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Thursday, December 18, 2014

The E.U. Shifts the Debate: Re-labeling Hamas and Palestine

Framing the contours of a debate goes a long way toward winning it. Part of such framing involves efforts to make derogatory labels stick to the opposing side. Through a number of decades in the twentieth century, communist was the weapon of choice. Actors who refused to name names found themselves blacklisted as pro-communist, or having communist sympathies. A decade after the fall of the U.S.S.R., labeling an organization or person as a terrorist came into its own as the all-too-easy means of depriving an opposing side of credibility. By 2015, some people believed that anytime a person of a particular Middle-Eastern religion kills someone, that person is a terrorist. The word’s very definition was somehow pliable enough to accommodate prejudice and simple dislike. This is not to say that real terrorists are squalid creatures; rather, my point is that people had realized that they could score political points by applying the label to their opponents and making it stick. Israel, for instance, had successfully gotten the E.U. to label the Palestinian political party Hamas as a terrorist organization. Yet as 2014 was coming to an end, the label was becoming unstuck, with broader implications for the wider debate on Israel and Palestine.


The full essay is at “E.U. Shifts Debate.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Backing a Bear into a Corner: Falling Oil Prices Hit Russia Hard

Falling oil prices and economic sanctions in 2014 put the pressure on the Russian economy and its currency. The overall question may have been geo-political, however. Namely, would the twenty-first century see economic tools replace military response as the dominant means to “walk back” international aggressor states and restrict their further exploits? Such a question may be too broad, as even a newly-discovered devise that suddenly works is not likely to be applicable in every case. Even so, obviating war in the nuclear age would be no small feat.

The full essay is at “Falling Oil Prices Hit Russia Hard” 

Monday, December 15, 2014

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.” 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Pentecostal Pastor Fights the Enemy in Ukraine

Is religion so pliable that it can be contorted against itself “with a straight face?” That is to say, does the human mind lack the machinery necessary to recognize contradiction in religious matters?  I submit that the answer is yes. This is not necessarily to be “anti-religion;” rather, the implication is that acting from a religious motive ought not to be done without critical self-examination and care. The case of a Christian minister fighting in the Ukrainian army provides a useful case study of the vulnerability.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advise and Consent: Does Politics Have a Limit?

A film that centers on the U.S. Senate’s role in confirming executive nominations made by the president, Advise and Consent (1962) is arguably about whether moral limits pertain to power.  Put another way, should we expect no-hold barred efforts to manipulate others in the political arena? Personal lives and personal pasts being fair game?  Moreover, is the aim power for its own sake, or the manipulation of others for the sake of a public policy and ultimately the good of the country?

The full essay is at “Advise and Consent” 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Wall Street Writing Its Own Laws on Risky Derivative Trading

In just four years, Wall Street got away with weakening a part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which became law in 2010 to protect the financial system from the excesses that led to the financial crisis in 2008. Wall Street bankers and their lobbyists accomplished their feat by luring members of Congress into a formidable conflict of interest, which I submit could have been obviated.

The full essay is at "Wall Street Writing Its Own Laws"

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hometown Medical-Office Employees: Human Nature Warping Rational Nature

Plato claims that a psyche well-ordered by reason is just. To the extent that the passions, such as anger and the urge to dominate, are infused in human reasoning, a just order is not possible for members of our species. In dealing with healthcare workers in my hometown, I found what Plato would label as injustice. In fact, reasoning from that case led me to wonder whether justice is even possible.



Monday, December 8, 2014

Private Interests Over the Public Good: Energy Companies Capture an Attorney General

In Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith argues that the aggregation of the preferences of consumers and producers for a given good is in the public interest for the product or service. Often overlooked is Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, in which the famous economist wraps a moral sentiment around the individual preferences, hence hopefully constraining them, albeit voluntarily. Herein lies the rub, for it is shaky to assume that a preference that seeks to maximize itself will voluntarily restrain itself when it rubs up against an ethical limit that is felt. Such a moral constraint is like a semi-permeable membrane in that the sentiment naturally triggered when a person comes on an unethical situation or person can be ignored or acted on.


The full essay is at “Private Interests Over the Public Good.” 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Beyond the Reach of Any Greenhouse-Gas Agreement: Nature’s Contribution

With China and the U.S. coming to an agreement in 2014 on limiting their respective greenhouse-gas emissions, the Peru talks suddenly gained new momentum toward a deal on a global scale. To be sure, even the U.S.-China agreement would not kick in for years, if not decades, and a global agreement would not even take effect until 2020 at the earliest. This drawback may pale in comparison to one of nature’s own contributions to greenhouse-gas emissions, and nature itself cannot agree to voluntarily restrict its own output. Accordingly, we should not assume that a global agreement will save the day, rendering the planet still inhabitable for humans in the next century.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Cheaper Driving on an Uninhabitable Planet

By the end of November 2014, the price of oil had declined about 40 percent since its peak back in the previous June.[1] Expanding American fracking, a steady supply of oil from OPEC, and a weak global economy are the major factors behind the trend. Saving $630 million on gas as compared with what they had been paying in June, American drivers found themselves with more disposable income.[2]  Besides uses such as Christmas presents, groceries, and clothing, more consumers were buying SUVs and Hummers in spite of their low gas mileages. William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, pointed to the benefits, saying “falling energy prices are beneficial for our economy and should be a strong spur to consumer spending.”[3] With OPEC countries and Russia hit disproportionately, the U.S. Government had a geo-strategic interest in a further drop in the price of oil. It is no wonder that a major disconnect existed between these benefits and a startling, albeit largely hidden downside.

The full essay is at “Uninhabitable





[1] Steven Mufson, “As Oil Prices Plunge, Wide-Ranging Effects for Consumers and the Global Economy,” The Washington Post,  December 1. 2014.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hardness of Heart vs.Unethical Conduct: Which Is Less Christian?

Monsignor, a film made in 1982—in the midst of a very pro-business administration in Washington, D.C.—depicts a Vatican steeped in matters of finance centering around a priest whose degree in finance makes him a prime candidate to be groomed for the Curia. That cleric, Father John Flaherty, helps the Vatican operating budget during World War II by involving the Holy See in the black market through a mafia. In the meantime, he sleeps with a woman who is preparing to be a nun and subsequently keeps from her the matter of his religious vocation. The twist is not that Flaherty is a deeply flawed priest, or that the Vatican he serves is vulnerable to corruption inside, but that those clerics who mercilessly go after him are devoid of the sort of compassion that their savior preaches.

The full essay is at "Monsignor

Friday, November 28, 2014

Wales Compromising Scotland: Should Britain Keep Its Promise?

A few months after residents in the Scottish region of the E.U. state of Britain voted not to secede from the state by a margin of 55 to 45 percent, a state commission announced proposals for the regional assembly to have more authority. David Cameron had promised on behalf of the state government that the Scottish region would be given more power provided the residents reject secession. To be sure, replying on such a promise in political matters is hazardous at best, as changing political winds can easily erode such sand castles. At the very least, political players with their own agendas can succeed in obfuscating the understood validity of such a promise.


The full essay is at “Wales Compromising Scotland

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Political Theater Undermining American Democracy

To be viable, a representative democracy needs a virtuous and educated citizenry. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams agreed on this point in their exchange of letters in retirement. Their assumption was that an electorate would be able to apply judgment informed by virtue and a broad knowledge to not only matters of public policy, but also the candidates and incumbent office-holders themselves. To the extent that the people in power use it to present a false image, the judgment by the popular sovereign is unavoidably marred. The democratic system itself falters even if it is being portrayed as strong by those at its helm. I contend that the extent of political theater being orchestrated by U.S. office-holders compromises the democratic legitimacy of public power at the federal level.

The full essay is at “Political Theater

Monday, November 24, 2014

Banks Too Big To Jail: A Systemic Conflict of Interest

When a blatant conflict of interest is ensconced in a regulatory system, the public can expect to be insufficiently protected from being harmed. Such a people is probably too tolerant of such conflicts, or else too weak to effectively counter the concentrated power of the vested interests benefitting from the sordid design. I submit that the relationship between U.S. banks and the Federal Reserve is plagued by a clear conflict of interest, and furthermore that the refusal of the Fed and the U.S. Justice Department to go after fraud committed at the big banks is a direct result.


The full essay is at “Banks Too Big to Jail

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Heaven Is For Real: Applying Kierkegaard to a Film

In Heaven Is For Real (2014), a film based on Todd Burpo’s best-selling non-fiction book of the same title, the evangelical Christian minister becomes convinced that his son, Colton, actually visited heaven while in surgery. Todd cannot make his faith-held belief intelligible to even his wife, Sonja. She misunderstands her husband and questions his obsession and even his sanity until Colton tells her something about heaven that applies to her uniquely. Then both parents are uniquely related in an absolute way through faith to the absolute—to the absurd, in Kierkegaard’s parlance. How Todd deals with his realization can be unpacked by applying the work of the nineteenth-century European philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard.


The full essay is at “Heaven Is For Real