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Thursday, March 15, 2018

President Trump as a “Neutral Guy” in the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: On the Conflict of Interest

In the absence of an international arbitrator with teeth, the nations of the world must at times have recourse to others in service to the resolution of disputes—even longstanding ones. This, I submit, is a major drawback to a world of sovereign nation-states, for rare is one that can genuinely serve as an honest broker, hence with credibility to the disputants rather than just one side.  Conflicts of interest all thus allowed, and even ignored as if they had no bearing. In the context of the longstanding Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the United States has been plagued with having to surmount the conflict between the interest of being an ally of Israel and a neutral peacemaking with credible standing as such to both sides. 

The full essay is at "President Trump as a 'Neutral Guy."

For more on conflicts of interest, see Institutional Conflicts of Interest.

Gary Cohn of Goldman Sachs in the White House: A Hidden Agenda?

Rex Tillerson, the U.S. Secretary of State fired by U.S. President Donald Trump and former CEO of Exxon, an international oil company based in the U.S., did not allow his difference with the president of tariffs on steel and aluminum to be a deal breaker. In this respect, the ex-CEO was not doing his company’s bidding. That is to say, he was not primarily in public service to serve the private interests of a multinational corporation. Unfortunately, this cannot be said of Gary Cohn, the ex-president of Goldman Sachs who quit as Trump’s chief economic advisor just after the tariffs were announced. Tariffs in general and especially to protect goods in another sector are not in the interests of a major American banks with substantial international business. If the former president of Goldman Sachs had taken the post in government to further Goldman’s interests, the question is whether public service is mere window-dressing at the highest levels of government—plutocracy being the real name of the game.

The full essay is at "Gary Cohn of Goldman Sachs."

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

On the Presumptuousness of Power: Does Wall Street Own Congress?

At the end of April, 2009, U.S. Senator Richard Durbin blamed the powerful banking lobby for the defeat of legislation that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to modify some troubled mortgages.  Even as mortgage servers were claiming to be overwhelmed with requests from distressed borrowers for readjustments to the adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM), the banks and mortgage companies felt the need to stop the US Senate from enabling judges to relieve the backlog. Durban later said in an interview, “And the banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place,” he said on WJJG 1530 AM radio's  “Mornings with Ray Hanania.” On October 30, 2009,  James K. Galbraith spoke on the Bill Moyers Journal on the bank lobby changing the financial system regulation reforms now being discussed in Congress.  That that lobby feels itself to be in a position to advise the Congress on a matter in which the banks were part of the problem is something that blows Galbraith away.   They should realize among themselves, or at the very least BE TOLD that their involvement is not helpful or appropriate.   Galbraith pointed out that we have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done governmentally to stave off another financial crisis—such as separating the commerical banking and investment trading (on the bank’s equity even!) functions and reducing the scale of the banks too big to fail.  However, there are a hundred reasons why the governing class will not follow through. 

Debating Federalism

It could be maintained that federalism gets in the way of solving problems that are simply too important to go unsolved.  In short, the argument is that federalism impedes progress on important issues. State to state differences should not be tolerated, he argues, where important needs are involved. “Resources and die-hard beliefs in the role of local government vary too much from state to state” for us to trust State government to deal satisfactorily with grave problems.   I suspect this view is widely held today.

The full essay is at "Debating Federalism."

For more on this topic, see: Two Federal Empires and American and European Federalism

Consolidation in Russia: Federalism and Democracy at Risk

United Russia, the party led by Prime Minister Putin, decided in August, 2010 not to submit the name of the governor of Kaliningrad, Georgy V. Boos, for reappointment. The decision appeared to put pressure on governors to do more to ensure the satisfaction of those they govern, or to at least keep a lid on dissent. Governors had been popularly elected in Russia until a 2004 decree by Mr. Putin, then Russia’s president, that gave the president responsibility for appointing them. In that decree, the president is to select governors from a list of candidates drawn up by the governing party. Critics have said that the practice has made governors beholden to the Kremlin and insensitive to the popular sentiments. This can be problematic on two grounds.

The full essay is at "Consolidation in Russia."

Federalism 101: Does Power Naturally Consolidate?

Consolidated power seems, at least in theory, to be contrary to American political culture.   The financial consolidation even after the financial bailouts of 2008, can be deemed dangerous economically and even politically, given the unlimited campaign contributions made possible by the Citizens United case in 2010. Such consolidation complements the political consolidation at the federal level in the U.S.  Is the consolidation, which has occurred since 1865, and especially from FDR's New Deal onward, natural or contrived? That is to say, will the E.U., when it is over 200 years old, suffer the same plight? If so, federalism itself, which I submit must include a balance of power, given the checks and balances feature, between the federal level and that of the states, may be a temporary system inherently. 

The full essay is at "Does Power Naturally Consolidate?"

For more on this topic, see: Two Federal Empires and American and European Federalism

Monday, March 12, 2018

A Critique of Corporate Political Risk Analysis and U.S. Foreign Policy: The Case of Libya

Even though people the world over instinctively recoiled as reports came in of Gadhafi's violent retaliation against Libyan protests on February 21, 2011, the official reaction from the US Government was muted at best. The refusal to act on an intuitive response to immediately remove the Libyan dictator's ability to wantonly kill people resisting his right to rule may have come from concerns that the mounting tumult of a change of government in a major oil-producing region of North Africa could cause even just a disruption in the supply of crude. Indeed, even the mere possibility was prompting a spike in the price of oil (and gas)--what one might call a risk premium. Even the prospect of an ensuing nasty electoral backlash from consumers having to face a possible increase in their largely non-discretionary gas expense was not lost on their elected representative in chief at the White House. 

The full essay is at "The Case of Libya."

Political Black Holes: On the Power Behind the Throne

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, has a black hole. If this is news to you, there is no need to go hide under a rock. It turns out our black hole is not the biggest by far, and it doesn't spew out a lot of excess energy that falls into it. Even so, it is ours, and we can be glad that we have one of our very own even if it isn't the biggest one on the block. In case you are interested in seeing it’s baleful look in a picture, I’ve got bad news for you; it is invisible. No light can bounce off it.  You are probably wondering how the scientists found it.  Well, they knew that black holes are in the center of galaxies, so the crafty lab coats used invisible light to find our center because there is too much gas there for much there to be visible to us.  The scientists noticed that the speed of stars speeds up around a certain point and posited the existence of a highly-dense black hole.

The full essay is at "Political Black Holes."

The American News Media: A Case of Over-Reaching?

During the summer of 2010, as commentators at Fox, CNN, and MSNBC were arguing, they referred to their own arguments as “trench warfare” and “hand-to-hand fighting.”  Real soldiers would doubtless dismiss such descriptors as attempts by children to count as adults—as something more.  The soldiers would be correct, of course. Insulting or criticizing another person does not constitute fighting in the sense of warfare. Someone at MSNBC calling someone at Fox a racist does not come close to shooting someone with a rifle or even slugging someone with one’s fist.  The protesters in Libya who were being shot at by their own government in February, 2011, would shake their heads in disbelief in hearing of the "war" among media personalities.