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Friday, May 18, 2018

Naked Royalty: Prince Harry and the Sun

In publishing naked pictures of Prince Harry on holiday in Nevada, the Sun in Britain ignored the warning from the press watchdog that had warned the Sun that it would be breaching a privacy provision in the state of Britain’s press code. That the warning followed an appeal to the Press Complaints Commission from St. James’s Palace, which is Prince Charles’s home and office in London, suggests that the warning came from “the firm” itself to protect one of its own.

                   
A naked royal hits the newsstands in Britain.         Tony Melville/Reuters

The full essay is at "Privacy and the Press."


Losing the Middle Class: An Educational-Industrial Policy

Beneath the headlines showing new figures on unemployment (which do not include the unemployed who are no longer looking for work or applying for unemployment compensation) is the story of the changing distribution of jobs in the American economy. That distribution in turn can give rise to cultural or societal changes. When the jobs in the economic middle are disproportionately lost, American society increasingly resembles a tale of two cities—and by this I do not mean Augustine’s heavenly and earthly cities though the realms of the “haves” and “have nots” could admittedly be called as such by materialists.


The full essay is at "An Educational Industrial Policy."

Frank Lloyd Wright: A Modern Renaissance Man

Perhaps no greater Renaissance man has been cited in American history than Thomas Jefferson. He wrote on the native plants of his country, Virginia, ran a plantation, designed buildings, founded a university, surveyed land,  was the head of state in Virginia, wrote a declaration of independence, and was the third president of the new American Union. More than two centuries after Mr. Jefferson, however, a cleft had become well-ensconced in American society between being an intellectual and a practitioner. The typical lawyer or physician, who holds two undergraduate degrees due in part to the political sense that a well-rounded citizenry makes a good electorate, has scant interest in intellectual endeavor. Indeed, one might even say that the “professions” place scant value on such activity; it is not “real work” or of the “real world.” The disdain is palpable, particularly in among the self-righteous in America. Yet Mr. Jefferson was able to bridge this gulf; so too can we. More contemporary examples can be cited to illustrate the mere possibility. The requisite delimiting "pruning" self-discipline might come as a surprise to people who presume that Renaissance breadth is borne of a wayward inability to "stay put."

The full essay is at "Frank Lloyd Wright.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

On Leveraging the U.S. Debt Ceiling: How the Market Mechanism Handles Trust

On May 9 2011, U.S. House Speaker Boehner insisted “on trillions of dollars in spending cuts, and no tax increases, as the price for rounding up enough votes to allow more borrowing and prevent the country from defaulting on its debt,” according to the Huffington Post. The Ohio Republican had “said failure to increase the borrowing limit [in the summer of 2011] would trigger a financial disaster for the United States and the world.” On May 12th in Congressional testimony, Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, cautioned against using raising the debt ceiling as leverage for getting a particular partisan policy-prescription on federal spending enacted into law. Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker had told Reuters, “I do share the chairman’s concern that going up to the edge and playing chicken on the debt ceiling is not a wise strategy.”

The full essay is at "Leveraging the U.S. Debt Ceiling."

Strategic Thinking Beyond the Business Plan

“When smart people came up with ideas for well-conceived business opportunities, we said go for it. As always, organizational charts, management consultants, and business plans played virtually no role in any of this. My own strategic thinking I did mostly while showering or shaving.”

—Alan C. Greenberg, former Chairman and CEO of Bear Stearns

The full essay is at "Strategic Thinking Beyond Plans."

The Financial Crisis of 2008: On the Role of Negligence Breaching Fiduciary Obligation

Roger Lowenstein laments that “New York Times columnist Joe Nocera lamented that ‘Wall Street bigwigs whose firms took unconscionable risks … aren't even on Justice's radar screen.’ A news story in the Times about a mortgage executive who was convicted of criminal fraud observed, ‘The Justice Dept. has yet to bring charges against an executive who ran a major Wall Street firm leading up to the disaster.’ In the same dispassionate tone, National Public Radio's All Things Considered chimed in, ‘Some of the most publicly reviled figures in the mortgage mess won't face any public accounting.’ New York magazine saw fit to print the estimable opinion of Bernie Madoff, who observed that the dearth of criminal convictions is ‘unbelievable.’ Rolling Stone, which has been beating this drum the longest and with the heaviest hand, reductively asked, ‘Why isn't Wall Street in jail?’”
Lowenstein interprets these sentiments as implying “that the financial crisis was caused by fraud; that people who take big risks should be subject to a criminal investigation; that executives of large financial firms should be criminal suspects after a crash; that public revulsion indicates likely culpability; that it is inconceivable (to Madoff, anyway) that people could lose so much money absent a conspiracy; and that Wall Street bears collective guilt for which a large part of it should be incarcerated.”
Lowenstein argues that “(t)hese assumptions do violence to our system of justice and hinder our understanding of the crisis. The claim that it was ‘caused by financial fraud’ is debatable, but the weight of the evidence is strongly against it. The financial crisis was accompanied by fraud, on the part of mortgage applicants as well as banks. It was caused, more nearly, by a speculative bubble in mortgages, in which bankers, applicants, investors, and regulators were all blind to risk. More broadly, the crash was the result of a tendency in our financial culture, especially after a period of buoyancy, to push leverage and risk-taking to the extreme.”
Lowenstein also ticks off a loose monetary policy (i.e., extremely low interest rates), unaccountability at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, weak financial regulation, and an overconfidence in “risk management” methods in arguing that we should not be reductionist in ascribing the crisis to fraud alone or even primarily.  



The Electoral College Electing the U.S. President: A Check on Excess Democracy at the Empire Level

As a delegate in the U.S. constitutional convention, Governeur Morris stated on July 19, 1787 that the proposed National Executive (i.e. the U.S. President) should be “a firm guardian of the people and of the public interest.” (1)  Given this role, Morris maintained that it “cannot be possible that a man shall have sufficiently distinguished himself to merit this high trust without having his character proclaimed by fame throughout the Empire.” (2)   In other words, presiding requires a requisite credibility or stature that may be difficult to find in a territory on the scale of an empire.

The full essay is at "The Electoral College."

Friday, May 11, 2018

Malignant Narcissism in the Porn Industry: A Case of Flaccid Industry Self-Regulation

In early February, 2011, the Los Angeles city council voted unanimously to draft an ordinance that would require condoms to be used on the set of every pornographic movie made within city limits. “We can’t keep our heads in the sand any longer,” City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said. “These people should be using condoms. Period.” According to the New York Times, the "city law would be the first to impose safety standards specifically on the pornographic film industry, which has largely been allowed to police itself." Until the late 1990's, the industry went unregulated. On the heels of lawsuits filed against production companies by several actresses who had contracted H.I.V., the industry created the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation in 1998. The nonprofit clinic was financed by contributions from production companies and offered STD tests for the talent. Producers agreed not to hire performers who had not been tested within thirty days. Even though the county health department accused the industry's self-regulation of failing to protect the talent and their sexual partners, the production companies claimed that the system worked well. “This has been working for years,” said Steven Hirsch, founder of Vivid Entertainment. “If we saw people getting sick, we would go to mandatory condoms.” However, STDs remained rampant among pornographic film performers. Rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea are seven times higher than those in the general population.  Taking Steven Hirsch's own statement, it could be argued that waiting until an actor looks sick to require him to wear a condom is a bit like waiting until the horse has left the barn. “Testing just acts as a fig leaf for producers, who suggest that it is a reasonable substitute for condoms, which it is not,” said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

A World Eschew: National Sovereignty Eclipsing Climate Change

U.S. President Obama announced after he left the UN global climate conference at Copenhagen in 2009 that five major nations—the United States, China, India, Brazil and South Africa—had together forged a climate deal. He called it “an unprecedented breakthrough” but acknowledged that the agreement was merely a political statement and not a legally binding treaty and might not need ratification by the entire conference.  Essentially, it was merely a statement of the five countries’ respective goals, as if someone had announced, “I want to lose ten pounds.”   The political statement did not meet even the modest expectations that leaders set for this meeting, notably by failing to set a 2010 goal for reaching a binding international treaty to seal the provisions of the accord.  Nor does the plan firmly commit the industrialized nations or the developing nations to firm targets for midterm or long-term greenhouse gas emissions reductions.



The U.S. Senate: What Is It Really?

In 1928, the Senate stopped the bill that would have given WWI vets their bonus then rather than in 1946.  Mass protests for weeks by thousands of vets on the U.S. Capitol may have swayed the U.S. House, but the Senate was undaunted: passage of the bill would be economically disasterous. Such a scenario is exactly what the delegates in the U.S. constitutional convention in 1787 would have predicted.  They designed the House to reflect the passions of the people, and the Senate as a check on such passion where it is intemperate.   Looking back at Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts, the delegates feared excess democracy.  No supporter of the Senate, Madison nonetheless points out that “a numerous body of Representatives were liable to err also, from fickleness and passion. A necessary fence against this danger would be to select a portion of enlightened citizens, whose limited number, and firmness might seasonably interpose against impetuous councils” (Madison’s Notes, p. 194).

The full essay is at "The U.S. Senate."

On the Virtue of a Constitutional Moment: Reassessing the American System of Government

A constitutional moment engaging the citizenry is urgently needed with respect to the system of government in the United States. In short, the citizenry should decide, as a people, whether to revert back to a federal system or to make the political consolidation that has ensued official. If the latter, Alexander Hamilton's suggestion that the states be districts of the US Government, whose energy he thought could not directly extend to the outer reaches of the empire (i.e., into the wilderness of states distant from the seat of the U.S. Government). This was Hamilton's view in the U.S. Constitutional Convention; his writings eventually published in The Federalist Papers were meant to sell the proposed constitution rather than to give his own proposal. His own view may have come to pass, though through incremental Congressional encroachment on the turf of the governments of the several states and concurring U.S. Supreme Court assuaging (or enabling) doctrines.  I submit that this process of change over many years has eventuated in a gap between the system of governance as it is and as it is to be constitutionally.  Whereas some people argue that we must revert back to the constitution following a "strict" construction, I believe we the people, as a people, should commence a constitutional moment of heightened attention and debate concerning whether we want centralized consolidation (i.e., no states), decentralized consolidation (i.e., states as districts), or federalism (which entails dual sovereignty and a balance of power between the general government and the governments of the states).  I believe the latter is the best suited for an inherently diverse empire-scale political union, but that the people reach a decision is the important point now.  For otherwise, we will continue to live a lie--to claim to be a federal system while actually being consolidated: essentially flying with  bad instruments. 

The full essay is at "Reassessing American Government."

Duplicity in International Affairs and Eclipsed Democracy: The Case of Afghanistan

Abdullah Abdullah withdrew on November 1, 2009 from the runoff election in Afghanistan.   Interestingly, Hilary Clinton and a spokesman for President Karzai characterized Abdullah’s withdraw in virtually identical terms—namely, as “his personal decision.”  Such a stance makes sense because both the American Government and Karzai had an interest in the Afghan electoral process being perceived as legitimate.   It is interesting, however, that the identical interpretation was instantly available to the press.   Perhaps U.S. Senator John Kerry had urged Karzai to agree to the runoff by telling him of a secret deal between the American Government and Abdullah that would have Abdullah pull out with a statement affirming the legitimacy of the electoral system.   That is, I wonder if the U.S. senator promised Abdullah something that essentially short-circuited the electoral process.  Karzai would look like a statesman without having to risk losing power, and Abdullah would get something rather than a probable election defeat.  The US would get stability in a Karzai government without having to worry about another controversial election. As it turned out, Abdullah did not keep to the script; he denounced the continued corruption in the continued occupants of the Karzai-hired electoral commission (a blatant conflict of interest for any electoral body, to be sure).   Also, the runoff itself was cancelled.  Was this part of the deal?  If so, the deal I suspect took place was very well hidden, or subterranean in nature and intention.

Afghani Electoral Fraud in 2010: A Precursor to the Protests in the Middle East?

The UN’s Electoral Complaints Commission recommended in 2009 that Afganistan’s Independent Election Commission invalidate 210 polling stations where the ECC found “clear and convincing evidence of fraud.”  The IEC in turn announced a run-off election because Karzai no longer had over 50% of the vote.  MSNBC reported that “the Karzai-influenced election commission may refuse to call for a runoff.” CNN reported that Karzai and Abdullah were trying to “cut some sort of deal” on a coaliation government that would have obviated, or skirted, a run-off.  Such a compromise would have been woefully inadequate from the standpoint of democratic process.

The full essay is at " Afghani Electoral Fraud."

Friday, April 13, 2018

How a Chairman of the Federal Reserve Made Strategic Use of the Media

Just as the US Senate was to take up the matter of Ben Bernanke’s re-appointment as Chair of the Federal Reserve in 2010, Time magazine came out with its announcement that he is to be its person of the year.  According to the magazine, “when turbulence in U.S. housing markets metastasized into the worst global financial crisis in more than 75 years, he conjured up trillions of new dollars and blasted them into the economy; engineered massive public rescues of failing private companies; ratcheted down interest rates to zero; lent to mutual funds, hedge funds, foreign banks, investment banks, manufacturers, insurers and other borrowers who had never dreamed of receiving Fed cash; jump-started stalled credit markets in everything from car loans to corporate paper; revolutionized housing finance with a breathtaking shopping spree for mortgage bonds; blew up the Fed’s balance sheet to three times its previous size; and generally transformed the staid arena of central banking into a stage for desperate improvisation. He didn’t just reshape U.S. monetary policy; he led an effort to save the world economy.”  Not to be outdone in service to the Chairman, CNN furnished its own reporters, who gave credit to Bernanke for these measures.  Interestingly, however, even though one reporter admitted that Bernanke had said in 2007 that the subprime market and its derivatives would not threaten the financial market and the banks, she attributed the fault there to the imperfections in the market rather than to Bernanke himself in being wrong.   So, he gets credit for having cleaned up the mess (ignoring the foreclosed homeowners) but not the blame for being wrong about the contagion (and not urging regulation of the derivatives).  

The full essay is at "How a Chairman of the Fed Used the Media."

Obama's Meeting with Culpable Top Bankers

When he was running for US President, Barak Obama said that the financial crisis provided an opportunity for financial system reform beyond that which is in the interest of the big banks because the power of the latter is temporarily eclipsed and the US Government can take advantage of that.  His assumption is that during normal times, the banking industry essentially owns the Congress (Sen Dick Durbin’s statement just after the banking lobby defeated a foreclosure bill in the US Senate in 2009).  Sadly, the government did not use the eclipse; rather, it has been using the appearance of power and direction in the relumed post-crisis period to engage in window-dressing to assuage populist anger at the banks.

The full essay is at "Obama under Culpable Bankers."

A Nobel Peace Prize Awarded in spite of a Troop Surge

In December of 2009, Barak Obama was the first sitting U.S. president in 90 years and the third ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet he did so under the long shadow of the war in Afghanistan, where he was ordering 30,000 more troops into battle.  Could Truman’s decision to drop the A-bomb on Japan be along the same logic because it was meant to preempt the loss of life that would have come had the US invaded Japan?  President Reagan’s peace through strength logic was that a military build-up would forestall or prevent war from breaking out (hence no loss of life would be involved even in the forestalling).   The logic of awarding a surge President with a peace prize seems more dubious.  

The full essay is at "A Nobel Peace Prize amid a Troop Surge."

Eleven Time Zones in Russia: A Problem of Consolidated Empire

As of 2011, Russia had 11 time zones, from the Polish border to near Alaska, a system so vast that a traveller could get a walloping case of jet lag from a domestic flight.  In 2009, Russia was considering shedding some of its time zones.  People running businesses in the far east were complaining because the regulators were typically in Moscow, which could be several hours behind.    The issue blossomed at the end of 2009 into an intense debate across the Russian Federation about how Russians saw themselves, about how the regions should relate to the center, and about how to address the age-old problem of creating a sense of unity in a diverse federation that had been consolidated politically.  In short, the issue concerned the challenges involved in a consolidated empire. 

The full essay is at "Russia as a Consolidated Empire."

The Federal Reserve Expanded Its Turf in Spite of Having Come Up Short

Testifying before the US Senate Finance Committee on his re-appointment, Ben Bernanke volunteered that the Fed had been “slow” in protecting consumers from high-risk mortgages during the housing bubble and that it should have forced banks to hold more capital for all the risks they were taking on.  “In the area where we had responsibility, the bank holding companies, we should have done more.” he told lawmakers.  The hearing provided new evidence of doubt among lawmakers about the Federal Reserve’s  role as the nation’s guardian of the financial system. “In the face of rising home prices and risky mortgage underwriting, the Fed failed to act,” said Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on the banking committee. “Many of the Fed’s responses, in my view, greatly amplified the problem of moral hazard stemming from ‘too big to fail’ treatment of large financial institutions and activities.”  Accordingly, Senator Dodd proposed that the Fed’s powers as a bank regulator ought to be transferred to a new consolidated agency. Even though Bernanke admitted that the Fed made mistakes as a regulator of the bank holding companies, he and other top Fed officials adamantly opposed Dodd's proposal, arguing that the Fed has unique expertise nonetheless and that the Fed's ability to preserve financial stability depends on having the detailed information that only a regulator has about the inner workings of major institutions.

The full essay is at "The Federal Reserve Bank."

Human Rights Violations in Syria and Bahrain: On the American Reaction

The New York Times reported on March 25, 2011 that Syrian military troops opened fire on protesters in the southern part of Syria. Tens of thousands of demonstrators in the southern city of Dara’a, a well as protesters in some other cities and towns around the state, were defying a ruler who once again demonstrated his willingness to use lethal force against his own citizens. The paper reported on March 27th that "(w)ith 61 people confirmed killed by security forces, the country’s status as an island of stability amid the Middle East storm seemed irretrievably lost." Weeks earlier, the Arab League had declared that Qaddafi had lost his sovereignty—meaning his right to rule without intervention from other countries—because he had been engaged in having Libyan civilians killed. Since the League’s declaration on the Libyan dictator, the “president” of Yemen had use force against protesters—even gaining power from the legislature to lock up his detractors. As if these cases would not be enough of a bad precedent, Bahrain’s ruler had also been using lethal force against protests—just days after sitting down with U.S. Secretary of Defense William Gates, who was urging restraint.
In the midst of the Syrian government's violence, MSNBC reported on March 25th that the United States called on the Syrian government to stop the violence against marchers, White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "We strongly condemn the Syrian government's attempts to repress and intimidate demonstrators,'' he told reporters. Meanwhile, according to The New York Times, the new American ambassador in Damascus, Robert Ford, was "quietly reaching out to . . . Assad to urge him to stop firing on his people." Quietly? Meanwhile, American fighters had been bombing what was left of Qaddafi's airforce in Libya. The inconsistency was not lost on some American officials, according to The New York Times. "Having intervened in Libya to prevent a wholesale slaughter in Benghazi, some analysts asked, how could the administration not do the same in Syria? Though no one is yet talking about a no-fly zone over Syria, Obama administration officials acknowledge the parallels to [Qadaffi]. Some analysts predicted the administration will be cautious in pressing Mr. Assad, not because of any allegiance to him but out of a fear of what could follow him — a Sunni-led government potentially more radical and Islamist than his Alawite minority government." So strategic interests, even if running at cross-purposes with itself, are thought by some as a legitimate basis for a rather blatant inconsistency from the standpoint of human rights and the long term goal of democracy in the Middle East.
I contend that the continued support of rulers in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen while turning on Qaddafi, as if diplomacy were sufficient in dealing with the former three but not with the latter, is not at all in the interest of the United States beyond short-term political expediency in the theatre of international relations. Moreover, the double-standard concerning the rulers who have turned on their own people undercuts the credibility of the American government. 

On the Police Power of Chinese Banks

In July, 2010, a few days after the Agricultural Bank in China went public in an IPO bringing in $22 billion, dozens of former bank employees stealthily gathered outside the headquarters of the country’s central bank. Like many other state-owned companies, the bank slashed its payroll and restructured in order to raise profitability and make the bank more financially attractive to outside investors. By Western standards, the bank was overstaffed, a legacy of its role as one of the pillars of China’s socialist financial system. The fired bankers had no legal redress. 

The full essay is at "On the Police Power of Chinese Banks."

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/world/asia/16china.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&dbk

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Is Greed Implicit in Christian Theology?

In Business Ethics for Dummies (p. 123), greed is defined as a basic desire for more. The authors posit a “reasonable greed,” which in business “fuels growth,” which in turn “creates jobs and adds value to a society [and] economy” (p. 124). The authors conclude that “in terms of this social and economic growth at least, greed is a good thing” (p. 124). This sounds like a partial affirmation of Gordon Gekko’s claim that “greed, for lack of a better word, is good” (Wall Street). As long as greed proffers good consequences—the greatest good for the greatest number—the desire for more is ethical, or “reasonable.”

An Interfaith Declaration of Business (Ethics)

Released in 1994, “An Interfaith Declaration: A Code of Ethics on International Business for Christians, Muslims, and Jews” is comprised of two parts: principles and guidelines. The four principles (justice, mutual respect/love, stewardship and honesty) are described predominantly in religious terms, devoid of any connection to business. In contrast, the guidelines invoke the principles in their ethical sense, devoid of any religious connotation. The disconnect in applying religious ethics to business is not merely in books; the heavenly and earthly cities are as though separated by a great ocean of time.

 Are these religions applicable to business?    Wikipedia

The full essay is at "An Interfaith Declaration of Business."

Source:


Related paper: "Religion in Strategic Leadership: A Positivistic, Normative/Theological and Strategic Analysis," Journal of Business Ethics (2005) 57: 221-239.

Related book: God's Gold  The text goes through the history of Christian thought on how greed is related to wealth and profit-seeking, and proffers an explanation for why the historical shift was from anti-wealth to a pro-wealth dominant stance. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Christian Films as Distinctly Theological: A Theological Project

To be profitable, is it advisable that films with a distinctively religious theme and narrative water down their theological dimension so to be more acceptable in modern, secular society (i.e., a broader range of movie-goers)? The success of films like The Last Temptation of Christ, The Nativity Story, The Passion of the Christ, and Son of God suggest that theology should be embraced rather than tempered if box-office numbers are at all important. The genre should thus be distinguished from historical drama. Screenwriters and directors engaging in the religious genre would be wise, therefore, to distinguish the theological from the historical even in handling religions in which the historical is salient in the theological.

The full essay is at "Christian Films as Theological."

Monday, March 26, 2018

When an Unethical Corporate Culture Becomes Dangerous in a Primitive U.S. State: Uber’s Self-Driving Cars in Arizona

A company with a horrendous reputation for having an unethical, and harsh, company culture is likely to be attracted to places in which lax regulatory oversight exists. A governmental view that regulations should be minimized dovetails with such a company. The two are a match, though not exactly made in heaven. The nexus can be situated closer to the ground, in a desert in North America, in Arizona in particular. In the case of Uber, which was testing its self-driving cars there in 2018, the flashpoint came in March, when such a car hit a pedestrian who was crossing a street without a sustained sidewalk. Suddenly society took another look, a much more hesitant look, at self-driving technology. Missed, however, was the nexus between Uber’s squalid culture/mentality and Arizona—the culpability of both having led to a perfect storm.

The full essay is at "Uber in Arizona: A Perfect Storm"


Differences between Two Living Popes White-Washed in Fake News

People in glass houses should not throw stones. Or, the person who is without sin casts the first stone. Lastly, a house divided cannot stand, at least in the long run. Yet houses are so rarely as fundamentally divided as the one in which I grew up. Regarding religious institutions, theological differences can be allowed to blow up into major, life-threatening disputes, or papered over by sins of omission pertaining to just how deep a fissure goes. Conflicts, in other words, can be exacerbated or mollified, depending on the temperaments.
On February 7, 2018, Joe Ratzinger, a former pope of the Roman Catholic Church, wrote a letter pertaining to a multi-volume book on the then-current pope’s theology. Reading from the letter at the book’s presentation the next month, Dario Vigano, the prefect of the Vatican’s communications office, said that Benedict, the  former pope, confirmed that Francis, the current pope, had a solid theological and philosophical training and that the book showed the “interior continuity” between the two papacies.[1] This “left the impression that the 91-year-old retired pope had read the [book] and l endorsed it, when in fact he hadn’t.” The retired pope had not read the book!

The full essay is at "Two Living Popes White-Washed."



1. Nicole Winfield, “Vatican Bows to Pressure, Releases Retired Pope’s Letter,” Religion News Service, March 18, 2018.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Corporate Social Responsibility Is Not Altruistic: The Case of Amazon Prime

In a doctoral seminar on corporate social responsibility (CSR), the professor turned to me, perhaps because by then I was also taking courses in the religious studies department, and asked, “What is enlightened self-interest?” In my answer, I argued that such self-interest is distinctly oriented to the long-term, rather than, for example, immediate profits. Alternatively, I could have stressed the ethical connotation of the word, enlightened, but the self-interest component would seem to invalidate an ethical basis. In line with the notion of love as caritas, which is human love (eros) sublimated up directed to God, as distinct from agape, which excludes lower, self-interest inclusive, love, doing good can go along with long-term self-interest. In other words, doing good has value because good is done even if self-interest is salient in the motive. In regard to CSR, the self-interest that coincides is long-term-oriented. Amazon, for instance, giving the poor (i.e., Medicaid recipients) 50 percent off on the monthly charge for Amazon Prime is in line with gaining full-paying customers eventually, for it usually takes a while for poor people to move up the economic ladder.

The full essay is at "CSR at Amazon."

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Is Scientology a Religion?

I contend that other domains have encroached on religion, or religion on them, such that the native fauna in religion’s own garden is scarcely recognizable. In this essay, I distinguish psychology from religion using Scientology as a case in which the two domains have been obfuscated. In other words, I want to remove the troublesome category mistake that allows psychological matters to be reckoned as religious. 

The full essay is at "Is Scientology a Religion?" For more on weeding category mistakes out of religion, see the booklet,  Spiritual Leadership in Business.

Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook’s Unjust Strategic Leader in a Crisis

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook (and Instagram) “remained silent” during the two days after the data-breach scandal broke in March, 2018 as E.U. and U.S. lawmakers “pummeled Facebook and its stock price” dropped 9 percent.[1] The company lost $50 billion in market value in just those two days![2] Beyond the self-interested investors and the demoralized employees, the company’s 2 billion users—the suppliers of the raw content (to be mined as well as shared)—and the world (i.e., societal level) looked for ethical (i.e., atoning as well as protective) leadership from the company’s CEO. To be just, I submit, the leadership could not have been a mere reflection of Zuckerberg’s or Facebook’s immediate self-interests.

The full essay is at "Leadership Lacking at Facebook."

Employees look for leadership in the midst of a demoralizing crisis. (USA Today)



See also the booklet, Taking the Face off Facebook


1. Jessica Guynn, “As Facebook Reels from ‘Catastrophic Moment’ in Cambridge Analytica Crisis,” Mark Zuckerberg Is Silent,” USA Today, March 21, 2018.
2. Kevin Roose and Sheera Frenkel, “Missing From Facebook’s Crisis: Mark Zuckerberg,” The New York Times, March 21, 2018.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Oligarchic Social Media Companies: Willowing the Internet Unethically

Too much power in a few hands is inherently dangerous. That goes for private as well as public, or governmental, power. In the world of social media, the companies that own and control the platforms are essentially governmental in nature in that the executives promulgate rules and, ideally, see that they are enforced. The downsides to too few platforms—each with an extraordinary amount of power—involve a constricting of ideas, or content, on the internet, and potentially unanswered violations of the rights of the social-networks’ respective users. The public policy repercussions, I submit, include applying anti-trust law to social media companies such that none gets to become as massively dominating as Facebook had been allowed to become.


For more on this topic, 

See the essay, "Facebook: A Distrustful Company."

See also the booklet, Taking the Face off Facebook

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Founder of Theranos: A Flawed Charismatic Vision and Leader


“Theranos rose quickly from being a college dropout’s idea to revolutionize the blood analysis industry to a hot tech bet that accrued $700 million in funding and many famous names for its board.”[1] Elizabeth Holmes, the company’s founder, was stripped of her position at the company in 2018 after the SEC discovered her deep involvement with the fraud at the company. Her “smarts, fierce determination and Steve Jobs-inspired look . . . were critical” to her being able to perpetuate the lie that the company had a device that could do blood tests with just a scant amount of blood, obviating the unpleasant experience of having blood drawn by needle.[2] Although Jack Welsh, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs accomplished enough to warrant their fame, I submit that companies are too prone to create “champions”—even strangely calling them “rock stars.” In other words, even though charismatic vision is of value to a business, neither such a leader nor his or her vision itself should be overplayed. Business, I submit, has a marked tendency to do just that, and often with impunity.


On leadership vision, see Skip Worden, The Essence of Leadership: A Cross-Cultural Foundation


[1] Marco della Cava, “Behind the Scenes of Theranos’ Dramatic Rise, Fall,” USA Today, March 16, 2018.
[2] Ibid.

Facebook: A Distrustful Company Projecting Distrust

Cambridge Analytica, political data firm founded by Stephen Bannon and Robert Mercer, and with ties to U.S. President Trump’s 2016 campaign, “was able to harvest private information from more than 50 million Facebook profiles without the social network’s alerting users.”[1] The firm had purchased the data from a developer (a psychology professor at Cambridge University in the E.U.) who had developed a personality test that Facebook users could take, and whose purpose was supposedly academic. The developer violated Facebook’s policy on how user data could be used by third parties. The data firm “used the Facebook data to develop methods that [the firm] claimed could identify the personalities of individual American voters and influence their behavior.”[2] In other words, Cambridge Analytica used the purchased data to manipulate users to vote for Donald Trump for U.S. president in 2016 by sending pro-Trump messages. Although Facebook had not known of the sale of the data to Cambridge Analytica at the time, the social network, upon learning Cambridge Analytica’s political use of the data in 2015, failed to notify its users whose data had been compromised. Although 270,000 Facebook users took the developer’s personality test, “the data of some 50 million  users . . . was harvested without their explicit consent via their friend networks.”[3] It bears noting here that those of the 50 million users who had not taken the personality test should definitely have been informed. At the very least, Facebook’s management could not be trusted to not only  keep users informed, but also protect users in the first place by adequately enforcing the third-party-use policy. So it is ironic that Facebook’s untrustworthy management could be unduly distrustful of ordinary users.


The full essay is at "Facebook: A Distrustful Company."

For more on Facebook, see Taking the Face off Facebook

1. Matthew Rosenberg and Sheera Frenkel, “Facebook Role In Data Misuse Sets Off Storm,” The New York Times, March 19, 2018.
2, Ibid.
3.Cambridge Analytica: Facebook ‘being investigated by FTC,’” BBC News ( accessed March 20, 2018).





Thursday, March 15, 2018

President Trump as a “Neutral Guy” in the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: On the Conflict of Interest

In the absence of an international arbitrator with teeth, the nations of the world must at times have recourse to others in service to the resolution of disputes—even longstanding ones. This, I submit, is a major drawback to a world of sovereign nation-states, for rare is one that can genuinely serve as an honest broker, hence with credibility to the disputants rather than just one side.  Conflicts of interest all thus allowed, and even ignored as if they had no bearing. In the context of the longstanding Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the United States has been plagued with having to surmount the conflict between the interest of being an ally of Israel and a neutral peacemaking with credible standing as such to both sides. 

The full essay is at "President Trump as a 'Neutral Guy."



For more on conflicts of interest, see Institutional Conflicts of Interest.



Gary Cohn of Goldman Sachs in the White House: A Hidden Agenda?

Rex Tillerson, the U.S. Secretary of State fired by U.S. President Donald Trump and former CEO of Exxon, an international oil company based in the U.S., did not allow his difference with the president of tariffs on steel and aluminum to be a deal breaker. In this respect, the ex-CEO was not doing his company’s bidding. That is to say, he was not primarily in public service to serve the private interests of a multinational corporation. Unfortunately, this cannot be said of Gary Cohn, the ex-president of Goldman Sachs who quit as Trump’s chief economic advisor just after the tariffs were announced. Tariffs in general and especially to protect goods in another sector are not in the interests of a major American banks with substantial international business. If the former president of Goldman Sachs had taken the post in government to further Goldman’s interests, the question is whether public service is mere window-dressing at the highest levels of government—plutocracy being the real name of the game.

The full essay is at "Gary Cohn of Goldman Sachs."


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

On the Presumptuousness of Power: Does Wall Street Own Congress?

At the end of April, 2009, U.S. Senator Richard Durbin blamed the powerful banking lobby for the defeat of legislation that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to modify some troubled mortgages.  Even as mortgage servers were claiming to be overwhelmed with requests from distressed borrowers for readjustments to the adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM), the banks and mortgage companies felt the need to stop the US Senate from enabling judges to relieve the backlog. Durban later said in an interview, “And the banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place,” he said on WJJG 1530 AM radio's  “Mornings with Ray Hanania.” On October 30, 2009,  James K. Galbraith spoke on the Bill Moyers Journal on the bank lobby changing the financial system regulation reforms now being discussed in Congress.  That that lobby feels itself to be in a position to advise the Congress on a matter in which the banks were part of the problem is something that blows Galbraith away.   They should realize among themselves, or at the very least BE TOLD that their involvement is not helpful or appropriate.   Galbraith pointed out that we have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done governmentally to stave off another financial crisis—such as separating the commerical banking and investment trading (on the bank’s equity even!) functions and reducing the scale of the banks too big to fail.  However, there are a hundred reasons why the governing class will not follow through. 

Debating Federalism

It could be maintained that federalism gets in the way of solving problems that are simply too important to go unsolved.  In short, the argument is that federalism impedes progress on important issues. State to state differences should not be tolerated, he argues, where important needs are involved. “Resources and die-hard beliefs in the role of local government vary too much from state to state” for us to trust State government to deal satisfactorily with grave problems.   I suspect this view is widely held today.

The full essay is at "Debating Federalism."

For more on this topic, see: Two Federal Empires and American and European Federalism

Consolidation in Russia: Federalism and Democracy at Risk

United Russia, the party led by Prime Minister Putin, decided in August, 2010 not to submit the name of the governor of Kaliningrad, Georgy V. Boos, for reappointment. The decision appeared to put pressure on governors to do more to ensure the satisfaction of those they govern, or to at least keep a lid on dissent. Governors had been popularly elected in Russia until a 2004 decree by Mr. Putin, then Russia’s president, that gave the president responsibility for appointing them. In that decree, the president is to select governors from a list of candidates drawn up by the governing party. Critics have said that the practice has made governors beholden to the Kremlin and insensitive to the popular sentiments. This can be problematic on two grounds.

The full essay is at "Consolidation in Russia."

Federalism 101: Does Power Naturally Consolidate?

Consolidated power seems, at least in theory, to be contrary to American political culture.   The financial consolidation even after the financial bailouts of 2008, can be deemed dangerous economically and even politically, given the unlimited campaign contributions made possible by the Citizens United case in 2010. Such consolidation complements the political consolidation at the federal level in the U.S.  Is the consolidation, which has occurred since 1865, and especially from FDR's New Deal onward, natural or contrived? That is to say, will the E.U., when it is over 200 years old, suffer the same plight? If so, federalism itself, which I submit must include a balance of power, given the checks and balances feature, between the federal level and that of the states, may be a temporary system inherently. 

The full essay is at "Does Power Naturally Consolidate?"

For more on this topic, see: Two Federal Empires and American and European Federalism

Monday, March 12, 2018

A Critique of Corporate Political Risk Analysis and U.S. Foreign Policy: The Case of Libya

Even though people the world over instinctively recoiled as reports came in of Gadhafi's violent retaliation against Libyan protests on February 21, 2011, the official reaction from the US Government was muted at best. The refusal to act on an intuitive response to immediately remove the Libyan dictator's ability to wantonly kill people resisting his right to rule may have come from concerns that the mounting tumult of a change of government in a major oil-producing region of North Africa could cause even just a disruption in the supply of crude. Indeed, even the mere possibility was prompting a spike in the price of oil (and gas)--what one might call a risk premium. Even the prospect of an ensuing nasty electoral backlash from consumers having to face a possible increase in their largely non-discretionary gas expense was not lost on their elected representative in chief at the White House. 

The full essay is at "The Case of Libya."

Political Black Holes: On the Power Behind the Throne

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, has a black hole. If this is news to you, there is no need to go hide under a rock. It turns out our black hole is not the biggest by far, and it doesn't spew out a lot of excess energy that falls into it. Even so, it is ours, and we can be glad that we have one of our very own even if it isn't the biggest one on the block. In case you are interested in seeing it’s baleful look in a picture, I’ve got bad news for you; it is invisible. No light can bounce off it.  You are probably wondering how the scientists found it.  Well, they knew that black holes are in the center of galaxies, so the crafty lab coats used invisible light to find our center because there is too much gas there for much there to be visible to us.  The scientists noticed that the speed of stars speeds up around a certain point and posited the existence of a highly-dense black hole.

The full essay is at "Political Black Holes."

The American News Media: A Case of Over-Reaching?

During the summer of 2010, as commentators at Fox, CNN, and MSNBC were arguing, they referred to their own arguments as “trench warfare” and “hand-to-hand fighting.”  Real soldiers would doubtless dismiss such descriptors as attempts by children to count as adults—as something more.  The soldiers would be correct, of course. Insulting or criticizing another person does not constitute fighting in the sense of warfare. Someone at MSNBC calling someone at Fox a racist does not come close to shooting someone with a rifle or even slugging someone with one’s fist.  The protesters in Libya who were being shot at by their own government in February, 2011, would shake their heads in disbelief in hearing of the "war" among media personalities.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Downfall of MF Global: Implications for Banks Too Big To Fail

Here is an alphabet-soup of regulatory agencies that let MF Global, a financial services company that specialized in futures-trading, engage in much, too much, risk: SEC, CME, CFTC and FINRA. On one level, regulators will never be able to stop practitioners from making risky or simply bad decisions; a business system populated only by firms above average is by definition impossible. As long as their managers have any freedom of movement at all, some firms, including some in the financial sector, will inevitably fail. The question I want to pose is whether this means that firms too big to fail (TBTF) should be allowed to exist at all. In short, although MF Global itself was not TBTF, the risk Corzine (who had been chairman of Goldman Sachs) permitted suggests that human nature might be insufficiently disposed to support mammoth concentrations of private capital whose fall could mean the collapse of the financial system itself. Ultimately, I suppose, human nature can only go so far, organizationally speaking.

The full essay is at "The Downfall of MF Global."

Having It Both Ways: American Culture or Merely Congress?

Under the terms of the debt-ceiling budget agreement enacted during the summer in 2011, members of a joint Congressional committee, evenly divided between the parties as well as between the two chambers, had until Nov. 23 of that year to recommend ways to reduce budget deficits by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Both houses had to vote on the package by Dec. 23, 2011. If no legislation is enacted, the government would automatically cut almost $500 billion from military spending, with an equal amount from nonmilitary programs, between 2013 and 2021.

The full essay is at "Congress Reflecting American Society."

11/11/11

In Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate on 11/11/11 in 2011, costumes were the norm in the evening as revelers celebrated the numeric convergence. I suspect that unlike the Chinese, the Europeans were struck by the convergence itself, rather by any good luck attached to the numerology. I myself was struck by the convergence alone. Both at 11:11am and 11:11pm, I was surprised that other Americans around me seemed to be either ignorant of the alignment or utterly indifferent to it. It occurred to me that just as a given time-date system is artificial, so too are human cultures—which include political and economic values that are stitched together by leaders who peddle meaning to the masses. Both our systems and our ideologies are all too limiting, yet we can find meaning in them. Perhaps this is ultimately why we have them and the leaders that trumpet them or suggest new ones. I contend that 11/11/11 too plays into the human instinct for sense-making, especially in terms of visual and cognitive symmetries.

The full essay is at "11/11/11"

Contagion Beyond the Headlines in the E.U.

The E.U. states of Greece and Italy were grabbing headlines during the first two weeks of November 2011, given the dramatic resignations of Papandreou and Berlusconi. The only other state to get some attention was France. The Wall Street Journal noted on November 12th that concerns had been quietly building about France. According to the paper,“French bond yields rose to four-month highs, one day after Standard & Poor's Ratings Services erroneously issued a message saying it had cut France's triple-A credit rating. The yield on France's benchmark 10-year bond climbed 0.02 percentage point to 3.46%. That was 1.66 percentage points over yields on comparable German government bonds. France now has the highest government bond yields among its triple-A-rated peers in the region.” However, it seems overly dramatic to say that a .02 percent increase evinces a climb. Moreover, 3.46% is well under 7 percent, which is the level that was presumed at the time to signify the need for a bailout. Relative to the changes in the Italian yield, those of the French bonds could be viewed as relatively moderate, The French yield was still closer to that of Germany. Although not a red herring, the concern over France masked some real sleepers that were poised to take a hit in 2012. 


The full essay is at "Debt Contagion in the E.U."

For more on this topic, see Essays on the E.U. Political Economy

On the Allure of Popular Suffrage

In the European singing contest/show in which Susan Boyle competed, she lost the top spot to a teenage rap group. The method of selection made all the difference. Rather than having a three-judge panel of experts on singing determine the winner, the general public could “text” via cell phone or other device to vote. That one of the judges explicitly advocated for Boyle after her final performance (just before the voting) was no never mind to the general public that submitted a majority of the votes. To be sure, there were certainly non-music reasons to vote against her. Most notably, the suggestive comments she made on stage just before her first performance, including, “I’m 48, and that’s not my other half” (as she was swinging her hips as if she were sexy), were downright emetic, if not utterly bizarre. So it is possible that the voters put her personality defect above her excellent singing. It is also possible that the “texters” responsible for a majority of the votes simply preferred rap music. I do not like rap “songs” that include shouting and swearing; I do not even regard such “songs” as music. Otherwise, I could sing a song simply by yelling at you. From what I saw, the rap group in the competition was not swearing, but the “singing” did sound at times like shouting to me. Moreover, the group members seemed more oriented to dancing than singing. It is possible that the votes for that group went for any of the fads being represented rather than to singing per se.

The full essay is at "Popular Suffrage in Democracy."

Monday, February 26, 2018

Liturgical Vestments as Doorways into the Divine: On the Importance of Transcendence

In the Book of Genesis, God makes garments of skin for Adam and Eve and clothes them. Gianfranco Ravasi, a Roman Catholic Cardinal and de facto cultural minister of the Vatican, reflected on the meaning of liturgical vestments while he was in New York with prominent designers to preview the upcoming exhibit, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That fashion could point to the transcendent would seem to go against the ostensibly fundamental  dichotomy between the superficial and the significant.  The religious quest can be understood in such terms as transcending the image to the underlying ineffable mystery that must characterize the transcendent.


The full essay is at "Liturgical Vestments as Doorways."