Category Archives: Business & Commercial

Ethics Quiz: The Duchess of York’s Website And The Duke of Plazatoro

The category is Celebrity Ethics, Royal Ethics or Marketing Ethics, depending on your point of view. Unfortunately for ethical clarity, how you answer today’s Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz may depend on which category you choose.

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, is embarrassing the Royal Family again, only this time it isn’t by throwing snowballs at photographers or by not being as demure and lovely as the late Princess Diana. This time, the self-exiled and divorced Fergie is trading on her title to make a living as an internet huckster. She has a website that peddles a juicer for weight loss and “The Perfecter Ultra”:

The Perfecter Ultra Heated Styling Brush combines innovative ionic technology with pure black tourmaline heating plates for ultimate convenience in achieving salon quality hairstyles at home. Create silky straight styles or beautiful bouncing curls, reduce frizzies or add volume to thinning hair, the Perfecter Ultra is the remarkable styling tool that does it all.

The Duchess has also been appearing on QVC, the cable shopping network where shopping addicts, lonely recluses and easy marks hang out. Among the Royals, with whom she is already on the outs, this is considered…unseemly. Concludes Tom Sykes at the Daily Beast:

“Her website majors in its attempts to cast her shill as public service, saying, “One of my missions in life now is to help people fight their weight challenges so they can live longer, healthier and happier lives. Take it from me: you can do it!”  But the truth is, Fergie is selling her title, and getting paid a no-doubt healthy fee for her promotional activities.”

There’s little doubt that “selling her title” is a fair description.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

As Duchess of York, does Sarah Ferguson have an ethical obligation to behave like the symbol of the British Commonwealth that she and the rest of the Royal Family is, or can she ethically use her title as she chooses, including to sell junk on the internet?

Continue reading

31 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, Family, History, Humor and Satire, Literature, Marketing and Advertising, The Internet

Law vs. Ethics: A Snatched Bar Mitzvah Gift, A Leaky AG, An Embarrassing Scoreboard, and”OINK”

Oink

I try to keep my legal ethics seminars up-to-the-minute, so while preparing for yesterday’s session with the Appellate Section of the Indiana Bar, I came across a bunch of entertaining stories in which the ethics were a lot clearer than the law, or vice-versa. All of them could and perhaps should sustain separate posts; indeed, I could probably devote the blog entirely to such cases.

Here are my four favorites from the past week’s legal news, involving a mother-son lawsuit, a brazenly unethical attorney general, a college scoreboard named after a crook, and police officer’s sense of humor: Continue reading

18 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Family, Finance, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Marketing and Advertising, Professions, Rights, Sports, U.S. Society

The Next Time You See One Of Those Opera Commercials About Selling Structured Settlements, Think About “Rose”

Rose

Because I worked as the general counsel for the late Richard Halpern, a kind and brilliant man, I know a lot about structured settlement, and also about the slimy businesses that conspire to destroy them. Richard’s company, The Halpern Group, worked with trial lawyers to develop structured settlements for successful plaintiffs who had won long-term damages for catastrophic injuries due to medical negligence, product liability or other torts. Most of these clients were poor, and if their millions in damages, designed to help them survive the rest of their lives, were awarded in lump sums, the result would almost always be catastrophic. These were poor people, for the most part, with poor families and poor friends and neighbors, none of whom had any experience or success managing money.  Drop millions on someone who has never had luxuries of any kind, and a spending spree as well and handouts to needy or greedy friends and acquaintances were sure to follow. For their own protection (or the protection of minors needing lifetime medical care), these plaintiffs of Rich’s lawyer clients were advised to forgo a big lump sum in favor of an annuity which would pay out regular amounts over time.

The plaintiffs own the income stream, but not the annuity itself. With assured income developed according to projected needs, the plaintiffs and their families could be assured of security and relative comfort and well-being—relative, because damages can seldom make up for broken bodies, minds and lives. Let me take over for myself here, from a post I wrote on this topic almost exactly six years ago.

Once they are on their own, however, the compensated victims are targeted by viatical settlement companies, both those with cute opera-singing commercials and those without. They undermine the sound advice of the attorneys with slogans like “It’s your money!” and try to persuade the former plaintiffs to unstructure the structured settlement by selling the annuity’s income stream to the viatical settlement company at a deep discount. Result: the annuity company gets the regular income at bargain rates, and the victims get a new, smaller lump sum to dissipate in exchange. The statistics say that the customer of the viatical settlement company will run out of cash long before he or she runs out of the need for it. But for the company, it’s a sweet deal.

It’s also despicable. The viatical settlement industry like to use lottery winnings, which are usually paid out in annuities like structured settlements, to justify their business. Lottery winning are windfall funds; while the same dissipation  hold for those lump sums (most multi-million dollar lottery winners have no money left after five years), the winners are usually no worse of after the money has been blown than they were before their number came up. When the money is a settlement for an injury, however, losing it is calamity. I would consider a viatical settlement company that only bought the income stream from lottery annuities ethical. There is no such company, however. The victims with structured settlements are a much larger and more lucrative market.

I have written about these legal but unethical businesses more than once. The first time, on The Ethics Scoreboard, I described a viatical settlement company only by using quotes from its own website, and explained what it meant, accurately. The company’s lawyers demanded that I take down the post, claiming that I had disparaged them (by using their own words and making it clear how they made their money.) I was in no position, with a family, a struggling business and aging parents, to engage in a legal battle of principle (though I suspected the company was bluffing, and I didn’t know Ken White and Marc Randazza then, both courageous blogging lawyers who assist bloggers who are threatened, like I was being threatened, to silence them. I took down the post. Continue reading

24 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Finance, Law & Law Enforcement, Marketing and Advertising

Ethics Mystery: What Was So Wrong With Curt Schilling’s Muslim Tweet?

schilling-tweet

ESPN pulled former baseball pitching star Curt Schilling from its Little League broadcast team yesterday after becoming aware of his tweet above, saying in a statement:

“Curt’s tweet was completely unacceptable, and in no way represents our company’s perspective. We made that point very strongly to Curt and have removed him from his current Little League assignment pending further consideration.”

Schilling then tweeted this apology: “I understand and accept my suspension. 100% my fault. Bad choices have bad consequences and this was a bad decision in every way on my part.” This appears to be a #1 on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale...“An apology motivated by the realization that one’s past conduct was unjust, unfair, and wrong, constituting an unequivocal admission of wrongdoing as well as regret, remorse and contrition, as part of a sincere effort to make amends and seek forgiveness.” 

If I had delivered it, however, it might have been a #7: “A forced or compelled version of 1-4, in which the individual (or organization) apologizing may not sincerely believe that an apology is appropriate, but chooses to show the victim or victims of the act inspiring it that the individual responsible is humbling himself and being forced to admit wrongdoing by the society, the culture, legal authority, or an organization or group that the individual’s actions reflect upon or represent.”

What was it exactly that Schilling’s tweet showed, implied, suggested or stated that was” completely unacceptable,  in no way represent ESPN’s  perspective, and that justified his employer’s action? Curt Schilling is an inquisitive, politically active and opinionated man, and has always annoyed sportswriters because 1) he’s openly conservative 2) he’s a devout Christian, and isn’t shy about talking about it, 3) he can write and speak coherently and was capable, while playing, of challenging their criticism, and 4) he’s a lot smarter than most of them. I am assuming in this inquiry that nothing in Schilling’s contract or agreement with ESPN restricted his right to express non-sports opinions on his own time.

Here are some possibilities: Continue reading

45 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Social Media, Unethical Tweet, War and the Military, Workplace

Ethics Quiz: The Looney Tunes Cartoon Disclaimer

Warner Brothers Warning

Above is the disclaimer shown at the beginning of each DVD in the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4, Volume 5, and Volume 6 sets, as well as the Daffy Duck and Foghorn Leghorn Looney Tunes Super Stars sets and the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection:

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is the warning that introduces the Warner Brothers classic cartoon videos fair and responsible?

Continue reading

59 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Humor and Satire, Literature, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, Race, Religion and Philosophy

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Dunces: Not Only Anybody Who Actually Thinks Donald Trump Would Be Anything But An Existential Disaster As President, But Anyone Who Isn’t Disgusted By His Existence”

Circus

I was looking for an enthusiastic Trump defending comment to post as a comment of the day, and my former math partner from Mrs. Penwarden’s 6th grade class at Crosby School in Arlington, Massachusetts, Peter Canaday, was kind enough to supply a doozy all the way from New Zealand, to which, as a physician of note and significant success, he retired with his latest bride a while ago. Peter’s a smart guy; he also questions Obama’s birth certificate and is a fan of both Pauls, so he is also…complex.

His opening volley is a bit obscure: that college he’s referring to is Peter’s alma mater, Amherst, where I was wait-listed. Actually, it’s a funny story: the letter, which arrived after I had accepted early admission to another school, began. “This is a difficult letter for us to write, for we must inform you that you have been placed on the waiting list and you don’t deserve to be there…” I was shocked—it was bad enough that I wasn’t deemed worthy of admission, and here they were rubbing it in by saying that I didn’t even deserve to be on the waiting list?  Bolstered by the fact that I had an admission in hand, I wrote Amherst a tongue-in-cheek wounded letter of complaint, bemoaning their callousness, lack of professionalism and mockery. I got an immediate letter of apology swearing that they didn’t mean that I didn’t deserve the wait list, only that I deserved better. “It’s too late to retract the insult now,” I wrote back. “My heart was set on your college, but my faith in the institution has been shattered. Please remove my name from your list. I don’t care to attend a school this insensitive and cruel. I’m not sure I want to go to cllege at all any more. I think I will join the Merchant Marines.”

Amherst didn’t get me. It did admit my nephew Ross, however, and he graduated with honors.

I’ll have a rather lengthy response to my friend Peter at the end. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Dunces: Not Only Anybody Who Actually Thinks Donald Trump Would Be Anything But An Existential Disaster As President, But Anyone Who Isn’t Disgusted By His Existence: Continue reading

20 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Leadership

Of Gluten, Bacon, And Reverse Deceit

gluten free baconThere is no valid scientific evidence that gluten–the protein in wheat, barley and rye—is harmful in any way unless you suffer from Celiac Disease, which few people do, or have an allergy to it, which isn’t common either. Somehow the food and nutrition scammers, aided by aging hippies, vegans and none-too-bright celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow have convinced a depressing number of people that gluten is generally deadly, and this has created a boffo market for food marked “gluten free” and sold at unethically high prices, since they are supported by gullibility and little else.

Yesterday, I noticed that Boar’s Head pre-cooked microwave bacon is prominently labelled “gluten-free.” Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty certain that bacon, like my shoes, the pavement on the street where I live, my cell phone and my laptop, is always gluten-free. I checked my assumption on a gluten website, which confirmed it, but the site also said that you never know when bacon might be cross-contaminated by the nasty stuff, just traces of course, but you never know!!!! 

Apparently you do know if the company says the bacon is gluten-free, although I don’t know why. Nor do I know how you would prove you got sick from the trace gluten on your bacon, nor understand why the bacon doesn’t come with denials of contamination by anything else that might bother some people—-arsenic, peanuts, shellfish, penicillin, lactose, cat hair, broken glass, ISIS. Continue reading

39 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Health and Medicine, Marketing and Advertising