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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Bankers or the Bank: Which Is Responsible?

Along with paying $2.6 billion to settle criminal and civil charges for having “failed, and failed miserably” to notify the SEC of warning signs that could have short-circuited Bernie Madoff’s $17 billion Ponzi operation, J.P. Morgan Chase only had to acknowledge that its actions were improper.[1] No criminal prosecution ensued. The electronic evidence against Madoff's operation was too damning for JP Morgan Chase to have missed it. Indeed, according to USA Today, “JPMorgan had suspicions about Madoff’s operation as early as December 1998, when a bank fund manager warned the investment returns were ‘possibly too good to be true.’”[2] Without submitting any “suspicious activity reports” to the U.S. Government as required by law, the bank had pulled $275 million of its own “feeder funds” from Madoff’s fund two months before Madoff’s financial services firm collapsed.[3] In other words, the bankers connected the dots well enough for the bank's financial interest and perhaps even their own, yet strangely  enough no one at the bank could manage to let the outside world  know, even though federal law mandated reporting the suspicions to the SEC.  and responsibility urged it.

The full essay is at "Bankers or the Bank: Which is responsible?"

J.P. Morgan hitting a man. Was he demonstrating that criminal law applies to human beings rather than to organizations themselves?  Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

1. This was according to Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.Tim Mullaney and Kevin McCoy, “JPMorgan to Pay $2.6 billion in Madoff Case Settlements,” USA Today, January 8, 2014.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Corporate Political-Campaign Contributions as Decisive in Anti-Trust Enforcement

On August 31, 2011, “the [U.S.] Justice Department sued to block AT&T’s $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile USA, a merger that would create the nation’s largest mobile carrier. 'We believe the combination of AT&T and T-Mobile would result in tens of millions of consumers all across the United States facing higher prices, fewer choices and lower-quality products for their mobile wireless services,' said James M. Cole, the deputy attorney general.”[1] The New York Times claimed at the time that it was “arguably the most forceful antitrust move” by the Obama administration.[2] To be sure, there were “few blockbuster mergers with the potential to reshape entire industries and affect large swaths of consumers.”[3] However, one could cite the UAL merger with Continental and Comcast’s acquisition of NBC as accomplished mergers. It is more likely that the housing-induced recession made the administration reluctant to risk a major company looking for buyer going bankrupt. I would not be surprised if the vested interests of major mergers and acquisitions “played the bankruptcy card” as leverage with the Justice Department. Moreover, the political power of mega-corporations in the U.S. can be expected to have come into play.

The full essay is at "The Role of Corporate Political Contributions on Anti-Trust Enforcement."

1. Ben Protess and Michael J. De La Merced, “The Antitrust Battle Ahead,” New York Times, August 31, 2011. 
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.

U.S. President Trump’s Spending on a Border Wall: Federalism at Risk?

U.S. President Trump announced in February of 2019 that he would fully fund a wall on the U.S.’s southern border. He would first use the $1.375 granted by Congress to be followed by  $600 million from a Treasury Department asset-foreclosure fund for law enforcement, $2.5 billion from a military anti-drug account, and $3.6 billion in military construction funds.[1] The president’s rationale hinged on his declaration of a national emergency due to illegal immigration, drug-traffic, and crime/gangs—all having been coming across the border on a regular basis. In federal court, sixteen of the U.S.’s member-states challenged the president’s declaration and use of funds. The U.S. president’s legal authority to declare national emergencies was pitted against the authority of the U.S. House of Representatives to be the initiator of federal spending legislation. The House therefore had standing to sue. The question of the states’ legal standing is another matter. It is particularly interesting because it involved not only whether a given state would be harmed by the wall or even the president’s use of other funding sources that could otherwise be used for other projects in the states not directly affected by the wall, but also because federalism itself could be negatively affected in a way that harms all of the states.

1. Charlie Savage and Robert Pear, “States’ Lawsuit Aims to Thwart Emergency Bid,” The New York Times, February 19, 2019.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Anne Frank Remembered

While studying at Yale, I took a seminar on documentaries following two other, more pertinent film courses on narrative itself. I even took a preaching seminar on story-telling. The documentary choice was off my trajectory. The opportunity cost was large, considering that I was otherwise taking courses in Yale’s better-reputed humanities fields of philosophy of religion, theology, and history. Now perhaps my excursion into the documentary genre can bear some fruit, for I analyze here the documentary, Anne Frank Remembered (1995). The strength of this documentary I take to be its reliance on witnesses even at the expense of narration to tell the story. People could say with definiteness what had happened to Anne Frank since she and her sister and parents left Amsterdam. Their journey evinced the mentality of the Nazis as one not just as dehumanizing the Jews, but as treating them worse than livestock. Even when Nazi Germany was losing the war, the Nazis foreswore the use-value of the Jews starved or gassed.

The full essay is at "Anne Frank Remembered."

Jesus' Teaching on Love beyond Morality in Human Relations: The film "Forsaken" Falls Short

In an interview on the film, Forsaken (2015), Kiefer Sutherland remarks that the film is black and white in terms of the bad and the good guys. In other words, the film is a classic western. James McCurdy wears the “black” hat, while Rev. Samuel Clayton, played by Donald Sutherland, wears the “white” one (even though his clergy-wear is entirely black).  However, Samuel is hardly very nice, or forgiving, to his son at first. 

On the other side of the dichotomy, Brian Cox, who played McCurdy, said in an interview that his character has the virtue of business sense in that the man buys up area farms, albeit by ruthless means, because he anticipates that the anticipated railroad would drive up land prices. Nevertheless, that McCurdy is willing to take the risk does not justify killing farmers who refuse to be bought out. Michael Wincott, who played Dave Turner—McCurdy’s hired hand, said in an interview that he didn’t see McCurdy as at all grey; rather, his own character and John Henry Clayton, the reverend’s son, are grey in that both try to resist killing; they both know better and attempt to resist the temptation. Even such nuances from the traditional “black and white” western do not go far enough in describing the de facto religious complexity in John Henry. In fact, the screenwriters did not go far enough to capture a truly Christian response to even one’s enemies. Hence I submit that the film gives a superficial gloss that belies just how far a Christian much go to follow the teachings of Jesus.

The full essay is at "Forsaken."