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Friday, January 26, 2018

Lessons Learned from the Arab Spring: Reforming International Organizations and Invoking Principled Leadership in Defense of Human Rights

"When a leader's only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now." The White House issued this written statement five days after Qaddafi had turned in violence on his own people who were protesting unarmed in the street. Nearly three weeks after the first day that Qaddafi had lost legitimacy, President Obama tried to raise the pressure on the Libyan dictator further by talking about “a range of potential options, including potential military options."  Yet by then the politics of such intervention were getting more complicated by the day, according to the New York Times. The paper reported that critics were contending that the White House was too much concerned about perceptions, and that the administration was too squeamish on the military options on account of the preceding administration's invasion of Iraq based on a claim of danger to the United States from Saddam's access to WMD.
Even the critics acknowledged that the best outcome militarily would be for the United States to join other nations or international organizations rather than go it alone. About a week after the president's hint of military options, the E.U. decided not to impose a No Fly Zone. A few days later, the Arab League, which, according to the Huffington Post, had already barred Libya's government from taking part in League meetings, issued a statement that Qaddafi's government had "lost its sovereignty." The League decided to establish contacts with the rebels' interim government, the National Libyan Council, and to call on the Security Council of the U.N. to impose a No Fly Zone on Libya. 
In a statement, the Arab League asked the "United Nations to shoulder its responsibility ... to impose a no-fly zone over the movement of Libyan military planes and to create safe zones in the places vulnerable to airstrikes." It would not be until March 18th, nearly a month after Qaddafi had first had weapons used against the protesters, that the Security Council would act. According to The New York Times, "After days of often acrimonious debate, played out against a desperate clock, as Colonel Qaddafi’s troops advanced to within 100 miles of the rebel capital of Benghazi, Libya, the Security Council authorized member nations to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, diplomatic code words calling for military action." Within days, according to the New York Times, "American and European forces began a broad campaign of strikes against the government of . . . Qaddafi, unleashing warplanes and missiles in the first round of the largest international military intervention in the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq.

The analysis is at "Lessons Learned from the Arab Spring."


The Banking Lobby Amid Goldman Sachs' Culpability: A Danger to the Republic?

To simplify how Goldman Sachs got into trouble with the SEC: According to Annie Lowrey, the hedge fund Paulson & Co. handpicked mortgage-backed securities that were doomed to stop performing, being backed with subprime mortgages, and Goldman packaged them into a kind of bond. Paulson & Co. bet against the bond by buying short-sales, with Goldman acting as the broker. At the same time, Goldman sold the bond to other clients without disclosing that Paulson had engineered the bond to fail. The SEC filing notes that those other clients lost $1 billion. Goldman had no direct stake in the success or failure of the CDO. It made money either way. “This litigation exposes the cynical, savage culture of Wall Street that allows a dealer to commit fraud on one customer to benefit another,” Chris Whalen, a bank analyst at Institutional Risk Analytics, said in a note to clients on April 16, 2010. Someone at Goldman said on the same day that “the SEC’s charges are completely unfounded in law and fact.” If the SEC charges hold up (and it is doubtful that the agency would bring such charges without supporting documentation; it is more apt to miss something than go overboard), I am astonished that the people at Goldman simply dismissed the matter out of hand. It might make sense as their legal defense, but if the bankers are convicted, those lying ought to be fired even if they were not a party to the scheme. It also appears that the bankers lied about whether they made money in betting against the housing market. “The 2009 Goldman Sachs annual report stated that the firm ‘did not generate enormous net revenues by betting against residential related products,’ ” Senator Levin, chairman of the US Senate’s committee on investigations, said in a statement in April, 2010. “These e-mails show that, in fact, Goldman made a lot of money by betting against the mortgage market.” When a spokesperson for the bank says something in the future, a rational person will be wont not to trust him or her. Lying has (or ought to have) consequences rather than being dismissed as harmless PR or a legal defense. The bank’s credibility is at issue here. The SEC has accused Goldman of outright lying to customers in order to make money both ways on a deal. Even though this ought to reflect negatively on Goldman’s future business, bigger issues involved that ought to consume more of our attention than how Goldman fares.

The full essay is at "The Banking Lobby and Goldman Sachs."

The Increasing Decadence in American Business (and Society): The Case of On-Screen Distractions during Television Programs

While watching Lord of the Rings on TBS in 2010, I noticed that the network was posting not only its logo on the bottom right of the screen, but also advertising for its programming on the bottom left. Also, “more movie, less commercials” was written to accompany the logo. What really got to me during the movie was when pictures advertising a television show were shown. They took up almost an eighth of the screen and thus could not but distract the viewer from watching the movie. I decided I would not watch movies on networks that compromise or prostitute their own programing in order to sell themselves while "in progress." It is like sitting down at a restaurant and having the waitor sell me on other dishes while I am trying to enjoy the one that I'm eating. “I just want to enjoy this fine meal, thank you,” any discerning customer would be wont to say. Once at Starbucks, the customer in front of me at the register was paying $25 for a variety of products.  As I was thinking that the store had made a good sale, the clerk tried to sell the customer on a certain food item for the next visit--as if the present sale was not enough.  The same propensity wherein nothing is ever enough is evinced by the television networks that can't seem to restrain themselves from adding more and more self-promotions onto the screen during their own programming.  These networks are playing off the mitigated nature of the additions being incremental, and thus not objectionable to the average viewer. 

The full essay is at "Business Over-Reaching."

The Volcker Rule: Taking in Water on Proprietary Trading

Under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law of 2010, Goldman Sachs had to break up its principal strategies group, the trading unit that had been very profitable. Goldman was considering several options, including moving the traders to another division or shutting the unit altogether. Morgan Stanley was considering ceding control of its $7 billion hedge fund firm, FrontPoint Partners. At Citigroup, executives had sold hedge fund and private equity businesses and were discussing reducing proprietary trading, which relies on a bank’s own capital to make bets in the financial markets. JPMorgan Chase had already begun dismantling its stand-alone proprietary trading desk and was modifying the structure of some investments of One Equity Partners, its internal private equity business. “This is the real stuff,” said Brad Hintz, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company. “It shows that if you squeeze Wall Street, like a balloon it will come out somewhere else, and we really are squeezing Wall Street. Their business models are changing.”

The complete essay is at "The Volcker Rule."

The U.S. Supreme Court as Decider: A Conflict of Interest in Federalism Cases?

As to whether the supreme courts of particular American states, or republics, should be able to declare the general (U.S.) government’s health-insurance mandate unconstitutional in the sense of being an encroachment of the government of the union beyond its enumerated powers, it is typically presumed that the U.S. Supreme Court is the rightful and proper umpire--the court of last resort on disputes on federalism applied to particular legislation. Forgotten is the argument made by Thomas Jefferson against that court’s suitability owing to its institutional conflict of interest in contests between the U.S. Government, of which the U.S. Supreme Court is a branch, and a government of one of the several states.  Typically, we do not consider how the conflict of interest can be solved. We do not “think outside the box.” Rather, we feel resigned to have branch of one of the parties of the dispute act as the final decider short of a constitutional amendment.

The full essay is at "The U.S. Supreme Court as Decider."

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Balancing Company Rights and Worker Security through Public Policy

It would be a cruel joke were an airline to keep the extendable corridor back as the plane’s front door is opened and passengers are pushed out. Not even having a safety net below would neither be sufficient nor fair. When a government gives companies the flexibility to fire workers without yet having in place vocational safety nets, said government acts negligently and perhaps even with partiality to one side of the labor-management duality. At the very least, the flexibility to fire should be held off until the matter of economic security is finalized. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Strength of the Euro Bespeaks Normalcy for the E.U.

As 2018 was beginning its climb in the northern hemisphere toward eventually warmer days, the prospect for the E.U. through and after the secession of one of its largest states was perhaps brighter than commonly thought at the time. When the days are short, it is perhaps all too easy to be pessimistic. Signs of strength in the euro implicitly sent the message in January, 2018 that the E.U. would be just fine without its foremost euro-skeptic state.

The full essay is at "The Euro and Secession."