America’s Offshore Dilemma


Though boasting a significantly smaller population than countries such as China or India, the United States consumes more oil per year than any other country. In fact, according to the Energy Information Administration, the United States consumes roughly 7 billion barrels of oil annually, roughly 25% of all oil produced in the world. As such, our nation’s energy policy has been, and continues to be, almost entirely focused on oil production and importation. Continue reading

Fixing our Loan Problem


According to American Student Assistance, nearly 20 million Americans attend college annually and 60% of them borrow in order to cover costs. Though the level of need varies greatly, estimates indicate that there is somewhere between $902 billion and $1 trillion in total outstanding student loan debt in the United States today. Such statistics, as well as the many others out there, point to a very troubling and precarious situation for our nation. And what’s more, the figures continue to worsen each year with one of the most troubling statistics being that the number of college drop-outs is on the rise. In fact, nearly 30 percent of college students who took out loans dropped out of school, up from fewer than a quarter of students a decade ago (Source: Education Sector). Continue reading

Socializing the Sports World


First looking at this prompt, I knew that there were a lot of different directions in which I could take this blog. I debated looking at the role that social media played in the Obama-Romney election, but decided that I wanted to look into something that is even more current and still changing: social media in professional sports. Though not all that noticeable to some, social media has played an increasingly important role in the world of professional sports for both the franchises themselves and the fans. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a professional team that does not operate its own Facebook page and Twitter account and now the leagues are continuously adopting new ways to incorporate social media into its day-to-day operations. Continue reading

Attacking a Way of Life


After first hearing about this week’s blog assignment in class, my mind immediately jumped to thinking about a song that I had first heard in high school when studying the civil rights movement in the United States. The song, Only a Pawn in their Game by Bob Dylan, was written in the early 1960s shortly after the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Mississippi. To give a bit of background, Evers is best known as a Mississippi-born African American who served in the US Army during World War II and was later denied entry in to the University of Mississippi law school. After being rejected, Evers decided to focus his efforts to working with the NAACP to desegregate schools and he quickly became a chief officer for the campaign in Mississippi. On June 12, 1963, Evers was shot in his own driveway and was soon buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Most notably, Evers’ found murderer, Byron De La Beckwith, was tried and found ‘not guilty’ by Mississippi’s all-white juries, sparking many such as Bob Dylan to react in anger. Continue reading

Lacking Leadership


“It’s the greatest environmental disaster with no end in sight! Eleven workers dead. Millions of gallons of oil gushing for months to come. Jobs vanishing. Creatures dying. A pristine environment destroyed for generations. A mega-corporation that has lied and continues to lie, and a government that refuses to protect the people.” – activist group ‘Seize BP’ (June 5, 2010)

Deemed by president Obama as an ‘environmental 9/11,’ the immediate economic, political, and cultural effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil spill have been devastating. The full, lasting effects on the gulf’s environment, however, are less calculable and will likely remain so for many years to come. On the other hand, what was made very clear was general unpreparedness of not just BP, but also, more importantly, of the federal government. Given the unparalleled magnitude of the spill and the wide range of affected parties, it is clear that the Obama administration failed in its duty to properly respond to the accident in the most effective manner. As the primary executive of the United States, the president has the responsibility, as outlined in the Oil Pollution Act and National Response Framework, to assert himself  in disaster situations such as the one presented by the Deepwater Horizon spill. Though providing cleanup assistance, the administration deferred the majority of the response efforts to private parties when it should have taken a more active and forceful role from the start. Clearly failing to understand the true complexity of the issue, the Obama administration’s most significant response efforts came late in the process with its most noteworthy one, a drilling moratorium, coming more than a month after the explosion. Ultimately, taking a consequentialist perspective, Obama’s decision to enforce a six-month offshore drilling moratorium can arguably be considered unethical as its associated economic and opportunity costs outweigh the benefits achieved, especially considering the US financial and economic situation at the time.     Continue reading

Making our world a Better Place?


In choosing a video to watch, I thought that it would be wise to pick one that related to my Paper 2 topic on US Oil/Energy policy. To do so I searched for a video on Oil and came across a series entitled ‘The End of Oil?’ where I chose to watch a video about electric cars. The talk was led by a very interesting man Shai Agassi who is an Israeli entrepreneur who founded the company Better Place which provides battery-charging and switching devices for electric cars. Agassi’s story is quite cool as he was originally in line to become CEO of the highly regarded software company SAP. However, at the urging of the Israeli prime minister, Agassi turned his focus to fighting to curb carbon emissions. Continue reading

The State of US Energy Policy


Although I had originally not intended about writing my paper on BP, my class presentation this past week has made me very interested in learning more about the energy industry. In particular, I wish to change the topic of my paper to one that focuses more on a larger policy question about whether we should continue to participate/ encourage risky and environmentally dangerous activities such as deep water drilling. In writing on this topic, I will aim to answer the following questions:

  • Do the benefits of offshore drilling outweigh the costs?
  • Does the United States properly oversee the oil industry? What changes need to be made?

Continue reading

Forcing the Issue


After seeing the assignment for this week’s blog, I became quite excited about reading up on the Affordable Care Act as I have very little knowledge of its specifics. Unfortunately, I have not been motivated to really look into Obama’s proposal because it really does not have much of an effect on me in the immediate future. However, I do understand the historic importance of the act as it is probably of the largest and most contentious pieces of legislation that has been passed in my lifetime. Furthermore, I believe that it represents the first significant health care reform passed since Truman’s presidency (correct me if I am wrong). As indicated in the directions, I began my research by taking the quiz on the Act and, much to my surprise, got 6 out of 10 correct. I was slightly impressed by my results, but have to admit that I guess on about half of them.

In choosing exactly what aspect on the act that I wanted to focus on, I thought it would be prudent to start with arguably the most important part: the Individual Mandate. Ultimately, I wanted to start here because it appears to be the most controversial part of the reform and the part that is most important for it to work as planned. Now I will attempt to explain it as I understand it: Continue reading

Time for Change


Before diving into this post, I would first like to highlight how beneficial of an exercise that I think that this is for all of us, especially for students in general. Nowadays, it is way too easy for people to adopt a certain set of views simply because they grow up around people who think the same way or because they read or watch news from the same media source. Personally, I believe that I am very lucky in this sense because I grew up in a household with a father that is quite conservative and a mother who is quite liberal. Neither of my parents ever pushed their views upon me and always encouraged me to learn about world events on my own. Consequently, I have developed into a person that is quite moderate. Those closest to me often describe me as a person who rarely argues vehemently for something, but always serves as a moderator for an argument, frequently chiming in when I see flaws or hear outlandish comments from either side. For me, this has been very beneficial because it has allowed me to examine various arguments with a relatively unbiased view and better understand where each side is coming from. Continue reading

The Ultimate Fiscal Consolidation


The notion of “Too Big to Fail” not only still exists today, but it is even more relevant to our current financial system in the United States than ever before. As shown in the film, the ‘great recession’ of 2008-2009 ultimately marked the first time that people really started to question the size and power of some of our largest financial institutions. Up until this point, US Banks, for the most part, were perceived as highly respected and admired institutions that were a symbol of America’s economic strength. Rather than limiting the size of these banks, popular opinion of the 1980s and 1990s was that it would be in our best interest to let them grow as much as possible so that they could effectively compete with giants of the industry abroad in Europe and Japan. Ultimately, it was this popular belief, coupled with pressure from Wall Street’s most powerful figures, which prompted arguably the most notable piece of financial legislation of my life time: the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999. Under this law, the concept of ‘Universal Banks’ reemerged in the US for the first time since the 1930s as investment banks could once again participate in commercial banking activities and vice versa. Ultimately, it was this change, commonly referred to as the fall of Glass-Steagall , that set the stage for the emergence of institutions that are in fact ‘Too Big to Fail’.

As shown in the movie, major financial institutions played a pivotal role in the financial crisis, some for good reasons and others for very bad reasons. Clearly, it was the irresponsible and overzealous actions of numerous institutions that directly contributed to the crisis. Yet at the same time, it was the cooperation of the whole industry that ultimately helped to save it from a complete collapse. That being said, one of the most significant outcomes of the 2008 financial crisis was a wide scale consolidation of Wall Street. Prior to 2008, there were dozens of banks that were seen as significant financial institutions in terms of size and market share. However the crisis completely changed the layout of the industry as the strongest banks seized control of the market. As noted in the film, 10 banks now control 77% of all US bank assets and, even more staggering, the six largest banks control 67% percent of total assets (http://consciouslifenews.com/big-fail-bigger-before/1165613/). Although there has been a slight resurgence over the past couple of years, the number of mid-size and boutique banks dropped substantially as they did not have the financial might to withstand the crisis and so were forced to declare bankruptcy or be acquired by megabanks such as J.P. Morgan or Bank of America.

Seeing these staggering market share figures, it is hard to argue that the notion of “Too Big to Fail” no longer exists. All of these banks that were deemed critical to the US economy in 2008 are now bigger and therefore even more critical than ever. Ultimately, without these banks, the US economy would likely cease to be relevant and if that doesn’t mean that they are ‘Too Big to Fail’ then I don’t know what does.

To conclude this post, I would like to point out that most believe that the solution to this problem would be to simply reduce the size of the banks. While this is probably a smart idea, I strongly believe that the size of the banks was not the cause of the crisis and that all of the support to reinstate Glass-Steagall is not warranted. The main reason that our banks are still considered some of the strongest in the world is because they are not limited to choosing between being an Investment Bank or a Commercial Bank. Where was J.P. Morgan 20 years ago? While it was certainly a strong bank, it was not considered one of the 10 most powerful in the world. And now, along with the likes of Goldman Sachs and other US banks, it is arguably the most respected institutions in the world. Once again, the problem with our financial system was not that banks were getting big, but it was their ability to take on too much leverage due to the lack of strong regulatory agents in the US. I have attached an insightful article below by one of our own professors, William Gruver, which speaks more about this issue.

http://www.directorship.com/smart-reform/

Where does the responsibility fall?


After listening/watching to Bucknell’s own adaptation of Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” there are a couple directions in which I would like to take this blog post. Firstly, I would like to comment on the style of the production and some of the key differences between this version and that of Mike Daisey. Overall, I felt that the way in which the show was put on was very effective in that the producers were able to weave in supplementary lessons throughout the show that were very informative. For example, one of the first lessons came from a Chinese professor who spoke about some of the cultural misunderstandings that Americans tend to have about China and its culture. Specifically, he makes an important point about how, although the working conditions are not great, there are thousands of Chinese that jump at the chance to work at a place like FoxConn. So, unlike some may believe, it is not a situation where these people are being forced into these conditions, but rather they are seeking out the chance to get jobs which offer real opportunity. In addition, these periodic pauses throughout the show not only allow us to get more information, but also offer a chance for us to question what Daisey is saying. For example, the show chooses to include an interview of Steve Jobs specifically about this issue so that we can hear the perspective of the accused and therefore have a better chance to form an objective opinion.

Of all of the information pauses/ mini lessons in the production, the one that really stands out in my mind is the one that featured the Civil Engineering Professor who had recently returned from a trip to China. In particular, there were two interesting points that I took away from her discussion with the first having to do with the proliferation of manual labor in China. During her visit, Professor Vigeant had the chance to visit a local printing company in which she learned that manual labor was a pivotal part to its operations. Specifically, the company had a binding machine for the paper, but required that each piece of paper be folded first. Rather than using a machine to do so, the company specifically employs workers to manually fold this paper all day. What’s particularly interesting about this is the fact that the company managers justify this choice because it is so much more cost effective that they are willing to sacrifice the increased efficiency that would come by using a machine. Ultimately, Vigeant then goes onto reveal that manual labor is extremely common in China which shocked me as it seems a little ‘primitive’ for a country that everyone raves about as such a booming industrial nation.

Though a very interesting point, the use of manual labor was not the most though-provoking idea that came from this discussion. For me, the most important point that professor Vigeant makes is her distinction between menial labor and abusive labor. In the case of the paper company, it is quite clear that the physical folding of the paper is extremely boring work, however it should not be considered horrible or abusive work. After hearing this, I felt that it was important to return to this point because so many of us now associate outsourced factory work with images of sweat shops. Clearly, there are way too many places in the world in which labor conditions are terrible, and I do not mean to make a defense for this type of behavior, but I think that it is important to remember that there are many companies in the world that do provide good, suitable conditions for their workers. Though not surprising given the massive media attention that is placed upon those companies that fuel abusive behavior, it is really not fair to group them all together.

Near the end of her speech, professor Vigeant makes another very important point about how we all have a responsibility to know where our products come from. In all honesty, this was the first time I had ever heard someone say this and it instantly got me thinking. Are we all, as consumers, responsible for knowing where every piece of clothing we buy comes from? It’s an interesting idea, but is it realistic for us to be held accountable for this information when all that a tag says is “made in China”? I definitely think that it is important for all of us to recognize that there is a chance that the shirts that we are currently wearing could have been made in a dangerous factory by someone younger than all of us were when we even started thinking about working. However, there is still so much uncertainty out there about which products are made under these conditions and which are not. Ultimately, I think that it is a great idea in theory, but I still believe that it first falls on the companies to raise their awareness of these practices.

Reation to ‘Retracted’


After listening to the ‘Retracted’ radio show, I am now very conflicted about the FoxConn/ Apple Factory story. On the one hand, I am disturbed that Mike Daisey would go to such lengths to fabricate a story that generated a lot of debate about the behavior of Apple. Yet, on the other hand, I am somewhat sympathetic to what he was ultimately trying to do. After traveling to China and interviewing factory workers, Daisey was clearly disturbed by what he discovered and wanted to ensure that his observations were heard by the public. Clearly, the factory conditions in China are not great and there are certainly many risks to working the long hours that many of these workers do. However, Daisey clearly did not feel that the ‘true’ story was powerful enough to raise awareness about the issue and motivate people to question Apple’s actions. He chose to exaggerate many aspects of the story, such as meeting people who had been poisoned by Hexane, based on stories that he claims to have heard about in order to generate an emotional response from his audience. Obviously, his strategy proved to be successful as his story quickly spread across US news and social media and he was hosted on numerous other shows to speak about the issue.

All this being said, Daisey’s actions are completely unacceptable. For two years, Daisey fully contends that a story filled with lies is completely true, leading many people to unnecessarily question Apple’s actions. Though taking a closer look into the factory conditions of Apple’s suppliers is probably a good thing, the way that Daisey goes about raising the issue is completely unfair to Apple and can be considered as a type of defamation. Maybe Apple should put more effort into ensuring that its suppliers provide suitable conditions for their workers, but scrutinizing them based on made up information is not the way to go about.

Personally, I believe that the most important aspect of the whole incident was the fact that Mike Daisey proclaims himself as a ‘journalist’ and reports the story as it is news. By doing this, he implies that every single detail of his story is factual and that there is little room for interpretation. If he had gone ahead and labeled it as a ‘memoir’ and allowed people to listen to it in a ‘theatrical context’ as he claims he should have done, then there wouldn’t be such a big problem. The story probably would have still generated strong discussion about Apple’s corporate behavior, but it would have left the door open for people to question the reality of the situation.

By Chris M. Posted in Blog 3

Apple Post


Whereas Microsoft and others ruled the tech market in the 1990s and early 2000s, Apple has emerged in the past 10 years as the undisputed titan of the industry and has achieved an almost legendary status among businesses and consumers alike. Innovative and revolutionary products, such as the iPod and iPhone, have reached such exceptional levels of popularity among today’s consumers that it has become extremely rare to meet someone who does not own an Apple product of some kind. With this, Apple’s former CEO Steve Jobs has become an almost god-like figure, being praised as one of the greatest innovative minds of all time. Much like Fran Hawthorne points out in Ethical Chic, such great admiration for the company has created an aura around Apple that, if it is producing such amazing products, then every aspect of the company must be great.

In the radio excerpt from This American Life, Mike Daisey talks about how easy it is to fall into this trap and how his view of the company has been altered by his own personal investigation of Apple’s manufacturing practices. What was particularly compelling about Daisey’s story was how pertinent it is to my own experiences with Apple. Essentially growing up during the rise of Apple products, I too have created this image of Apple as a ‘perfect’ company that is light-years ahead of the competition. And, not surprisingly, I have not thought too much about where exactly my iPhone comes from beyond the ‘Made in China’ labeled on the back. However, Daisey points out that we should all take a closer look at this issue because, after examining it in person, it appears to be quite troubling.

Daisey’s description of the FoxConn plant in Shenzhen, China is very disturbing to hear about, but the question that remains is whether it is really enough to materially affect consumers’ attitudes about Apple and its products. It is really no secret that the majority of major US companies outsource work to factories in less regulated countries such as China and yet, consumers continue to purchase the products without fail. At the end of the day the question that remains is: are people really going to purchase a worse product because they are concerned about the conditions under which it is made? The unfortunate answer to this question is no. As more and more people start to place more emphasis on corporate responsibility, the strength of this answer may be changing, but still very gradually. Ultimately, one has to wonder what it will realistically take for people to feel compelled enough to stop purchasing from a company such as Apple because of the way that it behaves. I tend to believe that it must be something radical, but maybe time will tell.

 

-Chris McCree

 

Corporate Responsibility at JPM


Upon reading the articles by Milton Friedman and R. Edward Freeman, I instantly began thinking about one of my experiences working for JPMorgan Chase. Throughout my 10 weeks with the company, I continuously received emails and attended events preaching the importance of corporate responsibility, philanthropy, and community involvement. As a major bank in the high of financial scrutiny, it is not surprising that the company is so aggressive to push all that it has accomplished in these areas. Yet, at the same time, it is hard to determine how invested it really is in the hundreds of projects that it sponsors and donates money to.

In fact, one project that the company asked all of the interns to undertake was to research and pitch a philanthropic organization to which it should donate to. Though a very beneficial project to both us interns and the organization receiving the donation, the effort does not seem quite as sincere after taking a closer look. Seeing that the bank is the world’s largest in terms of total assets, the $5,000 it set aside to donate to the winning cause is insignificant and even shows that the company may not be all that concerned with the cause. On top of this, the company paid for the flights and hotel rooms of each of the interns who were part of a final group and were based outside of New York in order for them to come and pitch their organization in person. Undoubtedly, this expense ended up being more than the actual donation made.

Ultimately, the reasoning behind writing about this experience is the fact that it is very relevant to the points made in these two articles, particularly to those made in Milton’s article. In the article, Friedman talks about the difference between acting truly socially responsible and doing so out of self-interest to generate goodwill. In this case, Milton would most likely argue that the latter point is more relevant. Clearly, the company was not greatly committed to the cause given the insignificant sum provided and was mostly acting because it felt it ‘ought’ to do so. Almost every major bank partakes in intern projects such as this one, and so it becomes quite clear that the project was created as a way to stay competitive with its counterparts and increase its external image. Just as Milton indicates in the article, it is hard to fault the company for creating a project such as this as it does contribute to social betterment. However, it is important to be able to distinguish efforts made to truly act responsibly from those that are partly/entirely done to benefit the company. In the end, Milton would most likely view the company’s efforts as problematic in that it is not something that it would be inclined to do without the pressure of outside forces.

By Chris M. Posted in Blog 1