Trying to Make America a Little Better (New York Times, August 6, 2017)

One of the few practical job-building promises of the Trump presidential campaign — a $1 trillion investment in repairing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure — is turning out to be as hollow as a pothole. Mr. Trump’s vow to push for passage of the plan in the first 100 days of his presidency is sliding off the calendar amid the daily chaos of his incumbency and the Republican obsession with crippling Obamacare.

Infrastructure repair should be a bipartisan no-brainer. But Republican lawmakers now concede that a fully detailed plan might not surface from the administration until next year, if ever. The White House heightened the sense of flatlining last month in announcing creation of a 15-member infrastructure study commission that will have until the end of 2018 to work on advisory proposals.

Senate Blocks Trump Recess Appointments; Funding Battle in Fall (BNA, August 4, 2017)

The Senate moved to block President Donald Trump from making key appointments during its summer recess, after wrapping up action until September by confirming dozens of presidential nominees.

Although Chao was among the first of the Cabinet officers to be confirmed in January, McConnell’s list of DOT nominees ready for confirmation before the recess was small. Besides Buzby, McConnell was only able to get confirmation of Robert Sumwalt III to serve as a member and chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Infrastructure Borrowing Drops as U.S. States Await Trump Plan Details (Reuters/NYT, August 7, 2017)

…the administration has produced few details on the future of federal infrastructure funding, one reason why state and municipal governments have issued fewer bonds to improve roads, water systems and other projects so far in 2017.

Through July, new municipal deals to fund transportation, utilities and power projects totaled $50.7 billion, down 19.4 percent from the same period last year, according to an analysis of Thomson Reuters data.

Why Canada needs continued investment in transportation infrastructure (Globe and Mail, August 6, 2017)

‘Not since Sir John A. Macdonald’s National Policy in the 1870s has Canada had such an opportunity to build such a monumental infrastructure project with the potential to transform the country’s economy.”

That quote, from Senator David Tkachuk (chair of the Senate standing committee on banking, trade and commerce), is taken from a June 21 report in which the Senate recommends federal government support for an in-depth research program on the Canadian Northern Corridor concept.

US transportation infrastructure to end 2017 on high note (ConstructionDive, July 20, 2017)

Despite enthusiasm for public-private partnerships in some quarters, state and local governments remain hesitant to explore the structure for infrastructure projects due to the lack of funding sources and misconceptions about how P3s work. Most public agencies will continue to finance such projects through traditional lending mechanisms.

P3s for Social Impact

…the focus on transportation infrastructure short-changes the flexibility and benefit of the P3 model, which can be used to develop and operate many types of infrastructure, including social infrastructure.

I appreciate the value of self-imposed constraint as a tool of discovery and innovation and as a method of extracting order out of chaos. So, I decided to write this blog post in E-Prime, a language that the authors of the E-Prime Anthology characterize as “deity mode of speech”, allowing “even the most ignorant to transform their opinions magically into god-like pronouncements on the nature of things”.

Think of E-Prime as a way of speaking ex cathedra, a way of giving voice to a Higher Authority. But don’t get fixated on this rabbit hole. Ever since I learned to write in E-Prime, this Code has become a benign addiction, or at least I prefer to think that the addiction is benign.

Woops! You see, I just violated the Code, but I only did that to illustrate the first rule of E-Prime — do not use any form of the verb “to be” — and I just used the word “is”. I also just illustrated the first formal exception to the rule: the use of quotation marks.

The dialect of E-Prime that I learned in college also eliminates any form of the verb “to have” and other verbs viewed as weak, such as the verb “become”. My E-Prime Code also abhors the passive voice and adjectives. It invites writers to view the world as a theater in which subjects, verbs and objects (SVOs) cocreate the spectacle (perichoresis) of social reality.

E-Prime can feel impossibly restrictive at first, and it can produce writer’s block, but in the end, it produces better text by revealing actors, actions and relationships organized into stories that capture the essential truth of a moment. I think of E-Prime as a language of truth-seekers trained to think of the world as theater and writers as storytellers speaking worlds into existence.

I often turn to E-Prime when I’m writing something that I feel matters and requires utmost clarity. Thinking about E-Prime over the past few days sent me down a rabbit hole as I started to revisit General Semantics and the idea of “Efficacious Speech”. I thought about mythopoetic formulations of this idea (e.g., Word Made Flesh and Abracadabra) and the anthropology of “speech-acts” designed to strengthen individual and collective resolve (e.g., oaths, vows, curses, blessings, declarations, etc.)

As I explored the preconditions of efficacious speech, I came across a book called At the Limits of Efficacious Speech: The Performance and Audience of Self-Curses in Ancient Near Eastern and Greek Oaths. The author, a University of Chicago classics scholar Christopher A. Faraone, says on his website that he is finishing a book on ancient Greek amulets and beginning two others: one entitled The Play of Ritual Genres in Homeric Epic and another on the catalogues in the Hesiodic Theogony. From the first couple of paragraphs of Efficacious Speech, I wanted to exclaim: “Professor, Faraone!!! You had me at ‘Hesiodic Theogony’!!! Read for yourself:

“The focus of this volume is on how ancient cultures used efficacious speech-acts — especially in vows and oaths — to render language stable and dependable and, in the process, to construct or maintain social, religious and legal order… Ancient Greeks often concluded their oaths with a pair of curses and blessings that encouraged the parties to keep to their oaths. The famous Hippocratic Oath, for example, ends as follows: ‘If I fulfill this oath without violating it, may it be granted that I enjoy a happy life and profession, honored always among men; but if I violate it and perjure myself, may the opposite befall me.”

The rabbit hole goes deeper. For example, I came across the work of Naomi Janowitz, a professor at UC Davis focused on psychoanalytic approaches to religion. In a collection of essays called Semiotic Mediations, she studies efficacious speech through the prism of myth. I also managed to read most of this lengthy critique of E-Prime: “To Be” in Their Bonnets.

Joseph Campbell, the famed mythologist, excelled at summarizing the essential conclusions of a large body of literature. “To change the world, change the story,” he wrote. Terence McKenna expressed the same truth in “The world is made of language”, as did Wittgenstein with “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

E-Prime offers a way to push the limits of language, especially in support of projects that aim to break new ground or map an unfamiliar strategic landscape. But anyone with an affinity for the idea of efficacious speech must have wondered why it doesn’t always translate into the reality of efficacious speech. Indeed, New Year’s resolutions, to-do lists, treaties, laws, regulations and mission statements usually fail, at least in part because language as a psychotechnology loses its efficacy when you use it to lie.

By “lie”, I don’t just mean trivially counterfactual speech. I also mean a deeper inauthenticity noticeable, for example in the performance of an actor who doesn’t quite understand his character, or a politician or a CEO hooked on talking points, or a customer service rep reciting a pre-approved script. The script may have passed a thorough legal review, but the interaction it helps choreograph only destroys trust and weakens the relationship.

By contrast, consider the classic examples of speech-acts that move minds, markets and civilizations — perhaps “I have a dream…” or “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” or “Next year, in Jerusalem!” or “May God Bless America!” Whether or not they conform to the syntax of E-Prime, these statements work because they express truths that transcend technical accuracy.

In my consulting practice, I help clients discover the larger truths at the heart of the stories they tell themselves about themselves. I help them change their worlds by changing their stories. This work typically begins with a Message Platform, an essential communications tool in the arsenal of most large organizations, but often neglected by small businesses whose performance may suffer in part because they remain mired in the wrong story. By contrast, numerous entrepreneurial ventures and lumbering giants have catapulted to new plateaus simply by re-describing their product and corporate brands in ways that connect them to their most responsive audiences with messages that the market is predisposed to embrace.

We welcome inquiries from prospective clients who want to give their message the E-Prime boost. Contact

 

 

In The War on Sensemaking, futurist and complex systems theorist Jordan Greenhall argues that “We are in fact neck deep in the next ‘War to End All Wars’”, and he speculates that “we are getting rather close to the Hiroshima of the current war”.

Conventional wisdom has not yet designated this global conflagration as World War III mainly because conventional wisdom remains mired in 19th century conceptions of war as an alliance between technology and industry directed by leaders lusting for territorial and economic dominance. This framework for thinking about war did not become obsolete in 2016 or even with the advent of the Internet; it became obsolete when Edward Bernays, starting about a century ago, pioneered the use of propaganda not only to achieve military objectives, but also to popularize smoking and overthrow the government of Guatemala, among other feats of mass persuasion.

Bernays later rebranded propaganda as “public relations” but the discipline has continued to conform to Bernays’ original characterization:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”

The unabashedly elitist vision worked remarkably well in a culture dominated by mass-media one-to-many broadcast paradigms, uncomplicated by deep disruption, decentralization and the collapse of institutional authority. But over time, and especially since the turn of the century, the normalized use of propagandistic communications has correlated with a steady decline of public trust. In the age of radical transparency and citizen journalism, institutional leaders can no longer manufacture consent for policies that systematically undermine the common good they claim to serve.

However, Bernays remains absolutely right in that the most important battlefields in modern wars are the hearts and minds of flesh-and-blood human beings, and the most important weapons are informational. As Greenhall writes, “Guns, germs and steel began to give way to spies, lies, distraction and seduction.” In this climate, professional communicators are the new warriors, and they need what all warriors need: a galvanizing vision, moral backbone, strategic and tactical sophistication.

It is my impression that most communicators (just as most of their clients and employers) are still working with the assumption that they can make PR great again, and that what Robert Phillips calls the Boardroom Revolution can be contained, if not reversed. My only argument to these reactionaries is that history will not judge their choice kindly. The path forward is clear: as Phillips writes:

Activist business leadership at that point – or public leadership with a commitment to genuine accountability and public value – would have enabled CEOs to escape from their boardroom bunkers and PR-led echo chambers; listen to dissenting voices inside and outside their organisations; undo the hierarchies that were the source of their power; establish new networks among co-workers and wider stakeholders that supported the many, not the few; show humanity and vulnerability; and create new models of shared or common value that placed people and planet alongside profit. This is what CEO activism looks like in practice. Ironically, in a world where every
leader and commentator seems to seek the holy grail of trust, measures such as these would have surely helped earn that trust.”

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Insurge Intelligence: […] One approach to framing the Trump movement comes from Jordan Greenhall, who sees it as a conservative (“Red Religion”) Insurgency against the liberal (“Blue Church”) Globalist establishment (the “Deep State”). Greenhall suggests, essentially, that Trump is leading a nationalist coup against corporate neoliberal globalization using new tactics of […]

via How the Trump Regime Was Manufactured by a War Inside the Deep State — Stop Making Sense

In the quest for a competitive edge, Silicon Valley titans have explored neuro-enhancement, nootropics, psychedelics, etc. They are also trying philosophy. With the right intentions, this perfectly legal, time-tested mind-hack can produce insights and transformations no less intense than an ayahuasca cleanse or 250 micrograms of dimethyltryptamine.

At a time when we are increasingly drowning in data but thirsting for wisdom, the rising popularity of philosophy should surprise no one, even though corporate culture still largely views philosophy with disdain as an impractical indulgence, and many C-Suite execs are content to continue pushing their people to find answers and solutions even though they haven’t understood the questions or the problems.

Of course, the perception of philosophy as impractical is not completely without merit, but it certainly overlooks thinkers and schools of thought characterized by clarity and applicability. Especially when Bullshit poses a clear threat to public health, we have very limited legal options for recourse, but we always have philosophy.

Why Silicon Valley Titans Train Their Brains with Philosophy

“Philosophers arrive on the scene at the moment when bullshit can no longer be tolerated,” says Taggart to Quartz. “We articulate that bullshit and stop it from happening. And there’s just a whole lot of bullshit in business today.”

Taggart rails against what he sees is the “problematization of the world” – the idea that all the obstacles we encounter during our life, from drinking too much coffee to death, are problems in need of solutions to be discovered.

On the other hand, he also thinks that stopping BS is not the chief objective of philosophy. Rather, he warns against the dangers of “total work” – the all-consuming obsession with having to be productive and spend most of our time working rather than contemplating.

Erykah Badu Defamation Suit May Turn On ‘Manager’ Meaning

As singer Erykah Badu asked a Texas appellate court to toss an ex-employee’s defamation suit against her, the judges homed in on whether Badu’s reference to a “manager” should be treated as a legal term of art or left up to a jury to interpret.

W.Va. Justices Should Weigh Insurance Issue, 4th Circ. Told

BrickStreet Mutual Insurance Co. on Tuesday asked the Fourth Circuit to seek the West Virginia high court’s guidance on a key issue at the heart of Zurich American Insurance Co.’s appeal of a lower court’s ruling that it must split with BrickStreet payments of workers’ compensation benefits to a worker severely injured at a coal mine.

Dems Undo Ill. Budget, Reform Deal As Republicans Cry Foul

On the same day that Illinois’ backlog of bills ballooned to a record $14 billion, Democrats in the Illinois Senate on Wednesday passed a budget for the next fiscal year, but could not garner the votes to make agreed-upon cuts needed to actually implement the spending plan.

Ex-US Atty Committed Misconduct With Office Romance: DOJ

A retired U.S. attorney engaged in misconduct by having a romantic relationship with a subordinate, and the subordinate failed to disclose a spouse’s stock trades, the Justice Department’s Inspector General said Tuesday.

Union Didn’t Discriminate Against Workers, DC Circ. Says

The D.C. Circuit handed the National Labor Relations Board a win Tuesday after finding that two Nevada restaurant workers “do not come close to showing” that their union discriminated against them or acted arbitrarily by requiring that certain information related to their dues must be requested in writing.

Macy’s Accused Of Bias With Background Checks At EEOC

Macy’s Inc. was hit with a charge at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by a group that advocates for ex-inmates, which alleges the retailer’s criminal background check policies are discriminatory, the group’s lawyers at Outten & Golden LLP said Wednesday.

Fired NJ County Worker Can’t Revive Age Bias Suit

A New Jersey state appellate court nixed a fired Union County employee’s bid to revive his age discrimination suit on Tuesday, affirming a lower court’s ruling that the former worker couldn’t show that his termination was anything other than a legitimate layoff due to budget cuts.

Below are the latest stories on securities litigation from Law360, the premier publisher of legal news. We welcome inquiries from print and broadcast outlets seeking expert sources on these and related trends in securities litigation. Email lev@plat4orm.com.

SEC Pursuing MBS Traders Despite Prosecutors’ Early Flop

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s civil case against two former traders alleging they lied to customers about prices for mortgage-backed securities is the second such case the agency has brought in two weeks, a sign it is forging ahead on bond cases while federal prosecutors hesitate in the wake of a significant criminal trial loss.

Lloyd’s $65M Stanford Scam Deal OK’d; Attys Get $14M

A Texas federal judge approved amid objections on Tuesday a $65 million deal resolving allegations Lloyd’s of London and other underwriters should cover losses from R. Allen Stanford’s $7 billion Ponzi scheme, and awarded $14 million in attorneys’ fees to counsel representing the receiver in the insurance dispute.

SunEdison Creditors Committee In Position To Vote For Plan

Groups of SunEdison Inc. creditors said Tuesday they have overcome an impasse on issues that threatened to derail the bankrupt green energy giant’s path out of Chapter 11, telling a New York bankruptcy judge that mediation talks have successfully led to settlement terms.

Texas State Sen. Indicted For Fracking Sand Fraud, Kickbacks

A Texas state senator was indicted by a federal grand jury Tuesday in connection with two alleged fraud schemes, one selling investments in an alleged Ponzi scheme that marketed sand used for fracking, and another involving alleged kickbacks for a medical services contract at a county jail.

Texas Appellate Panel Stays Paxton Fraud Proceedings

A Texas appellate panel on Tuesday granted a request from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to stay felony securities fraud proceedings against him as he seeks to challenge orders surrounding a change of venue from Collin County to Harris County and prohibit the judge who ordered the venue change from presiding.

Mobileye Trader’s Cash Deals Draw Judge’s Scrutiny

A New York federal judge on Tuesday extended a freeze on the assets of a Virginia-based landscaper accused of insider trading related to Intel Corp.’s $15.3 billion acquisition of Israeli tech company Mobileye NV and ordered his counsel to investigate his client’s cash business transactions.

Malaysian Family Wants Some US Gov’t Seizure Bids Tossed

A family that the U.S. government says benefited from money stolen from a Malaysian sovereign investment fund asked a Los Angeles federal judge on Monday to dismiss the government’s efforts to seize New York real estate, a jet and music publishing rights, saying there’s no link to California in those cases.

Ex Le-Nature’s CEO Can’t Escape Plea Deal, 3rd Circ. Says

The Third Circuit on Tuesday rebuffed another attempt by the former CEO of now-defunct Le-Nature’s Inc. to be released from a 2011 plea deal he struck with the government that resulted in a 20-year prison sentence for his role in a $668 million accounting fraud.

Ex-InterMune Director Barred From Boards For Insider Trading

A California federal magistrate judge on Monday permanently barred a former InterMune Inc. director from serving as an officer or director in a publicly traded company and refused to toss a jury verdict convicting him and a friend of insider trading.

Insurer Must Prove All Elements Of RMBS Fraud, Court Says

A New York appeals court ruled Tuesday that bond insurer Ambac Assurance Corp. cannot use state insurance law to get out of proving loss causation in its suit alleging Countrywide Financial Corp. fraudulently induced it into issuing unconditional and irrevocable insurance policies on mortgage-backed securities.

Ex-Snap Employee Says User Metrics Concerns Led To Firing

Snap Inc. was slapped with a whistleblower suit in California federal court on Tuesday by a former employee who has accused the social media company and its executives of using faulty growth metrics ahead of its initial public offering and pressuring him to spill secrets from a past job.