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Russia’s Putin beyond Constitutional Government: The Case of Aleksei Navalny

With a judge handing down a five-year suspended prison sentence, a fine of 500,000 rubles (about $8,400), and a ban on participating in the upcoming presidential election in 2017, Aleksei Navalny could feel just how power can be wielded by high government officials, including even presidents—power ultimately backed up by stern men with guns with the legal right to use lethal force. This, I submit, is what government comes down to—it’s bottom line.
The true look of a government’s power. (Sergei Brovko/Reuters)

The full essay is at “Russia’s Putin beyond Constitutional Government.”

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Power beyond the Constraints of Federalism: The Case of Gambia’s 2016 Presidential Election

Even though Adama Barrow defeated the longtime president of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, in the state’s presidential election in December, 2016, Barrow was rushed to the state of Senegal for security reasons when Jammeh refused to relinquish the power of the presidency. Jammeh had led a successful coup in coming to power in 1994. So it is no surprise that days after accepting the election result, he “changed his mind, declared the election results invalid and vowed to use the power of his military to stay in charge.”[1]This attests to the allure of power and how difficult it is to give up. In the E.U. and U.S., the protocols and institutional procedures are so well established that the nature of power is eclipsed from view as one political party assumes power previously held by another party. The reality of power as it lives in human nature is much more raw in the case of Gambia’s transition of presidents in 2016. I submit that federalism at the empire level was too lax to bracket the true nature of power at the state level.


The full essay is at “Gambia’s 2016 Presidential Election.”

Gambia’s new president, Adama Barrow, returning to the state after the previous president agreed to leave office. (Jerome Delay/AP)


[1] Jaime Y. Barry and Dionne Searcey, “His Predecessor Gone, Gambia’s New President Finally Comes Home,” The New York Times, January 26, 2017.

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Behind Brexit: State Sovereignty, Not Markets

Lest it be thought that trade—indeed, economics—was the foremost consideration in the British decision to secede from the E.U., the state’s prime minister tasked with implementing the secession made it clear that the political union had been the prime antagonist from the British standpoint. In American terms, such a position has been labeled as anti-federalist and even “states’ rights.” Economic considerations are not primary; rather, federalism is front and center—in particular, where power should be lodged. This ought not to strike fear into British business practitioners.


The full essay is at “Behind Brexit.”

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Behind Brexit: State Sovereignty, Not Markets

Lest it be thought that trade—indeed, economics—was the foremost consideration in the British decision to secede from the E.U., the state’s prime minister tasked with implementing the secession made it clear that the political union had been the prime antagonist from the British standpoint. In American terms, such a position has been labeled as anti-federalist and even “states’ rights.” Economic considerations are not primary; rather, federalism is front and center—in particular, where power should be lodged. This ought not to strike fear into British business practitioners.


The full essay is at “Behind Brexit.”

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Christian Leadership in Pope Francis’s Naming of Cardinals

In naming 17 new cardinals in October, 2016, Pope Francis moved closer to putting his stamp on the sort of cleric who would follow him as pontiff. Similar to a U.S. president’s power to nominate justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, a pope’s power to appoint cardinals who presumably can vote in the next concave is decisive in terms of leaving a legacy. With the additional cardinals, Francis had appointed 40 percent of the cardinals who could vote in the next conclave. The fact that cardinals tend to be old suggests, however, that any lasting legacy would not be long lasting. I submit that the cardinals’ typical age and even other qualities suggest that the rubric a pope uses in selecting clerics for the red hat says a lot about how the pope approaches Christianity. 


The full essay is at “Christian Leadership.”

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Exposing Bottom-Feeder Management: Business Schools to the Rescue?

I submit that the management being taught at American business schools does not take into account just how bad some managements actually are. Although I suspect that most of them are at the lower-levels of management, bottom-feeders can achieve some height, organizationally speaking. I don’t believe business-school faculties know just how bad “bottom-feeder” management actually is, or at the very least such management is tolerated rather than triggering a wholesale renovation of the managerial skills being taught. My aim here is to spark efforts to extend managerial science to proffer tactics oriented to correcting even the worst cases. In short, managerial science needs to reach a certain sordid managerial mentality in order to expunge it from even those businesses.

The full essay is at “Exposing Bottom-Feeder Management.”

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Politics over Finance at the Vatican: The Status Quo Vanquishes a Reformer

Late in 2015, Cardinal Pell hired PricewaterhouseCoupers to conduct a comprehensive audit of the Vatican’s finances. Beforehand, he had hired McKinsey to do a review of assets; that company found a total of €1.4 billion (about $1.6 billion) “tucked away” off the books.[1] Other church officials, led by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, let Pell know that the audit wouldn’t happen. This was a setback for the financial overhaul that Pope Francis had charged Pell with wide authority to do a thorough job. That pope had been given the mandate to clean up the Curia, as the last pope had resigned amid allegations of “cronyism, inefficiency and corruption.”[2] So why did Pope Francis take Parolin’s side in scrapping any audit even though that pope had given Pell the o.k. to have it done?

The full essay is at “Politics over Finance at the Vatican.”


[1] Francis Rocca, “Vatican Finance Chief Runs into Resistance,” The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2016.
[2] Ibid.

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The Big Short and Concussion: A System on Steroids

Want a glimpse of the “powers that be,” American-style? Three films–“The Big Short,” “Concussion,” and “Spotlight”–together form a perfect storm that in theory could trigger resistance. More practically speaking, the films are likely to result in mor… . . . → Read More: The Big Short and Concussion: A System on Steroids

The Big Short and Concussion: A System on Steroids

Want a glimpse of the “powers that be,” American-style? Three films–“The Big Short,” “Concussion,” and “Spotlight”–together form a perfect storm that in theory could trigger resistance. More practically speaking, the films are likely to result in mor… . . . → Read More: The Big Short and Concussion: A System on Steroids

Business Implications of Power in Mergers: The Case of the New United Airlines

Ideally, a merger combines the best features of one company with those of another company such that the whole is of greater value than the sum of the two parts. Optimal combination as such may imply or at least depend on a rough power-balance between the two adjoining companies, for otherwise distended dominance could translate into the worst of one company (i.e., the dominate one) being foisted onto the merged entity. The opportunity cost, or benefit lost in going with the worst of the dominant company, could be measured by the extent to which the same function in the other company is better than that of the dominant company. Put another way, it would make no sense to go into a merger planning to let each company continue to do what it does worse than the other. Sadly, power can eclipse economic criteria even in a company. The merger of Continental Airlines and United Airlines provides a case in point.



United’s “Love in the Air” promotion highlighting couples who met in the air. The case of the winning couple pictured here just happens to involve an “upgrade.” The love in the air does not refer here to the employees on board or at the gate, even though the impression intended may be that flying United is a loving experience. (United Airlines)

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Business Implications of Power in Mergers: The Case of the New United Airlines

Ideally, a merger combines the best features of one company with those of another company such that the whole is of greater value than the sum of the two parts. Optimal combination as such may imply or at least depend on a rough power-balance between the two adjoining companies, for otherwise distended dominance could translate into the worst of one company (i.e., the dominate one) being foisted onto the merged entity. The opportunity cost, or benefit lost in going with the worst of the dominant company, could be measured by the extent to which the same function in the other company is better than that of the dominant company. Put another way, it would make no sense to go into a merger planning to let each company continue to do what it does worse than the other. Sadly, power can eclipse economic criteria even in a company. The merger of Continental Airlines and United Airlines provides a case in point.



United’s “Love in the Air” promotion highlighting couples who met in the air. The case of the winning couple pictured here just happens to involve an “upgrade.” The love in the air does not refer here to the employees on board or at the gate, even though the impression intended may be that flying United is a loving experience. (United Airlines)

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Business Implications of Power in Mergers: The Case of the New United Airlines

Ideally, a merger combines the best features of one company with those of another company such that the whole is of greater value than the sum of the two parts. Optimal combination as such may imply or at least depend on a rough power-balance between the two adjoining companies, for otherwise distended dominance could translate into the worst of one company (i.e., the dominate one) being foisted onto the merged entity. The opportunity cost, or benefit lost in going with the worst of the dominant company, could be measured by the extent to which the same function in the other company is better than that of the dominant company. Put another way, it would make no sense to go into a merger planning to let each company continue to do what it does worse than the other. Sadly, power can eclipse economic criteria even in a company. The merger of Continental Airlines and United Airlines provides a case in point.



United’s “Love in the Air” promotion highlighting couples who met in the air. The case of the winning couple pictured here just happens to involve an “upgrade.” The love in the air does not refer here to the employees on board or at the gate, even though the impression intended may be that flying United is a loving experience. (United Airlines)

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Bank of America Board Ignores a Binding Resolution: Fiduciaries Seizing Power from Shareholders

Corporate board directors have a fiduciary duty to act in the shareholders’ financial interest. What if a board’s directors think they know better that the stockholders as to their interest? In such a case, the directors would be acting like elected representatives who vote contrary to the wishes of their constituents for their own good. While valid from the standpoint of representative democracy, I’m not sure the principle has legitimacy in the corporate context, wherein property-rights are being represented. Simply put, an owner gets to decide how his or her wealth is used, within legal parameters of course. The case of Bank of America’s board may suggest that directors essentially work for their managements while being shamelessly dismissive of even binding directives from the stockholders as a group.


The complete essay is at “Corporate Governance at Bank of America.” 



The man of the hour. Brian Moynihan, Chair and CEO of Bank of America as of 2015. His power exceeded even that of the stockholders, whose concentrated wealth he managed. Lest it be maintained that a CEO with such power optimizes corporate earnings, consider that his predecessor, Ken Lewis, had the bank purchase Countrywide, whose fraudulent mortgages played a vital role in bringing about the financial crisis of 2008. Perhaps CEO/chair duality is of value simply in reducing a corporation’s systemic risk. Hence, Congress may legitimately intervene.(Simon Dawson/Getty Images)

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A Nietzschean Critique of the Modern Manager: An Alternative to Business Ethics

The functional managerial role in modern business is weak by Nietzsche’s standard. That is to say, a manager is of the vulgar rather than of noble strength. After highlighting Nietzsche’s project more generally, I discuss his notions of strength and weakness. I then delineate Nietzsche’s attitudes toward wealth, trade and modern industrial culture—the immediate context for his concept of the modern business manager. I argue that Nietzsche views this context as decadent. Within this framework, Nietzsche’s rendering of the primordial commercial relationship can be taken as his genealogy of the modern business manager. Finally, I describe the modern business manager as akin to the ascetic priest in being a herd animal desperately seeking to dominate the herd and, presumptuously, even the strong.   



The full essay is at “A Nietzschean Critique of the Modern Manager.”

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FIFA’s Corporate Sponsors: Reliable Ethical Change-Agents?

In the wake of the U.S. Justice Department’s initial arrests of FIFA officials in May 2015 on corruption charges, could the public reasonably expect FIFA’s corporate sponsors to pressure the international governing body of footfall (soccer in the U.S., where “football” is reserved for “subconcussions being inherent to a sport”)? If so, would the pressure be sufficient to rid the powerful international organization of its squalid officials and practices? I contend that these questions come down to how the power was divided at the time between the sponsors and the organization, rather than to the sponsors’ respective ethical positions or even how strongly the executives feel about ethics in business, including FIFA. 


The full essay is at “FIFA’s Corporate Sponsors.”

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The U.S. Senate Approves Fast-Track for Pacific Trade Deal: Overstating the General Will

The way the world works is not in itself reason enough to dismiss the possibility of an ideal being more fully realized, and to refuse to take practical steps to its realization. Horse-trading is a staple in politics. The expression “making sausage” is typically used to refer to political horse-trading because people generally do not know—nor do they want to know—how sausage gets made; and it is probably best that way, at least according to the politicians. I propose that we “get under the hood” anyway, because only then can we ask ourselves whether political horse-trading is overused; a better way may be possible and even practical under some conditions. 

The way in which the U.S. Senate passed “fast-track” status for the proposed Pacific trade agreement provides a useful case study.


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Beyond Facebook’s Impact on Political Polarization in the U.S.

Any time “scientists” at a company purport to have done a study involving said company in any way, the public has good reason to be suspicious of the reported conclusions. Were the folks running the company really intent on providing credible information, they would use independent scholars (i.e., not being compensated by the company). Such a management would want to obviate even the appearance of a conflict of interest—their desire to provide the public with an answer being so strong. So the management at Facebook may not have been very invested in providing the public an answer to the question: how much influence do users actually have over the content in their feeds? In May 2015, three “Facebook data scientists” published a peer-reviewed study in Science Magazineon how often Facebook users had been “exposed to political views different from their own.”[1]The “scientists” concluded that if users “mostly see news and updates from friends who support their own political ideology, it’s primarily because of their own choices—not the company’s algorithm.”[2]Academic scholars criticized the study’s methodology and cautioned that the risk of polarized “echo chambers” on Facebook was nonetheless significant.[3]I was in academia long enough to know that methodological criticism by more than one scholar is enough to put an empirical study’s findings in doubt. Nowadays, I am more oriented to the broader implications of the “echo-chamber” criticism.


The entire essay is at “Beyond Facebook’s Impact.”




[i]Alexander B. Howard, “Facebook Study Says Users Control What They See, But Critics Disagree,” The Huffington Post, May 12, 2015.

[ii]Ibid. I put the quotes around “scientists” to make the point that the conflict of interest renders the label itself controversial in being applied to the study’s investigators.

[iii]See, for example, Christian Sandvig, “The Facebook ‘It’s Not Our Fault’ Study,” Multicast, Harvard Law School Blogs, May 7, 2015.

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Police Power Exceeding the Capacity of the Human Brain: Some Countervailing Measures

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Lord Acton’s timeless statement is applicable to legal and illegal power alike, for each is subject to abuse. The victims are those whose wills are bent through either harm or the threat of injury. Put another way, the human brain may lack sufficient cognitive, emotional, and perceptual machinery to check the instinctual plus socialized power-aggrandizing urge. This vulnerability is particularly apparent in viewing video showing a police employee violently over-react in a situation that quite obviously should not have involved violence. Although anger doubtlessly plays a crucial role in the trigger that unleashes the police violence, the more subtle suspension of cognition and warping of perception is also in the mix.



The full essay is atPolice Power.” 

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Sen. Mitch McConnell Re-elected: A Washington Insider Sustained by the Establishment

The human brain is likely hard-wired to assume that tomorrow will be like today. This coping mechanism effectively narrows the window of our cognitive and perspectival range. The status quo not only endures; it is dominant, whereas reform must push hard to see the light of day. In politics, establishment interests, made wealthy in the status quo, bet their contributions on the political insiders—the establishment politicians who embrace the status quo. As a result, an electorate is manipulated and mislead by branding ads to the extent that it cannot be said that the real will of the people is done. The ensuing public policy is also not of that will; rather, legislation protects the vested interests in return for their contributions. A republic in the grip of this self-sustaining cycle can be said to suffer from a kind of hardening of the arteries. As times change, such a ship of state becomes increasingly unmoored from its people. Eventually, the ship sinks, after the pressure of incongruity has reached an unsustainable level. I contend that the 2014 U.S. Senate election in Kentucky between the Senate’s minority leader, Mitch McConnell, and his Democratic challenger, Alison Grimes, illustrates this political illness in action.

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The Continual Campaign Eclipses Governance in Congress: Fixing Obamacare

The sordid, all-consuming encroachments of electoral politics into governance in the U.S. Congress could all-too-easily ride the entrails of Obamacare’s hemorrhaging web-site. Amid this undercurrent of political calculus under the subterfuge of governance and the public good, the public’s faith that the aggregation of the “producers’” self-interests will maximize or satisfice the general welfare remained invisible to the naked eye.

Let’s take the “fix it” vote that occurred in the U.S. House on November 15, 2013. Thirty-nine Democrats voted for the Republican-sponsored bill giving health insurers the option to continue selling plans not meeting the minimum standards in the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). President Obama had said he would veto the bill because it “threatens the health security of hard working, middle class families.”[1]The sensationalistic conclusion reached by some journalists chastises the 39 Democrats for “breaking ranks” as if horses charging out of a barn billowing noxious smoke (fortunately those horses already had a solid health-insurance plan). Let’s not be so hasty in swallowing the media’s hay.

According to Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), only nine or so of the thirty-nine Democrats voting for the Republican bill had “real serious concerns” with the Affordable Care Act itself; the rest of the thirty-nine were “insulating themselves against sound bites.”[2]Many of the insulators considered themselves vulnerable to a Republican challenger in the next election and thus sought to deprive “the enemy” of an easy talking-point. Political self-preservation is a creed that no politician would recognize as a betrayal. “I don’t blame anyone for insulating themselves from these sound bites because that’s the world we live in, unfortunately,” Clyburn lamented.[3]I want to unpack this statement because I think “there’s gold under them there hills!”

Ridding a potential electoral opponent of as many baleful talking points as possible falls under the rubric of a political campaign rather than governance. So the thirty “defectors” motivated by reelection rather than policy were in the campaign mode while governing as legislators. Ultimately, refusing to stop skating on the ice in keep waving at spectators defeats the person’s own supposed goal to ice-fish—skating being a necessary means of reaching the hole and hut. In other words, the means becomes the end, while the original goal is tacitly dismissed like an unwanted step-child.

Burrowing still farther down, as though with a powerful 9-inch analytical drill-bit, I find traces of an stygian flow of hot, silent molten lava hitherto undetected (the smaller drills don’t cut it at this depth). What Clyburn takes as “the world we live in” may actually be better characterized as a faith, and an economic one at that! Rather than implying that economics undergirds all politics, I submit that a default assumption in politics borrows from an economic faith. Specifically, the faith preached by Adam Smith in 1776.

Adam Smith and his classic text.  Wikimedia Commons.

 

Smith conjectured that each producer oriented to his or her own enrichment contributes nonetheless to the common good via a competitive market. In other words, the greed of individuals aggregates into what is best for the whole. The faith lies in not merely this assumption, but also that no one is needed to steer the whole. Rather than having someone steer the economic car, its route is a result of each car-part functioning as designed. Think of Google’s driverless car. No intention or consciousness drives. Rather, where the car goes is a product of an aggregate of parts—each doing its job (with design here being a part’s self-interest). To take another analogy, imagine a ship like the Titanic with only a massive group of formidable rowers in the belly of metal. The ship’s path is a result of external forces and the aggregation of the rowers’ individual striving to be stronger than the other rowers. No one is on deck looking for icebergs. No one is supervising the rowers, and the rowers themselves cannot see outside. In the back of each rower’s mind is an assumption, a faith really, that the sum total of bronze effort will result in the best course for the ship.

In American political theory, the notion of ambition as a check on ambition is a well-known staple. The ambition here is in terms of power. I suspect that the American electorate tends to assume that the tussle of self-interests is over policy and thus has the effect of shedding it of bad ideas. However, to the extent that members of Congress working on a bill are reallythinking about how to get reelected, then the bill that emerges (i.e., where the ship goes) is a function of the aggregate of campaign strategies rather than governance. Faith is indeed needed here, for reason I fear cannot provide us with a viable link; what might be in a representative’s electoral self-interest is not necessarily conducive to public policy that optimizes the public good or welfare. Even aggregating all such self-interests does not, I strongly suspect, is not in the interest of the whole—the polity or society. Admittedly, I have not thought this last point out enough to safely rule out a rationale that links campaigning while governing to optimal legislation for the good of the whole. What do you think? Is it dangerous for the American people to be left in the dark regarding what really motivates Congressional lawmakers, or does legislation by sound-bites (or campaign strategy) not detract materially from “the sausage” that is produced?



1. Seung M. Kim and Jennifer Haberkorn, “With 39 Dems Behind It, House Passes Obamacare Fix,” Politico, November 15, 2013.

2. Ashley Alman, “Jim Clyburn Accuses House Dems of ‘Insulating Themselves Against Sound Bites,’” The Huffington Post, November 18, 2013.

3. Ibid.

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