Charles W. Eliot, ed., Vol. 34 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,1910).

Income Inequality: Natural or Artificial?

In the United States, the disposable income of families in the middle of the income distribution shrank by 4 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the OECD.[1] Over roughly the same period, the income of the top 1 percent increased by 11 percent. In 2012, the average CEO of one of the 350 largest U.S. companies made about $14.07 million, while the average pay for a non-supervisory worker was $51,200.[2] In other words, the average CEO made 273 times more than the average worker. In 1965, CEOs were paid just 20 times more; by 2000, the figure peaked at 383 times. The ratio fell in the wake of the dot-com bubble and then in the financial crisis and its recession, but in 2010 the ratio began to rebound. According to an OECD report, rising incomes of the top 1 percent in the E.U. accounted for the rising income inequality in Europe in 2012, though that level of inequality was “notably less” than the one in the U.S.”[3]  Nevertheless, in both cases the increasing economic gap between the very rich and everyone else was not limited to the E.U. and U.S.; a rather pronounced global phenomenon of increasing economic inequality was clearly in the works by 2013.

1.Eduardo Porter, “Inequality in America: The Data is Sobering,” The New York Times, July 30, 2013.
2. Mark Gongloff, “CEOs Paid 273 Times More Than Workers in 2012: Study,” The Huffington Post, June 26, 2013.
3. Kaja B. Fredricksen, “Income Inequality in the European Union,” OECD, Economics Department Working Paper No. 952, 2012.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Bank of America Exploited State Tax-Rate Differentials in the E.U.: Systemic Risk and Federalism Blindsided

In 2012, the corporate income tax rate was reduced from 26% to 24 percent. With the comparable rate in Germany at 29% and France at 33 percent, Britain stood to reap the revenue-benefits of a significantly lower tax rate within the European Union. That the 24% rate would be pared down to 21% in 2014 suggests that everything else equal, the state of Britain was set to reap a sustainable competitive advantage over other E.U. states with respect to attracting business, and thus jobs. The move was not without risks, however, which included those that were (and are) less than obvious, such as systemic risk and that to the E.U.'s federal system. 

The full essay is at "Bank of America in the E.U."

Were Raises at Bailed-Out U.S. Companies Approved by Treasury?

In early 2013, the Special Inspector General for Troubled Asset Relief Program reported that the U.S. Treasury Department disregarded its own guidelines in order to allow large pay increases for executives at three major companies that had received bailouts during the financial crisis. In particular, eighteen raises for executives at American International Group (AIG), General Motors, and Ally Financial were approved. Fourteen were for $100,000 or more. A raise for the CEO of a division of AIG was $1 million. Treasury approved these raises even though they exceeded the pay limits set in Treasury’s own guidelines.

Was Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner smirking because his friends were happy?     NYT

Egypt: A Missed Opportunity to Interiorize Protests

How a democratic system is designed can be as important as whether the government officials have been elected or appointed. In constructing a democracy, it is not sufficient to simply hold elections. While the victors may have democratic legitimacy, the government itself may still not. Egypt amid the violent protests in early 2013 may be a case in point. Even though unlike in 2012 the sitting president had been democratically elected, it is too simplistic to say that the Egyptian government and constitution had democratic legitimacy.

Can such intense violence be "interiorized" as debate and politics in a legislature?  Government itself can be viewed as civic violence "redacted" and "refined."   Source: thestar.com
The full essay is at "Egypt Failed to Interiorize Protests."

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Post

In Spielberg’s The Post (2017), the fateful decision to publish portions of the Pentagon Papers centers on Katharine Graham’s being willing to rebuff her newspaper’s lawyers, who represent the company’s financial interests, in favor of Ben Bradlee’s argument that free speech of the press as a check on government in a viable democracy—the company’s mission—is of overriding importance. As important as this critical decision was historically, I submit that the film allots too much attention to the decision and even the relationship between Graham and Bradlee at the expense of other deserving matters.

The full essay is at "The Post."

On Democratic Accountability in a Republic: The Pentagon Papers

The publication of portions of the Pentagon Papers despite President Nixon’s threats of treason highlighted the fact that four presidents successively lied to the American People on build-up of U.S. involvement in Indochina (most notably, Vietnam) and the Nixon administration lied on the prospects for victory in the Vietnam War—a war that had not even been declared by Congress. Clearly, democratic accountable extends to foreign policy at least in broad outline, such as in whether or not to continue an active engagement militarily in another region of the world. Even in U.S. presidents being able to get away with effectively declaring war even as one of their roles is that of commander-in-chief—a huge conflict of interest!—democratic accountability by the popular sovereign, the People—is important, even vital should the legislative and judicial branches fail as checks in the separation-of-powers feature of the U.S. Constitution.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Deaf-Signing at Mandela's Memorial and Kavanaugh's Confirmation FBI Probe: Cover-Ups?

Watching U.S. President Barak Obama speak of his hero, Nelson Mandela, on December 10, 2013, something was distracting me; the rather large man signing for the deaf used such exaggerated gestures I had trouble concentrating on what Obama was saying. Little did I know that the interpreter was a “fake,” according to the Deaf Federation of South Africa. “It was horrible; an absolute circus, really, really bad, Nicole Du Toit, an official sign language interpreter, told the AP. “Only he can understand those gestures,” she added.[1]  I suspect that labeling the fiasco a “circus” skates over the underlying mentality in over-reaching and lying to cover it up. Years later, I wondered the same thing concerning Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Are we, the public, out of the loop concerning what really goes on inside governments? 

1. Kim Hjelmgaard and Marisol Bello, “Interpreter For Deaf Branded a Fake,” USA Today, December 12, 2013.

Connecting the Dots: Zuckerberg's Facebook Stock

Why did Mark Zuckerberg unload $2.3 billion of his Facebook stock? The complete answer likely involves more than meets the eye, at least relative to what business reporters and editors had to say publicly in 2013. What was not said is itself a story worth publishing. Beyond Zuckerberg’s stratagem, what the media didn't say might be more significant than what made it through the filters.
Part of the answer concerning Zuckerberg’s sell-off involves his need for cash to pay taxes that would be due from his exercising an option to purchase 60 million Class B shares in 2013. This move likely implies a belief that Facebook stock would not go much higher. Had Zuckerberg strongly believed at the time that Facebook was yet to cash in on advertising revenue beyond that which the market had already factored into the company’s stock price, the CEO would not have exercised the options in expectation of a wider spread. Even with the taxes coming due, the billionaire could probably have found an alternative way to come up with the cash. 

The organizational lifecycle. When Zuckerberg decided to sell a block of shares and exercise options, he already had a picture of Facebook already on the downward slope without much chance of revitalization. Image Source: www.sourcingideas.blogspot.com
The full essay is at "Zuckerberg's Facebook Stock."

Mandela’s Courage as Politicized Forgiveness

Whereas we grasp the interior sense in which Gandhi taught to forgive, the media promoted a false, politicized forgiveness as operating in Mandela’s case. I am of course impugning the aggrandizing press here, rather than Mandela himself. In claiming that Mandela “insisted on forgiveness,” John Mahaha uses the following quote from the man himself: “To go to prison because of your convictions and be prepared to suffer for what you believe in, is something worthwhile. It is an achievement for a man to do his duty on earth irrespective of the consequences.”[1] The suffering being referred to here is neither suffering for its own sake nor suffering unnecessarily. In regard to being willing to suffer for what he believed in, Mandela had Gandhi as a role model, though (and this is crucial) Gandhi's social-moral principle of nonviolence cannot be reconciled with Mandela's prescription of violence. 

Nelson Mandela reaching out to a former enemy. Political or religious forgiveness? (Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The full essay is at "Mandela's Courage as Forgiveness."

1.  John Dramani Mahama, “Mandela Taught a Continent to Forgive,” The New York Times, December 5, 2013.
2. William Welch, “South Africa’s Leader Transformed Nation, Self,” USA Today, December 27, 2013.

Can the Federal Reserve Handle Banks Too Big To Fail?

The biggest banks operating in the U.S. reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Federal Reserve’s below-market rate of .001% on $7.7 trillion in emergency loans in the wake of the credit freeze in September 2008. Rather than using the additional funds to increase lending, the banks fortified reserves and paid bonuses out to executives. Had member of Congress had been able to anticipate all this, it is possible that they would have prescribed stronger medicine, perhaps even including breaking up the banks with over $1 trillion in assets.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Picking a President by Polls

It is one thing to say that something is broken; it is quite another thing to fix it. In such a case, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it doesn’t cut it. Any pathological fear of change must give way or the brokenness must be endured. During the last half of 2011, over a year before the U.S. presidential election, the election season was already in full swing. Without any primaries or caucuses, the media and “debate” (i.e., talking points) organizers divided the Republican candidates into two tiers. Besides being an artificial dichotomy given the spectrum of support revealed in polls, that they were being used to prioritize among the candidates in the “debates” and more generally in terms of electability is problematic. 

The full essay is at "Picking a U.S. President."