Perspectives

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.

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.

 

Why is everyone so busy? The Economist. December 20, 2014.

When people see their time in terms of money, they often grow stingy with the former to maximise the latter.

The unexpected product of economic progress, according to Linder, was a “harried leisure class”.

The endless possibilities afforded by a simple internet connection boggle the mind. When there are so many ways to fill one’s time, it is only natural to crave more of it.

More than a fifth of internet users will abandon an online video if it takes longer than five seconds to load. When experiences can be calculated according to the utility of a millisecond, all seconds are more anxiously judged for their utility.

“Multi-tasking is what makes us feel pressed for time,” says Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. “No matter what people are doing, people feel better when they are focused on that activity,” she adds.

A Harvard Business School survey of 1,000 professionals found that 94% worked at least 50 hours a week, and almost half worked more than 65 hours. Other research shows that the share of college-educated American men regularly working more than 50 hours a week rose from 24% in 1979 to 28% in 2006.

Alas time, ultimately, is a strange and slippery resource, easily traded, visible only when it passes and often most highly valued when it is gone.

Like an addict aspiring to abstinence, organizations aspire to authenticity. However sincere the aspirations, the goals are elusive, and organizations lapse into inauthenticity as easily as addicts reach for their next fix.

Building on its earlier coverage of the struggle for authenticity (see here and here), The Economist just made another contribution to the growing literature on the subject: In Authenticity in the Age of Trump (EIU, November 17, 2016). Jeff Pundyk eloquently characterizes the challenge:

Our aspirations are actually transactional. We want to sell people stuff. Authenticity is often more of a tactic than a value. We know this by looking at how we measure success – return on investment. (What kind of real-life friendships do you ROI?) We know this by our desperate embrace of data and technology in the name of something we call personalization, a weak and transparent substitute for insight. As George Burns said, “Sincerity – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

Pundyk points to the shift from “advertising” to “content” as the beginning of the way forward.

Start by listening more. Our industry has spent the last few years transitioning from that thing we call “advertising” to that other thing we call “content.” While it often may be hard to tell the difference between the two, the direction is correct. It’s a movement away from boasting to one of trying to be more of a thought partner, a helper. Let’s put more clarity and transparency around that movement. Let’s be more deliberate in making the transition to putting the customer’s needs above our own. And let’s recognize our prescribed place in their lives.

This is good advice, but it’s incomplete. “Listening” can easily turn into a charade, if not a farce, and “content” can be as inauthentic and disconnected from market needs as the worst of advertising. The path to a culture of authenticity requires bigger vision, not confined to how companies “listen” and communicate.

I wrote in a recent blog post that, as all other systemic threats and vulnerabilities, the crisis of trust raises two fundamental questions: What should organizations do in response, and what should they stop doing?

They shouldn’t treat authenticity as an end in itself, although they should certainly encourage and enable their leaders to cultivate self-awareness and emotional intelligence. With these qualities, organizations are probably more likely to establish governance, accounting and sustainability standards that equitably reward all stakeholders. That’s the way to restore trust. That’s the essential element. Not more focus groups, or content, or social media.

Without sound governance standards, trust will remain as elusive as triumph over addiction, and relationships with stakeholders will continue become more transactional and automated.

Importantly, a growing body of research strongly suggests that improved corporate governance also improves fundamental performance. Further, with the ongoing generational transfer of wealth to Millennials, governance, along with environmental and social factors, will feature prominently in the investment criteria of mainstream institutional portfolio managers.

The first step toward improved governance is an audit that integrates independent ESG ratings with data from no-bullshit surveys of current, former and prospective investors. At the most basic level, these audits benchmark expectations more inclusively, and they set provide a roadmap toward a sustainable alignment of internal standards and stakeholder expectations.

 

 

 

We see the goodness and the monstrosity,
The potential for bliss and infinite pain.
We face the chaos with comic pomposity.
We struggle to shape our future, in vain.

In vain we search, hoping to find
The glitch, the splinter in our mind.
A way to see without delusion,
A way to know without a doubt,
A way to speak without confusion,
A way to fight with no way out.

Betrayed by leaders and ourselves,
We want to find a future tense
That rings true and quickly jells
Into a life without pretense.

If you want to get there fast,
Forget your future and your past.
Just speak your truth from perfect stillness.
Feed your health and starve your illness.

Through the fog of False Hope and False Fear,
The answer seems increasingly clear:
Abandon all hope ye who enter here.
And abandon all fear, my dear.

Beyond Fear and Hope, find your euphoria
In the way of the Peaceful Warrior,
In battles won before they are fought,
In every word and every thought,
In everything the good books say
About the wisdom of Wu Wei,
About the acceptance of the present moment
As the start of your atonement.