Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 7/21/18: Seven Questions For A Rainy Day: UPDATED!

Good afternoon!

1. What did you expect? Following close on the heels of Scott Pruitt’s firing from the EPA as a result of blatant ethics violations, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said last week that he would sell all of his stock holdings to “maintain the public trust” after the Office of Government and Ethics pointed out that his financial transactions could get him into legal trouble.

“I have made inadvertent errors in completing the divestitures required by my ethics agreement,” Ross said in a statement. “To maintain the public trust, I have directed that all of my equity holdings be sold and the proceeds placed in U.S. Treasury securities.”

To maintain that public trust. Right.

The culture of CEOs and business executives is so alien to ethics that this kind of thing was assured as soon as Donald Trump was elected President. I wouldn’t say the business culture is necessarily more unethical than the political culture, it is juts unethical different ways. However, President Trump brought this brand of malfunctioning ethics alarms with him, and we shouldn’t expect it to abate until he leaves the White House.

Then we will get back to the good old-fashioned political versions of unethical conduct we’re become numb to. Ah, those were the days!

2. A question of degree. Professor Brian McNaughton, a former professor at Colorado State University, is facing a felony charge for fabricating an outside job offer to get a higher salary. This meets the technical definition of fraud. Apparently he presented the school with fabricated offer letter from the University of Minnesota. McNaughton resigned his position and apologized, and returned the fruits of the ill-gotten  raise,  about $4,000 per year over four years.

He also says that he was urged to use the tactic by other faculty members, who said it was a standard ploy. When does the “I have other job offers” gambit cross the ethics line into fraud? Clearly when you use a forged letter, but short of that, it’s just lying—unethical, but not criminal.

Writes one idealistic commentator:

…if an employee is performing a job and is good at it, that person should be compensated for it accordingly and in line with individuals within the same organization at an equivalent level professionally (ideally pay should be bench-marked against similar-sized institutions in states or parts of the country with comparable income ranges). Does a job offer and the suggestion that the employee is desirable to another organization change how well that person is performing? Promotions and rewards should be directly related to performance and an individual’s contribution to the organization and to science.

Well, yes, but competition and reality interferes with this nice, fair but overly simplistic and impractical theory. In fields where employees are not fungible, basic economic theory comes into play: you can’t deny the influence supply and demand. The fact that there is competition for an individual’s services does increase that individual’s value. Just saying “it shouldn’t be that way” doesn’t change reality. That’s what makes McNaughton’s lie fraudulent: he’s misrepresenting his value, and using false means to do it.

3. Would you fire Dan Coats for this?

Naturally the anti-Trump mob loved it, and that was the director of national intelligence’s intent: he was playing to the mob and virtue signaling to the detriment of his boss. Either than, or he’s thoroughly unprofessional and can’t be trusted to be on TV. Washington Post reporter Dan Baltz is either foolish, naive or dishonest when he writes:

“There are times when even the most senior of government officials let the mask of responsibility slip and show that they are also human beings capable of normal reactions to unexpected events. How else to explain the response by Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, the instant he heard that President Trump had invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet in Washington this fall?”

Yeah, and if they can’t keep that “mask” up, then they are in the wrong job. Professionals agree to be held to higher standards than mere “human beings.” I would have fired Coats as soon as I saw the video. I hate to play this card twice in a single post, but would Baltz have been similarly  sympathetic to an equivalent Obama official who greeted the news that his boss had traded billions in Iranian assets for a dubious promise by exclaiming, “He what? Unbelievable. Well, he certainly didn’t ask me!”

Then again, President Trump says he hires only “the best people”…

4. Would it matter if Roseanne were telling the truth? On her YouTube channel, the exiled, shamed and still furious Roseanne Barr said,

“I’m trying to talk about Iran! I’m trying to talk about Valerie Jarrett about the Iran deal! That’s what my tweet was about! I thought the bitch was white, goddammit! I thought the bitch was white! Fuck!”

You will recall that she lost her ABC show because of a gratuitous tweet that was widely regarded as racist, connecting former Obama-whisperer Valerie Jarrett to “Planet of the Apes.” If everyone believed that this is what happened—I certainly don’t—would that mean that Roseanne was unfairly fired? That all is well, bygones are bygones, and ABC should put her back on TV? If you tweet something that causes a complete disruption for one’s employer, discord among employees, and widespread embarrassment, does it make all of the go away if you prove that you were reckless, ignorant and stupid instead of racist? Such an employee is still untrustworthy, isn’t she?

5. Is this really illegal? In Kanoehe, Oahu, the Ha’iku stairs, 3,922 in all, leads to a spectacular view of the island at sunrise. The climb, however, is against the law because the State has declared it trespassing, so a guard arrives around 5 am. to stop sightseers. Of, however, you begin climbing before the guard arrives, then you can go all the way up, all the way down, and, many sources tell us, the guard will congratulate you and maybe even pose with you for a selfie.

What is the climb, then? Illegal if you start don’t soon enough? Always unethical, because there’s a law, but only enforced as illegal if you’re caught?

This reminds me of the Obama illegal immigration policy.

I wonder if they let you go up the stairs if you bring a young child along…

6. Do you have some nominations for The Ethics Alarms Heroes’ Hall Of Honor? I have not added any new members in quite a while, and it is not by neglect: I just haven’t come across stories about unsung, or insufficiently sung, ethics heroes of history and recent demise who deserve enshrinement. If you have a candidate, write him or her up.

7. Is this New Yorker cover responsible?

It is perilously close to Kathy Griffin’s severed head: many read the image as the President being dead, and members of “the resistance” have openly alluded to Trump’s death or hope thereof.  (Note the double thumbs up, however.) I rate the cartoon as well within the boundaries of political commentary, but, again, wonder what the reaction would have been if a similar image of President Obama was run on the cover…and it easily could have been, many, many times, with justification.

20 thoughts on “Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 7/21/18: Seven Questions For A Rainy Day: UPDATED!

  1. On point one are there degrees of unethical conduct? To me it does not matter so run of the mill unethical political conduct we’ve become numb to is no different to that which business people practice. We see Trump’s personnel behaviors differently because they are just that, different.

    #2. The most ethical behavioral choice when someone claims that they have gotten a better offer is to immediately wish the person well in their new position. No one is so indispensible to an organization. By acquiescing you promote the potential for fraud as has been described.

    #3. Not sure. Coates was caught off guard by the news and he was at a loss for words initially. My biggest problem was with the statement about Trump ignoring his advice and he would do things differently. However, he did not say that Trumps approach would be wrong.
    As a manager, I have told others that I disagreed with a given plan set out by my superior but I always added that my boss was the captain of the ship and he gets to call the shots. My job was to make it successful.

    I do believe there are differences in whether it is racist or simply disruptive. However, both can have equivalent penalties. Kidnapping is not rape but the penalties are similar.

    #5. This is not so much an ethics issue it is a government stupity issue. Why hire a person to keep people off steps when tourism is a major industry. I will retract that sentiment if these steps are archeological antiquities. Chitzen Itza in Mexico had to stop people from climbing the ruins because it was being trashed with graffitti and cerveza cans.

    6. None yet

    7. Have not seen tbe covers.

    • “As a manager, I have told others that I disagreed with a given plan set out by my superior but I always added that my boss was the captain of the ship and he gets to call the shots. My job was to make it successful.”

      3. Not to draw too fine point on this, but as a manager the only person I ever told that I disagreed with my boss’ decisions was my boss. To my mind, telling “others” is often setting the stage to absolve oneself from responsibility should the boss’ decision turn out to be wrong. Plans of senior management are often set up for failure by middle management equivocation that poisons the commitment of the team. Just my experience, your mileage may vary.

    • #2 I don’t like organizations that play this game of only valuing an employee if they bring another offer. I have gone through this once. I worked for a fortune 100 company at the time, and there were very tight restrictions on raises. I was repeatedly getting the highest ranking possible, but was only getting raises that were comparable to the annual inflation rate. I decided it was time to move on, and got an offer. My boss said to give him a chance to counter before accepting and came back with a 32% jump. It was considerably more than the jump of moving and I stayed 4 more years.

      The whole thing seems ethically iky to me. Knowing that this is rather common in corporate America, I have little sympathy for employers in this regard. They’ve started the slippery slope. Is it unethical to interview knowing that you won’t take the job, just to get the letter that will boost your pay?

      • Yes. It is unethical to interview if you are not going to accept the offer.
        I once ended an interview in the midst of it when I realized I would hate the group I’d be working for.

        • I do not interview unless I am willing to put the considerable resources (time, thought, research, etc.) into considering an offer. This is not a game to play lightly.

  2. In Roseanne’s defense (though she told people not to defend her remarks, at least, at one point), I did not recall (if I ever knew) she was black; I always recall her being described as Iranian, or Persian, which are descriptions right-wing media might emphasize.

    Then, when this story blew up, I googled her image. Long story short: the image I saw did not look like a black person, but it did look like she was wearing a plastic mask.


    • In my case, I always assumed Jarrett was black based on her background and rhetoric, and didn’t know she was Iranian. Would Obama ever have a #1 aide who wasn’t black? Would Michelle let him? Everything in that administration was driven by race: Kudos to you for giving Obama the benefit of the doubt.

      I don’t believe Roseanne because if she did not intent her Planet of the Apes crack to have racial implications, a) what did it mean? and b) why didn’t she flood Twitter with tweets saying “I NEVER REALIZED SHE WAS BLACK! OHIGODOMIGODOMIGOD I’M SO SORRY! I’M AN IDIOT! PLEASE FORGIVE ME EVERYBODY!” the second she was attacked for the tweet?

      • So anyone Iranian is considered black? That’s news to me. So I guess that makes Andre Agassi and Christiane Amanpour black as well.

        • Oh, behave. Or, in the alternative, shut up. I never said that I assumed she was black because she was Iranian. I had no idea that she was Iranian, and Iranian isn’t a race, it’s ethnicity. I assumed she was black because as a stage director, my bla-dar is as good as my gaydar. I assumed she was black because she looks like a mixed race black woman to me. I assumed she was black because of her background and rhetoric. As I said, I assumed she was black because she was a Michelle pal and Obama’s advisor. None of which had anything to do with Iran.

          And I was right, incidentally.

          • Her parents were evidently half African American. She was born in Iran because her father was running a hospital there. From wiki:

            Jarrett was born in Shiraz, Iran,[1] during the Pahlavi dynasty, to American parents James E. Bowman and Barbara T. Bowman. Her father, a pathologist and geneticist, ran a hospital for children in Shiraz in 1956 as part of a program where American physicians and agricultural experts sought to help in the health and farming efforts of developing countries. When she was five years old, the family moved to London for a year, later moving to Chicago in 1963.[4]

            Her parents are both of European and African-American descent. On the television series Finding Your Roots, DNA testing indicated that Jarrett is of 49% European, 46% African, and 5% Native American descent. Among her European roots, she was found to have French and Scottish ancestry.[5] One of her maternal great-grandfathers, Robert Robinson Taylor, was the first accredited African-American architect, and the first African-American student enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[6]

            As a child, Jarrett spoke Persian, French, and English.[7] In 1966, her mother was one of four child advocates who created the Erikson Institute. The institute was established to provide collective knowledge in child development for teachers and other professionals working with young children.[8] She graduated from Northfield Mount Hermon in 1974, and earned a B.A. in psychology from Stanford University in 1978 and a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Michigan Law School in 1981.[9] On May 21, 2016, Jarrett received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from Colby College in Waterville, Maine.[10]

  3. #6: Jack, do you recall ever getting an emsil from me about Arky Vaughan’s confrontation with Leo Durocher? It would have been several months ago. I can probably locate or recreate it if you’re interested.

  4. There was no case for President Trump to fire Coats. An apology for the evident discourtesy would have been more in order. And failing that I’d have understood if Coats had resigned, along with a number of his colleagues. How scary, having a President so arrogant in thinking he can run foreign policy without consulting with his career professionals.

  5. Why is The New Yorker even doing politics, never mind snippy, bitchy politics? Why isn’t it still a goofy, parochial, pretentious quasi-literary magazine with predictable cartoons the well to do throughout the country felt obligated to subscribe to and place, unread (other than said cartoons), on their coffee table?

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