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Saturday, May 25, 2019

Executive Compensation Tied to Firm Performance: A Critique

With robust economies in America boosting companies’ sales, corporate tax cuts, and an increase in stock buybacks lifting stock prices in 2018, the default mantra in executive compensation circles that high CEO pay is justified if it is tied to firm performance could be questioned. Similarly, the typical assumption that high pay would have to get higher for a CEO to be motivated to do the basics of the job, including overseeing mergers and acquisitions, (or that doing the basics warrants a raise) could be questioned. Particularly in 2018, the comfortable, self-serving ways of the business elite in the U.S. were ripe for critique.

An Institutional Conflict of Interest in Corporate Governance: The Case of Goldman Sachs

In September 2011, a pension fund representing U.S. government employees filed a shareholder proposal to strip Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein of his other post as chairman of the board. According to Reuters, “The pension plan of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees said on Wednesday an independent chairman would provide checks and balances in the power structure at the largest U.S. investment bank. AFSCME said splitting the roles of CEO and chairman might have prevented Goldman from getting into trouble for its actions leading up to the financial crisis and will improve its stock performance going forward. ‘A strong, independent Board chair would focus Goldman on generating long-term value for its shareholders,’ AFSCME President Gerald McEntee said in a statement.” Goldman spokesman Stephen Cohen responded, “We think we have a robust governance structure in place, with a very effective independent lead director. We always listen to our shareholders, so it is disappointing that AFSCME decided to go to the media before raising the issue with us.”[1]

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A Far-Right "States' Rights" Ideological Depiction of the European Union Critiqued

Roughly a month before the 2019 elections of the representatives in the E.U.’s Parliament, Matteo Salvini, the leader of an anti-immigrant party at the state level in the state of Italy, announced the formation of a far-right party—also anti-immigrant—at the federal level. Because far-right parties at the state level are dubbed “nationalist,” at least by The New York Times, that paper suggested at the time that such nationalist parties federalized can seem “incompatible with a transnational body.”[1] I submit that any such thought of even apparent incompatibility stems at least in part from a lack of understanding of the E.U. itself, as well as federalism and thus the place of states from the perspective of the federal system rather than a state. In short, the paper implicitly took the perspective of the states in writing about the upcoming election. The paradigm chosen by the paper reflects the far-right ideology in the E.U., and is thus not neutral. In fact, the slant is inherently helpful to the Euroskeptic and anti-immigration political agendas.

The full essay is at "A Euroskeptic Depiction of the E.U."

1. Megan Specia, “European Elections 2019: How the System Works and Why It Matters,” The New York Times, May 21, 2019.

Monday, May 20, 2019

NASA and Its Contractors: The Challenger Disaster

Roger Boisjoly was a booster rocket engineer at a NASA contractor, Morton Thiokol. Boisjoly blew the whistle both within the company and to NASA regarding the danger of the rubber in the o-rings, which seal the connections in the shuttle’s rockets, being insufficiently elastic in cold weather. Although The Challenger Disaster (2019) is not a documentary, the film’s narrative, which centers on Roger, or "Adam," is oriented to understanding why the Challenger space shuttle exploded after being launched on January 28, 1986. In other words, although some names are different and the conversations are not verbatim in the film, the factors that contributed to the actual explosion are presented. In fact, the film leans too much on technical details before the disaster and legal arguments afterwards without adequate entertaining elements to make the film enjoyable. However, the film's political function in informing a mass market of why part of the government-business system was broken is valuable. In fact, this mission demonstrates that the medium of motion pictures is capable of aiding in social, political, economic, and religious awareness and education, and thus development.

The full essay is at "The Challenger Disaster."

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Buddhist Mindfulness and the Self: Milton's Secret

On the surface, Milton's Secret (2016) is a story about a financially-stressed family getting a visit from grandpa, who brings something unusual with him (besides his tea). Because Donald Sutherland really liked the character,  he agreed to play Grandpa Howard. Grandpa has a secret, which he shares with his grandson, Milton. It fundamentally changes not only him, but also his parents. Howard brings Zen Buddhism and alchemy to his family.  That the fictional (narrative) film explains and relates the two and renders both so transparent for the audience says something about the potential of the medium itself to handle abstractions and relate them to life.

The full essay is at "Milton's Secret."