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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Terms of Office in a Representative Democracy: Greek Austerity

In September 2012, the E.U. state of Greece was in the process of working out a 11.5 euro austerity plan that would involve forced retirements in public sector and pension cuts so the E.U. would approve another installment of the bailout to the state. One resident remarked at the time, “Mark my words. In the coming months, there will be a revolution, and this government will fall.”[1] This sounds a bit like “buyer’s remorse” concerning the election the previous June  in which the anti-bailout/austerity party barely lost. What about all the Greeks who voted for Samaras, the pro-bailout/austerity leader? It cannot be assumed that they, too, had buyer's remorse even as the additional cuts went into effect. Even if the electorate shifted in the direction of anti-austerity as the forced retirements and pension cuts occurred, the ingrediants of representative democracy includes terms of office to protect the elected officials by giving time for their policies to work. Representative democracy does not reduce to the momentary passion of the masses. According to Plato, mob rule is the bad form of democracy. 

The full essay is at "Terms of Office in Democracy."

1. Liz Alderman, “Greek Government and Public at Odds Over New Cuts,” The New York Times, September 6, 2012. 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

A Teachable Moment for Americans: Solidarity as a Shared Value in European Identity

Speaking at the Schloss Bellevue palace in Berlin, President Joachim Gauck used a televised speech in February 2013 to make the case for more European integration. At the time, calling for “more Europe” in terms of shifting still more governmental sovereignty from the state governments to that of the Union was not a very popular task. Further limiting the power of his message is the fact that the German presidency is largely ceremonial , unlike the office of governor in an American state. Nevertheless, Gauck was determined to put the contemporary condition of the “European project” in favorable perspective. The most striking—and even effective—aspect of his speech is his repeated references to “European citizens.” Had he used “Germans” instead, he would have subtly undercut his own message. The prime minister of the E.U. state of Britain at the time would never have used the term, "European citizens." Nor would he have agreed with the E.U. value of solidarity and especially the ensuing social policy. The American media tended to follow suit, rather than covering the otherness of the other: the European Union as having a societal political value that has been very recessive in the United States. In this regard, I contend, the American media companies let down the American people, who would have stood to benefit from the wider perspective that would have enriched American political debates from the tyranny of the hegemonic value ensconced in American culture: that of the self-sustaining individual ideally in the state of nature, economically speaking. Reporting on the principle of solidarity would have given Americans the acccurate picture of the E.U. as being more than just a trading "bloc." This point in turn could have resulted in Americans coming to the realization that the E.U. is equivalent to the U.S.—both being empire-scale federal systems wherein governmental sovereignty is split.

The full essay is at "Solidarity as a European Value."

Friday, December 27, 2019

Italian Election Roils Markets: An Over-Reaction

With no party having gained sufficient seats in the upper house of the Italian legislature, analysts warned on February 25, 2013 of a “hung parliament,” which would make it even more difficult for structural and fiscal reforms to be passed. Even though the Democratic Party appeared to have gained a slim victory in the lower house, giving that party the majority of 340 seats out of 630, the upper and lower houses have equal law-making ability so even the possibility of a hung parliament roiled markets. I contend that this is yet another case of financial analysts over-reacting to political uncertainty. 

The full essay is at "Political Uncertainty Overstated." 

American Federalism: Christianity as the Official Religion in North Carolina

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or preventing the free exercise thereof.” Congress. The writers of the First Amendment of the U.S. federal Constitution were obviously excluding the state governments. Even so, the U.S. Supreme Court has established that the amendment applies to the states as well as Congress. From Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), the Court gave us what is known as the Lemon test. State funding for parochial schools (e.g., Catholic schools) must have a secular legislative purpose (e.g., education), neither advance nor inhibit religion in its consequences, and not foster “an excessive government entanglement with religion.” Yet the leap in claiming that the amendment bears on the states must deal with the explicit language that “Congress shall make no law.” Even so, it did not seem constitutional to many people in 1913 when the North Carolina legislature tried to make Christianity the republic's official religion. Even so, because the United States is essentially a federal empire of fifty republics, care ought to be taken when applying a one-size-fits-all approach as it does not take into account interstate political, religious, and cultural differences. Much is made of these in the European Union, but not in the United States. 

The full essay is at "Christianity as a State Religion in the U.S.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The E.U. as Peace-Maker: Bringing in Serbia and Kosovo

Serbia and Kosovo reached an agreement on April 19, 2013 bearing on how much autonomy Kosovo would allow Serb cities in return Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo’s remaining authority in the cities.[1] Kosovo had seceded from Serbia in 2008, and the ensuing conflict kept both states from joining the European Union. As it turned out, the prospect of accession gave both Serbia and Kosovo enough incentive to reach an agreement. Indeed, only a few days after the agreement had been reached, the governments of Serbia and Kosovo approved it. Such swiftness indicates how strong of an incentive accession can be for belligerent republics in Europe. The E.U.’s deployment of this “carrot” is fully in line with the main objective of the European Union: to prevent war in Europe. According to the New York Times, the accord is thus “an important victory” for the E.U.[2] An even further victory in line with the E.U.'s most important purposes would be to internalize both Serbia and Kosovo so any future interstate conflicts could be peacibly resolved. 

The full essay is at "The E.U. as Peace-Maker."

1. Dan Bilefsky, “Serbia and Kosovo Reach Agreement on Power-Sharing,” The New York Times, April 20, 2013.
2. Ibid.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The British Pound Reacts to Secession

When the E.U. state of Britain held a vote in 2016 on whether to secede from the union, the British currency plummeted. On the day of the December 2019 statewide election in the U.K., that currency initially jumped and held on the day after as official results confirmed that the conservatives had won a majority and thus would be able to see the secession through. I submit that uncertainty itself was a major factor in both swings, and that the market put too much emphasis on the matter of uncertainty at the expense of the substantive economic effects of secession.

The full essay is at "The British Pound and Secession."

Monday, December 9, 2019

Oligarchs in Ukraine Decide the E.U./Russia Question: Big Business on Top of Democracy?

One of the many lessons shimmering in the sunlight from stars such as Gandhi and Mandela is the possibility that popular political protest really can matter after all. Alternatively, managing (or manipulating) the crowd could be a mere front dwarfed in influence by that of a rich and power elite. Although the Ukraine will serve as our case study, democracy itself is under the microscope here.

The full essay is at "Oligarchs in Ukraine."

Two Sizes Fit All: America’s Two-Party-System Stranglehold

A Rasmussen Reports poll conducted in early August 2011 found that “just 17% of likely U.S. voters think that the federal government . . . has the consent of the governed,” while 69% “believe that the government does not have that consent.”[1] Yet an overwhelming number of Congressional incumbents is reelected. Is it that many Americans stay away from the polls on election day, or does the two-party system essentially force a choice? Voting for a third-party candidate risks the defeat of the candidate of the major party closest to one’s views. Such a vote is typically referred to as a protest or throw-away vote. Is it worth driving to the polls to do that?

The full essay is at "A Two Party Duopoly in American Politics."

1. Patrick H. Caddell and Douglas E. Schoen, “Expect a Third-Party Candidate in 2012,” Wall Street Journal, August 25, 2011.

President Obama and Goldman Sachs: A Quid Pro Quo?

U.S. President Obama nominated Timothy Geithner to be Secretary of the Treasury. While president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, he had played a key role in forcing AIG to pay Goldman Sachs’ claims dollar for dollar. Put another way, Geithner, as well as Henry Paulson, Goldman’s ex-CEO serving as Secretary of the Treasury as the financial crisis unfolded, stopped AIG from using the leverage in its bankrupt condition to pay claimants much less than full value. At Treasury, Mark Patterson was Geithner’s chief of staff. Patterson had been a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs. It would seem that the "real change" president put together a Wall-Street administration.

The full essay is at "President Obama and Goldman Sachs."

Congress: Hitched to the Status Quo

To lead is to be out in front, pointing the jet’s nose one way rather than another. Leadership is not that which causes drag at the back of the plane. Leadership is not that which holds a society in place or protects the vested interests. Whether envisioning something new or a return to a better time, a leader is not oriented to the status quo. It is significant, therefore, that the Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, one of the two chambers in the American Congress, has stated publicly that the Congress is rigged to advantage the status quo. The stunning implication is that members of Congress are actually anti-leaders.

The full essay is at "Congress and the Status Quo."

Sunday, November 24, 2019

American religion and politics: Overreaching Realms

Even though they are formally separated in the U.S. under the constitutional rubric that the federal government cannot lawfully establish a religion and infringe on the free exercise of religion, religion has ventured into politics and vice versa. Valued ideals pertain to both even though the highest in religion are transcendent, meaning that they extend beyond the limits of human cognition, perception, and sensibility, according to St. Denis (aka Pseudo-Dionysius) in the sixth century. So far is the political variety from such ideals as being in heaven! Yet the political sort has enjoyed a near monopoly in the world, including its public discourse. At least as 2019 was giving way to a new decade, captivation on President Trump’s tweets (i.e., brief statements made on the internet’s social media) and the process of impeaching him in the U.S. House of Representatives was strangely devoid of any religious discussion in the public square. This is all the more extraordinary because of the significant role that religion had played historically in presidential politics.

The full essay is at "American Religion and Politics."

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Externalities Management in Business: Heliogen’s Breakthrough in Combatting Climate Change

A company’s values and norms can resonate to some extent with their societal counterparts by the company providing goods and services of value to customers resulting in a reduction of their suffering or increase in their happiness. Providing a net-value (the value to the customer less the price) to people can resonate with societal values and norms that esteem happiness and frown on suffering from want. Indeed, a utilitarian ethic can apply to the provision of as much value as possible in the form of goods and services that reduce the suffering or increase the happiness of as many people as possible. Legitimate wealth can “result from having provided a significant amount of value to a significant number of people.”[1] Even fortunes, according to this ethic, are justified by the provision of “a very unusual form of value to a very unusual number of people.”[2] Utilitarianism is popularly known from the expression, the greatest good to the greatest number (i.e., of people). Of course, an ethic justifies what should be, whereas the extent to which a company’s values and norms approach those of society is a descriptive matter. Describing the degree of fit is not to say that a company’s values and norms should (i.e., normatively) have that degree of fit, or even more. Ethical reasoning would be needed to supply the normative contention; such reasoning involves argumentation that the extant societal values and norms should be held generally speaking and specifically by companies. The fact that the values and norms of many German companies in the NAZI era resonated with societal values and norms is not to say that the managements should have sought to fit organizational values and norms with NAZI values and norms. The field of business & society, which is oriented to the degree of fit that exists descriptively between a company (or the business sector) and a society (or internationally-held values and norms), is thus distinct from business ethics, which is oriented to providing ethical justification for what managers and companies should do. With regard to the former field, companies can orient themselves even closer to societal values and norms than by providing value to customers and even taking other stakeholder interests into account by being primarily oriented to taking on a serious societal or global problem. In terms of business ethics, such an orientation can be said to be one that a company should have because an unusual number of people (even beyond customers and other stakeholders) could receive an unusual amount of value. Climate-change is such a problem, and Heliogen’s breakthrough exemplifies such an extraordinary mission.

1. Rod Burylo, The Wealthy Buddhist: Buddhist Ethics, Right Livelihood, and the Value of Money (Nepean, Canada: The Sumeru Press, 2018).
2. Ibid.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Will Breakthroughs Save the Planet?

The dire predictions concerning the probable impact of climate change on ecosystems, ocean-levels, and food-production, as well as on our species itself have understandably been made without taking into account the countervailing impact of technology yet to be invented. Instead, the focus has been on governmental, rather than business, efforts aimed at reducing carbon emissions. This too is understandable, as companies have consistently been oriented to their own profits rather than reducing externalized costs, such as pollution. This focus has left the element of technological innovation or invention out of the equation. Moreover, because it is not possible to predict whether our species will have invented technology in time for it to counter the predicted impacts of climate change, relying on such technology so as to obviate the need to act so as to limit or reduce carbon emissions would be foolish and reckless. Put another way, it was irresponsible as of 2020 at least to say that government restrictions on carbon emissions were not necessary because technology will be invented that will substantially reduce emissions or even remove the excess carbon from the atmosphere. This does not mean that such inventions will not be made in time to make a significant positive impact. It is indeed possible, moreover, that our species, homo sapiens, will be saved by its own knowledge after all, even though we do not seem capable of regulating the innate desire for instant gratification even if the species’ survival lies in the balance. An invention by Heliogen in 2019 was such a breakthrough that it was arguably the first invention capable of giving people such hope. That is, the step-forward represented by the invention was such that people at the time could hope that the most noxious future impacts of climate change might not be inevitable.

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Bolivia's President Morales: A De-Facto Dictator Undemocratically Removed from Office

Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, resigned on November 10, 2019 after an audit by the Organization of American States found that the results of the election held the previous month could not be validated because of “serious irregularities,” including “failures in the chain of custody for ballots, alteration and forgery of electoral material, redirection of data to unauthorized servers and data manipulation.”[1] Election officials had stopped the count for about 24 hours without explanation; when the count resumed, Morales’ lead was much greater. Accordingly, along with Morales, the vice president, and the president of the state senate, the president and vice president of the electoral council resigned. Before the end of the day, the two officials of the council had been arrested for “electoral crimes.”[2] Although the state police were justified in arresting the officials, I submit that the police acted beyond their proper sphere when they joined with the military, which also acted beyond its sphere, to force Morales to resign.

[1] Kay Guerrero and Dakin Andone, “Bolivian President Evo Morales Steps Down Following Accusations of Election Fraud,” CNN.com, November 10, 2019 (accessed on November 12, 2019).
[2] Ibid.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Financial Scandal in the Vatican: A Historical Perspective on Christian Economic Ethics

In the history of Christian economic thought, theologians, with the exception of Clement of Alexandria, interpreted the biblical story of the rich man who refuses to part with his wealth in order to follow Jesus as meaning that having wealth is itself indicative of the presence of the underlying sin of greed. The dominance of this anti-wealth paradigm only began to give way during the Commercial Revolution in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, when the expansion of trading made it possible for ordinary people to save, and thus hold wealth without any sense of an underlying sin. Hence, Aquinas differed from Aristotle in allowing for moderate profit without the assumption of any underlying greed. In the Renaissance, theologians generally agreed that the Christian virtues of liberality and munificence could justify even being rich. Even Cosimo de Medici, who made his fortune from the sin of usury (i.e., interest on loans), gained the approval of the Pope in Rome by donating a fraction of the fortune to the Church. Under the dominance of the pro-wealth paradigm, Christians could be wealthy without being assumed to be greedy.[1] As for the Church itself being able to hold wealth, the collective wealth, gained from donations and selling goods, of monasteries in the Middle Ages was the door-opener. It was not as if a greedy individual could be said to exist if a religious organization owned the wealth. Aquinas approved of such wealth, a stance that, with his approval of moderate profit earned (and held as wealth) by individual Christians, began the shift that would result in the hegemony of the pro-wealth paradigm.[2] Unlike individual Christians holding coin without being presumed greedy, monasteries owning substantial wealth could be subject to a critique based on Jesus’ objection to money-changers in the Temple. When I visited a convent in Tucson, Arizona once, a sister rebuffed my request to pick a couple of oranges from the trees behind the building. “We make juice that we sell,” she replied. I had the impression that I had witnessed greed over charity in a religious vocation. Such hypocrisy, enabled by the allowance for collective monastic wealth, rivals Pope Eugene IV’s absolution of Cosimo de Medici, in spite of his fortune having been gained entirely from usury, because he renovated a monastery in Florence. This historical background can help us situate the Vatican’s financial scandal that culminated in five Vatican officials being suspended in 2019.

The full essay is at "Financial Scandal in the Vatican."

1. Skip WordenGod’s Gold: Beneath the Shifting Sands of Christian Thought on Profit-seeking and Wealth, available at Amazon. The related academic treatise, Godliness and Greed, is also available at Amazon.
2. Ibid.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Perception-Based Healthy Reputational Capital as a Strategic Competitive Advantage: The Case of CVS Health

In 2014, CVS drug-stores stopped selling tobacco products. The strategic choice rendered CVS Health more internally consistent on wellness. To be sure, the company continued to sell alcohol products, such as wine and hard liquor, which are harmful to human health. Yet the incremental correction was significant both in regard to the short-term hits to the bottom-line and the salubrious contribution to the health of customers. If the share of revenue (and profit) from the sale of alcohol increased in the meantime to make up the difference, the net effect on the bottom-line could have been zero or even positive, and the net impact on the health of customers and the company’s healthy image could also have been nugatory or even negative. Writing in 2019, however, Larry Merlo, President and CEO of CVS Health, saw a perfect convergence of the long-term bottom-line and making a contribution to society even at the expense of short-term revenue.

The full essay is at "Perception-Based Healthy Reputational Capital."

Thursday, November 7, 2019

China's Population: Demographic Imbalances and the Climate Emergency

In his treatise on Understanding, David Hume posits that we don’t know as much about causation as we think we do. Often times, positive correlation (i.e., two or more things present at the same time) is confused with causation (i.e., one thing causing another). That umbrellas tend to be out when it is raining does not mean that umbrellas cause rain (or that rain causes umbrellas). Rain and umbrellas have their own distinct causes, which Hume would say we don’t understand as well as we think we do. It is very difficult, for example, to determine whether climate change caused by methane and CO2 emissions caused October 2019 to the hottest October globally on record; more data-points covering long stretches of time are needed to distinguish even a few outliers from being part of a broader trend. By October of 2019, not only had scientists obtained and analyzed enough samples over a long enough time-frame to be confident (99%) that climate change had been occurring due to human carbon emissions. Not since roughly 60 million years ago had the carbon parts per million in the atmosphere stood at 410 ppm. In having to repeatedly accelerate their forecasts regarding the various impacts, such as sea-level rise due to melting ice (on land, such as Greenland), scientists had demonstrated that our understanding of the causation on the various impacts was still far from perfect. Even so, 11,000 scientists knew enough by November 2019 to declare unequivocally that humanity was facing a climate-change emergency. That is to say, drastic changes in terms of carbon emissions (e.g., energy sources, lifestyles) would have to be quickly made to avoid the worst-case scenario (e.g., mass food shortages, mass migrations from coastal areas and the loss of cities, and disease). This scenario is in line with Mathias’ theory of population ecology wherein a population of a species increasing without reaching an equilibrium maximum faces an increased risk of war, disease, or starvation. Once a species’ population pierces the semi-permeable constraints of the wider ecosystem (i.e., natural environment), Nature has its own ways of arresting the schizogenic growth of a species if it fails to limit its increase. During the twentieth century, the global increase of our species’ population was expediential, going from 1.6 to 6.1 billion. Sadly, even many policy-makers were oblivious to the fact that such a huge change must surely have consequences, at least some day. China’s one-child policy was an exception, making the relatively unconstrained population growths in India and Africa more noticeable as potentially problematic. Why did China need its policy while India, also with a population of over a billion, did not? In fact, the growth mantra generally subscribed to by countries across the globe acted as an incentive to make matters worse! Even a population with a low birth rate was generally taken as a problem. The negative impacts on a labor force and economic growth more broadly gave governments an incentive to increase birth-rates and thus populations (even though immigration served as an alternative). I want to look further into the case of China as a means of assessing how seriously the world was taking the climate emergency.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Democracy Held Captive by Claims of Racism: The Case of a Street Name in Kansas City, Missouri

Claims of systemic racism can also be attacks on democracy itself. In fact, if overdone, such claims may themselves be racist. The situation would then be that of racists holding democracy ransom in the mistaken belief that the whole must be consistent with the interests of one of its parts to be legitimate; otherwise, the democratic principle of majority rule is itself presumed to be invalid. The case of the change of a street's name in Kansas City, Missouri, can serve as a case study.

The full essay is at "Democracy as a Mechanism of Racism?"

Monday, November 4, 2019

Goldman Sachs' Revolving Door: Regulatory Capture

In July 2012, Andrew Williams, a former spokesman for U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, announced plans to head over to Goldman Sachs at the end of that month.[1] Williams was the second of the Secretary’s spokesmen to head to theWall Street bank. Such moves may reflect a standing policy at the bank to have a revolving door. The previous U.S. Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, had been the CEO at Goldman. This suggests that the revolving door was to include populating high offices in government, presumably not out of a sense of civic duty, but, rather, to see that Goldman's interests would be protected and even promoted through public policy. Hence President Obama was said to have had a Wall Street government with respect to positions bearing on Wall Street. I submit that deconstructing such a revolving door would be very difficult. 

The full essay is at "Goldman Sachs' Revolving Door."

1. Bonnie Kavoussi, “Andrew Williams, Ex-Treasury Spokesman,Headed to Goldman Sachs,” The Huffington Post, July 12, 2012. 

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 outset 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.

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.