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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Pope Francis: Possessing Nuclear Weapons is Indefensible

Pope Francis said late in 2017 that the nuclear arms race had become irrational and immoral. The irrationality itself rendered even just the possession of nuclear weapons as immoral, according to the pope. Whereas past popes had recognized deterrence as a legitimator, both irrationality and the extent and “upgrading” of such weapons were factors in Pope Francis’s admittedly personal view. Yet was his basis only moral, or religious in nature?

The full essay is at "The Pope on Nuclear Weapons."

On the Place of Religion in Business: Refusing to Serve Gays

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in December 2017 in a case on whether a baker in Colorado had been justified in refusing to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. He claimed that his Christian faith forbid him from making wedding cakes for gay couples. “I follow Jesus Christ,” he declared when interviewed at his store. The Gospels are silent on the issue of homosexuality—it being said to be a sin only in the Old Testament—so the inference that following Jesus requires opposition to gay marriage (not to mention that homosexuality is an important issue in following Jesus) can be questioned. If the inference is tenuous, then it is the baker’s ideological stance that was actually at issue before the court. More broadly, is religion vulnerable to acting as a subterfuge, or cover, for what are really personal prejudices?
In terms of constitutional law, the baker contended that the First Amendment, “whose guarantees of free speech and religious exercise supersede any state law, exempts him from [Colorado’s] antidiscrimination act,” which has covered sexual orientation since 2007.[1] The question, I submit, is whether free speech and religious exercise are salient in a business context. 

The full essay is at "Refusing to Serve Gays."



[1] Jess Bravin, “Supreme Court Set to Hear Gay-Rights Case,” The Wall Street Journal, December 4, 2017.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Advertisers Remove Ads on YouTube: Fair to YouTube and Video-Producers?

One day after Thanksgiving in 2017, “a fresh wave of advertisers suspended commercials on Youtube after their ads showed up next to videos that appeared to attract pedophile viewers.”[1] Youtube had removed ads from roughly 3 million videos, but the company’s use of human and AI checkers simply could not keep pace with the number of uploaded videos. Even so, Diageo, maker of Smirnoff and Johnnie Walker (alcohol drinks), announced it would hold off its ads until “appropriate safeguards are in place.”[2] Mars and Adidas took a similar line. The question is whether those advertisers were being fair to Youtube and even the producers of the videos.

The full essay is at Advertisers and YouTube.

[1] Stu Woo and Sam Schehner, “YouTube Deals With Another Advertiser Backlash,” The Wall Street Journal, November 25-26, 2017.
[2] Ibid.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Unsustainable Structural Fiscal and Federal Imbalances: The American Union

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) announced on January 26, 2011 that the U.S. Government’s budget deficit for the year would soar to nearly $1.5 trillion, which represents $414 billion more due to the extension of the Bush tax cuts. The deficit had been $1.4 trillion in 2009 and $1.3 trillion in 2010. According to the New York Times, based on the CBO, “the deficits of $1.4 trillion in 2009 and $1.3 trillion in 2010 are, when measured as a share of gross domestic product, the largest since 1945 — representing 10 percent and 8.9 percent of the nation’s output.” The budget officials also projected the deficit for 2012 would be $1.1 trillion. These figures dwarf the budget deficits even of the 1980s.

Cult of the Leader: The Case of North Korea

Baudrillard writes of "hyper-reality," which arises when productions—perhaps created by publicists and other spin doctors—become the reality that is taken seriously at the expense of the originals.  The modern art of Andy Warhal provides an analogy. His portraits are not exactly pure "copies" of the originals, so his way of depicting reality should not be identified as the definitive truth. Such “hyper-reality” can become the stuff of leadership. DePree (1989, p.19) writes that the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. According to Nanus (1992, p.61), “leaders create realities through the force of vision.” The reality envisioned is a social reality. Although it can include the leader, the content of the vision is usually distinguished from the messenger.

Material from this essay has been incorporated into The Essence of Leadership: A Cross-Cultural Foundation, which is available in print and as an ebook at Amazon. 


Sources:


DePree, M. Leadership is an Art (Doubleday, New York, 1989).

Nanus, B.: 1992, Visionary Leadership: Creating a Compelling Sense of Direction For Your Organization (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco).


Russia’s Common Economic Area: Not Another European Union

On January 1, 2012, a new version of the common economic area between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan came into effect. The three countries had already founded a customs union in 2007. As of the end of 2011, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were still in talks about joining as well. Putin insisted that integration with the E.U. could take place by 2015. I cannot help but wonder if E.U. leaders were aware of this possible union of unions. It could be argued that Putin was making several category mistakes.


The full essay is at "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon.

When Corporate Governance Gets Cozy: Chair/CEO Combo as a Structural Conflict of Interest

Eric Jackson, an activist investor and hedge fund manager, charged Goldman’s board as being too cozy and too lacking in financial know-how to diligently oversee the top management. He claimed the board was packed with honchos who led companies that had paid large fees to Goldman. Allowing clients representation on a board is itself a structural conflict of interest because the client role is not in line with acting in the stockholders’ interest on the board. The hedge fund manager pointed to Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal and former Fannie Mae chief James Johnson as cases in point. Related to the client orientation is an affinity to the management, whose managerial decisions bear on the clients. Indeed, Jackson noted that “these people seem to be favorably disposed to senior management’s way of thinking,” and are therefore unlikely to act as a check on CEO Lloyd Blankfein and his team.

The full essay is at Institutional Conflicts of Interest, available at Amazon.

Toward a Definition for Ethical Leadership: Disabusing the Pessimists

One consultant suggests that “the definition of leadership ethics is still unclear; its scope is broadening, making it a moving target.” This is not good news for the topic. Fortunately, the field may be making the task of definition unduly arduous. Scholarship is needed to ferret through the debris so a concept of ethical leadership can be constructed that is both academically rigorous and of use to practitioners, whether in advising and “doing” ethical leadership.

The complete essay is at "Toward a Definition for Ethical Leadership" For more, see also The Essence of Leadership at Amazon.

Greed and Christian Ethics in Profit-Seeking

In his 2011 Easter sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury issued an outspoken attack on the greed consuming the world’s civilized nations. Speaking against the rush for oil, power and territory, the Rt. Rev. Rowan Williams argued that the comforts and luxuries that people take for granted can not be sustained forever. He forecast that civilization itself would one day collapse from the over-production and consumption.  

                             The Archbishop of Canterbury (The Telegraph)

On the State of the (American) Union: Getting Real

It is certainly more politic to declare the state of the union to be strong rather than weak. In his State of the Union speech in January 2011, President Obama ended by stating definitively, "The state of the union is strong." Even though particulars could doubtless be found to support his claim, I contend that he severely understated the weakness in the state of the union at the time.

The full essay is at "On the State of the Union."

Friday, December 1, 2017

Rolling the Dice: The E.U.’s Financial Regulatory Agency (the ESMA)

Even though the European financial sector integrated significantly during the first decade of the twenty-first century, the E.U. Government’s regulatory infrastructure and content did not keep up. As in the U.S. until 1933, state regulation carried the bulk of the weight. As the twenty-first century notably differs from the nineteenth, the relatively integrated financial sector in the E.U. means more risk is entailed in continuing to rely on state regulators. This is not good news for David Cameron, who in late 2011 tried and failed at a European Council meeting to hold strengthened enforcement of state-deficit limits hostage by demanding protection for state-level financial regulation over federal regulation. Like South Carolina was in the nineteenth century, United Kingdom was decidedly in the states’ rights camp as late as a decade into the twenty-first.

The full essay is at "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon. 

A Structural Conflict of Interest in Deutche Bank: Beyond Proprietary Holdings

While creating and selling mortgage-based securities to some of its clients, Deutsche Bank AG was not only advising other clients to bet the other way, but also sometimes doing it itself, according to the Wall Street Journal. A trader at the bank would help create an index that made it easy for the bank to bet against housing even as sales people at the bank were selling the securities as if there were no downside to the American housing market. Then some of the tax-payer money was paid by the US Government to AIG to reimburse Deutsche’s hedge-fund clients who had bought the mortgage securities. American regulators looked at whether there were misrepresentations made to the hedge fund managers who bought the mortgage-backed securities even as Deutsche Bank was betting against the housing market.

The full essay is at Institutional Conflicts of Interest, available at Amazon.

ECB Loans: A Backdoor Bailout?

On December 8, 2011, the ECB announced that it would loan 489.2 billion euros (c. $640 billion) at 1% interest to 523 E.U. banks for a three-year term. Carl Weinberg, chief economist at a consulting firm, said that by making the move, the ECB had “shown a path toward averting catastrophic collapse in Europe.” The move has been likened to that of the Federal Reserve after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. It was hoped that the E.U. banks would use the money to buy state bonds—particularly those of Spain and Italy, which were not able to “directly tap” ECB funds. According to Investor’s Business Daily, however, early signs pointed to bank declining to purchase the riskier debt. While understandable given Angela Merkel’s objections to the ECB serving as a backdoor bailout of profligate states over their heads in debt, the ECB’s refusal to put conditions on how the loans could be used may have undercut the central bank’s effort to relieve bank liquidity (and state debt) problems in the E.U.

The full essay is at "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon.

Democracy Deficit in the E.U.’s State-Rights Federalism: The Debt Crisis

Holding back additional transfers of governmental sovereignty from the state legislatures to the E.U.’s legislative chambers not only inevitably pushes power to non-democratic E.U.-level  institutions, notably the ECB; the democratic basis even at the state level can be compromised.

The complete essay is at Essays on Two Federal Empires.

Carbon-Dioxide Emissions amid Global Warming: A Species’ Death-Wish

Global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning rose 5.9 percent in 2010, the largest amount on record, according to an analysis released in early December, 2011 by the Global Carbon Project. According to the analysis as reported by the New York Times, “the increase, a half-billion extra tons of carbon pumped into the air, was almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003.” 

The full essay is at "Carbon Emissions: A Species' Death-Wish."

Other Priorities and Side-Shows Eclipsing a Historical Debate on the U.S. Government's Deficits and Debt

Writing in November of 2010, Fareed Zakaria opined that the “fate of the U.S.” would be decided “over the next year.” In truth, the fates may have pronounced their verdict on the “city on the hill” long before the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Denial can be a strong palliative in the midst of a pattern of sustained lapses in self-disciple and civic virtue—qualities that the American Founding Fathers had presumed are necessary to any viable republic.

The full essay is at "Other Priorities."

TARP Paid Off: But What about the Foreclosures?

TARP, the "bailout" for banks rather than mortgage borrowers, was the first big issue facing the Obama administration before the roughly $800 billion stimulus plan and the health insurance overhaul that stoked the rise of the Tea Party movement. After supporting TARP, several Republicans lost in the elections of 2010 largely because of their votes. For many Americans, TARP is a symbol of big government at its worst, intervening in private markets with taxpayers’ billions to save Wall Street plutocrats while average Americans continued to struggle to make mortgage payments or lost their houses outright.  “This is the best federal program of any real size to be despised by the public like this,” said Douglas J. Elliott, a former investment banker now associated with the Brookings Institution. “It was probably the only effective method available to us to keep from having a financial meltdown much worse than we actually had. Had that happened, unemployment would be substantially higher than it is now, the deficit would have gone up even more than it has,” Mr. Elliott added. “But it really cuts against the grain for a public that is so angry at banks to think that something that so plainly helped the banks could also be good for the public.” TARP was good for the public not in that the funds enabled Wall Street bonuses; rather, the good was solely on the macro level, as the frozen credit markets eventually thawed such that the financial system meltdown was averted.  However, this does not mean that it was "the only effective method available."

The full essay is at "TARP and Foreclosures."

Political Risk Exaggerated on Catexit

On the day the Catalan parliament voted in favor of “Catexit” from Spain, the IBEX-35 stock-market index dropped 1.4 percent while the Stoxx Europe 600 gained 0.3 percent.[1] The IBEX-35 is an stock-index of companies based in Spain. Investors also sold state bonds; yields on 10-year bonds rose to 1.574% from 1.558. Even though these changes were hardly earth-shattering in magnitude, their directionality points to investor-anxiety. I submit that it was overblown, which suggests that investors generally tend to over-react to political events.

The full essay is at "Catexit: Political Risk."

[1] Jon Sindreu, “Stocks, Bonds Hit by Political Unrest,” The Wall Street Journal, October 28-29, 2017.

California’s Turnaround in 2013: Brown’s Budget Surpluses

By early 2013, California had turned the corner from deficits—$9 billion in 2011 and $25 billion in 2010—to anticipated surpluses—$785 million for the fiscal year ending June 2013 and $851 million in the year thereafter. The lack of balance between billions and millions suggests that Keynesian economics may contain a fundamental imbalance in favor of consumption, at least in a democratic context. The prudent proposals by Jerry Brown, California’s head of state and chief executive, point to the ability of a republic to responsibly manage its fiscal business even within the overall imbalance.
                   
The full essay is at "California's Turnaround."

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Partisan Journalism: A Canary in a Republic's Coal Mine?

Did Roger Ailes go against the profit-default in corporate governance in wanting to use Fox News to elect a U.S. president? Must stockholders privilege an economic objective in the use of their collective wealth? In terms of journalistic ethics, does a partisan media leave the self-governing American people (and their republics) unknowingly compromised from within? 


Sustenance: A Human Right in America?

In the fall of 2010, the following was said on Fox News: “The government should spend more on the war in Afghanistan in order to fight terrorism. The problem is that the government has gotten into entitlements.”  The latter presumably includes food stamps, public housing, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  To say that government ought to be engaged in defense and not in supplying needy citizens with food, shelter and health-care is distinct from saying that the federal government should concentrate on foreign policy and defense, while entitlements are formulated and funded by the state governments as their domestic programs. In other words, advocacy for a certain priority in government and for less government is distinct from advocacy for restoring balanced federalism. Most Europeans in the E.U. undoubtedly view the redistributive right for sustenance resources as founded on human rights and thus as a legitimate part of government.  In contrast, Americans do not typically apply a human rights justification to entitlements for other Americans even as foreign aid may be justified in part on this basis.



Customers Give Uber a Pass: A Lapsed Enforcement of Business Ethics

A letter from a former security employee at Uber claims that the company’s Marketplace Analytics department “exists expressly for the purpose of acquiring trade secrets, codebase and competitive intelligence.”[1] The letter caused the judge to delay the trial in which Uber stood accused of stealing trade secrets involving self-driving cars from Waymo. “I can no longer trust the words of the lawyers for Uber in this case,” Judge Alsup said.[2] Ouch! The question remained whether Uber customers would punish the company by turning to Lyft instead. Unfortunately, the typical customer may overlook unethical practices at a company if a good deal is to be had. Economizing monetarily serves self-interest, whereas “walking with your wallet” oftentimes does not. Standing on principle may simply not register when people have their consumer hats on.

The full essay is at "Consumer Enforcement of Business Ethics."

  

Monday, November 27, 2017

Christian Leadership Navigating Geopolitics: Pope Francis in Myanmar amid Ethnic Cleansing

With the U.N. having “denounced the murder, rape and pillaging of the Rohingya in western Myanmar as ethnic cleansing,” Pope Francis had to “strike a careful balance” during his visit to the country in late 2017 “by maintaining his moral authority without endangering his tiny local flock.[1] Even the decision to meet first with Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the commander of the military that had “driven more than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims out of the country” could be taken as a compromise of the Pope’s moral authority because Francis would met with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and de facto leader of the government, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the next day.[2] That the local Cardinal had urged the Pope not to even use the word Rohingya during the visit pointed in the direction away from the Pope acting as a moral compass and thus to a hit to his reputation as a leader of principle rather than expediency.

The full essay is at "Pope Francis as a Christian Leader."



1. Jason Horowitz, “Pope Francis Arrives in a Myanmar Tarnished by Rohingya Crackdown,” The New York Times, November 27, 2017.
2. Ibid.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Uncovering the Root of Poverty: An Addictive Habit

Addictive pain-killers killed 64,000 residents in the U.S. in 2016, in part because physicians tended to rely on patients’ self-determined ratings of pain on a scale of 1 to 10.[1] Such subjective ratings were of course vulnerable to self-seeking motives willfully negligent or even reckless in terms of health. A habit or marked tendency in favor of choices at the expense of a person’s own long-term well-being stems, I submit, from weak impulse-control. This, plus the related lack of consideration for other people, either causes or is associated generally with poor people at least in the United States.
Poverty, it has been said, is the cruelest form of war, for such war can go on and on and wreck subtle though tremendous damage on the afflicted. Yet the mentality that can get a person into such a war and associated bad choices can be easily overlooked by elites that deign to study the problem of poverty.

The full essay is at "An Addictive Habit."


[1] Gregory Korte, “U.S. Waging Tech War against Opioid Epidemic,” USA Today, November 24-26, 2017.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Conflicting Business Models at Singapore’s Airport

Singapore’s Changi may have been “the world’s most fabulous airport” in 2011, according to Scott McCartney of the Wall Street Journal. To be sure, the airport’s amenities were amazing. How they are were being operated, however, detracted in certain respects with the goal. “We wanted to transform the way travel is done and create a stress-free experience,” Foo Sek Min of the airport’s management said. This goal dovetailed with the airport being “a key economic development element” for Singapore. Accordingly, the state-owned company that ran the airport received “plenty of government support.” In line with these goals was there a business model that was long-term oriented? Rather than trying to “nickel and dime” customers so as to minimize the funding from airlines and the government while maximizing revenue on a daily basis, resisting such urges in order to provide a truly stress-free experience would, I contend, be more consistent with the goals. 

The full essay is at "Conflicting Business Models." 

On the Legitimacy of the US Invasion of Iraq

George H.W. Bush had not sent the US military all of the way into Iraq; he decided to go along with the consensus in the coalition of the time that the invasion would go just far enough to remove Iraqi forces from Kwait.  Undoing an invasion is a laudatory military venture.

The full essay is at "The U.S. Invasion of Iraq."

The Tea Party on Congress & Popular Sovereignty

Mark Meckler, a co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, characterized the lame-duck session of the Congress at the end of 2010 as presumptuous because the Democratic-controlled House would be controlled by the Republicans in the upcoming session. In other words, the Democrats had just lost the right to control the House in the elections, so their continued control of the House was at odds with the “will of the American people.” According to Meckler, "For them to legislate when they've collectively lost their mandate just shows the arrogance of the ruling elite. I can't imagine being repudiated in the way they were and then coming back and saying 'Now that we've been repudiated, let's go pass some legislation. . . . I'm surprised by how blatant it was."

The full essay is at "The Tea Party."

President Obama and the War Powers Act: On Libya

In June 2011, a bipartisan group of members of U.S. House of Representatives objected to the refusal of the Obama administration to obtain Congressional approval in line with the War Powers Act of 1973 for the U.S. military’s continued involvement in Libya. On June 17, 2011, The New York Times ran a story which indicated that Barak Obama had gone against the views of the top lawyers at the Justice Department and the Pentagon in his decision not to seek Congressional approval.

Real or Incremental Change?

On October 13, 2010, Fox News reported a poll that found that women were turning on Obama.  The reason cited was that they feel there has been too much change—that it has been “jarring.”  I was stunned—wondering if I was listening to a broadcast from another planet. I remembered that when I had been sampling a fattening food item in a grocery store in my antiquated home town in Illinois; the old woman who gave me the sample, said, “We have lots of devils here!” as she was handing me the sample.  She was referring to the array of food samples in the store that day a few weeks before Thanksgiving.  My reaction, which I charitably did not share with her, was, Oh, horrors! I wondered what century she was from (probably Calvin's, I concluded privately as I chewed a “devilish” olive). I wondered, moreover, why some people magnify little things into horrendous sins. Such people, I concluded, cannot seem to let go of what is to the rest of us so utterly antiquated and get with it. That is, why are some people so resistant to change? Why do they perceive small, incremental changes as somehow momentous—even jarring?

The full essay is at "Real or Incremental Change."

Political Staying Power: Ethanol Subsidies

“A broad bipartisan majority of the Senate voted [on June 15, 2011] to end more than three decades of federal subsidies for ethanol. . . . [At the time,] Gasoline blenders [received] a tax credit of 45 cents for every gallon of ethanol they blend[ed] with motor fuel. The amendment would have repealed that as well as a tariff of 54 cents a gallon on imported ethanol. . . . The tax breaks . . . cost about $6 billion a year. The House [was] expected to reject the repeal as unconstitutional because tax bills must originate in that chamber, and the White House opposes it. But the 73-27 vote signals that once-unassailable programs could be vulnerable.  [The intent was] to end subsidies for wealthy interest groups and [to make some] cuts before slashing social-welfare programs. [Thirty three] Republicans joined 40 Democrats and Independents in supporting [the] repeal. (E)thanol has come under increasing fire from diverse groups, including food industry groups concerned about rising corn prices and environmentalists who had concluded corn ethanol wasn't an effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The full essay is at "Ethanol Subsidies."

Fannie and Freddie: A Lavish Corporate Lifestyle after the Financial Crisis

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac spent more than $640,000 to send 100 employees to a mortgage-industry conference in Chicago in the fall of 2011. According to a letter from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie and Freddie, the spending included nearly $342,000 for travel, food, hotel and meeting-room space. Incredibly, $74,000 was spent on four invitation-only dinners for mortgage-lending companies that are regular customers of Fannie and Freddie. Because Fannie and Freddie at the time dominated the U.S. mortgage market, "purchasing and guaranteeing about 70% of new loans from mortgage lenders,” who in turn thus had few alternative potential buyers, managers at Fannie and Freddie still felt the need to wine and dine their customers under the subterfuge of valuing “face-to-face meetings with customers as a way to understand their needs,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Apparently the folks at Fannie and Freddie were not familiar with customer surveys or even the telephone. Instead, Freddie spokesman Doug Duvall bragged, “[We were able to meet] with our lender customers in a cost-efficient way. In just two days we held approximately 200 meetings.” Undoubtedly some of those “meetings” were held at the dinners, each of which cost the taxpayers $18, 500.

The full essay is at "Fannie and Freddie."


Friday, November 17, 2017

Obama Standing Up to Wall St.: Fact or Fiction?

From the time of the Obama Administration, a major newspaper concluded: “What haunts the Obama administration is what still haunts the country: the stunning lack of accountability for the greed and misdeeds that brought America to its gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression. There has been no legal, moral, or financial reckoning for the most powerful wrongdoers. Nor have there been meaningful reforms that might prevent a repeat catastrophe. Time may heal most wounds, but not these.”

For analysis, see "Obama Standing Up to Wall Street: Fact or Fiction?"

The Tail Wagging the Dog: Congress under the Influence

Congress may be like a drunk, unaware that it is being handed one drink after another by vested interests oriented to legislation with specific financial objectives. On February 28, 2010 on CNN’s State of the Union, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker at the time of the U.S. House of Representatives, said that the health insurance companies didn’t want a government-financed and operated "public option" for American citizens, so it was off the table. Her statement resonates with the earlier one by U.S. Senator Richard Durbin just after his forclosure-assistance amendment failed: "The banking lobby owns Congress." That the health insurance companies and Wall Street banks were generally viewed as at least partially culpable even as they still had Congress in their pockets points to a serious corruption in American government.

The full essay is at "Congress Under the Influence." 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Occupying Wall Street: A Self-Regulated Protest?

The right to protest as a manifestation of freedom of speech is held societally as sacred the United States, but the question of how far protest goes before it becomes simply living in a park is one of those gray areas that tend to be decided by the judiciary far from the tarps and sleeping bags. The protesters’ premise that living in a public space eventuates in the achievement of their goals is tenuous where the goals are broad. Undergoing a hunger strike to get a certain anti-corruption bill voted on by India’s parliament is far different than camping out in Zuccotti Park in New York City until corporate capitalism is ended in the U.S. In short, the tactics used should be oriented to the sort of objective being sought. Moreover, the tactics and indeed the objectives themselves require a protest group to self-police such that it does not wander too far off course or spread itself too thin. Protest movements may be too prone to die a slow death from self-inflicted wounds without even the slightest recognition of the cause of death. The Occupy Wall Street protest movement had the capacity to self-regulate, but fell well short of that which was necessary for the group to achieve its anti-corporate goals.

The full essay is at "Occupy Wall Street Protests." 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Client-Centered Ethical Leadership: A Recipe for Trust at Goldman Sachs

With its incentive-structure that rewards a quick profit on the next trade even at the expense of advising clients in line with their long-term interests, Wall Street has its work cut out for itself even in maintaining trust, which, after all, is the basis of a market. On March 15, 2012, the New York Times reported that over all, “the percentage of people who have little or no faith in the fairness of investment companies rose to 41 percent in 2011 from 26 percent in 2008, according to Yankelovich Monitor 2011.” Even banks and insurance companies fared better, and household income played no role in the findings. At the time, Goldman Sachs was doing its industry no favors in terms of reputation. Indeed, the “best and the brightest” on Wall Street had created or enabled a rather narrow and self-serving corporate culture and a lack of ethical leadership that could otherwise turn around the bank by transforming its dysfunctional culture.

The full essay is at "Client-Centered Ethical Leadership."

Getting the Seasons Officially Wrong: A Case of a Category-Mistake

Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post has not quite turned the corner with respect to spring, and the seasons in general. You see, “season” is used in two distinct though related ways in English. It can refer to four distinct weather/plant-life conditions or to the four parts of the earth’s orbit around the sun. Given the tilt of the Earth, the two are related but they do not occur together. While Achenbach acknowledges that the vernal equinox typically on March 21st “is a moment of time specified by the motion of the Earth around the sun,” he refers to this as the official start of the meteorological spring. In actuality it is not. In the Northern Hemisphere, meteorologists record data from December, January and February as winter and March, April and May as spring. So in March 2012, meteorologists could already conclude that the preceding winter had been the fourth warmest since the record-keeping began.

The full essay is at "Confusing the Seasons."

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Selling Coal at a Conference on Climate Change

Peabody Energy, an American coal company and unlikely participant at a global conference on climate change in November, 2017, nevertheless previewed its presentation by trumpeting coal as part of the solution with: “As the world seeks to reduce emissions while promoting economic prosperity, fossil fuels will continue to play a central role in the energy mix.”[1] Besides interlarding economic growth at the conference that was on the climate, the company’s management felt the need—nay, even the obligation—to remind the world that coal would still play a prominent part in how the world obtains energy for its billions and billions of human beings. “The reality of it is the world is going to continue to use fossil fuels, and if I can throw myself on the hand grenade to help people realize that, I’m willing to do it,” said Barry Worthington of the U.S. Energy Association before the conference in the E.U. city of Bonn. Were people really unaware that reliance on coal was an intractable problem from the standpoint of reducing carbon emissions, or was the American company simply wanting to sell more coal?

The full essay is at "Shamelessly Selling."




1. Lisa Friedman, “For Climate Conference, a Sales Pitch on Fossil Fuels,” The Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2017.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Saudi Crackdown: A Cause for Market Confidence

The Saudi government sought to confiscate cash and other assets worth as much as $800 billion in ostensibly cracking down on corruption in late 2017. More than 60 princes, officials, and business practitioners were initially detained. Both the figure and the number of arrests reflect merely “the initial stages” of asset seizures and arrests, according to a Saudi spokesman.[1] It was not long before 500 had been detained.[2] I submit that both the swiftness and scope left international investors and foreign businesses in Saudi Arabia unnecessarily rattled. Doubtless uncertainty as to the real reason for the crackdown unnerved the business elite. Corruption was endemic in the Saudi political economy, so the sudden need to crack down on it understandably left people to wonder as to the real reason, which, as it turns out, was nothing for business to fear.

The full essay is at "Political and Market Risk."



[1]Margherita Stancati, “Saudis Target Up to $800 Billion in Assets,” The Wall Street Journal, November 8, 2017.
[2] Nicholas Kulish and David Kirkpatrick, “Arrests Reveal Blending of Kin and Kingdom,” The New York Times, November 8, 2017.

On the Centenary of the Russian Revolution: Government as Artificial

On November 7, 2017, Russian soldiers marched in a military parade in Red Square in Moscow to honor the soldiers who had marched in a military parade on November 7, 1941 before going to the front to defend the city from invading Nazi troops. Commemoration of the centenary of the Russian Revolution was relegated to side streets “in a pale shadow of grand Soviet demonstrations on Red Square.”[1] Even though Russian communists and likeminded activists from around the world marched through central Moscow, the mood was subdued in spite of the milestone. 

The full essay is at "The Russian Revolution."


[1] Ivan Nechpurenko, “Communists Mark Russian Revolution’s Centenary in Moscow,” The New York Times, November 7, 2017.

Modern Society Reflected in Screenwriting: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

In what could be taken as a rendering of modern society, David Howard (p. 82) characterizes the “heart of dramatic writing” as thinking of “the actions of the characters and how they should be seen by the audience.” Howard is referring specifically to storytelling by screenwriters. Whereas the novel genre is particularly well-suited to exploring the interior lives of characters (e.g., their thoughts and feelings) via the expository word and the stage privileges dialogue due to the limits on action (and place), film is a visual medium, and thus uniquely able, or free, to capture actions and vistas. Hence, Charles Deemer (p. 64) advises aspiring screenwriters: “Always look for ways to tell your story visually without words.” It is as though he were stuck in the “silent” era, before the “talkies.” That films having soundtracks were referred to as talkies, at least initially, suggests that dialogue was (and is) no small matter in the film genre of storytelling. In fact, some stars who were quite notable during the “silent” era found the transition to “talkies” rather daunting, if not impossible, given the importance of voice, which pertains specifically to dialogue.

The full essay is at "Modern Society in Screenwriting."

Sources:


David Howard and Edward Mabley, The Tools of Screenwriting: A Writer’s Guide to the Craft and Elements of a Screenplay. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993).
Charles Deemer, Screenwright: The Craft of Screenwriting (Xlibris, 1998).

Screenwriting as Dramatic Sense-Making or Ideological Subterfuge?

Howard (p. 165) claims that the screenwriters of Witness (1985) were “wise enough not to attempt to coerce an answer out of the material, to make this an indictment or a thesis instead of an exploration. If they had the definite answer to force and violence in society, they shouldn’t [have made] a film but should [have gone] directly to the United Nations with it. What they have created is an exploration of a complex and troubling issue. Modern urban society isn’t depicted as all bad and the Amish aren’t all good; there are forms of force in both societies, just as there are admirable things about them both. While, in the end, one use of force triumphs over another, that can hardly be a universally applicable solution. Rather, what the filmmakers have done is to make the audience confront its own feelings about violence and the use of force, to see that it is complicated and there are no pat answers, but, most important, to explore how each of us feels about the various faces of force we come to know in the story.”


Sources:
David Howard and Edward Mabley, The Tools of Screenwriting: A Writer’s Guide to the Craft and Elements of a Screenplay. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993).


Bill Johnson, Essays on the Craft of Dramatic Writing. http://home.teleport.com/~bjscript/index.htm  See also Charles Deemer, Screenwright: The Craft of Screenwriting (Xlibris, 1998), pp. 117-19.

Federalizing the Criminal Code: Racial Opportunity Costs

On December 13, 2011, a bipartisan group of legal experts told a panel of lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives that the federal criminal code had grown so large that U.S. citizens could not possibly keep up with it. “We ought to get rid of the old myth that you’re presumed to know the law,” Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said. About 4,500 criminal statutes exist, according to Ed Meese, a former U.S. Attorney General under President Reagan. “This is in addition to over 300,000 other regulations that don’t appear in the federal code but nevertheless carry essentially criminal penalties including prison,” he said. “So the vast array of traps for the unwary that lurks out there in federal criminal law is more extensive than most people realize.” The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts figures some 80,000 defendants are sentenced in federal court each year.

The full essay is at "Federalizing Everything."

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Dysfunctional Trajectory of U.S. Presidential Debates: The Case of 2012

Just weeks before the 2012 elections in the U.S., the New York Times observed, “In 1960, John F. Kennedy was trailing Richard Nixon as they stepped into the crucible of the first nationally televised debate. While Kennedy soared, Nixon stumbled and never recovered. Network television played a definitive role, but those were very different times. There were three networks, not 500 channels, and the consumer Internet was still very much on the drawing board of the future. Half a century later, televised debates remain relevant, but the ritual is up against an always-on informational stream that surges with political messages.

Russia's Putin and Big Tobacco

In political economy theory, democracy is said to have the drawback of excessive consumption of public revenues at the expense of investment, such as in infrastructure relevant to foreign direct investment. Latin American countries were contrasted negatively with the Asian newly industrialized economies, whose relatively strong states could buffer popular calls for more in entitlements so that more could be invested in infrastructure attractive to foreign multinational companies. The implication is that a trade-off exists between democracy and economic development.
Apart from the economic aspects, the question may be whether a representative government can resist popular calls for more money to be spent by the government on popular consumption. In the U.S. case, it can be asked whether the fiscal stresses on Social Security and Medicare are due more to demographic factors (i.e., an aging population) or democracy itself. The ability of representative democracy to maintain a viable economy and republic in the long term is at issue.
Accordingly, Putin’s less than democratic approach to ruling Russia may have a bright side. Even though nearly 40% of the population smoked in 2012 and the world’s four big tobacco companies controlled 90% of the Russian market, the Kremlin was pushing strong anti-smoking legislation through the legislature. Besides the question of whether such legislation should be at that level in an empire-level federal system (there had been legislation at the republic level), the fact that the government was standing up to big business and 40 percent of its population (60% of Russian men) can be attributed to a strong state resisting popular pressure literally for consumption. This is not necessarily bad, as people do not always know what is best for them.

The full essay is at "Russia's Putin and Big Tobacco."


Should Citi Be Broken Up or “Prodded”?

In 2011, the office of the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program published a report on the aid provided to Citigroup by the U.S. Government during the financial crisis of 2008. “Unless and until an institution such as Citigroup is either broken up,” the report concludes, “so that it is no longer a threat to the financial system, or a structure is put in place to assure that it will be left to suffer the full consequences of its own folly, the prospect of more bailouts will potentially fuel more bad behavior with potentially disastrous results.” The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 was an attempt to provide such a structure, with the federal government’s role being oriented to upping reserve requirements for the biggest banks and ordering the liquidation of big banks in bankruptcy, rather than to break up the banks too big to fail. That is to say, rather than add systemic risk to the restraint-of-trade criterion of anti-trust law, Congress and the U.S. president decided in 2010 to allow the banks with $1 to $2 trillion in assets to decide whether to downsize of their own volition or continue to face the raised reserve requirements.

The full essay is at "Citibank: Too Big To Fail?"


Russia's Putin Embraced BP


The Russian state-owned company, Rosneft, reached separate agreements in October 2012 to buy TNK-BP from BP and a group of Russian billionaires. According to the Wall Street Journal, the deal represents “an acquisition that promises to reshape the Russian oil industry in favor of the state-owned company.” The Russian federal government was set to own or control nearly 50% of the Russian oil industry. Lest it be supposed that the legacy of inefficient state enterprise might compromise that industry in Russia, the state would have the benefit of literally sitting on the same board with representatives of the experienced oil producer from the private sector. By implication, the traditional dichotomy between public and private could be further blurred, such that the easy labels of “socialism” and “capitalism” may become less and less relevant or useful (except in the rhetoric of American presidential contests). Rosneft itself is a case in point of privateness and publicness coming together with a shared vocabulary or at least financial aim. Before addressing this point, I present the basics of the deal itself.

Robert Dudley, CEO of BP, talking with Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin.   Source: Telegraph

The full essay is at "Russia's Putin Embraced BP."

Morsi as Partisan in Constitution-Building: Lessons from Washington

Appealing for unity after the controversial ratification of a draft constitution in December 2012, President Morsi of Egypt pledged in a televised address to respect the one-third of the electorate that had voted against the proposed constitution. He claimed that “active patriotic opposition” should not annoy the president or the people in a democracy. I contend that the office of president should not be of the sort that would have partisan opposition, ideally at least. That is to say, presiding means safeguarding the process itself, as well as the good of the whole, rather than pushing a partisan agenda. That Morsi was on record in support of the partisan-drafted proposal undercut his role as presider in chief. Given the innate instability of a nascent democracy, the role for a presider “above the fray” was particularly valuable in Egypt at the time. Morsi fell short in this regard, and thus put the fragile democracy at risk.

The full essay is at "Morsi as Partisan."

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Social Harmony and Toxic Chemicals in China

According to the New York Times in 2012, the Chinese had become increasingly willing “to take to the streets despite the perils of openly challenging the country’s authoritarian government.” Even more surprising, government officials had actually acquiesced in some notable cases. Given the raw nature of power, particularly under authoritarian auspices, revolution rather than gradual reform may still be the most likely means by which democracy can bloom under the golden, albeit hazy, sun.

The full essay is at "Chemical Pollution in China."

Absolute Sovereignty: The Case of Syria

By the end of 2012, over 60,000 Syrians had been killed and over half a million had fled as a result of the civil war in Syria. Shortages of food and shelter were worsening inside Syria for civilians. In early January of 2013, a spokesperson for the U.N. said that the international organization was unable to feed a million residents in combat zones. Acute fuel shortages in Syria were contributing to the rising price of bread—at least six times greater than the pre-conflict price. Additionally, an outbreak of violence in a large Syrian refugee camp of 54,000 refugees in Jordan amid a winter storm was reported. “The incident followed a night of heavy storms, during which torrential rains and high winds swept away tents and left parts of the camp flooded,” an official in Save the Children said in a statement. One might ask what was really behind the deteriorating conditions.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Receding Chinese-American Economic Paradigm in 2011: Imbalances within Mutual Benefit

“For decades,” according to The Wall Street Journal, “plentiful Chinese labor kept down costs of a range of goods bought by Americans.” Then, roughly in 2010, the Chinese government began supporting higher wages to reduce labor unrest and boost domestic consumption while reducing reliance on exports. Partially as a result of this, the world saw higher prices for commodities in 2011; oil was another factor as protests in the Middle East increased political risk in the calculations of future supply (amid speculation). A shrinking workforce in China was also putting pressure on the labor cost. Even though relatively cheap labor was still in the interior of the country, higher transportation costs mitigated the cost advantage. The prevailing paradigm was showing cracks. To be sure, it certainly had them.



Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Corporations as Citizens: A Right to Make Political Donations?

In Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court held that corporations and unions “should have the same right as individuals to pay for election ads and other electioneering,” according to The Wall Street Journal. Not addressed in the court’s decision was whether corporations and unions also have “the same right as individuals to donate money directly to candidates for Congress or the White House.”

Democracy and the Courts: Alternative Checks on Austerity in Greece

In May 2011, “Athens agreed to impose a new $9 billion round of tax increases and spending cuts and speed up nearly $75 billion in promised privatizations.” In early June, a new round of tightening was being planned by the Greek government. It was feared that those cuts would deepen the recession and thus further shrink the tax base, making it even harder for the government to cut its deficit. Meanwhile, Reuters reported, “Greeks are showing signs of reaching the limits of their endurance as budget cuts imposed under Greece's first bailout a year ago have helped to push unemployment close to 16 percent.” The news service cited police reports of more than 80,000 people packing the main Syntagma square outside parliament on June 6th—the 12th consecutive day of protesting there.

                                              Reuters

On the Myopic Hyperbole of Wall Street: Overblowing Small Changes

I suppose that after looking at something closely for a long period of time, virtually anyone would perceive a small change in it as huge. This is reflected in how people formulate graphs. In particular, typically only a small interval is shown, the perceptual impact of which is that small changes look big. For example, Msnbc.com reported on June 8, 2011 that the price of oil “soared” on that day “almost $2 to near $101 a barrel.” My reaction in reading the report was that the word “soared” indicates a lack of perspective on Wall Street and the media.

The full essay is at "Exaggerating Market Volatility."

The Fiat 500: The American Taste for Convenience Revealed

One means of doing cross-cultural comparison is by contrasting consumer tastes; such proclivities tend to evince societal mores by which societies can be perceived to be distinctive. In the case of the E.U. and U.S., Fiat, a European auto company that controls Chrysler, an American company, is discovering some societal differences as it refashions the Fiat 500 for American customers.

The full essay is at "American Consumer Tastes."

Monday, October 23, 2017

Marx and Chinese Dynasties: A Postmortem on Occupy Wall Street

My essay that suggests that the Occupy Wall Street protests should have focused on the large corporation itself (i.e., that the large corporate form be expunged from modern society) rather than on a myriad of redistribution agendas resonates with Marx’s theory of revolution. In that theory, the proletariat finally throws off the chains and subdues the hitherto hegemonic capitalists in a materialist reading of Hegel's idea that history progresses toward greater freedom of the human spirit. The redistributive push of the Occupy movement fellf short because even increased redistribution advocated would have been within extant the political-economic system that the corporations dominate and run (i.e., including Congress). If the protesters were in fact serious about confronting corporate capitalism, their movement should have been radical rather than reformist because reforms are within the system that works for and by corporations.

The full essay is at "Marx and Chinese Dynasties: A Post-Mortem on Occupy Wall Street." 

On the Unfairness of the Bonus System on Wall Street

Craig A. Dubow, Gannett’s former chief executive, had a short six-year tenure that was, by most accounts according to The New York Times, “a disaster.” David Carr reports: “Gannett’s stock price declined to about $10 a share from a high of $75 the day after [Dubow] took over; the number of employees at Gannett plummeted to 32,000 from about 52,000, resulting in a remarkable diminution in journalistic boots on the ground at the 82 newspapers the company owns. . . .  the company strip-mined its newspapers in search of earnings, leaving many communities with far less original, serious reporting. . . . Not only did Mr. Dubow retire under his own power because of health reasons, he got a mash note from Marjorie Magner, a member of Gannett’s board, who said without irony that ‘Craig championed our consumers and their ever-changing needs for news and information.’ But the board gave him far more than undeserved plaudits. Mr. Dubow walked out the door with just under $37.1 million in retirement, health and disability benefits. That comes on top of a combined $16 million in salary and bonuses in the last two years.”

Besides the inherent unfairness in an incompetent manager getting millions of dollars in compensation (for championing incompetence?), it is morally problematic when, as Carr puts it, “the consequences of bad decisions land on everyone except those who made them.” 

The full essay is at "Unfair Bonuses on Wall St."


Source:

 David Carr, “Why Not Occupy Newsrooms?” The New York Times, October 24, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/24/business/media/why-not-occupy-newsrooms.html