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Monday, October 21, 2019

Do You Believe in Global Warming?

On September 16, 2012, “Arctic ice covered just 1.32 million square miles—the lowest extent ever recorded. ‘The loss of summer sea ice has led to unusual warming of the Arctic atmosphere, that in turn impacts weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere, that can result in persistent extreme weather such as droughts, heat waves and flooding,’ NSIDC scientist Dr. Julienne Stroeve noted in a press release. ‘There's a huge gap between what is understood by the scientific community and what is known by the public,’ NASA scientist James Hansen said, adding that he believed, ‘unfortunately, that gap is not being closed.’ What the scientific community understands is that Arctic ice is melting at an accelerated rate -- and that humans play a role in these changes. According to the panel, humans are ‘really running out of time’ to prevent atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from reaching levels that would precipitate runaway climate change. Hansen warned that even maintaining current concentrations of approximately 390 parts per million for several centuries ‘guarantees disaster.’”[1] Nevertheless, record amounts of carbon dioxide were emitted into the atmosphere in 2016 to at least 2018, and 2016 was the hottest year on the planet as of 2019.[2] What makes an intelligent species, homo sapiens, go in the wrong direction even from the outself of an announced guaranteed disaster? Timing and mentality have a lot to do with it. 

The full essay is at "Believing in Climate Change."

1. Joanna Zelman and James Gerken, “Arctic Sea IceLevels Hit Record Low, Scientists Say We’re ‘Running Out Of Time,” The Huffington Post, September 19, 2012. 
2. Kelly Levin, "New Global CO2 Emissions Numbers Are In. They're Not Good," World Resources Institute, December 5, 2018 (accessed October 21, 2019).

Members of Congress Secretly Lobbied the Fed

As of late September 2012, more than one hundred members of Congress had lobbied the Federal Reserve and other regulatory agencies on the Volcker Rule, the part of the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act of 2010 that prohibits banks from operating like casinos (e.g., trading with proprietary funds, rather than those of customers).[1] The rule stems from the importance of banks in our financial system. In September 2008, the world nearly witnessed the collapse of that system when banks stopped trusting each other (e.g., via commercial paper market) because of the risks that some of the big ones had been taking with mortgage-backed derivative securities and the related insurance swap securities. Awash in healthy-seeming fees, the banks purchased risky subprime mortgages and bundled them into bond-like securities that could be sold to investors.

The full essay is at "Congress Secretly Lobbied the Fed."

1. Ben Protess, “Behind the Scenes, a Lawmaker Pushes to Curb the Volcker Rule,” The New York Times, September 21, 2012.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Cancelling Classes for Minor Holidays: A Matter of Academic Standards

Higher education is not valued equally in the various American states. Where academia is not particularly valued, other things can intercede as priorities even at the universities themselves at the expense of academics. In such places, even the universities themselves may value academia insufficiently. That is, the value hierarchy in a locality or even state can infect universities whose academic administrators are not strong or academically-minded enough to thwart the interlarded non-academic values.

The full essay is at "Cancelling Classes for Minor Holidays."

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Airing Ideas at Universities: Beyond the Book-Burning Hype

In May 1933, some Germans in Nazi Germany burnt books authored by Jews so as to sever Jewish influence. So when some students at Georgia Southern University gathered around a grill to burn copies of a novel by a Cuban, the obvious comparison was made by some. I submit that the comparison being made is not so obvious or straightforward. Moreover, the comparison sullies the ideal of universities being impartial to the ideas aired even as opinions.

The full essay is at "Book Burning at a Georgian University."

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The U.S. Enabled Turkey to Invade Syria: Absent the U.N.

Turkey invaded Syria on October 9, 2019 “to flush Kurds allied with the US out of northeastern Syria.”[1] Strategically, Turkey wanted to distance the Kurds from Turkey so they could not aid Kurdish separatists in Turkey should the latter rise up in attempting to establish Kurdistan. U.S. President Don Trump, who had just cleared American troops from northeastern Syria, had advanced knowledge from Turkish President Recep Erdogan that he planned to invade the area once the American troops were out. A rare bipartisan unity in Congress criticized the removal of American troops and the president’s acquiescence on Turkey’s plan to attach the Kurds, an American ally—a plan that could possibly give ISIS a toehold in the region. Both the Congress and the president had their respective rationales, yet neither side looked past the apparent dichotomy to arrive at a solution consistent with the points made by both sides.

1. Nicole Gaouette, “Republican Anger at Trump Grows as Turkey Launches ‘Sickening’ Attack on US Allies,” CNN.com, October 9, 2019 (accessed same day).

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Is the U.S. Congress Too Beholden to the Financial Industry?

That financial deregulation had any traction at all following the financial crisis of 2008 in the U.S. is stunning, for the implication is that Wall Street money has tremendous influence in the U.S. Governent even after Wall Street banks have screwed up (even in triggering a financial crisis!). 

CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler staring down the big banks  

The full essay is at "Is Congress Owned by the Banks?"

On the Role of Socialism in American Political Polarization

In a stunning upset in the 2012 Republican U.S. Senate primary in Indiana, Indiana's Treasurer, Richard Mourdock, beat incumbant veteran Richard Lugar by 22 percent (61-39%). Even though Lugar's 36 years of experience in the Senate had seasoned him into a statesman in foreign policy, the Tea-Party-backed Mourdock was able to portray the aged senator as out of touch and too willing to compromise with Democrats. Mourdock had no intention of extending any hand across the aisle. Is such polarization worth the loss of experience in international relations? Moreover, what role ave worries of socialism perpetuated the polarization?

See: "On the Role of Socialism on Polarization."

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Religious Violence as Hypocritical

In the movie, Boy Erased (2018), the director of a church’s conversion therapy program invites the immediate family members of one gay boy to hit him with a bible to drive out the underlying demon. The boy subsequently commits suicide. Lest this notion of using violence to remove a sin in the twenty-first century is assumed to lie in the realm of fiction, John Smyth, an Anglican, was accused in 2017 “of subjecting at least 22 teenage boys to savage beatings in his garden shed” at “an elite Christian camp for boys. His intent was “purging them of perceived sins such as masturbation and pride”[1] A Christian charity group oversaw the camp, yet I contend that the camp was not Christian.

The full essay is at "The Anti-Christian."

[1] Ceylon Yoginsu, “Doubt Cast on When the Archbishop Knew of Abuse,” The New York Times, October 15, 2017.

Goodwill Dismisses a Solid Societal Norm: A Mentality beyond Unethical Conduct

When managers of a business or non-profit interact with a societal norm by openly rejecting any obligation to act in accord with the norm, the reaction from stakeholders can be utter disbelief. The refusal to act in accordance with the norm as it impacts the organization can be beyond bad management and even unethical conduct. The refusal to acknowledge a societal norm even as its impact on the business and stakeholders has been arranged by the business is beyond, though it can include, unethical conduct. Norms are not in themselves ethical, for as David Hume wrote, you can’t get an ought from an is; rational justification by ethical principles must be added before we can get to, “You ought to do X” from “X is the practice.” Yet ethical principles can be in norms, in which case we can say, “You ought to act in accordance with the norm because it is ethical.” In some cases, the norm-business relationship (i.e., Business and Society) can be more salient than an ethical principle in the norm itself. A managerial practice at Goodwill, a non-profit retailer based on donations for the poor, serves as a case in point.

When Retail Marketing Goes Too Far

Marketing by retailers can go too far; this claim should be no surprise. That this has been so even when the marketing comes at the expense of existing customers may be less well-known and thus be in need of some elaboration. The underlying culprit, I submit, is psychological: difficulty with keeping within even societal and even self-imposed constraints. Put simply, the difficulty is with limits. The mentality is thus at the child-stage of development.

The full essay is at "When Retail Overreaches."

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Boy Erased

The film, Boy Erased (2018), is a drama that deals in a serious  way with the question of whether homosexuality is a choice, and thus whether conversion therapy is effective or an ideological ruse under the subterfuge of psychology and religion. Directed and adapted to the screen by Joel Edgerton, he could have dived deeper in writing the screenplay by making explicit the contending assumptions and ideas. Surprisingly, nowhere in the film do any of the biblically-oriented religionists quote the applicable verses in the Old Testament or in Paul's letters, or engage in a theological debate. The film could have gone further intellectually than the relatively superficial emphasis on the dramatic narrative.

The full essay is at "Boy Erased."

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The European Commission as Political

The European Commission, the E.U.’s executive branch, has been known for being a technocratic institution. Yet in drafting regulations, imposing fines, and negotiating trade deals, the Commission is much like the U.S.’s executive branch. In fact, high-level appointments must secure the approval of the legislature through confirmation hearings. Yet the top of the U.S. executive branch, the White House, has been known for being ideological and definitely political. That that executive branch also promulgates and enforces regulations can be easily missed. That the E.U.’s executive branch is also political has definitely been missed or dismissed in the ideological illusion that the E.U. is merely a technocratic international organization rather than a federal system of governments. This illusion could finally be seen as such after the election of Ursula van der Leyen as President of the European Commission in 2019.

The full essay is at "The European Commission as Political."

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Sequel to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011), The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015) centers most of the dramatic tension on the hotel’s manager, Sonny Kapoor. In the first film, the tension is more evened out among the hotel customers and Sonny’s bid to make the run-down hotel a viable operation. The hurdles faced by the retirees in the first film are more gritty, or realistic, than are the challenges in the sequel. Indeed, the second film can come across to the viewer as excessively glitzy, especially at the end when the customers, Sonny, and his family and friends are on a dance floor positioned as if performing for an audience sitting out in front. It is unlikely, for instance, that Sonny could dance so well, particularly as he delayed practice to the disappointment of his fiancé, Sunaina. That film becomes a performance, and this can stretch a viewer’s suspension of disbelief because the screenwriter of both films, Ol Parker, stretches the characters too far beyond themselves. That they, along with Sunny and his wife and their families and friends go into a performance mode can remind the viewer that he or she is watching a performance—that the movie itself is a performance. So much for the suspension of disbelief, a psychological wonder that allows the human mind to forget that it is watching a movie and thus be able to “enter” the story-world.

The full essay is at "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."

Saturday, September 28, 2019

E.U. and U.S. Counterparts Met: A Basis for Comparison

President Barak Obama of the U.S., and Herman Van Rompuy and José Barroso of the E.U. held a news conference following the EU-US Summit at Lisbon in 2010. Even though the E.U. and U.S. are both empire-scale federal unions of states, and thus are equivalent in terms of political type or genre, they differ in terms of how their respective federal offices are arranged and constituted. This does not, however, nullify the basis of comparison.

The full essay is "The EU and US."

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Police/Security Over-Reaches: A Mentality Unfit for the Job

Absolute authority corrupts absolutely, according to Lord Ashton. On an organization or even local scale, people with authority can play considerably on ignorance (their own and that of others) to over-reach such that their actions are excessive. Seeing an off-duty police employee wearing a bullet-proof vest and standing next to a store security guard in a grocery store, for instance, can give at least new-comers an immediate sense of the excessive use of authority to intimidate even the innocent shoppers. In one grocery chain in Phoenix, Arizona, I was astonished to see such a policeman going aisle to aisle as a matter of routine. I saw a young mother, who was with her young daughter in one of the aisles, “freeze up” at the sight of policeman staring at them from the back end of the aisle. I myself could not believe my eyes. How does such ill-fitting excessiveness shift from inappropriateness to become the default—the status quo? Typically the underlying mentality is one of stubborn ignorance that cannot be wrong, backed up by an excessive and microscopic grip on real or invented authority. How is it that the more educated and broad-minded perspective in upper-echelon management comes to doubt even its common sense by being hoodwinked by the lower mentality? Excessive delegation to middle-and-lower levels of management, where the wider perspective can easily be lacking, may be part of the answer. Playing a supporting role, the value-system in the local culture may actually support the excess or look the other way in blind obedience to an ideology. Finally, if a practice beyond the pale gets its toehold in the status quo, then people can become blind to the excessiveness and treat it instead as normal. Excessiveness as the new normal. Dislodging an invasive or encroaching unquestioned trend can be very difficult given the nature of the status-quo default to act like cement. Two case studies demonstrate that an absurd over-reach by someone in the security field can occur. The first took place in Orlando, Florida. Accountability did occur, so the absurd was not allowed to become ensconced. The second was in Phoenix, Arizona. Such accountability is much more difficult there, so the aggressive over-reach of authority would likely become further ensconced in the conducive or enabling local culture. 

Monday, September 23, 2019

Downton Abbey

Taking a story from a television series to a movie can present hurdles for screenwriters and directors, especially if they do not fully appreciate the qualitative differences between a movie and a television series. To be sure, well-crafted series such as Downton Abbey, The Crown, Game of Thrones, and House of Cards had narrowed the difference in terms of quality. Even so, a narrative limited to around two hours of play time is different than a narrative meant to be on-going. The financial resources are also more concentrated in the making of a film than an ongoing series (even if it ends after five or six years). I submit, therefore, that Julian Fellowes, the producer and screenwriter of both the Downton series and movie, erred in hiring a director of the series, Michael Engler, to direct the movie. Just because he had directed (just) four episodes of the series does not mean that he knew how to direct a movie. A seasoned movie director would have been a better choice.

The full essay is at "Downton Abbey."

Friday, September 20, 2019

The U.S. Justice Department and Facebook: Secretly Mining Personal Information

Collusion between business and government has hardly been a rarity; the extent of secrecy regarding it , however, may be a surprise. Whereas business-government economic partnerships (as well as university-government partnerships) have typically been made public, the extent to which government uses businesses to get information on citizens has hardly been transparent. In spite of a U.S. federal law enacted in 2015, documents released in September of 2019 “show how far beyond Silicon Valley the practice extends—encompassing scores of banks, credit agencies, cellphone carriers and even universities.”[1] The documents, which cover 750 of the half-million subpoenas issued since 2001, reveal that more than 120 companies and other entities received subpoenas for information on customers, users, or students. F.B.I. could lawfully “scoop up a variety of information, including usernames, locations, IP addresses and records of purchases” without a judge’s approval.[2] A gag order keeps the businesses from divulging even the receipt of a subpoena. So much secrecy accompanying so much power is, I submit, dangerous to a republic. In fact, the subtle effects on citizens in the public square can easily be overlooked even if the negative impact on freedom is serious.

1. Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, “Secret F.B.I. Subpoenas Scoop Up Personal Data From Scores of Companies,” The New York Times, September 20, 2019.
2. Ibid.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

U.S. Constitutional Checks and Balances Under Threat: Congressional Oversight

Ambition checked by ambition. The assumption that political ambition can be counted on is the key to the “checks and balances” feature of the U.S. Constitution. Each of the three “arms,” or “branches,” of the federal government is checked by at least one other. This is not to say that the other arm takes over the function or even has greater competence; rather, the other arm is oriented here to providing accountability on abuses of power and investigating cases of gross negligence or incompetence. An offended branch should thus not be permitted to claim that oversight is not appropriate because it interferes with the function the branch. Treating oversight by another arm of the federal government as inherently partisan or illegitimate eviscerates the vital “check and balance” aspect of the U.S. Constitution. In disputes on oversight between two branches, the benefit of the doubt ought to go with the overseeing branch because it is only natural for human beings to resist being held accountable and so accountability itself needs a boost. I have in mind the case the director of national intelligence, Joe Maguire, blocking the inspector general from sharing an intelligence-whistleblower’s complaint with Congress in September, 2019.

The full essay is at "Constitutional Checks and Balances."

Monday, September 16, 2019

Israeli Secret Ops Undermining the United States: Political Realism as Undercutting Allies

On September 14, 2019, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was “giddy with excitement” after U.S. President Trump had communicated “the possibility of moving forward” with a mutual defense pact.[1] This communication was punctuated, however, by “cautious wording.”[2] Trump had recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s state capital and recognized Netanyahu’s annexation of the occupied Golan Heights. What accounts for the caution regarding a defense pact? Moreover, why had Trump been quiet concerning the Israeli election that was coming up in a week or so? Netanyahu was polling behind his contender, so vocal support from Trump, such as on Netanyahu’s campaign pledge to annex the Jordon Valley, would have been valuable to the sitting prime minister. At least part of the answer may have something to do with Israel’s undercutting military action in Iraq. American allies have their own geo-political agendas that can include undercutting the United States militarily.

1. Oren Liebermann, “Trump May No Longer Be the Gift that Keeps on Giving for Netanyahu,” CNN.com, September 16, 2019 (accessed on the same day).
2. Ibid.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

On the Supply and Demand in Housing Markets: Rent Control in California

In February, 2019, Oregon’s legislature passed rent-control legislation limiting rent increases to 7% annually plus inflation. New York’s legislature strengthened the existing local rent-control regulations in New York City. Roughly six months later, California’s legislature passed rent-control legislation limiting annual rent increases to 5% after inflation and strengthening other tenant protections.[1] Not even the largest landlord group and the California Business Roundtable had opposed the legislation in spite of the fact that rent-control even as a concept flies in the face of the free-market ideology that has been so popular in America. Indeed, economists “from both the left and the right have a well-established aversion to rent control, arguing that such policies ignore the message of rising prices, which is to build more housing.”[2] Accordingly, only four of the American states (and Washington, D.C.) had some kind of local rent-control. So what accounts for the rent-control fever that had taken hold in 2019? I want to point to the immediate context then in California, and then to a more theoretical explanation that calls for distinguishing shelter from real-estate investing.

The full essay is at "California Rent Control."

1. Conor Dougherty and Luis Ferré-Sadurni, “California Approves Statewide Rent Control to Ease Housing Crisis,” The New York Times, September 12, 2019.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Political Ideology and Religious Doctrine: Pope Francis and His American Critics

Political ideology and religious doctrine are distinct, yet confusion can justifiably exist because ideology can seep into doctrine or be claimed to be such when it is not. This interlarding of political ideology into religious doctrine, or theology, is perhaps best demonstrated in Christian liberation theology, which includes political (e.g., justice) and economic (e.g., equality of income or wealth) prescriptions in the future Kingdom of God manifest on Earth. Generally speaking, political (and economic) ideology can legitimately be viewed as being human, all too human, and thus as fundamentally distinct from religious revelation and even doctrine (though even these may be influenced and even distorted on our end by the taint of human nature). Put another way, the source of revelation and even doctrine comes from “above,” whereas political (and economic) ideology are human artifacts. Therefore to infuse such artifacts into religious doctrine risks polluting it such that the religious or spiritual auspices are impaired. David Hume suggests in his Natural History of Religion that the human mind cannot long hold onto the divine idea manifesting purely as simplicity, so we attach other ideas—anthropomorphic ones—to our conceptions of the divine. Such ideas are of human traits or characteristics, hence “from below.” Sadly, we rarely recognize this human activity; rather, we take God to have such characteristics. The criticism of Pope Francis by “ultraconservative” American Catholics, including some notable clergy, illustrates just how problematic the admixture of political ideology and religious doctrine can be.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

A Strong State vs. The Market Mechanism in China

Under Marxist ideology, the Chinese economy was a command-and-control economy eschewing the market mechanism. Mao's collective farms provide us with a good example. The economy of the U.S.S.R., also Marxist, was based on production quotas and fixed prices. They changed by fiat rather than by changes in demand. State owned, or socialist, productive enterprises were given quotas based on the prior year's production (plus more). This push replaced that of producing more to sell more. Any hint of a market brought with it the stench of Capitalism. So one would suppose that China marked a significant departure when the government announced in 2013 that it would expand the range in which the yuan currency would float. Yet in 2019 in the midst of a trade tussle with the United States, the Chinese state demonstrated just how dominant the state still was relative to any market system.  

The full essay is at "Strong State vs. The Market Mechanism."

Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Bahá’i Religion: Theological Problems

The Bahá’i religion is based on the monotheistic teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, the nineteenth-century prophet whom Bahá’i’s maintain is the prophet even for the twenty-first century. The monotheism dovetails with the religion’s earthly goal of unity even in diversity.[1] At the same time, the religion is universalistic in that it holds that truth can come out of various religions, including non-deism Buddhism and polytheistic Hinduism. Bahá’i aims to be a tolerant religion in principle, although it seems to me that the monotheistic religions would naturally be favored. Although Hindu and Buddhist teachings and prayers are incorporated, Bahá’i does seem to emphasize Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Yet this does not absolve Bahá’iism from the tension in being both monotheist and inclusive of truth from non-monotheist religions. Even within Bahá’i’s grasp of the three monotheist religions an underlying tension can be found. Specifically, although Bahá’iism aims to accurately represent all three of the Abrahamic religions, the desire to emphasize what those religions have in common comes at the expense of taking each in its own, distinct terms. In particular, Bahá’i teaching treats Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed similarly even though they are different types in their respective religions. The imposed isomorphism enables Bahá’iism to claim Bahá’u’lláh as the fourth is a series of the same prophet-type. This type stresses the divine-connection of the prophet at the expense of his human nature. Meanwhile, the goal of unity—the Kingdom of God—is also portrayed in distinctly earthly terms, albeit idealized, as the unity possible around the world of different peoples in “a civilization founded on justice, equality and unity in diversity.”[2] Viewing the Kingdom of God in such concrete, even partisan terms can arbitrarily narrow and even skew the divine into terms that are human, even all too human.

The full essay is at "The Baha'i Religion."

For more, see: God's Gold: Beneath the Shifting Sands of Christian Thought on Profit-Seeking and Wealth Spiritual Leadership in Business: Transcending the EthicalBoth are available at Amazon.

1. This is similar to Schopenhauer’s ethical theory of compassion being based on Plotinus’s (a second-century Christian philosopher) notion of the One.
2. From the 2019 Grassroots Teaching Conference of the Four Corners Region.

Limits to Overused Fiscal and Monetary Policy Can Result in Self-Induced Governmental Impotence

“The [U.S.] federal budget deficit is growing faster than expected as President Trump’s spending and tax cut policies force the United States to borrow increasing sums of money.”[1] This observation was made just after the Federal Reserve Bank relented under pressure from the White House to lower interest rates because bond investors had been investing with a possible future recession in mind. With the U.S. Government’s accumulated debt standing at $22.4 trillion and interest rates already low, the limits to both fiscal and monetary policy were apparent even if most Americans in the political and business elite were focused on avoiding a possible recession in 2020.

The full essay is at "Overused Fiscal and Monetary Tools."

See also: Skip Worden, Essays on Two Federal EmpiresAvailable at Amazon.

1. Jim Tankersley and Emily Cochrane, “Budget Deficit Is Set to Surge Past $1 Trillion,” The New York Times, August 22, 2019.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Anticipating a Recession: Economic and Political Indicators in the E.U.

Anticipation in August, 2019, at least among bond purchasers on Wall Street, of an impending recession in 2020 had at least in part to do with the E.U. In particular, a large state, Germany, had a disappointing second quarter in terms of contracting economic output, and the increasing prospect of Britain seceding from the Union was thought to result in the E.U. economy turning recessionary. I contend that both of these baleful indicators were over-emphasized. Additionally, adding the increasing political polarization in the E.U. as another contributor to an upcoming recession would be too much.

The full essay is at "Anticipating a Recession."

Saturday, August 17, 2019

When Platitudes Undermine Real Change: The Case of U.S. President Obama

U.S. President Obama’s 2010 speech at the UN’s annual opening lacked tangible proposals.  For example, he urged progress on the Middle East peace talks, but proffered no proposal.  He said Africa could be prosperous agriculturally, but gave no proposal for how.  He claimed that corruption in governments of developing countries is a problem, but offered no solution.  Pointing to corruption in general diffuses responsibility so talking about it does not shame anyone into making hard choices. Such platitudes belied the president's claim to being an advocate of real change. 

The full essay is at "Platitudes Undermine Real Change."

On the Role of Partisan Political Ideology in the U.S. Supreme Court

Observing a pattern of sustained ideological proclivities in the decisions of justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, The New York Times editorialized in 2011 that the “court cannot maintain its legitimacy as guardian of the rule of law when justices behave like politicians.”[1] One could just as easily say behave like human beings, for juridical interpretation itself contains ample space for an interpreter’s ideology to have a role, especially given human nature that is apt to exploit such leeway. In other words, ideology may be part and parcel of the essential function of a constitutional court, given the nature of juridical interpretation

The full essay is at "Partisan Ideology in the U.S. Supreme Court."

1. The New York Times, “Ethics, Politics and the Law,” Editorial, July 1, 2011, p. A22.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Raising Retirement Ages in the E.U.: The Case of Spain

The New York Times reported in 2012, “Spain has a stubbornly high budget deficit, its banks require tens of billions of euros in rescue loans and the government may soon have little choice but to request bailout funds” from the E.U.’s “TARP” program. Nevertheless, the state government’s “budget would actually increase pension payouts 1 percent [in 2013]. The money includes not only pensions for former public employees, but also the social security payments that go to all retired [residents].”[1] Pension expenditures represented nearly 40 percent of the state's budget and 9 percent of the state’s economic output, so one would think that line-item would have been first up on the chopping block. To be sure, cutting sustenance programs such as pensions could actually exacerbate a government's debt because if a resulting decline in demand adds to unemployment. In this case, the politics in the state seems to have gone along with the economics. I submit that Spain could have gone further economically were it not for entitlement politics interlarding the retirement-age issue.

The full essay is at "Raising Retirement Ages in the E.U."

1. Landon Thomas, “Pension Dilemma in Europe’s Debt Crisis,” The New York Times, September 30, 2012.

Stock Market Efficiency: Regulating Speed Trades

A flurry of international activity aimed at putting limitations on computer-based speed-trading was striking during the Fall of 2012 in the U.S. because regulators had been slow to act. Typically, the NYSE has been viewed by the world as the Mecca of efficient investment markets. Paradoxically, however, efficiency may be improved by restricting—meaning regulating—the masses of computer-enabled quick trades that take advantage of momentary microscopic arbitrage opportunities that are too quick for the human hand. The American conventional wisdom seems to be that regulation and market-efficiency are inversely related, rather than complementary. This assumption might be overly simplistic, coming from an inherited ideology. Fortunately, the rest of the world has not been following the SEC.

The full essay is at "Stock Market Efficiency."

Monday, July 29, 2019

Managers Going too Far: Targeting Linguistic Over-Reaches

The practice of using words beyond their contexts such that the words’ meanings are tortured and yet are pretended not to be was a trend in modern America during the 2010’s. The business manager instigated the trend in order to “gild the lily,” which means to claim more than is warranted or merited. Astonishingly, people dismissed or perhaps even didn’t recognize such over-reaches. Perhaps as long as people have used language, egos gripped in the pursuit of gain have presumed that keeping to a word’s extant meanings in a language is somehow optional.

The full essay is at "Managerial Over-Reach."

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Beyond Fixing the U.S. Government's Debt

After a number of failed attempts over decades to solve a problem, it is natural that the problem itself would barely get mentioned, let alone any cure. I submit that the U.S. federal debt is a case in point. President Reagan made it an issue in 1980, and Congress has tried to mandate for itself automatic spending cuts and tax increases, but to no avail. The desire for instant gratification outstripped self-discipline. This could perhaps be said of the society generally. 

The full essay is at "Beyond Fixing the Debt Problem."

Corporations and Political Debate: Taxation & Regulation

Under U.S. law, the corporation is a legal person, whose wealth can constitute political speech protected by the first Amendment. It is no matter that the corporation is an artifice constructed by the state for economic purposes: to concentrate wealth in order to produce goods or provide services. That such an entity would lobby and spend money (or “speak”) for political purposes may from this standpoint seem strange, or out of place. To be sure, political influence can indeed help the bottom economic line, but is a corporation a political actor if the purpose is economic? 

The full essay is at "Corporations and Public Debate."

On the Pull of Religious Belief

John Blake of CNN asks, “Have you ‘walked the aisle’ to ‘pray the prayer?’ Did you ever ‘name and claim’ something and, after getting it, announce, ‘I’m highly blessed and favored?’ . . . If this is you, some Christian pastors and scholars have some bad news: You may not know what you’re talking about. They say that many contemporary Christians have become pious parrots. They constantly repeat Christian phrases that they don’t understand or distort.”[1] Making matters worse, such Christians treat their religious beliefs as if they constitute knowledge. This, as well as the presumed wherewithal to claim anything due from God, is highly impious and yet the claimers are certain that they have true belief.

The full essay is at "Religious Belief."

[1] John Blake, “Do You Speak Christian?” CNN, July 31, 2011.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Some Higher Degrees Are Not So High

American higher education contains its own erroneous nomenclature. Most notably, people having earned one degree in law or medicine presume that they have doctorates in those academic disciplines simply because having a prior bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite.

The full essay is at "Some Higher Degrees."

Sunday, July 7, 2019

On the Political Power of Capitalism in American Society

In his confidential memorandum, “Attack on American Free Enterprise System,” Lewis Powell, later to be a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, wrote in 1971 that the “leftists” were launching a frontal assault on the “free enterprise system,” “capitalism,” or the “profit system.” Powell saw this as an attack on rather than a defending of the “American political system of democracy under the rule of law.” That the corporate profit-interest might be a threat to “one person one vote” apparently did not occur to the future Justice. Rather, what is good for GM he presumed must be good for American democracy. Moreover, both, he presumes, are consistent with, or perhaps even foundational for, American values.

The full essay is at "On the Political Power of Capitalism."

“USA!” at Ryder Cup 2012: Silent “EU!” Wins

The Ryder Cup of 2012, held in Illinois, can be read as payback for the European team at the expense of the Americans because the latter had come back from the same 10-6 deficit to win at the previous Cup.  The Associated Press reported that the European team’s “rally was even more remarkable, carried out before a raucous American crowd that began their chants of "USA!" some three hours before the first match got under way.” I can just imagine the looks on the Europeans’ faces amid the primal shouts some three hours before play. “Why are they doing that now? Should we get our few people in the crowd to start pumping their fists in the air while shouting “EU! EU! EU! EU!”? I can just hear a German on the team (if there was one) ask, “But what purpose would that serve?” A Brit would interrupt to make his observation known, that he cannot take part in such a cheer as it diverts from “hip hip!” and thus may interfere with being proud to be British, as Maggie used to say. A Belgian of Flemish and Walloon parentage (if such a thing exists) would try to split the difference in proposing that the small crowd of European groupies chant “hip hip EU!” The Brit would undoubtedly veto that one in a split second and the European team would be left with having to listen to the primal chants of the Americans. Of course, the warlike chant has no meaning in itself. Even a patriotic American would wonder why in the midst of a fireworks show on July 4th young men (16-25ish) suddenly feel the need to aggressively shout “USA!

                                     Europe's Martin Kaymer celebrates Europe's win at the Ryder Cup.     Reuters

USA!” as if the exploding bombs (i.e., fireworks) were some signal known only to them that we were about to invade another country. I witnessed this at a Fourth-of-July fireworks at an upscale golf course in 2012. The chants seemed so out of place, coming out of nowhere, that I could not help but wonder what was behind the impulsive act.

The full essay is at "USA!, Silent EU!"

Starbucks Apologizes in spite of Overzealous Police Presence in a Store

On July 4, 2019, six police employees staggered by twos into a Starbucks store in Tempe, Arizona (which borders Phoenix to the west). Because they did not come in together, customers had a prolonged sense of a police presence throughout the store. Eventually, the police huddled near the bar where drinks were left for customers to pick up. Even as the police huddled, they did so with eyes strategically perched so as to maintain visuals on the customers. Yet this was apparently lost on the police themselves, who felt it was disrespectful for an employee to ask them to leave after a customer complained about feeling uncomfortable. It could not be assumed that the customer had had bad experiences with police in the past, for any customer would understandably feel uncomfortable with so many visible guns passing back and forth. Indeed, for the police to treated the customers to the display can be reckoned as disrespectful!  Unfortunately, the police probably had no recognition of having too many at once in the store because intimidation as a deterrent by a very visible, ubiquitous presence in the public (and apparently in restaurants) was at the time the standard tactic. In short, customers could be expected to feel uncomfortable, or at least to want some relief from the ubiquitous police presence. Even so, Starbucks apologized because an employee acted on behalf of a customer, whose complaint was valid given the overwhelming police presence in the store. Yet according to the Tempe Association of police, the customer and employee should have known that some of the cops were veterans so the errant conclusion is zero respect for vets.[1] The association was so busy feeling disrespected that no thought at all went into why customers could rightly feel uncomfortable with so many police in a small store.

The full essay is at "Overzealous Police Presence."

1. Amir Vera, “Starbucks Apologizes after Six Officers Say They Were Asked to Leave a Store in Arizona,” cnn.com July 6, 2019.

Interestingly (or tellingly), the police chose to leave rather than move away from where customers pick up drinks, and yet the police chief felt that Starbucks had disrespected the police in the store. 

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Presidential Authority and Bureaucracy: Regulatory Agencies

Circulating in Congress in the fall of 2012 was a bill that would have allowed "the White House to second-guess major rules and mandate that agencies carefully study the economic effects of new regulation. The change could, in effect, delay a number of rules for the financial industry. Those who support preserving the status quo where Wall Street regulates itself will find much to like in this legislation," said Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate at Public Citizen, a nonprofit government watchdog group.[1] President Obama had received $1 million from Goldman Sachs as a campaign contribution in 2008. Yet of how much value to Wall Street is a mere delay in regulation? Some, surely, but not enough to make this the decisive issue here. Rather, I submit that the president's control as chief executive of the regulatory agencies and the added bureaucracy are more salient in this case study. 

The full essay is at "Presidential Authority and Bureaucracy." 

1. Ben Protess, “Lawmakers Push to Increase WhiteHouse Oversight of Financial Regulators,” The New York Times, September 10, 2012. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

President Obama's Justification for Limited Military Intervention in Libya: Driving a Wedge between the Bushes

In the early evening of March 28, 2011, President Obama addressed the American people and the world to explain his administration’s involvement in the international coalition that had been implementing a no fly zone over Libya while protecting Libyan civilians from their own ruler. He sounded much more like the first President Bush than the second in terms of foreign policy.  Similar to how the elder Bush had restrained himself from going all the way to Baghdad after he had joined an international coalition in removing the Iraqis from Kuwait, Obama said that directing American troops to forcibly remove Colonel Qaddafi from power would be a step too far, and would “splinter” the international coalition that had imposed the no fly zone and protected civilians in rebel areas of Libya. Interestingly, in taking the elder Bush’s route, Obama came out strongly against that of Bush II. Referring to the alternative of extending the U.S. mission to include regime change, Obama stated, “To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq . . . regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.”[1] In effect, Obama was exposing a fundamental difference between George H.W. Bush and his son by saying essentially the same thing as the elder Bush had done while excoriating the foreign invasion of his son. Yet Obama did not stop there. He added a theoretical framework that the elder Bush could well have used.

[1] Helene Cooper, “Obama Cites Limits of U.S. Role in Libya,” The New York Times, March 28, 2011.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Speculators and Price Volatility: The Case of Gasoline

According to The Huffington Post, “Oil prices took a nosedive [on May 5, 2011] in a historic selloff, erasing weeks of gains and indicating that the months-long climb in energy prices may have hit a ceiling. Crude oil plunged 10 percent as startled investors unloaded their positions and a weeklong decline accelerated into an outright freefall. The price of U.S. crude went from triple digits to double digits, falling below $100 after opening at close to $110. Brent crude, a European benchmark, lost $12 at one point in a sell-off that exceeded the one following Lehman Brothers' collapse.”[1]  The question, for course, is why, the answer of which can lead us to consider some public policy recommendations. Understanding the previous price rise is a first step both to answering this question and for evaluating public policy solutions.

The full essay is at "Speculators and Price Volatility."

1. William Alden, “Oil Prices Plunge in Record Sell-Off,” The Huffington Post, May 5, 2011.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Sexual Harassment at Yale: A Wider Picture of Intolerance in Political Correctness

In his commentary on “Sex and the College Dean” in The Wall Street Journal, William McGurn bemoans what he calls the “surrender [of] what little moral authority [deans and college presidents] have left to their in-house counsel and off-campus government authorities.”[1] McGurn points in particular to the rising influence of lawyers in college administrations. “Today deans have given way to lawyers. The consequence has been endless gestures to raise ‘awareness,’ constant upgrading of procedures and the proliferation of committees—all designed primarily to limit the institution's civil liability. Thus Rutgers says it is working on making the school ‘more inclusive’” after a gay student killed himself after his roommate had posted video secretly shot of the gay student having sex in the dorm room. Not to completely dispute McGurn’s “lawyer thesis,” I do, however, want to broaden the explanation based on material provided by McGurn himself. Specifically, the “more inclusive” language McGurn cites is the signature of the political-correctness movement that had swept college campuses in the United States since the late 1980's. McGurn claims that deans of students have gone from being adults to legalists in seeking to minimize their school’s liability; I want to add that those deans went from being adults to ideologues as well.

The full essay is at "Sexual Harassment at Yale."  

1. William McGurn, “Sex and the College Dean,” The Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2011, p. A15.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Ownership and Compensation Conflated: The Case of Bill Gates and Paul Allen at Microsoft

Paul Allen claims in his memoir that Bill Gates tried on more than one occasion to reduce Allen’s relative ownership interest in Microsoft. Of course, the veracity of Allen’s explanation can be questioned even if the ownership changes in percentage terms are a matter of public record. Whereas The Wall Street Journal focused on Allen's credibility in making his claim, I see a case study on the difference between ownership and compensation for labor.

The full essay is at "Ownership and Compensation."

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Anna Hazare: A Modern Incarnation of Gandhi?

On August 21, 2011 in New Delhi, India, tens of thousands marched in support of Anna Hazare, then in the sixth day of his hunger strike in support of the Jan Lokpal anti-corruption bill. He told the crowd, “Even if the prime minister comes, I will not withdraw my hunger strike until the [bill] is passed in the Parliament. I can die but I will not bend.”[1] What a unique and intriguing statement! To be sure, the man's “professed unwillingness to compromise,” as well as his “occasionally belligerent tone, . . . attracted criticism.”[2] Even so, he inspired mainly hope, particularly from the young. His main constituency, however, was the middle class, who felt alienated and unfairly treated. Hazare self-consciously embraced the model of Gandhi. That model, including the principled unbending, is no stranger in India, yet I am surprised that it took until 2011 for a societal figure so Gandhi-like to emerge and galvanize a mass protest using Gandhi’s methods. Of course, the likeness between the two men could be overstated. How much like Gandhi was Hazare and his political action? For example, would Gandhi have stopped eating simply out of preference for one of two bills before the Parliament? Putting a stop to widespread violence is arguably much more significant than reducing corruption. Also, the demand that conduct be changed is more direct than that a law be enacted unless to abolish an unjust one. 
                              Associated Press

The full essay is at "Hazare and Gandhi."

1. Jim Yardley, “Thousands Back Antigraft Hunger Strike in New Delhi,” New York Times (August 22, 2011). 
2. Ibid.