Friday, January 31, 2014


Absurdity of the month

There were three nominees for the January Bonehead Absurdity Award:

  • The first nominee was John Macky, CEO of Whole Foods. Macky scored multiple bonehead absurdities, telling NPR that he thinks the Affordable Care Act is “fascism,” and a week later in a Mother Jones interview, called climate change “perfectly normal and not necessarily bad.” These comments came from the same fellow who compared labor unions to herpes.

  • Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and presidential hopeful, earned a nomination  when he insinuated to Republican National Committee members that women who use birth control “cannot control their libidos." He also claimed, “Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription. 

  • Our final nominee was the silver-tongued Michele Bachmann, who said Stephen Hawking on Black Holes shows the danger of listening to scientists.  "If black holes don't exist, then other things like climate change and evolution probably don't either."

And the winner is:

With such worthy candidates, this was a tough one.  After considerable thought, Phronesis has decided to award the January Bonehead Absurdity Award to John Macky.  Bachmann was a close second.  In her case, we figured the black holes statement was so typical of her countless absurd utterances (meaning she is an absurd bonehead), we gave the nod to Macky.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


By Ronald Fox

In previous postings on corporate crime I expressed outrage that top executives at JPMorgan Chase, and other giant corporations, have been able to avoid criminal prosecution for law-breaking. Outrage yes, but I can’t say that I’m greatly surprised by their apparent criminal immunity. In the boardrooms of corporate America, strict adherence to the law is not a high priority, especially if it conflicts with the bottom line of making big money for the company and its shareholders. Profit is the name of the game; whatever it takes is justified. For me the saddest aspect of all this is that most Americans don’t seem too bothered by the anything goes business culture, even when it involves breaking the law.

Monday, January 20, 2014


By Ronald Fox

In my earlier posting about JPMorgan Chase bankers once again avoiding criminal prosecution in their latest incidence of law-breaking over the blind eye they turned to Bernard Madoff, I expressed guarded optimism that the banking behemoth might not be so fortunate in the future. This might have seemed surprising given that I haven't displayed much political and economic optimism in previous postings.  Alas, I haven't softened.  I've recovered from my moment of fantasy.  Upon prompting from some Phronesis readers, further research, and more thought, I now realize that my post was more wishful thinking than practical wisdom. Shame on me! It’s time to return to reality.

Friday, January 17, 2014


NOTE:  This is Phronesis’s first guest commentary.  It was written by Tom Kando, emeritus Professor of Sociology at California State University Sacramento.  Tom writes about public pensions, which have recently come under attack in the United States.  Our hope is that quest commentaries will inspire reader comments and, ideally, debate.  Tom writes a blog, which can be found at:  His website is:

  clip_image002by  Tom Kando

It’s open season on (public) pensioners. The moronic consensus is that municipalities and states are going belly up because they over-committed to paying out fat pensions to their employees. Detroit is ground zero. The bankruptcy judge there has decided that the city does NOT have to honor its contracts with its retired employees. These folks will have to line up along with everyone else owed money by Detroit, i.e. probably get practically nothing. These are people whose average pension income, were it honored, would be $18,000 per year! Woopty doo!

Attacking public pensioners used to be what the rich did, the private sector capitalists, the Republican Right. But in our lemming-like society, when a message is repeated often enough, sooner or later it becomes a bandwagon. Today, those who spout off the refrain that “unless public entitlements/pensions are reined in, we are headed for Armageddon,” (or something like that) include not only “centrist Republicans” (this is an oxymoron, come to think of it), such as the Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters, but also people who are still viewed as reasonably liberal: For example that paper’s Dan Morain. This message is repeated over and over again by all of the media, not just Fox News. Is it any wonder that the opinions expressed in the locker room at my health club unanimously ape this narrative?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


By Ronald Fox

NOTE:  I'm resending this posting, with some minor editorial revisions.  A complete revision, with a different conclusion, will accompany the re-posting.

On November 13, I posted an essay which argued that fines alone, however stiff, would not be enough to deter criminal corporate misdeeds. My case in point was JPMorgan Chase’s (JPMC) latest fine of $13 billion for bond fraud. Last week’s announcement that JPMC will pay an additional $2 billion in penalties for two felonies involving its failure to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act and alert federal authorities of suspicious activities by Bernard Madoff, whose Ponzi scheme was laundered almost exclusively through various accounts held at JPMC, brings the total the bank will have paid out to resolve various government investigations in the last 12 months to some $20 billion. Despite the magnitude of JPMC illegal activities, and the obvious strength of the government’s case against the company, no JPMC employee has yet faced criminal prosecution. It seems banks can commit crimes, but not bankers.

Twenty billion in fines sounds large, but as I mentioned in my previous post, it only scratches the surface of JPMC’s enormous wealth. The company has $2.4 trillion in assets and is projected to make $23 billion in the coming year alone. To restate my point: fines alone will not be enough to deter the criminal wrongdoing that gets JPMC, and other Wall Street behemoths, in legal hot water. (It is estimated that sixteen Wall Street banks could ultimately pay up to $50 billion to resolve government investigations over mortgage fraud alone.) To the big banks, such fines are now seen simply as a cost of doing business.