Category Archives: Finance

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 9/5/17: “Close Encounters,” A Bad Bank, A Jaw-Dropping Tweet, Sentimentalizing DACA, And More

GOOD MORNING!!

1. A remastered “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is in theaters now, and I have mixed feelings about the fact that it is not attracting many ticket-buyers. Spielberg is incapable of making a bad movie, and even his most annoying films (like this one) are thought-provoking and entertaining compared to most of the junk we are getting from Hollywood now. But “Close Encounters” is an unethical movie that bothers me more every time I see it.

The film celebrates hippy spiritual fanaticism for no good reason. Why does everyone get all misty-eyed over these angelic, long-armed  aliens who think they have leave to kidnap human beings, including babies, take them away from their families and disrupt their lives, and then dump them off in another place and time? Why is Richard Dreyfus smiling about that, the idiot? Meanwhile, his character has forgotten about his own wife and kids, never giving them a second thought once he goes E.T. hunting. (And why is Terri Garr treated so badly in her movies by alleged protagonists? Dustin Hoffman used her as a door mat in “Tootsie,” too.)

2. As an addendum to the previous post about DACA ethics, consider this example of how the news media sentimentalizes and propagandizes illegal immigration: the Washington Post’s heart-tugging and misleading story with the headline, “He was brought to Virginia as a toddler, deported at 19. He died in an overheated tractor-trailer trying to return.

“He” was an illegal immigrant, though the Post uses the deceitful “undocumented immigrant” euphemism, as if he lost his library card or something. His name was Frank  Fuentes, and he was quite rightly deported a year after he pleaded guilty to assault and battery as well as grand larceny­/pickpocketing in 2016. He died trying to break the law, and while dealing with the criminals who smuggle people into the U.S. in trucks. The fact that Fuentes didn’t deserve to die is waved by the Post like a crimson flag to distract from the fact that he had no right to be in the U.S., and no right to sneak back in.

Ah, but he was a good man at heart, who “loved skateboarding and music.”  “We all make mistakes,” the post quotes a friend as saying, not noting that this is the go-to rationalization for every law-breaker from Billy the Kid to Joe Arpaio. “He wanted to be better for his family and his mom . . . that’s all he cared about.”

What the Post is doing  isn’t reporting. It is selective, manipulated sentiment designed to obscure the real issues in illegal immigration. This kind of coverage is why polls about “dreamers” reflect shallow emotion-based reflex, not serious, informed consideration.

3. Sam Stein, formerly the Huffington Post’s senior politics editor now writing for  The Daily Beast, tweeted,

Discuss.

4.  The president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, announced that the police union’s members will refuse to hold the American flag as planned at the NFL’s Cleveland Brown’s home opener, after nine Browns players took a “Kaepernick” and knelt during the national anthem in a pre-season game with the New York Giants.

“It’s just ignorant for someone to do that,” Steve Loomis told reporters. “It just defies logic to me. The fact that management was aware of what they planned on doing, that’s as offensive as it can get.”

Good for the union. The NFL has been cowardly and irresponsible by not confronting and ending these demonstrations against the United States in general and police in particular, starting with its non-action when the St. Louis Rams performed a “Hands up! Don’t shoot! display in 2014. Kaepernick specifically had said, in his various vague posturings, that police were among the  targets of  his kneeling stunt, making the ignorant statement that officers in police-involved shootings should not collect a salary while investigations were pending (unlike, say, the many NFL players who have been suspects in criminal investigations).

Among the many functions of professional sports teams is to bring communities together, not divide them. Players are free to express their political positions, however ill-informed, off the field if they are willing to take responsibility for them, which may involve negative team action and fan anger. Cleveland, where 12-year old Tamir Rice was shot by an incompetent cop, is an especially sensitive place for an anti-police demonstration to take place.

The comments on the article at the link are depressing, as in knee-jerk and foolish. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Citizenship, Finance, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Professions, Race, Religion and Philosophy, Social Media, Sports, U.S. Society, Workplace

“Racial Wealth Gap Persists Despite Degree, Study Says”…Now What?

The story ran as the front page lead in the New York Times more than a week ago, and was promptly ignored as the more pressing matter of criticism Donald Trump’s erudition in condemning the violence in Charlottesville obsessed the media:

“The long-term trend is shockingly clear,” said William R. Emmons, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and one of the authors of the report. “White and Asian college grads do much better than their counterparts without college, while college-grad Hispanics and blacks do much worse proportionately.”

A college degree has long been recognized as a great equalizer, a path for minorities to help bridge the economic chasm that separates them from whites. But the report, scheduled to be released on Monday, raises troubling questions about the ability of a college education to narrow the racial and ethnic wealth gap.

“Higher education alone cannot level the playing field,” the report concludes.

Great. What will level the playing field, and if the only solutions are ethically flawed, can the nation ethically accept that the playing field cannot be leveled? Is it necessary that all races achieve identical levels of success? Does the fact that a race, or an ethnic group, either exceeds or falls short of statistical parity signal that draconian measures must be undertaken by the government? Are we really committed to results based policies, or opportunity-based policies?

In the Times print version, there was a chart that labelled, among other things, Asian families as “over-represented” among wealthyl households headed by a college grad. “Over-represented” is a provocative word, suggesting that something is wrong with Asian American achieving beyond what pure statistical analysis would predict. Is it so unimaginable that the group itself may have something to do with its success—that its culture and values may allow it to be “over-represented”?

No, it isn’t unimaginable, but it is inconvenient and politically explosive. If culture and values can explain over-achievement, it will be difficult to avoid the conclusion that culture and values also play a part in under-achievement as well. The Times report (I haven’t read the whole study)  doesn’t hint at such a conclusion, while citing many other potential causes:

Researchers have repeatedly found discrimination in the job market. When two nearly identical résumés are sent out, for example, it has been documented that the candidate with a white-sounding name receives more callbacks than the applicant with a black-sounding name.

Discrimination like this and other factors contribute to the persistent and substantial pay gap between whites and minorities. Blacks, for instance, hold a disproportionate share of government jobs — a sector that has shrunk in recent years and provides fewer opportunities for big wage gains. Blacks have fewer advanced degrees, and the ones who do are more often in lower-paying fields or graduates of colleges with lesser reputations.

“Blacks and Latinos at all education levels, including college and advanced degrees, earn less than their white counterparts, which means lower lifetime earnings” and less ability to save, said John Schmitt, research director at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, who reviewed an advance copy of the report.

Blacks and Hispanics are also less likely than whites to inherit money or receive help from their parents to cover a tuition bill or a down payment on a house.

William A. Darity Jr., a professor of public policy at the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University, points out that a family headed by a black college graduate has less wealth on average than a family headed by a white high school dropout.

That last fact is especially discouraging.

The relative disinterest of the news media in the implications of the report is troubling, or perhaps I should say its disinterest in pursuing an open and honest discussion of what the implications are, and what new policies should be considered. The status quo, with historically oppressed and disadvantaged groups perpetually lagging behind and perpetually blaming white society for their persistent plight, is a recipe for chaos, generating shrill and divisive prescriptions like this one, from Chanelle Helm,  a Black Lives Matters leader in Louisville:

Some things I’m thinking about that should change (in that Southern, black grandmama voice):

1. White people, if you don’t have any descendants, will your property to a black or brown family. Preferably one that lives in generational poverty.

2. White people, if you’re inheriting property you intend to sell upon acceptance, give it to a black or brown family. You’re bound to make that money in some other white privileged way.

3. If you are a developer or realty owner of multi-family housing, build a sustainable complex in a black or brown blighted neighborhood and let black and brown people live in it for free.

4. White people, if you can afford to downsize, give up the home you own to a black or brown family. Preferably a family from generational poverty.

5. White people, if any of the people you intend to leave your property to are racists assholes, change the will, and will your property to a black or brown family. Preferably a family from generational poverty.

6. White people, re-budget your monthly so you can donate to black funds for land purchasing.

7. White people, especially white women (because this is yaw specialty — Nosey Jenny and Meddling Kathy), get a racist fired. Yaw know what the fuck they be saying. You are complicit when you ignore them. Get your boss fired cause they racist too.

8. Backing up No. 7, this should be easy but all those sheetless Klan, Nazi’s and Other lil’ dick-white men will all be returning to work. Get they ass fired. Call the police even: they look suspicious.

9. OK, backing up No. 8, if any white person at your work, or as you enter in spaces and you overhear a white person praising the actions from yesterday, first, get a pic. Get their name and more info. Hell, find out where they work — Get Them Fired. But certainly address them, and, if you need to, you got hands: use them.

10. Commit to two things: Fighting white supremacy where and how you can (this doesn’t mean taking up knitting, unless you’re making scarves for black and brown kids in need), and funding black and brown people and their work.

I read this, and find myself wondering if one of the reasons for that discouraging study’s results is the increasing influence of voices like Chanelle Helm’s.

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Filed under Citizenship, Finance, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Race, Research and Scholarship, U.S. Society

The Unibomber Had A Point. [UPDATED]

FX has a new limited series about the hunt for the Unabomber, Theodore John Kaczynski. I didn’t pay much attention to the story when it was going on; I just thought it was one more Harvard-grad-turns-serial-killer episode, and that was that. I certainly didn’t pay attention to his “manifesto.” The series, however, enlightened me.  As I understand it, Ted believed that technology was destroying society, making us all slaves to it, and taking the joy out of life. I have yet to see how blowing people up addressed this problem, but then he shouldn’t have to be right about everything. The evidence has been mounting since 1995, when he killed his final victim,that  the Unabomber  wasn’t quite as crazy as we thought.

I could bury you in links, but will not.  We are slaves, for example, to passwords. I teach lawyers that their devices containing client confidences should, to be properly protective of them under ethics standards, have passwords of at least 18 random letters, characters and numbers, with the password for every such device being different, and all of them changed every month. Or you can go the John Podesta route, use “password.” and get hacked, and eventually disciplined by your bar association, once they decide to get serious.

[CORRECTION: In the original post, I relayed a link to a site where you can check your password to see if it’s been compromised. I had been forwarded the link by another tech-interested lawyer. But as I was just alerted by a commenter (Than you, Brian!) It’s apotential trap and an unethical site, making you reveal your password to check it. I apologize for posting it. See how dangerous and tricky this stuff is? See? SEE?.I fell for the trap of depending on technology to protect us from technology! Ted warned us about that, too.]

Then there is this feature in The Atlantic. An excerpt: Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Childhood and children, Daily Life, Finance, Science & Technology, The Internet, U.S. Society

Unethical Quote Of The Week: NYT Columnist David Brooks [UPDATED}

“Biographies describe a man intent on making his fortune and not afraid of skating near the edge to do so. At one point, according to Politico, federal investigators found that Frederick used various accounting measures to collect an extra $15 million in rent (in today’s dollars) from a government housing program, on top of paying himself a large “architect’s fee.” He was hauled before investigating committees on at least two occasions, apparently was arrested at a K.K.K. rally in Queens (though it’s not clear he was a member), got involved in a slush fund scandal with Robert Wagner and faced discrimination allegations.”

—New York Times columnist David Brooks arguing that Donald Trump, Jr.’s conduct in holding the controversial meeting  with some Russians and Russian-Americans to acquire useful negative information about Hillary Clinton for his father’s campaign came about because his family is just no damn good, as shown by the conduct of Fred Trump, the President’s storied father.

Unlike some commentators, I have no ethical problem with Brooks’ basic thesis. Culture molds ethics, children are influenced by the conduct and values modeled by their parents, and I have pointed out too many times to  count that Donald Trump doesn’t know ethics from a merry-go-round, and appears to have no  conventionally functioning ethics alarms at all. It makes perfect sense that Donald Jr. would grow up similarly handicapped.

However, Brooks’ evidence that Trump family patriarch Fred Trump was corrupt and without scruples is all innuendo and supposition, and thus dishonest, incompetent, and unfair. Let’s examine the components of Brooks’ attack:

  • “federal investigators found that Frederick used various accounting measures to collect an extra $15 million in rent (in today’s dollars) from a government housing program, “

Were the accounting measures illegal? Apparently not. Was the  “architect’s fee”? I guess not: Fred wasn’t indicted or prosecuted. Being investigated by the feds does not prove or indicate wrongdoing. Maybe Fred was cheating; I wouldn’t be surprised. But Brooks has no facts to support that assumption, just a pejorative characterizations.

  • “He was hauled before investigating committees on at least two occasions…”

I love the “hauled.” Being asked to testify isn’t evidence of wrongdoing either. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Quotes, Finance, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media

Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘No, Insurance Companies Treating People With Pre-Existing Conditions Differently From Other Customers Is Not Discrimination.’”

The health care/ACA/AHCA commentary from readers continues to be uniformly excellent. (It was originally spurred by the post, No, Insurance Companies Treating People With Pre-Existing Conditions Differently From Other Customers Is Not “Discrimination.”Spartan’s Comment of the Day on the topic has itself sparked its own Comment Of The Day, this one authored by Charles Green.

By fortune’s smiles, I was able to finally meet Charlie last week face to face, as he kindly alerted me that he would be passing through my neighborhood. Finally having personal contact with an Ethics Alarms reader is always a revealing and enjoyable experience, and this time especially so. I think you would all enjoy Charlie; I certainly did. Maybe I need to hold an Ethics Alarms convention.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Comment Of The Day: “No, Insurance Companies Treating People With Pre-Existing Conditions Differently From Other Customers Is Not ‘Discrimination’.”

…The claim that “a free market system” and “freedom of choice” is the solution to all that ails us is a mindless mantra that is only occasionally true, but not always.

It’s important to be clear about when free market solutions are good, and when they are not. It’s not all that hard to sort out. Basically:

Free market solutions ought to be the presumptive default. Unless there is good reason to the contrary, they ought to be the rule.

1. Exception Number 1: Natural monopolies. It makes no sense to have competition for municipal water supplies; airports; multiple-gauge railroads; fishing grounds; groundwater; or police departments. The basic reason is the putative economic benefit is either simply not there, or is absurdly overwhelmed by the social confusion engendered by multiple suppliers.
In these cases, a form of regulated monopoly is desirable. (By the way, the airline industry at a national level is precisely this kind of market; we do not have too little competition there, but too little regulation).

2. Exception Number 2a: Wallet-driven market power monopolies. It’s strategy 101 in business schools that the way to be successful is to be #1 or #2, and the best way to do that is to get more market share than your competition, so you can drive them out of business. The one guaranteed way to do that is to cut prices so low that no one else can compete. Think Walmart. Think Amazon. Think Japanese in the 60s and 70s in any industry.
The reason we have anti-monopoly laws is to reset the playing field when a competitor dominates the market too strongly.

3. Exception Number 2b: Product-driven market power monopolies. Where the product is so obscure, expensive, infinitely variable, and difficult to understand that the producers are de facto in control, because it is too confusing and too dangerous to challenge them.
Drug prescriptions are an interesting example. The ‘free market solution’ to high drug prices was (partly) to let drug companies advertise, and to loosen up the definition of what constituted a ‘new’ drug. What did we get? New diseases like RLS, new definitions of ‘new’ (moving ‘off label’ to ‘on label’) and even higher drug company profits. Because who’s still going to argue with your doc? Especially when he or she gets side benefits from giving in to the latest DTC ads on network news programs?

Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Bioethics, Business & Commercial, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Finance, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Research and Scholarship

Ethics Q & A On Obama’s Speaking Fees

Former President Barack Obama received a $400,000 speaking fee for an appearance at an A&E Network event  yesterday, just as controversy was building over Obama accepting the same fee to appear at a Wall Street firm’s conference.

What’s going on here?

The ex-President is cashing in, that’s what’s going on here. This has become standard operating procedure for former POTUSes, beginning with Gerald Ford, who was showered with criticism by Democrats and the news media for signing with the William Morris agency and picking up what was at the time considered obscene speaking fees from corporations and foreign governments. Ford’s fees are dwarfed by Obama’s, but then Barack is a much better speaker than the late President Ford was. (Almost anyone is.)

Jimmy Carter showed admirable restraint by not devoting his post-Presidency to enriching himself off of his years in office, but Ronald Reagan took some mega-fees to speak abroad. The Clintons, as we know too well, instantly went from rags to riches by selling their celebrity, an exercise that was especially dubious because Hillary was on the rise. Obama’s speaking fees are just one more step along the cashing-in path that both he and Michelle had already begun traveling with the astounding 65 million dollar deal the couple signed to write their biographies.

Some questions and answers on the ethics of Obama’s payday:

1.  Is Obama ‘s acceptance of all this money ethical?

In a vacuum, it’s hard to argue that it isn’t. He set a fee, and someone is willing to pay it. Hillary’s fee was $250,000; if she can get that much for her dry-as-toast delivery as a former Senator, Secretary of State and First Lady, Obama’s a bargain at $400,000. As a private citizen, he has the same right any of us do to sell his books and speeches at whatever the market will bear.

I, for example, get $37.56 for an hour long speech, and am glad to get it..

2. But it isn’t in a vacuum, right?

Right. Obama still has power and influence; he still promises to be a voice in the Democratic party. He’s not exactly a private citizen, and no ex-President is. Taking such a large payment from a Wall Street firm, after all of Obama’s rhetoric (and that of Bernie Sanders, the non-Democrat now being paraded as a leader of the Democratic party) condemning Wall Street has the decided whiff of hypocrisy about it. Not only, that, but as with Hillary Clinton and Bill, the payment of such jaw-dropping amounts for minimal service natural raises questions of pay-offs. Obama’s administration famously sought no criminal sanctions for Wall Street executives despite their  role in what Obama called “driving the economy into a ditch.” How do we know this wasn’t part of an installment payment to Obama for services already rendered, a quid pro quo? We don’t.

It is also hard to make sense out of those fees if they aren’t paying for something more than an hour long speech.

3. So these fees create “the appearance of impropriety?” Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Finance, Government & Politics, Leadership

Addendum: The Dishonest Tax Day Anti-Trump Protests (And The Misleading Defenses Of Them)

How quickly we forget…

I wasn’t going to post any more on this topic, but in 2012 CBS helpfully provided some historical perspective on the supposed “tradition” of candidates releasing tax returns. Some revelations:

1. Donald Trump was not the “first candidate since Nixon” to refuse to release his returns.

Who else didn’t? Why H. Ross Perot, the third party candidate who cost George H.W. Bush re-election in 1992! And what a coincidence: Perot was also a billionaire with complex finances and conflicts! Had he been elected, and that was not beyond the realm of possibility, he, not Trump, would have been the first President since George Washington without elected office experience or experience in military command.  Perot got almost 20 million votes  from Americans who presumable cared about other issues more than Perot’s tax returns, or his refusal to release them.

So Trump was following tradition and practice: the tradition and practice of all billionaires running for President to refuse to release their taxes. The tradition even extends to some half-billionaires: Steve Forbes, another businessman who made a strong run at the GOP nomination in 1996, also refused to release his returns.

(By the way, Perot’s returns were not a major issue in the election, nor did the mainstream media harp on it. But there was some semblance of fair journalism then.)

2. When tax returns are released by candidates, the opposition will still find reasons to object, raise suspicions, and claim that they are not enough. Mitt Romney released two years of returns, and Democrats said he was hiding something nefarious.

In 2008, Barack Obama released seven years of tax returns, then accused Hillary, his opposition for the nomination, of hiding something. “Senator [Hillary] Clinton can’t claim to be vetted until she allows the public the opportunity to see her finances — particularly with respect to any investment in tax shelters,” Obama’s spokesperson Robert Gibbs said. Continue reading

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Filed under Finance, Government & Politics, History