TARP Ethics Dilemmas: A Guide For Advocates and Critics

Surprise! The TARP bailout of October 2008 seems to have turned out remarkably well.  The Troubled Assets Relief Program, which was and still is attacked by conservatives and Tea Party critics as a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street giants who should have been allowed to fail, is now anticipated to eventually only cost the federal government about $25 billion, according to the Government Accounting Office.

When a policy that is widely criticized as wrong-headed in principle actually works, it presents ethical problems for both advocates and critics alike.

A few helpful tips: Continue reading

The Democrats, Earmarks, and the Transparency Dodge

The arguments for continuing the irresponsible and frequently corrupt earmark process are misguided at best, and dishonest at worst. Mostly they are dishonest, Senators and House members graft appropriations in the millions for local projects that are never weighed, prioritized or evaluated in the voting process, killing budget restraint by a thousand cuts. They are also used as legislative currency, as two elected officials trade one irresponsible expenditure for a dubious state project for another.

Earmarks are an invitation to corruption, as they often are the result of thinly veiled quid pro quo arrangements. The device makes the American taxpayer the underwriter of expenditures that often have no greater purpose than to grease the skid for re-election for one more fiscally irresponsible politician. For decades, U.S. Presidents have complained about them; most since Ronald Reagan argued for the Constitutionally problematic line-item veto to combat them. Now, spurred by the recent voter revolt over out-of-control spending, the Republican Caucus in the Senate has voted to ban earmarks. The full Senate, however, with eight Republicans joining with the earmark-happy Democrats, voted down a proposed moratorium. Continue reading

GlaxonSmithKline Inspires a Fun Game For Your Holiday Party: “Forcast That Ethics Scandal!”

Almost all ethics scandals and examples of outrageous unethical conduct are thoroughly predictable, whether they involve individual, organizations or institutions. The most obvious proof of this is in politics. Once we consider past patterns, current conditions, institutional habits and what we know about human nature, the question when a new political party takes over isn’t whether there will be instances of bribery, influence peddling, self-enrichment, and conflict of interest, but only which elected leaders will be caught at it. Sometimes even that part is easy: everyone should have been able to guess, long before they occurred, that Tom DeLay’s ethics-free philosophy of politics as warfare would lead him to commit serious misdeeds, just as the odds against former Florida Rep. Alan Grayson running a fair or civil campaign for re-election were prohibitively high. Similarly, sports scandals can usually be seen coming a long way off. Once New England Patriots coach Bill Belichik was caught making surreptitious videos of his team’s opponents’ practices, it was easy to guess that he wasn’t the only one, and that since both he and his team were so successful, it would be only a matter of time before a similar incident came to light. And it did, last week.

As I look through various Ethics Alarms posts, it is striking how many of them could have been written in advance, in fill-in-the-blank format. All you need to do is identify an industry with a history of ethics problems, a weak ethics culture, a trusting, under-informed audience, the potential for increased profit, power or influence, and a large population of corruptible, lazy, incompetent, venal, ambitious or cowardly allies. I’m sure a computer program could be developed, but for this holiday season, why not forecast next year’s ethics scandals as a party game? Challenge your guests: Which TV reality show will be shown to have completely manipulated “reality”? Which revered sports figure will be disgraced in a sex or drug scandal? Which Wall Street firm will be caught violating the “sacred principles” posted on its website? Which school will suspend or expel a student for violating the letter of an overly broad and horribly-written rule without actually doing anything wrong? Which universally accepted scientific research will turn out to be the result of manipulated data? Which embarrassments of the Obama Administration will only be reported by Fox News, and which outrages committed by Republicans will the same network ignore?

And, of course, where will TSA employees put their hands next?

This occurred to me as I read about the recent Big Pharma-manipulating-medical-practice scandal, involving drug giant GlaxonSmithKline, while slapping my forehead and shouting, “Of course! This was the logical next step!” Continue reading

Extending Job Benefits: Irresponsible, Unfair and Unethical

Last week, Republicans blocked yet another extension of unemployment benefits, and we can only hope they have the integrity and courage to do it again, in the face of predictable cries that they are cruel and heartless. The correct term is “fair and responsible.”

Well over a decade ago, President Clinton and a Republican Congress instituted welfare reform over similar accusations that it would spark tragedy and starvation. What it did was help end cycles of poverty and dependency. Hardly anyone except die-hard socialists argues that limiting welfare was a mistake today.

The serial extensions of unemployment benefits we have seen for two years, however, have become indistinguishable from welfare, and are now blatant political pandering to a large unemployed voter bloc in distress. The government is broke and in debt, and in no position to add an open-ended entitlement that pays Americans not to get jobs. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Asra Nomani

Asra Q. Nomani is a Muslim. She is also is an American, an author, a women’s rights activist, and co-director of the Pearl Project. Today, in a column for the Daily Beast, she broke ranks with her religion and the absolutist foes of profiling as an anti-terrorist tool with a profoundly ethical act: she argued for new policies that may be against her own interests, but also may be in the best interest of her country and the public— because she believes it is the right thing to do.

The title of her essay: “Let’s Profile Muslims.”

Some excerpts… Continue reading

Allied Against Consumers and Ethics: Google and the Sociopathic Businessman

Today the New York Times extensively documents the unethical business strategy used by the owner of a web-based eyewear business.

After making the discovery that Google does not distinguish between positive and negative mentions of a business on the Internet, he resolved to treat complaining customers as badly as possible to encourage complaints about his company on consumer sites. I do mean “as badly as possible”: the Times relates the accounts of customers who received insulting phone calls, threatening mail, and other harassing and bullying communications from the entrepreneur, who uses multiple aliases. The method works well: since on-line diatribes, complaints and bad reviews have piled up over his poor service, outrageous conduct and often shoddy merchandise, the man’s business is booming. Its name consistently nears the top of Google’s search results when a potential customer types the name of his or her favorite eyewear designer and “eyeglasses,” sometimes placing higher than the designer itself. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Buffalo Bills Wide Receiver Steve Johnson

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson dropped what would have been a game-winning touchdown pass in Sunday’s game against the Steelers, who eventually won. Rather than accepting responsibility and accountability for his failure, Johnson took to Twitter to blame…God.

His tweet shouted in indignation…


Another Unethical TV Commercial: Twix Trivializes Lies, Infidelity

Twix’s successful “Need a moment?” campaign has long based its humor on encouraging people to lie themselves out of various embarrassing predicaments. Though almost all of them portray men as stereotypical sexist creeps, they have generally been within acceptable limits of exaggeration for the sake of humor. Its recent ad, however, crosses ethical  lines by seeming to trivialize and even encourage infidelity, while claiming that the product can facilitate it. Continue reading

More on the Feel-Up Searches and Other TSA Indignities, For Those Who Haven’t Closed Their Minds, Abandoned Empathy, or Determined That The Government Always Knows Best

For the A.C.L.U.’s collection of nightmare travel stories, go here.

For Reason’s collection of editorials chastising critics of the search procedures, go here and here.

To read a new blog that will be tracking this issue and other TSA matters, go to the new TSA Abuse Blog, here. I’ll also put it with the Ethics Alarms links, under “Of Interest.”

Kudos to Popehat for the links….and for doing a superb job keeping the pressure on.