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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."