Category Archives: Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity

Clever! But Wrong: “Hoodies For Hobos”

Homeless advertisng

“Team ADD -A-BALL is proud to announce our new outreach program ‘Hoodies for Hobo’s’. All profits from sweatshirt and t-shirt sales go towards outfitting Seattle’s street people with some fresh gear. I will post a pic of every new bum we spruce up. Thanks everyone.”

—-Add-a-Ball owner Brad Johnsen, on his company’s Facebook page.

Yes, Brad, who casually refers to his walking billboards as “bums,” has what he sees as a perfect plan. Profits profits from all  T-shirt and apparel sales at Johnsen’s Seattle arcade will be used to outfit the city’s homeless “with some fresh gear,” all sporting the arcade’s name and logo. Everybody wins! He gets publicity and good will for this—wink, wink—”charity,” the homeless get spiffy new clothes, and he gets really cheap advertising.

So what if he robs the objects of his charity of their dignity, exploits them, and dehumanizes them into the equivalents of car bumpers? Hey, no plan is perfect! To his credit, sort of, Johnsen’s comments don’t exactly leave much room for doubts about his compassion and motives. “If it also encourages people to go play pinball and get drunk—all the better,” he says.

If he was interested in anything other than the cheap publicity…like, say, the welfare of the homeless, Johnsen would hand out clothes without the logo. I’m sure he wouldn’t understand why I say that. Or why paying the “bums’ who choose to wear the ones that advertise his business would be the ethical course, since it would compensate the homeless for their service and give them a sense of self-worth, rather than making them, in effect, unpaid sandwich-board wearers for the privilege of wearing a lousy hoodie.

I wonder how many people see nothing unethical Johnsen’s scheme. I’m a little afraid to find out.

[Addendum (4 PM 4/10/14): I should have mentioned in the original post that Kant would have agreed with me. This is a Categorical Imperative situation, using human beings as a means rather than an end: "Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end."  The fact that the cynical ploy can be represented as a one that aims at clothing the homeless makes the label a little shaky, and I admit that the "Ick Factor" looms large here.]


Pointer:  Drudge

Facts: Vocative





Filed under Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Marketing and Advertising, Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity

Fundraising Ethics Controversy in Michigan! Naming Buildings After Big University Donors: Ethical or Not?


I worked in the development (capital fundraising) office of Georgetown University for many years, and am well aware of the sausage-making that goes into attracting big donations. Thus the controversy that recently erupted in Michigan is of interest both for its ethical content and the way it dances around inconvenient truths.

With the college student’s wonderful knack for avoiding the obvious, the student newspaper of Grand Valley (Michigan) State University declared ethics war on what it called “billboards”: buildings and lecture halls named after corporate and individual donors. With naivete and boundless ignorance of the world of philanthropy and non-profit fundraising, the editorial declared (among other things)…

  • “What’s next? Will we turn Lake Huron 133 into the “Amway Lecture Hall?” Will the backs of our chairs have plaques dedicated to the lower-level donors?” COMMENT: For enough money, of course the university would rename the hall. Why should it care what a lecture hall is called, if it can avoid having to raise tuition? As for the backs of seats: did the editors do any research at all? Opera companies, theaters, museaums and other non-profit entities do exactly this. So what?

Continue reading


Filed under Business & Commercial, Education, Etiquette and manners, Marketing and Advertising, Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

Dana Milbank’s Weird and Un-American Concept of Loyalty

blind followers

This happens now and then—I consider posting on a topic, decide, “Nah, I must be the only one who sees it this way,” and then another commentator—one people actually pay attention to—flags exactly the same issue I decided nobody would notice or care about. This time it was James Taranto, one of my favorites, who saw the same disturbing sensibilities that I did in Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank’s bizarre column today.

Titled “Why millennials have abandoned Obama,” the Post’s flakiest liberal accuses young voters of disloyalty to their hero because they don’t want to sacrifice their own autonomy and well-being to help the President’s misbegotten health care bill succeed. It is well-known that a sufficient number of young Americans must sign up for health care insurance—which, for them, is over-priced under the law—to make the rest of the numbers add up. So far, they aren’t doing it. Milbank:

“The administration announced last week that only 1.08 million people ages 18 to 34 had signed up for Obamacare by the end of February, or about 25 percent of total enrollees. If the proportion doesn’t improve significantly, the result likely will be fatal for the Affordable Care Act.”

Milbank then makes the jaw-dropping argument that Obama should take this personally, that it is a betrayal by his troops in his hour of need. After all, Milbank tells us, these were the same voters who elected Obama, seeing him as a transformative candidate. Shouldn’t they be willing to sacrifice now and make their health insurance decisions according what will be best for him?

What??? Of course not! Oh, I have no question that the President thinks this way. It was Obama, after all, whose solution to the depressing unemployment numbers has been to tell business leaders to hire more people, because he said so, and because it would make his policies look more successful. Businesses would be happy to hire more employees, of course, if the stuttering administration didn’t keep changing the rules, laws and assumptions, wasn’t feeding global uncertainty by inept foreign policy, threatening to make energy costs skyrocket, and generally be the least business-friendly government in recent memory. Businesses don’t change their behavior because it helps a President politically, they do it because it will help them make money. The same is true of individuals, young and old. “This will make my life easier and more secure” is a reason to buy health care. “This will help a President I voted for rescue his grand plan that he lied about, managed incompetently and that isn’t working right” is not.

Why does Milbank think it is? Continue reading


Filed under Character, Citizenship, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Marketing and Advertising, Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity, U.S. Society

50 Years After Kitty Genovese, Inhumans On A Bus

The title describes the public transit riders who watched this disturbing scene unfold on a Philadelphia bus, and did nothing:

2014 is the 50th anniversary of the infamous Kitty Genovese case, and dueling books on the incident either recount the accepted version that 38 people in an apartment building heard the 28 year-old woman’s screams as she was being stabbed to death but “didn’t want to be involved” and let her die, or adopt the revisionist theory that the apathy of bystanders was unfairly and inaccurately hyped by the news media. The incident on the Philadelphia bus tells me that the revisionists have a burden of proof that will be hard to meet. There was plenty of evidence already, like here, or here, or here, or here, or more recently here, that Kitty Genovese might not fare any better today. Continue reading


Filed under Character, Citizenship, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity, U.S. Society

Those Unethical, Exorbitant, Non-Profit Speaking Fees…But Don’t Blame Bill Clinton!

No wonder Bill looks so happy...

No wonder Bill looks so happy…

In the middle of instituting two rounds of major layoffs in 2012,  the non profit Washington Hospital Center gave Bill Clinton a whopping $225,000 speaking fee  to appear at its annual Cardiovascular Research Technologies conference, where Clinton expounded on health care reform and his own battle against heart disease. The hospital didn’t disclose the $225,000 payment on its annual Internal Revenue Service forms, but it surfaced on the list of income sources the ex-President provided on his wife’s required ethics filing as Secretary of State. This waste of precious funds is unconscionable, and it is also all too common.

The story was originally broken by the Washington Times, with its angle being that Clinton was the villain. I will always enjoy a little Clinton-bashing, but that is unfair and ridiculous. No one forced the hospital to pay such an exorbitant fee. No one forces any organization to pay such speaking fees; if organizations wouldn’t pay them, Clinton and other blue chip speakers would charge what the market would bear. Both Clintons charge in this range to speak, and remember, the time they devote to spreading their pearls of wisdom is typically an hour or less. Non profits as well as deep pocket corporations like Goldman Sachs, American Express and Fidelity Investments also pay the fees or similar ones, and it is an abuse of discretion whether the payer is a non profit or not. * Continue reading


Filed under Business & Commercial, Marketing and Advertising, Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity

Gift Horse Ethics: The Babe, The Splendid Splinter, and The Ethics Of Self-Promoting Virtue

sick child and-babe-jpgBaseball slugger Babe Ruth was famous for visiting hospitals and orphanages to give kids a thrill. Babe always had reporters in too to record his noblesse oblige , of course. He was an orphan himself, and nobody should doubt the Bambino’s genuine dedication and generosity when it came to kids. He just wasn’t going to let his good deeds go unnoticed.

Other baseball greats, notably Ted Williams, made most of his visits without fanfare or publicity, and he didn’t tip off the press. “The Splendid Splinter” wasn’t visiting kids in cancer wards because he wanted his fans to know what a good guy he was. He did it because he wanted to make sick children feel better.

Was the Babe less ethical than Williams? Did his self=promotion take the ethical sheen off of his good deeds? This is the issue raised by the activities  of the  “Magician Prankster” who calls himself “Magic of Rahat” on YouTube and Twitter. He recently posted a video called “Homeless Lottery Winner” showing him playing  a prank on a homeless man, who ends up with $1,000. He is understandably grateful:

Slade Sohmer however, on HyperVocal, is hearing ethics alarms: Continue reading


Filed under Character, History, Marketing and Advertising, Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity, The Internet, U.S. Society

Tom Yawkey, J. Edgar Hoover, Political Correctness and Gratitude

Yawkey TributeIt’s not often that I am called upon to rebut a web post that relies on one of my articles for its unethical conclusions, but that is the position that Ron Chimelis has placed me in with his recent essay, Why the Boston Red Sox should rename Yawkey Way.

To catch you up quickly: Tom Yawkey was a lumber tycoon and baseball enthusiast who owned the Boston Red Sox from 1933 to 1976, making him the longest-tenured team owner in the sport’s history. Yawkey was almost certainly a racist; if he was not a racist, his team’s policies certainly were for many years. The Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate, and blacks did not have a significant place on the team’s roster until the late 1960s, two decades after Jackie Robinson broke the color line. From the beginning, Yawkey ran the Red Sox as a public utility, paying little attention to the bottom line as he tried to build a winner out of the franchise that had been a perennial loser since selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919. After his death, Yawkey’s wife Jean continued the family tradition, running the Red Sox, except for a few years, until her own death in 1992.

When Tom Yawkey died, the City of Boston re-named Jersey Street, which runs past the entry to Fenway Park where the Red Sox play, Yawkey Way in his honor.

In the unerring clarity of hindsight bias, Chimelis argues that Tom Yawkey is undeserving of any recognition by the city that he devoted much of his life to representing, enhancing, serving, inspiring and entertaining because racism is the ultimate crime, and anyone possessing that vile state of mind should be consigned to shame forever. It is a common point of view, and an unfair one. Continue reading


Filed under Character, Citizenship, Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity, Sports

Facebook’s Promote Policy: Annoying And Perhaps Stupid, But Unethical?


I have been wading through the many online complaints about Facebook’s  aggressive policy, begun in earnest back in 2012, of reducing the number of “friends” a Facebook user’s posts reach (by about 85%) and then charging the Facebook user a fee to reach more of them. Frankly, as a less-than-intense Facebook user who necessarily spends most of his web-content time running a blog, I didn’t even pay attention to the “promote” button, and wasn’t even aware of the change. The Facebook revenue-generating move is described here and here, but what happened is pretty simple  and easy to understand. Having sucked a lot of people, groups and businesses into using their free service to reach family, friends, like-minded souls and potential customers, Facebook then changed the rules and is now charging for them to get the same reach that was free for quite a while. Is this unethical?

Some, indeed many, think so. Here is the New York Observor:

“This is a clear conflict of interest. The worse the platform performs, the more advertisers need to use Sponsored Stories. In a way, it means that Facebook is broken, on purpose, in order to extract more money from users. In the case of Sponsored Stories, it has meant raking in nearly $1M a day.”

This is Dangerous Minds, in a widely circulated attack on Facebook called “I want my friends back”:

“It’s perhaps the most understated stick-up line in history, worthy of a James Bond villain calmly demanding that a $365 million dollar ransom gets collected from all the Mom & Pop businesses who use Facebook. How many focus groups do you reckon it took until Facebook’s highly paid marketing and PR consultants finally arrived at such an innocuous phrase for describing information superhighway robbery?”

Robbery? Conflict of interest? A hold-up? Bait and switch? This is the kind of tantrum that shows how easy it is for unscrupulous politicians to use the profit motive, free enterprise and capitalism as cheap scapegoats for every problem under the sun, all the better to build support for a massive, all-powerful government that will make everything right, and ensure that we all have lollipops and rainbows regardless of talent, effort, hard work or the cruel turns of fate.* Facebook created this service millions use for free—how dare the bastards try to make money out of their ingenuity and enterprise? Don’t we all, in a real sense, own Facebook? Shouldn’t we? Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Law & Law Enforcement, Marketing and Advertising, Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity, The Internet

Ethics Heroes: The New York Yankees

Yankees Wallpaper

You know how hard it is for the co-creator of “Pennant Pursuit, the Boston Red Sox Trivia Game” to write this.

It can’t be avoided though. The New York Yankees have, and not for the first time, upon reflection, demolished the oft-stated accusation that Major League Baseball is no longer a sport, but a business. This was always a false dichotomy, for from the days of rag-tag 19th Century baseball to the present, The Great American Pastime That Does Not Require You To Cheer Young Athletes Guaranteeing That They Will Spend Their Retirement In A Brain-Damage Haze has always been both, with each side constantly yielding to the other.

Coming off a disappointing season (the all-time most successful team in pro sports history missed the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years) and faced with an aging, injured, question mark-filled roster despite the highest payroll in the game ($228,995,945; the Houston Astros, in contrast, spend about 24 million, or less that the Yankees paid their steroid cheating third-baseman), and faced with baseball’s team salary luxury tax, which charges teams with a payroll exceeding 189 million for every dollar over it, the Yankees discarded their announced business plan of cutting back on salaries to avoid the tax threshold, and instead went on a spending binge. They snapped up most of the top free agent stars peddling their wares this winter, committing themselves to a staggering boost in contract obligations that will approach a half-billion dollars by the time the dust clears. Continue reading


Filed under Business & Commercial, Ethics Heroes, Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity, Sports

Ethics Hero: Pro Track Star Lauren Fleshman

Lauren Fleshman

Lauren Fleshman is a 31-year-old track star whose attractive looks have garnered her product sponsorships, magazine covers and fashion show appearances. Thus it represents a noble sacrifice for her to choose to reveal the truth about her beauty and fitness—that she’s human, and is not as perfect a specimen of the species as the media would lead us to believe.

On her blog, Fleshman struck a blow against vanity and for the acceptance of realistic and healthy female body images by exposing the kinds of photos of glamorous athletes like her that the public isn’t usually permitted to see. Images like this… Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Heroes, Journalism & Media, Marketing and Advertising, Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity, Sports