Afternoon Ethics Cool-Down, 2/28/18: Honors, Bribes, Blackmail, And “Ugh!”

Good Afternoon.

Actually, that’s dishonest: it’s been a terrible day, morn to now.. A catalogue retailer took an email address my wife sent them a year ago and  bombarded her account with hundreds of promotional messages yesterday, crashing her email. Then her efforts to fix the problem resulted in a Proethics system email crash that I have been trying to address for the past five hours. I finally decided to get something productive done, so I’m getting up this post while talking to my tech people. UPDATE: They just gave up.

1 Trump Tweets. Ugh. The President criticizing his own Cabinet member, in this case Jeff Sessions, in public via tweet, is horrific leadership and management practice. If I were Sessions, I would resign, It is disrespectful, disloyal, undermines morale on the President’s team, and is just plain stupid. I don’t understand how Trump had any success at all treating employees and subordinates like this. While we’re on this perpetual subject. the fact that the President would say out loud that he would have rushed the Parkland shooter without a weapon is just more evidence of a) a flat learning curve b) the lack of the usual filters from brain to mouth and c) the unethical tendency of third parties to critique the actions of others in rescue situations. No question: the resource officer who was required by policy, assignment and duty to try to intervene in the shooting deserves all the criticism he has been getting, and is accountable. But the President of the United States announcing that he is Batman is something else entirely.

My objections to the non-stop personal ridicule of our elected leader stands, but he also has a duty, as the steward of the Office, not to make himself look ridiculous.

2. An unethical boycott tactic, but I repeat myself.  The anti-gun zealots have decided to attack a free and constitutionally protected Bill of Rights advocacy group as part of the news media-assisted effort to demonize the NRA as being somehow responsible for a school shooting that none of the proposed “common sense gun reforms” would have prevented. Now the Second Amendment-gutting crowd  is using the boycott, a particularly odious weapon favored by progressives, which depends on the venality and spinelessness of corporate executives to constrict free speech. Delta Airlines announced it was ending a promotional discount with the National Rifle Association after threats and a social media campaign, then tried the weaselly explanation that its decision to stop offering discounted fares to the N.R.A. “reflects the airline’s neutral status in the current national debate over gun control amid recent school shootings.”

This doesn’t work, and is disingenuous.  Of course all such discounts have nothing to do with ideology or politics and everything to do with promotion and profits. Delta is calculating that signalling its alliance with the Americans operating on emotion after the slaughter in Parkland will brink them more business, or lose them less, than being seen as friend to those who support the integrity of the Second Amendment. Having made a choice in the latter direction, it cannot remove that support and claim that the airline is being neutral. Ethics Alarms discussed this dilemma in a very different controversy here.

Removing existing support cannot be represented as neutral, even if it is intended that way. In this case, Delta wants to simultaneously garner benefits from implying that the NRA is a villain, and to avoid the consequences by claiming that they have no dog in the hunt.  Baloney. Delta and every other corporation that capitulates to the anti-gun boycott threat is announcing that it will punish groups based on their political positions and viewpoint, if the opposite position threatens hard enough. Fed-Ex, subject to a similar boycott because NRA members get a discount (along with many other organizations), tried to play both ends against the middle a bit different, saying,

“We are very clear that, when we set pricing strategy or look to adjust pricing, it is not based on political positions or points of view But we do have a very clear corporate position in terms of gun safety and school safety.”

If it wanted to be neutral, Delta should have announced that it would give equivalent discounts to member of gun reforms organizations. Caving in to unethical boycotts encourages more boycotts. I’m happy to see that Delta may suffer for its weenie-ness. Georgia Republicans are threatening to end a lucrative tax break for Delta in the state, prompting this mind-blowing hypocrisy from Sam Massell, the city’s former Democratic mayor, who said, “I don’t believe in blackmail, and I’m sorry to use such a dirty word, but that’s almost what it tastes like.”

Threatening to boycott a corporation if it doesn’t end a commercial relationship with the NRA isn’t blackmail, but threatening consequences when it does is blackmail. That’s some discriminating taste you have there, Sam.

I’m no member of the NRA, but I detest boycotts, the activists who wield them, and the companies that don’t have the integrity to resist them. I had a choice between flying on Delta or American for my law firm ethics seminar nest week. Guess which airline I’m using?

3.  The Rotunda honor. While CNN, MSNBC and HLN are still making the shooting of two weeks ago its top story—this entered the realm of propaganda long ago—Fox New has been concentrating on Billy Graham, who will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. Does he deserve the honor? The real question is why so many other national figures have not been similarly honored. No private citizen was ever so displayed until 1998, after U.S. Capitol police officers Jacob J. Chestnut, Jr. and detective John M. Gibson died in the line of duty protecting the U.S. Capitol from an armed assailant. They became the first private citizens to lie in honor in the Rotunda. Next was Rosa Parks, in 2004, and now Graham.

The whole list is here. and it’s far too select. I would have expected the honor  to be used for Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Thomas Edison, Audie Murphy, Babe Ruth, Shirley Temple Black, John Wayne, Walt Disney, Charles Lindburgh, Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Darrow,Alan Shepard, Neil Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson and Mark Twain, just for starters.

4. He’s probably running for President in 2020, too…Steven J. Weiss was appointed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to the New York State Housing Finance Agency in 2011 and the state board of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in 2016. Weiss then donated $53,000 to the governor’s campaign after being named to the housing agency. Kenneth A. Manning, was appointed by Cuomo to a state judicial screening committee in 2011. Records show that Mr. Manning has donated $50,500 since that appointment.

Of course these political donations look and smell like quid pro quo corruption, and to say they have the appearance of impropriety is an understatement. Overall, the Cuomo has collected about $890,000 from two dozen of his appointees, some within days of being appointed. He has also accepted $1.3 million from the spouses, children and businesses of appointees. This is all very odd, because in 2007, then Governor Eliot L. Spitzer issued an executive order barring most appointees from donating to or soliciting donations for the governor who made the appointment.  This order has never been undone. Cuomo just ignores it.

None of this has been deemed newsworthy on any news networks, but I did get to hear a survivor of the Parkland shooting this morning tell America with absolute certitude  that such tragedies were “easily preventable.”

37 thoughts on “Afternoon Ethics Cool-Down, 2/28/18: Honors, Bribes, Blackmail, And “Ugh!”

  1. Georgia Republicans are threatening to end a lucrative tax break for Delta in the state, prompting this mind-blowing hypocrisy from Sam Massell, the city’s former Democratic mayor, who said, “I don’t believe in blackmail, and I’m sorry to use such a dirty word, but that’s almost what it tastes like.”

    Threatening to boycott a corporation if it doesn’t end a commercial relationship with the NRA isn’t blackmail, but threatening consequences when it does is blackmail. That’s some discriminating taste you have there, Sam.

    I don’t think this is a double standard. While it may be unethical to do so, citizens have the right to punish private corporations for taking a political stance they disagree with by boycotting them. I don’t think there is a similar right for members of the government to punish private corporations for taking a political stance they disagree with by using the power of the law against them.

      • Blackmail is a crime. I don’t think Massell should have used the word to describe the Republicans’ actions, but I don’t think it applies to the NRA boycotters either. And of course, not all coercion is unethical. I differ with your position on boycotts, but we’ve had that debate before, and your position against them is well thought-out and compelling. But I think a congressman telling a corporation “Continue giving this group I like special treatment or else I use the power of the government against you” is much more unethical than a citizen-led boycott. And of course, it’s completely inconsistent with the conservative position on government.

  2. Some “cool-down!”

    3. I expect at least one of the recent Florida school massacre victims to lie in state in the Rotunda. Let’s watch, wait and see.

  3. Jack, you said: Georgia Republicans are threatening to end a lucrative tax break for Delta in the state…

    This is not quite accurate as they would not be ending a tax break; rather, they will not be enacting it. This tax break (no sales tax on fuel) ended quite a long time ago and there was legislation to re-enact this break that basically was waiting for the governor to sign it into law. Now that signature is being withheld due to Delta’s shenanigans in the political world.

    • Oooooh, sales tax break on fuel! “Green” implications, too, not to mention the inequality of the break. Why should one of the purchasers of the largest amounts of those dirty, stinky, polluting, fossil fuels get such a break? Smacks of corporate welfare at the expense of other corporations, plus, negligence of environmental concerns – as quid pro quos, even, for political campaign contributions. A hidden ethics train wreck!

  4. !. Why do you still bother with Trump Tweets? Same old.

    2. Boycott’s are an excellent tool when applied properly, but how do you make the choices? I bought grapes despite the boycott. Then you divide along the for or against line. Some will rush to the corporations and others will walk away. Far more odious is the government use of boycotts although they do not use the term.

    3. The rotunda honor will eventually be like the Baseball Hall of Fame with scratching of the head about how they got in the hall?

    4. To quote Captain Renault: “I am shocked!”

  5. I was going to say that, for the Babe, they’d have to keep the bottom half of the coffin lid closed, but it looks like both Graham and Parks were closed coffin. I’m not sure of the sense in going all the way to the Capitol see a covered box.

  6. I’m getting very close to joining the NRA. I own several long guns, and a pistol, but have always had questions about the NRA’s incompetent defense of the second amendment. However,this attack, by uninformed high school students, among others, is false, misinformation and outright lies. I suspect the backlash is going to be somewhat more odious than Delta or any of the others severing ties is expecting. We shall see.

    • Due to my negligence, my NRA membership expired. So I am re-starting, re-joining, whatever – with special thanks to CNN and child David Hogg, without who, my membership lapse probably would have lasted longer.

    • I had never been a member of the NRA but joined yesterday. They may not be the best defender of the second amendment that can be imagined but they are the best one that actually exists.

      I’m surprised that the NRA hasn’t called for a counter-boycott by its members. Delta is pleasing a few hundred or few thousand anti-gun hysterics, most of whom care about the issue today but will have forgotten about it two weeks from now, and pissing off millions of NRA members who care about the issue a lot and will never forget, at least if the NRA makes sure they don’t forget.

      • I find Wayne LaPierre an embarrassment, but I am considering joining as well as my own protest against the disgusting smear job being run against the organization by the news media. CNN again let a student say on the air that the NRA murders children, as an interviewer looked solemn and nodded.

      • I am in the same boat. i don’t like joining large groups because of the fear they will stray from the issues that attracted me and become involved in something embarrassing and/or contrary to my beliefs. I own guns and often carry one. I have not joined NRA for any number of reasons, but that number gets smaller every day.

        As to NRA mounting a counter boycott in the form of a membership drive, they seem to be getting a lot of spontaneous membership action now. Maybe in a month or so they can issue a press release about the many thousands of new members and recovered lapsed members all because of the anti-gun factions’ campaign against the 2A. Without a membership drive. That would show where the general public stood on the issue.

    • I suspect that the primary long-term effect of all this boycott BS will be, as you allude to, more members in the NRA than before this all started. Fence-straddlers and those who don’t agree with everything the NRA stands for are being pushed into Wayne LaPierre’s waiting arms by the hysterics on the other side. It’s that dang cognitive dissonance scale again – media hacks like those found at CNN are held in very low esteem, so when they demonize the NRA, it pushes that organization up the scale in the eyes of those who distrust the media. Unintended consequences, indeed.

      I renewed my membership about a month ago, before all this began. I don’t agree with much about the way they conduct their defense of the second amendment, but they serve a valvery uable purpose, illustrated very clearly in the past week or so: they are the lightning rod. They are the bright shiny object that the anti-constitutionalists focus all their attention on, distracting them from the real work of defending the second amendment, which is done in courts by organizations like the Second Amendment Foundation (who brought and won McDonald v. Chicago). That purpose alone is worth the $35 a year and having to look at LaPierre’s idiot face on TV.

  7. 1. Yes, the tweets are unpresidential and embarrassing and counterproductive, and I groaned when I saw this latest attack on Sessions. But I’ve got to think that Trump was not entirely unaware of the reaction that the Sessions tweet would provoke and that part of the reason he lobbed it out there is that he thought it would be fun to watch the frenzy. This morning, friends were texting to tell me that this tweet was one of the worst, most impeachable things that Trump has done yet — politicizing the Justice Department! obstructing justice by trying to intimidate the FBI! — and another sign of his desperation as the Russia noose closes around his neck. This afternoon, they were telling me that Hope Hicks’ resignation also means that the end is near for Trump, because she admitted to telling “little white lies,” which really means great big lies, and soon all of Trump’s lies about Russia will unravel. Trump seems to feel energized by this sort of thing.

    • That would be sort of acceptable if he told Sessions he would be trolling with him. But its just awful management.

      The impeachment fantasies of these people really does approach clinical illness. I’ve neve4r seen anything like it.

      • As if another example were needed, look at this story today in the Wall Street Journal:

        Somebody who raised money for Trump and other Republicans tried to get some Malaysians to hire his wife to help end a Justice Department investigation but she didn’t get hired, She advised the Malaysians to have their Prime Minister raise the issue with Trump but he never raised it. The investigation continues at full throttle. To me, it seems like the ultimate, “nothing happened, nobody did anything wrong, why is this even in the newspaper” story, but the people commenting on it are foaming at the mouth about graft, corruption and — of course — impeachment.

  8. 3. It is never the wrong time to do the right thing. Just because it has not been done before, does not mean that it should not be done now. If this is an honor we are giving (and it appears that something changes and we now are), let’s make some criteria instead of bemoaning that others should have gotten to but did not.

  9. 1. Personally, I think Trump is trying to drive Sessions to quit, and that’s what he is hoping to accomplish with this. It’s a tactic used my some management (treat their employees harshly so they’ll leave) to get rid of people they don’t want without having to be seen firing them and any backlash that comes with that (in this case being accused of trying to bury the Russian probe by the left-side of media).

    2. I’m not one for boycotts either. I generally ignore them, and make my own decisions on when/if I will shop at a company. I think Delta is grandstanding a bit, but then they’re basically make a business decision that they’ll make more money doing this. That’s what promos are for after all. I can’t fault them if they feel this is in their best interest to make more money. (Whether it will remains to be seen). However, I have to admit I’m surprised Jack didn’t come down on government using tax money to force a private company to give discounts to people they favor. That just seems….wrong…for government to do.

    3. Not sure he deserves it over those who haven’t, but non-committal either way. I guess the one thing about it is it going to be used by someone as an endorsement of a religion. (We know they’re out there)

    • No, they are punishing Delta for dissing the NRA based on a viewpoint, not for not giving a discount. I hope. I don’t think Delta deserves a tax break anyway: the state’s doing the right thing for either the wrong reason or an unethical reason.

      • “I will kill any tax legislation that benefits @Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with @NRA. Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back.”

        This is the exact quote Casey sent out. It specifically says that he is doing this because he feels this is an attack on conservatives. It’s because they took away a discount on people he favors (NRA/conservatives). Not because of a dissing an organization based on a viewpoint. Which, as a private corporation, they have every right to do. Then deal with the consequences from private citizens and organizations, not government.

        I think this is all bluster and grandstanding on his part, and that the tax break (if it really was a done deal) will go through as normal.

        • It specifically says that he is doing this because he feels this is an attack on conservatives.

          Doesn’t that amount to the same thing as an attack on a viewpoint? What, in your mind, is the difference?

          Serious question, Steve. I would like to see what you think.

  10. 1. Trump Tweets. Both Business & Politics are cutthroat. If Mr Sessions were my employee he would be on a 90 day Performance Improvement Program. Having had a year of employment and delivered practically nothing of value, other than launching several “investigations” that have resulted in nothing at all, he would be considered unsatisfactory in his performance. He deserves immediate termination, but I would give him the 90 days. That is what business does. He reports to the President, he was sent to DOJ with a specific set of objectives. He’s apparently been swallowed whole by the Swamp.

  11. Businesses often use their clout to influence policy especially regulatory and tax policy. The conduit may be through lobby groups, themselves or associations such as the Chamber of Commerce. Right now, the Boston area is slobbering over Amazon and I have no doubt if they approached Boston about a social cause that was political acceptable – usually left of center – the locals would trample one another to comply. And many of the more notable public companies seem particularly sensitive to certain social issues that have traction and we know what issue that is. Is it right or wrong?

    I am somewhat a fence sitter on this except on the issue of a boycott. Where I live we had a casino issue that divided our community. I was a NIMBY and ran a posting board for the anti-faction, but all were welcome. But there were hardliners on both sides that singled out businesses on the issue. I found that distasteful to the extreme. The fortunate aspect was in was very minimal as most quickly realized the futility of singling out someone based on one issue. Singling out friends and even relatives for having a disagreement with one issue. Attempting to undermine local small business with roots in going back several generations.

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