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Friday, January 19, 2018

Rule of Law in the E.U.: Implications for the Federal System

For a federal system to be viable over the long term, a core of basic values must be shared even though one of the main functions of federalism as a system of government is the ability to accommodate diversity from state to state. In the case of the E.U. and the U.S., the rule of law, democracy, and separation of powers as concerns the independence of judiciaries at the state and federal levels are non-negotiable; hence as these are compromised or thwarted outright, the viability of E Pluribus Unum can be expected to unravel. As 2017 came to an end, the E.U. found itself largely impotent as some of the eastern states violated the basic principles of rule of law and an independent judiciary with impunity. If the impunity was indeed real, the federal system itself was in desperate need of repair.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Decoupling Responsibility from Power: The Case of Transocean in the BP Disaster

With much power comes implicit responsibility. Hence, on February 21, 2011, the world recoiled when Gaddafi violently turned on his own people--using his power sans responsibility in a selfish attempt to stay in power. So too, the world had been shocked in April, 2010 when BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico and that the Gulf itself was at risk. That a company could ruin something as big as the Gulf of Mexico came as a surprise to many. That a company, or three in this case, could have minimized such a risk by, for example, sending the U.S. Government contingency plans on Gulf clean up that included rescuing sea animals that actually live in the Artic, shocked the public just as much. How could people holding such power treat its use with such carelessness concerning any downside?  The defense of having followed company policy or having excuted business procedures pales in comparison with the societal demand that power, whether public or private, be handled responsibly.  In other words, people take it for granted that power is given to adults rather than to children.  I think we would be surprised how often this has not been the case.  The case of Transocean demonstrates this thesis.

BP and MMS: A Case of Regulatory Capture

In the U.S. Constitutional Convention, James Madison in particular stressed the nepharious quality of faction in relation to the public good. He argued that if a republic is extended in scope sufficently that there are more factions, none of them would be able to dominate and the public good would emerge. In a republic in which there are only a few major parties, the people's perspectives can become delimited by the parties' paradigms in an either-or dual macro-framework. That is to say, societal blind-spots can exist. To the extent that both BP and the relevant U.S. Government regulatory agency, MMS, were both culpable in the Deep Water Horizon rig explosion in 2010, both the Republican defense of business and the Democratic defense of government fall short. Even so, these respective defenses went on undaunted in the wake of the disaster and in the next year. To be sure, old paradigms die hard.

BP: Dividends to Stockholders Despite a Sordid Safety Record

As BP was wrestling with stopping the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico and cleaning up the oil, a controversy broke out between the company’s stockholders and the  US Government on whether any dividends should be declared and paid before the company has taken care of the Gulf.  BP earned more than $16 billion in 2009. Based on higher oil prices, in the first quarter of 2010 the company’s profit more than doubled to $6.08 billion from $2.56 billion  in the first quarter of 2010.  BP’s dividend payment accounted for about £1 of every £8 handed out by British companies in 2009. Given the higher profit in the first quarter of 2010, stockholders were expecting more in dividends.

The full essay is at "BP Dividends."

Are Americans Indifferent to Europe?

Are Americans indifferent to what is happening in Europe unless there is some direct effect on them? If so, the news media would simply be catering to their tastes in focusing on other matters. One could ask whether such journalists have a social responsibility to provide the news that is intrinsically newsworthy even if customers do not think they need it.  Physicians, for example, do not prescribe what their patients need based on what the latter think they need. Two events in Europe can be cited as being newsworthy yet they went virtually uncovered in the American news media.

The full essay is at "American Indifference."

On U.S.Senators Being Elected

According to David Firestone of The New York Times, a “surprising number” of the Tea Party members were calling for the repeal of the 17th Amendment of the US Constitution during the election campaign season of 2010. That amendment, which was ratified in 1913, provides for direct election by the people of each state of US senators. According to Firestone, “allowing Americans to choose their own senators seems so obvious that it is hard to remember that the nation’s founders didn’t really trust voters with the job. The people were given the right to elect House members. But senators were supposed to be a check on popular rowdiness and factionalism. They were appointed by state legislatures.” That it may seem so obvious to us does not mean that we have it right. Yet Firestone presumes so in writing, “a  modern appreciation of democracy — not to mention a clear-eyed appraisal of today’s dysfunctional state legislatures — should make the idea unthinkable.” Should it really?  Firestone seems biased in his dogmatism.

The full essay is at "U.S. Senators: Elected by the People."

The BP Oil-Rig Explosion: Did the U.S. Government Over-Reach?

A month into the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, some commentators began to wonder out loud whether the US Government ought to take over for BP in stemming the leak. As frustrated as those commentators were at BP–after all, the oil company had shirked safety procedures and lied about having the technology to manage such a spill–they had to admit that the US Government did not have the technical expertise to divert or shut off the oil.  For better or worse, we had to rely on BP in capping the leaks.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Church Scandals in a Secularizing World

A religious institution can least afford scandal involving highly unethical and illegal activity when the world is secularizing; the headwind alone requires a lot of energy just to stay in place, let alone move forward. The trail of child-rape scandals and cover-ups had by 2018 made a dent in the number of Roman Catholics in Latin America, yet other factors also accounted for the declines in church membership, and thus obfuscated estimates of the fallout in particular.  I contend that the gravity of the sexual abuse and related cover-ups by clergy warrants more than just being reckoned as one of several factors, even though the actual exodus was muted relative to the severity of the crimes. 

The full essay is at "Church Scandals"

Hierarchy Hampered Down in American Business

Without going into either the labor or management camp, a person can viably critique the operation of hierarchy itself in business organizations. The notion is typically associated with the concentration of power at “the top,” rather than the relation of middle-level managers to “retail” managers and their subordinates. Efficiency of power at a corporate headquarters does not necessarily translate into “downward” efficiency at the level of middle management. I submit that precisely this efficiency is rather severely compromised in American business.

The full essay is at "Hierarchy Hampered."