Category: Business and Society

In a recent post, Jordan Ballor highlighted the efforts of Mr. Armen Yousoufian, who has been seeking public disclosure of records relating to the financing of the new stadium built recently for the Seattle Seahawks largely at taxpayer expense. Mr. Yousoufian has responded to Ballor’s post with the following comment:

In reply to: “They picked on the Wrong Armenian”, which is about my successful and landmark Public Disclosure Act violation lawsuit here in Washington state, thank you for the coverage. The case goes to court again on August 19 for determination of penalties and the amount of legal fees I am to be awarded for my two successful appeals of the original verdict (that will be the 4th round in over 8 years, after I won every step of the way and all the way to the state Supreme Court). If you or your readers would like more information, please visit my website: www.ArmenYousoufian.com or my blog: www.Yousoufian.blogspot.com. Lots of material, including trial briefs at all four stages of the litigation. Or email me at ayousoufian@comcast.net with something in the subect line referring to this comment left at this site.

Armen Yousoufian
Vashon Island, Washington

Those are some websites that are probably worth keeping an eye on.

Blog author: mvandermaas
Monday, August 8, 2005
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Can a person of faith work here?

In the weeks that have passed since the announcement of the nomination of John Roberts to serve as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, an old debate has moved into the forefront once again: can a person with deeply held religious beliefs (in Judge Roberts’ case, a devout Catholic) hold a high political or judicial office and still abide by the Constitution?

Rev. Robert Sirico made a guest appearance on the Laura Ingraham Show this morning to discuss this important topic. You can listen to the interview by clicking here (3.5 mb .mp3 file).

And if you’re interested in hearing more about Constitutional interpretation from two current practitioners of the craft, be sure to check out the Acton Bookshoppe, where addresses from Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are available for purchase.

Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, August 5, 2005
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In a column in today’s Washington Times, Arnaud de Borchgrave looks at the growing gap between executive compensation and the pay of just about everyone else. He quotes a Wall Street Journal study showing that in 2004 the median salary and bonus for CEOs soared 14.5 percent, while paychecks for salaried employees averaged a 3.4 percent increase. Among those who view this situation with alarm are Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and Christopher Cox, the new chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

de Borchgrave notes that “William J. McDonough, chairman of the Public Company Oversight Board since 2003, and president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank for the previous decade, called the yawning gap ‘the single most important issue’ in today’s America. Hello. Is anyone listening? Income disparity is now wider than anywhere in the European Union or Japan, and can only be found in Third World countries.”

de Borchgrave predicts that this wealth gap is “guaranteed” to produce a backlash that will lead to increased labor union militancy. That’s far from certain. For one thing, Americans tolerate and perhaps grudgingly admire the extravagant compensation packages of Wall Street execs and other corporate chiefs because they understand that the market system rewards those who compete and succeed. Not a few Americans aspire to a life where they are vastly overpaid, themselves. If you look at a business career as a high stakes poker game, then you should be playing for the jackpot.

A retired business executive recently explained it to me: “There are three ways to acquire wealth. You can inherit it. You can marry it. Or you can steal it. Of the three ways, stealing is by far the most honorable.” This is a joke, of course. The point, I think, is that Americans look on passively acquired wealth with suspicion, while those who succeed in the marketplace on their talents and their wits, are admired.

But the issue of executive compensation — or overcompensation — raises profound moral questions about the character of CEO stewardship, the oversight role of boards of directors, and the just treatment of salaried and hourly employees. Time and again at public companies, we see examples of CEOs obsessively enriching themselves as their companies go into long-term decline or oblivion. These cases are not soon forgotten by those who have been left broken and adrift when these woefully mismananged companies disintegrate or go under.

If de Borchgrave is right about the prospect of more labor militancy, then Americans will see the truth of an old adage: If your company has a union, it probably deserved it. And that’s no joke.

Check out this Seattle Weekly article, detailing the experience of Armen Yousoufian, who sought public disclosure of records in 1997 relating to “the proposed new Seahawks stadium, now called Qwest Field, which was built largely with public money.”

When faced with government foot-dragging in release of the records, “Instead of giving up, Yousoufian was energized by the rejections. ‘They picked on the wrong Armenian!’ he liked to say.”

John Stossel exposes government welfare for billionaires in the form of public money for sports stadiums in his book Give Me a Break, in a section titled, “Sports Tycoon Freeloaders.” Sports teams very often hold local governments hostage, threatening to move unless new multi-billion dollar stadiums are built. So the taxpayers end up footing the majority of the bill.

Stossel relates a conversation with Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox, who says that the government “had to” fund his new stadium, but ends up admitting: “You mean, if somebody walks up to you and hands you money, you shouldn’t take it? The fact is–I was offered this stadium by elected officials.”

Stossel gets it right in his analysis of these situations:

Every scheme to create jobs through government spending means people who work and pay taxes have less money to spend on projects they would choose. But we in the media miss that. I can interview the people who got jobs or benefits from the government project, but I can’t find the people who didn’t get a job because money was diverted.

In light of the recent exodus from the AFL-CIO, Dr. Charles W. Baird examines the nature of labor unions through the lens of Catholic social teaching. “Catholic social teaching has supported labor unions as part of a general defense of freedom of association,” he writes. “This defense has not extended, however, to unions that are coercive or politically partisan.”

Read the full text here.

Dr. Charles W. Baird is professor of economics at California State University, East Bay and author of Liberating Labor: A Christian Economist’s Case for Voluntary Unionism.

A recent interview with Dr. Baird on the AFL-CIO split is available for download here (MP3).

Blog author: abradley
Wednesday, August 3, 2005
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Crude oil prices have reach a record high $62 per barrel. Combined with Time Warner’s worse-than-expected recent earnings stocks dropped today as investors waited uneasily for the government’s latest petroleum inventory report. A barrel of light crude was quoted at $62.40, up 51 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gasoline rose more than a cent to $1.7945 a gallon while heating oil gained a cent to $1.7350 a gallon. As American refineries operate at nearly 100% capacity, prices at the pump may continue to rise due to increased summer demand, pending tropical storms and hurricanes, and increased tensions this week because of Iran’s nuclear threat. Are we learning anything here about the complex, multi-facted dimension of the economy?

From SoYouWanna.com:

“Socially responsible investing is when you take your beliefs and values and apply them to how you invest your money. This is also known as having a ‘double bottom line,’ because not only are you looking for a profitable investment, but also one that meets certain moral criteria and that lets you sleep well at night. Your second bottom line could be moral, religious, or based on whatever Chicken Soup for the Soul principles help guide you through life.”

Acton’s Sam Gregg underscores this last point in a commentary on why Christians should look closer at the ethics behind “ethical” investing.

HT: the evangelical outpost

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, August 2, 2005
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On this date in 1876, Wild Bill Hickok was killed, shot dead from behind by Jack McCall while playing poker. He held a pair of aces & a pair of 8s, forever giving that combination the nickname “Dead Man’s Hand.”

Poker has come a long way since then, becoming a global multi-million dollar industry. There’s a good discussion over at World Magazine Blog, asking where parents should “draw the line,” given the rising popularity of poker among youth.

This story from CBS’s Morning Show last year profiled a mom who hosts poker nights for her son and his friends. Liz Perry says the kids are “having a great time. They’re …home. They’re not out on the street. They’re all great students great athletes and at night, this is a great way for them to hang out with each other and be with each other.”

Christian responses to gambling, card playing, and other games of chance vary, from the moderately permissive to the prohibitionist. Social conservative groups worry about the effect of gambling on young children. Keith Whyte, who runs the National Council on Problem Gambling, says “for most kids, gambling if they choose to engage in it will not be harmful. But for a percentage, four to six percent of kids will develop a serious gambling problem.” Some advocate greater government regulation and/or prohibition of gambling, saying that to do otherwise is to implicitly endorse the practice.

I would assert that governments should logically first cease the active promotion of gambling (via lotteries) before they take greater measures to restrict or discourage other forms of gambling. I just can’t see a substantive difference between spending money on the Mega Millions jackpot and having a night of poker with friends…except that the former is essentially a regressive tax promoted by the government.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, August 1, 2005
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Here’s a view of procreation that doesn’t line up with the UN-sponsored “World Population Day”. In the midst of a discussion about a Jewish tradition mandating that each couple has at least one male and one female childe, Bryan Caplan at EconLog writes,

I’m on the record in favor of having more kids. I believe that, in most cases, both individuals and society would be better off if families had three or four. A lot of people have small families because they are mildly tired when they are young, and fail to consider that as a result they will be very lonely when they’re old. Two grown children is not enough to get a decent quantity of phone calls and grandchildren.

“Congress should not expand the powers of the FCC by giving it a new role to regulate the latest technologies. Instead, lawmakers should direct the FCC to simply resolve issues derived from the past AT&T monopoly and government control of spectrum. And then they should keep the agency from regulating new communication platforms, deferring to the communications marketplace for that job. What’s more, the current static legal classification of different types of communications services needs to be overhauled.”

–from Braden Cox, “Reform FCC — Limit It!” at Tech Central Station

I express concerns about the creeping power of the FCC here and here.