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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Novartis Invested for Bribery in the E.U.: On the Ethics of Suffering

Two former prime ministers, the central bank governor, and the federal commissioner for migration stood accused by prosecutors in the E.U. state of Greece of receiving bribes from Novatis “in exchange for fixing the price of its medicines at artificially high levels and increasing” the company’s access in the state.[1] The state legislature voted in February, 2018 to investigate the accusations and to vote by secret ballot at the conclusion of the investigation on whether to revoke immunity, which would be necessary for any of the accused to be indicted. The prime minister at the time, Alexis Tsipras, said, “Those who enriched themselves from human pain must suffer the consequences.”[2] This statement reveals an ethical truism of sorts—namely, that people who knowingly cause others pain should suffer.  It is right, in other words, that they suffer.

The full essay is at "Novartis and Politicians: On the Ethics of Suffering."

For more on unethical business, see Cases of Unethical Business

1. Nici Kitsantonis, “Did Novartis Bribe 10 Politicians? Greece Approves an Investigation,” The New York Times, February 23, 2018.
2. Ibid.

Constricting Debate in the Public Square: The Case of Gun Control

The managements of large corporations attempt and, I submit, often succeed at keeping the most financially threatening alternatives in public policy off the public’s radar by pressuring media and using public relations campaigns. As U.S. president Obama’s health-insurance proposal was being debated in Congress, health insurance companies deftly either kept the single-payer proposal off the media’s discussion or relegated the policy as radical. This term, if stuck to a proposed policy, is the kiss of death in a society of incremental change. Such change, if the only game in town, can unfortunately come to be viewed as constituting major change. The gun-control debate in February, 2018 after the shooting of 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida is a case in point.

The full essay is at "The Constricted Debate on Gun Control."

The First Multiracial U.S. President: Leadership as Personified Symbol over Political Advantage

Barak Obama had a tendency to modify his manner of speaking, and even his dialect, to fit with his audience. Listening to his speech to the National Urban League, I was stunned; early on, he pivoted off from his ordinary manner of speaking to speak in what was surely a more familiar way to much of his audience. The crowd loved it. The audience must have been looking at him as the first black US President. It occurred to me while listening to him and observing his strategy to connect to his audience that although there would be less political advantage in it, he could have run for president by presenting himself as multi-racial (technically, mulatto). 

The full essay is at "Obama: The First Multi-racial U.S. President."

The Commercial Media as Gate-Keepers Looking Down on Bloggers as "Non-Journalists"

In a few days during July in 2010, the American media was obsessed with Shirley Sherrod, who in a tightly edited video clip had made apparently-racist statements about not helping a caucasion farmer because he was caucasion. She was quickly fired by Tom Vilsak, the US Secretary of Agriculture, who, like the journalists and the NAACP, had failed to look at the full video.  The day after Sherrod was fired, the NAACP looked at the full video and realized that she was actually a racial healer rather than racist.  In the fuller video, she said, “I have come to realize that we have to work together … we have to overcome the divisions we have.”  Even as she used questionable language, such as “his own kind,” it should not be forgotten that the clan killed her father.  In other words, she deserves some slack.  At any rate, it was not long after the NAACP’s about-face that the agriculture department and the media were doing also doing an about-face. According to the NYT, “the White House and Mr. Vilsack offered their profuse apologies to her for the way she had been humiliated and forced to resign after a conservative blogger put out a misleading video clip that seemed to show her admitting antipathy toward a white farmer.”

The full essay is at "Bloggers as Journalists."

The UN Court Obviating War: The Ruling on Kosovo's Independence

The UN’s highest court ruled in 2010 that Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia did not break international law. President Hisashi Owada of the International Court of Justice said international law contains no ”prohibition on declarations of independence” and therefore Kosovo’s declaration ”did not violate general international law.” Kosovo’s statehood had been recognized by all of the United States and most of the States of the EU.

The full essay is at "UN Court on Kosovo: Avoiding War."

Upside-Down Corporate Governance at AIG

I contend that Robert Benmosche, CEO of AIG, had an incorrect understanding of corporate governance when he told Harvey Golub, then-chairman of the board, on July 14, 2010, “One of us should stay and one of us should go.” He should have, “Please let me know if the board would like me to go.” Put bluntly, the CEO works for the board, not vice versa. The previous May, Benmosche told Golub, “We can’t work together. I need a partner who I can bounce ideas off and give me advice.” However,a CEO and a chairman do not work together as partners. Rather, the chairman—and the board more generally—act on behalf of the stockholders to oversee the management, which the board has hired. In other words, a CEO is an employee whereas a chairman is not. Benmosche’s comment is actually rather presumptuous.

The full essay is at "Corporate Governance at AIG."

On the Strategic Use of Regulation: Financial Reform at the Bequest of Wall Street

According to The New York Times, Wall Street bankers were busy working on how to weaken the regulations or otherwise profit from them before the ink was dry on the financial reform law of 2010 . First, regarding trying to profit from the new regulations, BOA, Wells Fargo and other big banks that were faced with new limits on fees associated with debit cards were imposing fees on checking accounts. Compelled to trade derivatives in the daylight of closely regulated clearinghouses rather than in murky over-the-counter markets, titans like J.P. Morgan Investment Bank and Goldman Sachs were building up their derivatives brokerage operations. Their goal was to make up any lost profits — and perhaps make even more money than before — by becoming matchmakers in the vast market for these instruments. That critics were pointing to them as a principal cause of the financial crisis made no difference to those bankers. Even when it comes to what is perhaps the biggest new rule — barring banks from making bets with their own money — banks found what they thought was a solution: allowing some traders to continue making those wagers as long as they also work with clients.

The full essay is at "Strategic Use of Financial Regulation."

Presidential Leadership

In the wake of the failure of the joint congressional committee that was tasked with coming up with a proposal to reduce federal deficits over a decade by $1.2 trillion, Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, said at a news conference, “It’s the chief executive’s job to bring people together and to provide leadership. I don’t see that happening.” The mayor may have been wrong. Take the word executive: literally it is to execute, or implement, which implies management rather than leadership. Put another way, implementation depends on a goal already established, presumably by a leader. To lead is to formulate a vision of social reality that is an ideal, and thus consisting of goals rather than actualities, and then to persuade others to accept that social reality. Once the directionality is established, the means, or strategies, can be executed by managers (i.e., those who manage the implementation).

The full essay is at "Presidential Leadership."