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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Arizona’s Dysfunctional Business and Governmental Culture Creates a Crisis in the Coronavirus Pandemic

On January 15, 2021, the New York Times reported that Arizona had the highest 7-day daily average per capita of deaths and new cases of the new coronavirus, covid-19.[1] On one day, Arizona had 11,324 new cases.[2] “We’re the hottest spot in the U.S. and among the hottest spots in the entire world,” said Keith Frey, the chief medical officer for Dignity Health’s Arizona division.[3] “If we don’t slow this down over the course of the next days and weeks, then we will be fully into that crisis zone,” he added.[4] It would be a crisis of the state’s own making, and thus preventable but for the local culture at least in the Phoenix metro area. In other words, the crisis did not happen to Arizona; rather, the crisis was in large part homemade, and can thus be used as a window into a dysfunctional culture in the United States. 

The full essay is at "Dysfunctional Arizona." 

1. Jordan Allen et al, “Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count,” The New York Times, January 15, 2021.
2. Alicia Caldwell and Ian Lovett, “Arizona Is America’s Covid-19 Hot Spot and on the Brink of Crisis,” The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2021.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Riot at the U.S. Congress: A Threat to Democracy?

On January 6, 2021, protesters walked from a rally at the White House to the U.S. Capitol, the seat of the U.S. Congress. When the protesters reached the building, they entered it in order to stop the joint session of Congress from completing the count of the Electoral College votes for president. A few of the protestors and a Capitol policeman were killed. The political elite and their media quickly added hyperbole to the event, calling it an insurrection and a storming of the Capitol as if all of the protesters were armed and were intent on taking over the U.S. Government in a coup. Disrupting Congress is of course not appropriate, but that does not mean that it constitutes an act of war or terrorism. Although he undoubtedly inflamed the mob with incendiary rhetoric, President Trump was blamed as if he had explicitly told the protesters at his rally to ransack offices and become violent. He wanted the protesters to pressure "weak" Republicans during the Congressional count of Electoral College ballots (for President) rather than conduct a coup. I contend, therefore, that sedition is too extreme as a label to apply both to the president and the riotous mob at the Capitol. This is in no way to excuse what the president and the mob did do; rather, my point is that the American political elite and its corporate media were excessive in how they expressed the severity of the event. Meanwhile, the political elite and the media in the E.U. were more accurate, and thus reasonable, in referring to the incident as a protest that turned into a riot. Such a description is preferable because it allows for a more accurate assessment of just how compromised the democratic system was during the event. I contend that a more serious vulnerability to that system existed even though the American political elite and the corporate media have had an interest in not publicizing that problem. 

The full essay is at "The Riot at the U.S. Congress."

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Ethical Human Resources Management

Ethics applied to human resource management is typically thought to boil down to treating subordinates well. Kant’s categorical imperative, treat other rational beings not just as means, but also as ends in themselves, applies to this sense of ethical HR management. Specifically, human beings are not only cogs in a machine; they have lives outside of work that should not be expected to reduce to serving the interests of the employer. Another side of HR management also exists, however, that concerns the handling of unethical employees. Such handling can be ethical or unethical.

The full essay is at "Ethical HR Management."

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Hypocritical CSR during a Pandemic: O’Reilly Automotive, Inc.

In the retail sector, the behavior of managers and their employees at the store level is particularly relevant to customers. This relevance, I submit, outweighs the wider benefit of a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) program if the behavior contradicts either the CSR wording or actual programs. Besides the obvious bad odor of hypocrisy that vitiates CSR claims, a company’s direct effects on its customers (and employees) have implications in terms of responsibility. I submit that these implications are more important than those of CSR programs that are geared to societal problems because they are less central to a business. In short, having a CSR program does not make up for irresponsible policies or conduct toward customers (and employees). O’Reilly’s Automotive serves as a good illustration.

The full essay is at "Hypocritical CSR during a Pandemic."

Monday, November 16, 2020

On the Rushed Sainthood of Pope John Paul II: Metaphysics and Ideology Triumphant

Just days after the death of Pope John Paul II, “cardinals eager to uphold his conservative policies had already begun discussing putting him on a fast track to sainthood.”[1] This alone could have alerted religionists as to the possible sanctification of an ideology within the Roman Catholic Church. The force of an ideology to its partisans can render them deaf to other considerations. The church ideologues clamoring for the ages-old process of canonization to be disregarded—hardly a conservative demand—chose not to hear the “notes of caution from survivors of sexual abuse and historians that John Paul had persistently turned a blind eye to the crimes in his church.”[2] Fifteen years later, the Vatican itself admitted that the former pope had known of the crimes of Archbishop (of New York) Theodore McCarrick yet refused to put a stop to them. “The investigation, commissioned by Pope Francis, who canonized John Paul in 2014, revealed how John Paul chose not to believe longstanding accusations of sexual abuse against [McCarrick], including pedophilia, allowing him to climb the hierarchy’s ladder.”[3] Rather than being a mere mistake in judgment, as some conservatives would argue, the decision to look the other way resulted in great evil. The foreseeable consequences meant that John Paul II allowed more rapes to happen. Besides the rather obvious point that a saint would not have done so, and thus the canonization of John Paul II was erroneous, this case suggests that the “two miracles” requirement for canonization is itself flawed.

The full essay is at "On the Canonization of Pope John Paul II."

1. Jason Horowitz, “Sainted Too Soon? Vatican Report Cast John Paul II in Harsh New Light,” The New York Times, November 14, 2020.
2.  Ibid.
3. Ibid.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Corporate Federalism: Did AOL Miss an Opportunity?

Citing twelve past and present AOL employees, The Wall Street Journal characterized AOL in 2011 as a “culture of clashing fiefs and personalities created by a rapid series of acquisitions that haven’t jelled.”[1] Just in managing the likes of Michael Arrington and Arianna Huffington, Tim Armstrong had his hands full as CEO. Both Arrington and Huffington were strong defenders of editorial independence in their respective units. Arrington started a venture capital firm partly financed by AOL to invest in tech firms even as Arrington’s division at AOL, TechCrunch, wrote on technology firms. The problems for AOL went well beyond acquiescing in a structural conflict of interest of TechCrunch writing on particular tech companies while investing in some of them but not others. A person familiar with AOL said that Armstrong “had a macro vision that was right but didn’t have the right plan to implement it.”[2] That is to say, his visionary leadership was good but his strategic management was bad. Strategic leadership demands better. AOL may have been a good candidate for a federal system of governance because the publishing units needed some autonomy even at the cost of foregone corporate cooperation. 

The full essay is at "Corporate Federalism and AOL."

1. Jessica E. Vascellaro and Emily Steel, “Culture Clashes Tear at AOL,” Wall Street Journal, September 10-11, 2011. 
2. Ibid.

Taxation and Economic Inequality

The top 1% of U.S. taxpayers had 19.4% of the total income in 2007 and paid 28.1% of all federal taxes. In 1987, the top 1% had had 11.2% of the total income and paid 16.2% of all federal taxes. The share of total income going to the wealthy (income over $353,000 in 1987) and the share of federal income taxes they paid increased. That the poverty rate hit 15% in 2011 while the real wages of the middle and lower classes were back to mid-1990s levels suggests that the rich were getting richer as the poor were getting poorer; income and wealth inequalities were increasing. Differential impacts of a taxation regime can have an impact on a growing inequality, and thus on whether a society should adjust its tax structure. 

The full essay is at "Taxation and Economic Inequality."

Monday, November 9, 2020

Bank One: Adding to Systemic Risk after the Financial Crisis of 2008

The financial crisis in September 2008 was indeed a crisis, and yet it is stunning how soon the American financial sector sought to undermine governmental efforts to guard against another such crisis. Exactly three years after the crisis, Republicans in Congress  repeatedly invoked the Dodd-Frank Act’s 848-page length and rules on trading derivatives and swaps as examples of government overreach at the expense of much-needed jobs. “Dodd-Frank is adding safety margins to the banking system,” according to Douglas Elliott at the Brookings Institution. “That may mean somewhat fewer jobs in normal years, in exchange for the benefit of avoiding something like what we just went through in the financial crisis, which was an immense job killer.”[1] To scrap the new law in order to save few jobs would thus be short-sighted even with regard to jobs. Wall Street's concern, however, was not jobs, but, rather, the loss of profit off high-risk trading. 

The full essay is at "Bank One and Systemic Risk."

1. Edward Wyatt, “Dodd-Frank Act a Favorite Target for Republicans Laying Blame,” New York Times, September 21, 2011. 

Friday, November 6, 2020

American Federalism Eclipsed by an Ideal of Democracy: Education Over Immigration as a Constitutional Problem

The U.S. Constitution includes immigration as one of the listed (i.e., enumerated) powers of the federal government. Education is not such a power; hence it resides with the States. Historically, the accumulation of power by the federal government has involved taking areas from the States even though those areas are not listed as federal powers. As a result, American federalism has shifted increasingly toward a consolidation of power at the federal level. Among other means, Congresses and U.S. presidents have used the power of the purse to gain control from the States. Education is a case in point, whether elementary, secondary, or higher education. That the U.S. Government has had trouble controlling the country's southern border with Mexico suggests that maybe adding education has come at the expense of the added attention and effort that could have been put on immigration. In business terms, an opportunity cost (i.e., the cost of foregone benefits) comes with each additional federalized area. U.S. President Obama on education presents us with a case in point. 

The full essay is at "Federalism Eclipsed by Consolidation."

Thursday, November 5, 2020

The Right of Political Protest in the U.S.: Nullified in the Outback by Intimidation

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting . . . the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of Grievances.” Peaceable protest, even to protest a government or an official thereof, has come to be regarded as a staple of American democracy. In practice, however, the right can be eviscerated such that peaceful protesting is simply not worth the trouble. Such trouble can be orchestrated by a police force or even a government within the United States. Implicit in the right to protest is the value put on tolerating the expression of contrary opinions. Conservative and progressive views, even those of racists and anarchists, respectively, are generally accorded the right to peaceably protest in a public way. If a State is sufficiently one-sided, however, public officials, including governors, majors, and police chiefs, can reflect the dominant attitude of residents that protests on behalf certain political, economic, or social ideologies should not be allowed. If they must be allowed, then massive shows of police force can—it is assumed--legitimately be used to intimidate the protesters. 

The full essay is at "The Right of Political Protest."

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Deficit Reduction and Tax Breaks: Rhetoric and Reality

Actions speak louder than words. A tree is known by its fruit. Where your treasure is, therein lies your heart. These three sayings each have at their root a value on integrity or authenticity that cuts through purported assertions designed to manipulate or otherwise mislead. Integrity here is consistency between word and deed. When members of Congress have cried that the sky was falling under the weight of the annual deficits and the accumulated debt of the U.S. Government, a person might ask by looking at the actual votes on legislation whether the representatives really considered the fiscal imbalances as so dire. If someone exclaims that her house is about to explode but does not act accordingly, such as in running out of the house rather than finishing dinner, it is reasonable to doubt that the person really believes that a blast is imminent. In protecting tax breaks even amid a deficit of over $1 trillion in 2011, members of Congress belied their own warnings concerning the American governmental debt crisis. The American people as a whole let their representatives get away with the Janus-like stances, and this in turn eventually allowed the U.S. Government debt to exceed $20 trillion. 

The full essay is at "Fiscal Rhetoric and Reality."

The Tyranny of the Veto: Eviscerating the U.N.

Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on October 4, 2011, effectively tossing a life preserver, according to the New York Times, to Syria’s president. The toothless proposal would have condemned the Syrian government for its violent crackdown of popular protests in which more than 2,700 had been killed. The proposal’s language had been softened from targeted financial sanctions; the council would merely have been charged with considering unspecified measures after a 30-day period. Two reasons can be cited for the two vetoes: commercial ties and a vested interest in forestalling any more threats to the doctrine of national sovereignty.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

On the Ethics of Business Donations and Saving Souls

In the film, Major Barbara (1941), Barbara, a Major in the Salvation Army, has been raised with her sister and brother by their mother. She is legally separated or divorced from the father, Andrew Undershaft, who nonetheless finances the lavish lifestyle of his family. Even Barbara, the idealist Christian evangelical, lives on her father’s armaments wealth. Yet when she meets him after several years, she leaves the Salvation Army after Andrew and an alcohol producer donate large sums. Although Barbara recognizes that the Army in London needs the money, she believes that the Army has sold out because providing weapons of death and alcohol are sinful. “What price salvation, now?” a customer at the Army’s soup kitchen asks Barbara after she had taken off her Army pin and given it to her father. Barbara is not willing to continue with the Christian organization because in her mind it has sold out even though it admittedly needs the donations to survive. But has the Army sold out? Furthermore, does Barbara sold out in using her father's business to convert workers. Ironically, that may be more ethical than the Army's approach to saving souls. 

The full essay is at "Major Barbara."

Monday, October 19, 2020

Coronavirus Reveals Dysfunctional Culture in Arizona

In mid-October, 2020, when the coronavirus was again peaking in E.U. states such as France and Germany and U.S. states such as Wisconsin and New Mexico, public health experts were worried about how the upcoming flu season would interact with the new virus, especially as people gather more indoors when outside temperatures turn colder. On October 15, 2020, for instance, seven U.S. states saw record numbers of hospitalizations, according to the Covid Tracking Project, and fourteen states set records for their seven-day averages of new daily cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.[1] France and Germany had already instituted nightly curfews. On October 16, Tier 2 Restrictions went into effect in London, which include urging people to avoid public transportation. Because physical distancing is not always possible on buses, subways, and light rail, universal mask wearing was crucial. According to IHME projections at the time, universal mask wearing in general “could save the lives of more than 70,000 Americans in the next three and a half months.”[2] With New Mexico’s chief executive referring to the coronavirus situation as “the most serious emergency that New Mexico has ever faced” on October 14, it was very troubling that Arizona, which borders New Mexico, had failed to enforce laws requiring masks on public transportation. This failure is extraordinary because of the mentality behind it.

1. Christina Maxouris and Jason Hanna, “The US Has Reached 8 Million Covid-19 Cases, and the Pace of New Infections Signals a Tough Winter,” CNN.com, October 16, 2020.

2.  Ibid.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Religion as an Academic Area of Study

What is religion? What does the domain of religion cover? What is excluded? Does opinion eclipse knowledge in marking the boundaries? Should we allow empirical self-identification claims from self-proclaimed religionists to veto any offending established knowledge of what the religion is? I contend that an atheist who claims he is nonetheless a practitioner of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam does not alter the fact that the three Abrahamic religions are monotheist. Atheist Judaism, for instance, is an oxymoron born of an arrogant subjectivity that offends reason itself and therefore cannot be valid.

The full essay is at "Religion as an Academic Area of Study."