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.