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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

JP Morgan Chase on the NY Fed's Board

The New York Fed allows private bankers to sit on its board, even while it crafts bank policy and puts together financial industry bailouts. "There's a conflict of interest here. You serve two masters. You can't draw this extraordinary salary from JPMorgan Chase and, at the same time, say, 'Oh, I'm out here acting in the public interest.' You can't do both." So said Elizabeth Warren, who came up with the idea that became the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as part of the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act of 2010. Referring to Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan who presided over a $2 billion trading loss, she added, "He says he wants to take responsibility. Then show some responsibility. Show you get it. Putting Wall Street bankers on the Federal Reserve Board is like finding the guys who torched the entire town and putting them on the fire advisory board. It makes no sense." 

The full essay is at "JPMorgan: An Unethical Monstrosity?"

Same-Sex Marriage in the States of Washington and Britain

Reporting on the objections of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church to David Cameron’s “contentious plan to legalize same-sex marriage” in the E.U. state of Britain, the New York Times unwittingly followed the European tendency to compare a state in the E.U. with the entire U.S. rather than to a state therein. “In some ways,” the Times contended, the debate in the E.U. state “mirrors arguments in the United States swirling around President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage.” Actually, Obama’s support was not at the time very relevant even in the U.S., as the “action” was occurring in particular states (as in the case of the E.U.).
On the of the Times’ report, the Huffington Post reported that the U.S. state of Washington would have a referendum on gay marriage on the ballot in November, 2012. In total, 247,331 Washingtonians signed the petition, passing the minimum of 120,577 needed. Gov. Chris Gregoire, David Cameron’s counterpart, had signed a bill into law the previous February legalizing same-sex marriage. Essentially, the referendum moved the matter from representative to direct democracy. Were a “one-size-fits-all” decision to be reached for the entire U.S., justices rather than an electorate would be the decision-makers. While possibly giving the rights of a minority a “leg up” on majority rule, moving the issue from the people of Washington to apply one decision on the U.S. as a whole was not a given at the time.

Therefore, to relate the thrashing out going on at the time in Britain (and France) to Obama’s campaign stance on the issue rather than to what was going on in the American republics evinces something more than just a category mistake (i.e., treating a state in the E.U. as equivalent to the entire U.S. rather than to a state therein). The dynamic at the level of the E.U. and U.S. is different than that which occurs in a state. Democracy being relatively fort (strong) at the state-level, the juridical protection of the rights of the individual may paradoxically be stronger at the empire-level. Iowa is a notable counter-example, however, on account of the action of the Iowa Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage. Perhaps it could be said that majority rule is stronger at the state level and thus more in balance with judicial decision. If so, the E.U. principle of subsidiarity and the U.S. principle of residual sovereignty (marriage being in the realm of the states’ sovereignty though equal protection being a relevant U.S.-level juridical principle) should not be relegated in a race to a central state at the empire-level. At the same time, the U.S. and E.U. need enough power to maintain themselves. Treating a state in the E.U. as if it were equivalent to the entire U.S. (i.e., essentially another E.U. within the E.U.) distorts or ignores these dynamics of federalism.


Alan Cowell, “ChurchesChallenge British Government Over Same-Sex Marriage,” The New York Times, June 12, 2012. 

Chris Gentiviso, “Referendum 74, Washington State Anti-GayMarriage Measure, Qualifies for Ballot,” The Huffington Post, June 12, 2012. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Property Taxes: Property at Risk

Thirty years after Californians shrank their property taxes by passing Proposition 13, the same question faced the people of North Dakota as they voted on whether to eliminate their property taxes entirely. In an interesting twist, the debate on the tax incorporated a human-rights dimension that is rarely brought into debates in the American republics.

In addition to pointing to the budget surplus enjoyed by the Government of North Dakota at the time as well as to the unpredictableness of the tax and its inconsistencies, the proponents of a constitutional amendment to prohibit a property tax argued that it is contrary to the concept of property ownership. Beyond property rights, however, the advocates pointed to a human right to shelter irrespective of wealth or income. “I would like to be able to know that my home, no matter what happens to my income or my life, is not going to be taken away from me because I can’t pay a tax,” said Susan Beehler, a member of the group that was pushing for the amendment. The American republics are as it were joined at the hip, so it is no surprise that, Jim Cox, a representative in the Pennsylvania legislature’s lower chamber chimed in by declaring, “No tax should have the power to leave you homeless.” The implication is that having a home is a human right that even a government ought not be able to take away.

There is reason for concern as long as one’s house is subject to one’s wealth. For one thing, a large part of one’s net worth is in the equity-value of one’s house—such value being subject to the wax and wane of the market. According to the Federal Reserve, the medium amount of home equity dropped to $75,000 from $110,000 in 2007 (adjusted for inflation). More generally, the economic crisis of 2008 left the medium American family in 2010 with no more wealth than in the early 1990s. Medium family income fell to $45,800 in 2010 from $49,600 in 2007 (adjusted for inflation). With less of a cushion, should a homeowner lose his or her job, less home equity would translate into more difficulty in getting a loan (or being cut off from even being able to borrow to survive a brief period of unemployment). 

Therefore, housing viewed as not just a property-right, but moreover as a human right (i.e., not to be homeless), is incompatible with the precariousness that goes with treating one’s house as not only a commodity subject to market forces, but also a significant part of one’s wealth. A vicious circle can be engaged that leaves one as though drowning in a whirlpool without a life-preserver.  If nothing should have the power to leave one homeless, our concept of housing must go even beyond our concept of private property to be based in a doctrine of human rights—a concept rather foreign in North America. Paradoxically, a constitutional amendment that would remove one’s house from the government’s (as well as any private company’s or bank’s) grasp would proffer citizens more security (and thus happiness) than even a full-fledged notion of private property (rights), for the right of property—unlike a constitutional amendment—depends on government and is thus subject to eminent domain. To be sure, a competitive market is well-suited to distributing non-necessity commodities, but human rights trumps even economic efficiency (or its ideology). I find it odd that this notion is so foreign in the American states, while it is almost taken for granted in the European states.


Monica Davey, “North Dakota Considers Eliminating Property Tax,” The New York Times, June 11, 2012. 

Binyamin Appelbaum, “Family Net Worth Drops to Level of Early ‘90s, Fed Says,” The New York Times, June 11, 2012. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Warming Oceans: Humanity’s Death-Wish

Released in 2012, a study published in Nature Climate Change found an "anthropogenic fingerprint" (human influence) on the warming oceans. The study, "Human-Induced Global Ocean Warming On Multidecadal Timescales," is based on observations of rising upper-ocean temperatures. The researchers used improved estimates of ocean temperatures to examine the causes of our warming ocean. The warming is explained only when greenhouse gas increases are included in the models.

                Scientific evidence now points to human air-pollution as a major cause of warming oceans.  HP

Lead author and climate scientist Peter Gleckler said in the press release, "The bottom line is that this study substantially strengthens the conclusion that most of the observed global ocean warming over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities. Although we performed a series of tests to account for the impact of various uncertainties, we found no evidence that simultaneous warming of the upper layers of all seven seas can be explained by natural climate variability alone. Humans have played a dominant role." According to oceanography expert Nathan Bindoff, "This paper's important because, for the first time, we can actually say that we're virtually certain that the oceans have warmed, and that warming is caused not by natural processes, but by rising greenhouse gases primarily." He added, "We did it. No matter how you look at it, we did it. That's it."

Lest it be supposed that shorter winters and warmer water for swimming represent a net-gain for the human species, arctic monitoring stations were measuring over 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is higher than the 350 ppm that many scientists consider the upper limit of “safe.” It turns out that the loss of coastal real-estate is the least of our worries; humanity, acting like an unstoppable virus, may be making the air unfit for human consumption. In other words, our economizing (and our related zest to consume and reproduce) may spell the eventual end of the species, rather than a technological utopia of effortless living.

Assuming a general knowledge of the findings discussed here exists in human society, the campaign by polluting industries and their sycophants in government for deregulation can be interpreted as a species’ death-wish. The question is perhaps whether the species will continue to allow itself to governed by that instinct, which at the species level is oriented to what can be termed specicide

Even if we have the technology to get the oxygen and CO2 back to levels that can sustain the species, the greed-fueled instinct, if allowed to stay in charge at the level of the species as a whole, could continue to undermine the species itself, even bringing it to extinction through the suicide of the species. This is not to say that such an end is consciously intended by the forces dominated by that instinct, but such an end can nonetheless occur down the line, and sooner rather than later if the scientists are correct. Of course, the same popular arrogance that is so dismissive of them is also within the specicidal instinct of the species. 

Perhaps it is self-hate (i.e., humanity's hatred of human nature) even more than greed that is motivating the sordid instinct to dominate all others in directing the species. If so, the resulting specicide can be interpreted as the species' own verdict on itself. More particularly, it could be the species' verdict on the instinct. To the extent that it hates itself, self-hatred is driving the human race. As self-hatred enervates or weakens a thing (or person's instinct), it a curious thing that a self-ashamed, and thus weakened instinct can nonetheless direct the species. In other words, how is it that that of the species not fueled by the instinct is somehow beguiled into viewing the instinct of denial and greed as somehow strong and thus as incapable of being taken down from its dominance? 

Nietzsche's question was essentially, how is it that the strong are so beguiled by the weak who are driven by an instinct to dominate that the strong defer to the weak in self-shame for being strong? It is the weak who should be ashamed of themselves for demanding power beyond what naturally corresponds with their innate strength. In terms of polluting industries (and their sycophants in government), how is it that the species even lets them in the room (not to mention to dominate the result) when regulation is being discussed and determined? If on some level the short-sighted and greedy vested-interest is ashamed of itself, it must be weak rather than how it appears to others of other instincts. It is the appearance here that is particularly problematic, as it is paralyzing (as well as specicidal). If indeed the non-specicidal instincts are stronger, this would have to be recognized before the species can regain control of itself from the hypertrophy of an over-aggrandizing faction that unconsciously hates itself and the species.


P. J. Gleckler et al, “Human-Induced GlobalOcean Warming on Multidecadal Timescales,” Nature Climate Change, June 10, 2012. 

Murdoch in Europe: Newsprint Wielded as a Personal Political Weapon

Testifying in Europe on June 11, 2012 about the influence of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers—and thus Murdoch himself—over the state government of Britain, Gordon Brown accused The Sun of having undermined the state’s contribution to the war in Afghanistan. The newspaper caused “huge damage to the war effort,” he said, by suggesting that Brown’s administration “didn’t care about our troops.” The coverage was oriented, Brown contended, to his supposed lack of care about the troops rather than to what the troops were doing in Afghanistan.

The full essay is in Cases of Unethical Business, which is available at Amazon.