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Friday, December 14, 2018

Leading at the Top beyond Appearances: The case of John Boehner, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives

In the wake of President Obama's mission to execute Osama bin Laden, Speaker Boehner issued a statement complimenting his rival in the White House. In contrast, Sarah Palin gave George W. Bush all the credit. The Speaker, too, could have gone with political expediency. Therefore, for the Speaker to have publicly acknowledged Obama's victory as America's more generally involved political self-discipline. Speaker Boehner had sought to apply self-discipline, moreover, to his decentralized leadership style from the moment of his swearing in. Given the consolidating nature of power, such a leadership style in the U.S. House of Representatives faced considerable head winds.

The Full essay is at "Leading at the Top beyond Appearances."

See also, Skip Worden, Ethical Leadership, a booklet available at Amazon, and, more generally, Essence of Leadership, a book available at Amazon as well.

On the Eclipse of Russian Federalism: Implications for the E.U. and U.S.

Dmitri Medvedev, President of the Russian Federation, fired Yuri Luzhkov in September, 2010, after Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow (legally a governor of a region), had questioned the president’s fitness to rule. The conflict turned into a highly unusual spectacle because such defiance of the country’s leadership by a senior official rarely occurs in public. “It is difficult to imagine a situation under which a governor and a president of Russia, as the chief executive, can continue to work together when the president has lost confidence in the leader of a region,” Medvedev said at the time. The state-controlled television channels, which rarely if ever voice criticism of party leaders, suddenly went after Luzhkov, signaling the Kremlin’s displeasure with him. They broadcasted programs that suddenly questioned his performance and suggested that he was responsible for corruption in Moscow.  To be sure, he had been criticized for reigning like an autocrat, muzzling dissent and allowing blatant corruption to flourish. During his tenure, his wife, Yelena Baturina, obtained much of the construction business in Moscow, becoming one of the world’s richest women. However, it was criticism of Medvedev, rather than corruption, that costed him his job.  We can conclude more generally that the governors of Russia’s regions, who are equivalent to the prime ministers of the states in the E.U. and U.S., were not free, at least in one case, of the federal government. It bears remembering that a consolidated governmental system is not a federal system. The U.S. might take note of that, considering the amount of power the U.S. Government has taken from the state governments; in contrast, the E.U. Government, like the antebellum U.S. Government, has suffered from a lack of power relative to that of the state governments. 

The complete essay is at Essays on Two Federal Empires, which is on the E.U. and U.S.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Mass Foreclosures as Fallout from Regulatory Capture: Banks in a Conflict of Interest at Treasury

During the summer of 2010, the Obama administration unveiled a $1 billion program to offer loans to help the jobless pay their mortgages until they could find work again. Even as it was to take effect before the end of that year, by April of the next year the program had yet to accept one application. The New York Times avers that this “could be an epitaph for the administration’s broader foreclosure prevention effort, as tens of billions of dollars remain unspent and hundreds of thousands of homeowners have been rejected.” By April of 2011, the existence of the main program, the Home Assistance Modification Program, had become a target of the Republican-controlled U.S. House.  On March 29th, the House voted to end the foreclosure relief program. Even though the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate vowed to pursue a rescue, even the Democrats there considered the program to be badly flawed. To be sure, the administration had failed to stem the wave of foreclosures.
The full essay is at "Essays on the Financial Crisis," available at Amazon. 

Public Accountants Betraying Clients: Insider-Trading on Client Information

There are two basic types of conflicts of interest: personal and institutional. In any conflict of interest, two roles conflict in such a way that one role can compromise the other. The role compromised is the more legitimate of the two. In this essay, I distinguish the two types and situate the public accountants involved in insider trading in the personal rather than institutional type. I discuss two specific cases, both of which resulted in the auditors being prosecuted, in order to distinguish that outcome from the failure of society to come to grips with some of the most important ongoing institutional conflicts of interest.

The full essay is at Institutional Conflicts of Interest, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.

Auto vs. Oil Industries on Emission Standards: Putting a Part Above the Whole

When a company or an entire industry skips over the good of the whole—the public good—in lobbying for legislation that only reflects the needs or desires of individuals (qua consumers only), the society itself (and even the Earth) is slighted and thus more at risk. For the good of the whole is more than just the cumulative needs and desires of individuals in part because the latter do not take into account the wider effects of their choices. When an individual company or industry takes this point into account and rebuffs favorable legislative proposals because they would do too much damage to society and/or the planet, social responsibility is at hand. Companies or industries that do not are thus irresponsible from the standpoint of the whole, which, through government, is justified in keeping an eye on them (especially in making transparent their efforts to influence legislation and regulation. The American auto and oil industries can be distinguished in this regard. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Young Messiah: A Film Rendering Religious Meaning as Distinct

The 2016 film, The Young Messiah, admits to being an imagined year in Jesus’s childhood. To be sure, history and even Biblical passages are drawn on, but the genre of the film is fiction. This label seems too harsh, for Josephus, an ancient Jewish historian, mentions Jesus, “the so-called Christ, and his brother James." Josephus was not a believer; he did not believe that Jesus Christ was (or is) the Son of God. So, given Josephus's intent to record history rather than write scriptures or, more specifically, faith narratives, scholars can conclude that at least one historical mention is made of Jesus and his brother as having lived. To be sure, the historian could have been wrong; he may have heard secondhand that Jesus and James did exist, and the teller might have had an agenda unknown to the historian. Even so, Jesus and James are mentioned in one historical account, just as the Hebrews having been in Egypt is mentioned on a historical tablet. We must be careful to distinguish these records from that which is in faith narratives concerning Jesus and Moses. We simply do not know whether that material has any bearing on the historical, as no historical accounts are (as of yet) extant. 
Very little from Jesus's childhood is in the Gospels, so the screenwriter had to use imagination to fill out the gaping holes. Crucially, they were filled with content consistent with, though not in, the Gospels. In other words, the film contains religious meanfulness that is admittedly from imagination in large part, and yet that meaningfulness is strong even so, and can be readily associated with Jesus's ministry. In other words, the film enables the viewer to see that religious meaningfulness need not be from faith narratives directly, and, furthermore, that they need not be conflated with historical accounts--something even the writers of faith and of history would not have done. How, then, can we override their intents, which are clear from their writings. Even today, theologians, for instance, do not regard themselves as historians, and vice versa.
In short, a distinctive religious meaningfulness can be separated from the domain of history without any loss, and history need not be used as a crutch. Human imagine, so informed as it will by both, can produce valid religious meaning. 

The full essay is at "The Young Messiah." 

Investor Assessments of Political Events

Although the various investors in the financial markets doubtlessly pay great attention to important political events, such as were a state in the E.U. to default on its bonds, I suspect that market analysts overstate the importance of more commonplace political events. For example, The New York Times reported in late September 2012 that investors were shifting their portfolios to reduce risk out of uncertainty regarding the upcoming American elections and the ongoing negotiations in Congress to avoid the huge budget cuts and tax increases set to begin automatically at the beginning of 2013 and run for a decade. Additionally, fears that E.U. leaders might hesitate on moving forward with the bailout program oriented to indebted states were prompting investors to be more risk-averse. Generally speaking, analysts were “anticipating that politicians may not act until forced,” both in the U.S. and E.U., “setting the markets up for weeks of angst.” In my view, this account is overstated.

 Does expertise on these make one an expert on politics?  

The full essay is at "Investor Assessments."


Nathaniel Popper, “Fearing Fiscal Cliff, InvestorsCash In and Seek Safety,” The New York Times, September 28, 2012. 

Mitt Romney’s “About-Face" in the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election: A Candidate’s Conflict-of-Interest

As was demonstrated in September 2008 as banks began to stop lending to each other even overnight, trust is the foundation, or grundlagen, of a market. The same is true in relationships between people. I would be surprised were a marriage ever the same after even a contrite spouse has had an extramarital affair. The same is true in politics; once the electorate has been lied to, it is very hesitant to remove the asterisk next to the politician’s name. The relevance of a politician’s extra-marital affair, such as the flowery lapse of Gary Hart or the sordid stains of Bill Clinton, is that the people conclude that they, like the wives, could be betrayed. Once established, a lack of trust tends to spread like an invidious cancer until it has encompassed the entire body politic. The shift is from justice to a lack of harmony on many levels.
Plato theorized that justice is the harmony within the rational psyche and polis (city, or country) as well as between the heavenly spheres (planets and stars)—the harmony between the rational and the vibrations of the spheres being in sync, which is justice itself. It follows that a person who lets his or her desires run rampant is in line with a squalid or aggressive city, and that neither of these shares in the musical/mathematic harmonious vibrations of and between the heavenly spheres. Lack of trust at the personal, business, or civic level can be said to be a symptom of the shift from the condition of harmony, and thus justice, to discord.
It follows that in a republic or union thereof, it is vital to maintaining justice (as harmony) that the electorate not be as sheep in taking in that which a politician claims regarding what he or she “really believes.” Once a candidate has stupidly lapsed in terms of trustworthiness, the electorate should be cognizant of the conflict of interest in the candidate later dismissing the substance of his or her real feelings or beliefs. In general, if a candidate’s statement is in line with him or her getting elected, a due dose of salt should be taken with that dish.
I have in mind Mitt Romney’s statement at a closed-door fundraiser in September, 2012 that nearly half of Americans don’t pay income taxes, view themselves as victims, and refuse to take responsibility for their lives, wanting to live off entitlement programs instead. 

Oceans Arising on Edifices of Arrogance

A study published in late November 2012 in the journal Science estimates that the melting of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland had raised global sea levels by 11.1 millimeters (0.43 inch) since 1992. That represents one-fifth of the total sea-level rise increase in that period. Other contributors include the expansion of the sea water from warming, and the melting of glaciers, as for instance on mountains. In the 1990's, melting of the polar ice sheets in the Antarctica and Greenland was responsible for about 10 percent of the global sea-level rise, but by 2012 the effect had risen to 30 percent.[1] The study does not, however, uncover the underlying cause, or association, lying in a complexity in human nature itself. Our species has vaunted to the top of the food chain and leveraged a brain capable of engineering technological advances that would have seemed magical even just in the nineteenth century, and yet we seem hard-wired to accelerate our course to a self-destructive extinction. This lack of balance is reflected in the increasing extremes in the global climate. In this essay, I begin with the study and steadily work toward uncovering the underlying, subterranean culprit, which would go on to produce record-high carbon-emissions in 2017.

The entire essay is at "Oceans Arising on Edifices of Arrogance"

[1] Gautam Naik, “Polar Ice Melt Is Accelerating,” The Wall Street Journal, November 30, 2012.