Theoretically Tuesday Ethics Nightcap, 10/6/2020 (All Right, Both Of These Should Be Individual Posts): The Impending Wauwatosa Riots And Reflections On The Distinction Between Racism And Being Treated As A Minority

Back to the Future

Why “theoretically”? This post was almost finished at about 6:15 pm yesterday. Then I heard a scream from my wife: Spuds, our delightful rescue dog of a month’s duration as a Marshall had somehow shed his lead and dashed off in the direction of the field behind the school near our house. I had to fumble for my shoes (I’m barefoot most of the day—keeps the gout away!) and a sweater, pause for a brief, clearly unfair “how could you let this happen?” exchange with Grace (that I paid for later,) and went running in the direction of my wife’s “He went thataway!” finger. The odds were high where Spuds would be. Of late he has frequently joined a small group of delightful dogs (there’s Snow, Star, Minnie, Hunter, and other occasional drop-ins) and their owners for a sundown romp. He was not scheduled for a playdate, but had decided, I assumed, to schedule one himself. Sure enough, there he was, wrestling with Snow the Samoyed. It only took me about twenty minutes to collar him: he knew he was in trouble.

After that adventure, I was beset by one vicissitude of life (my Dad’s phrase) after another, and never got back to the office….until now, at around 4:30 am Wednesday morning. Spuds woke me by rolling over onto my face, and I decided to finally get this post up.

1. Oh great: here comes another one. Wauwatosa, Wisconsin police reported that a 17-year-old fired a gun before he was fatally shot by a police officer in a Mall parking lot in February. There is no question that the shooting victim, Alvin Cole, had a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun and ammunition on his person when he was shot; they were recovered at the scene. The gun had been stolen. Police were summoned after a disturbance was reported inside the mall; Cole ran from police and according to the police report, fired first. Officer Joseph Mensah fired five shots at Cole, police said, killing him.

Tomorrow, that is, on the October seventh, the DA is  supposed to hand down the decision of whether to indict Mensah. Fortunately, Mensah is black, so the racist cop trope is a bit harder to maintain that in other recent incidents. But now, thanks to so much of the culture swallowing whole the false litany of Black Lives Matter,  the assumption is that any time a black man, and especially a teen, is shot in a confrontation with police, it’s an example police brutality. If Mensah was white, I assume the riots would have started already. The city is preemptively closing the schools and City Hall among other pre-riot measures. Once again, Facts Don’t Matter.

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Ethics Quiz: The No-Tolerance Catch 22

 

Should you trust this guy to be reasonable?

The Des Moines Register reports on a jaw-dropping example of “no-tolerance” management at its saddest, and the astounding fact that it did not, in fact, occur at a an educational institution, but at a bank.

Wells Fargo Home Mortgage  fired 68-year-old Richard Eggers because in 1963, when he was 18, he put a cardboard cutout of a dime in a Laundromat washing machine and was duly convicted of operating a coin-changing machine by false means. Since that time, after spending two days in jail (they were strict in Iowa back then), Eggers has been on the straight and narrow. He is a Vietnam veteran, and tells the press that he can’t remember his last speeding ticket. He has also been a loyal and effective employee of Wells Fargo for seven years. So why fire him over a stupid and trivial crime he committed when Kennedy was President, TV was black and white, Mary Tyler Moore was exciting male viewers in her Capri pants on the brand new “Dick Van Dyke Show,”and people trusted Uncle Sam? Continue reading

Punishing Corrupt Companies Without Punishing the People Who Make Them Corrupt

By all means, fine corrupt companies, but we need a new dress code for their management.

From The National Law Journal, December 8:

“The Justice Department has announced that Wachovia Bank N.A., now known as Wells Fargo Bank N.A., will pay $148 million to federal and state agencies after admitting to anti-competitive activity in the municipal bond investments market.”

I understand why the Justice Department, the SEC and other federal agencies fine companies huge amounts for what is essentially criminal conduct, choosing negotiated settlements rather than engaging in time-consuming trials that would cost taxpayers money and risk failing for reasons ranging from investigator error to skillful defense strategy. Nevertheless, the policy encourages rather than discourages unethical conduct by corporate decision-makers. It  does nothing to improve a culture that tends to define a bad business practice as a gamble that doesn’t work, or a scheme that gets discovered. Continue reading

The Bank of America Teller and the Thumbless Customer

You may have heard the story: a branch of the Bank of America in Tampa refused to cash a check for Hillsborough County public works employee Steve Valdez, because the bank required a thumbprint from non-account holders, and Valdez has no arms. No arms, no hands; no hands, no thumbs; no thumbs, no prints; no prints, no cash.

“Sorry sir; it’s bank policy!”

The various news accounts of this classic tale of bureaucratic idiocy concentrated on the fact that the bank was violating the American with Disabilities Act. Voila! This is how law obscures ethics. Would the bank’s actions have been any more reasonable, fair, caring, kind and responsible if there was no law? Why should anyone with a brain, a heart and a sense of humanity require a law to look at a man with no arms and decide, “Gee, I guess the thumbprint requirement doesn’t apply in this case.”  This isn’t a legal matter. It’s an ethics question, and a really easy one, because the Golden Rule was invented for situations like this. If you were in the place of the thumbless man, Mr. Teller, what would you want someone in your position to do?This isn’t a legal matter. It’s an ethics question, and a really easy one, because the Golden Rule was invented for situations like this. If you were in the place of the thumbless man, Mr. Teller, what would you want someone in your position to do?

Nobody’s suggesting that the Bank of America should have suspended its policy out of pity or sympathy. This isn’t a bleeding heart argument: “Oh, the poor guy: he can’t hitch-hike or signal to a gladiator that he wants him to kill his opponent. I’ll cash his check to be a nice guy.” It has nothing to do with being nice. It has to do with recognizing when a policy is absurd in application, unjustly causing inconvenience and humiliation to another human being. Consider these dilemmas:

  • An attendant at a movie theater allows a patron to leave briefly to deal with an emergency. He returns to get back into the movie theater and join his family, but has somehow misplaced his ticket.  Should the attendant, who recognizes him, refuse to let him enter?
  • A driver enters a parking garage, then has to leave a few seconds later because of a medical problem. Should the parking attendant insist that he still pay the full-day minimum fee? (This one got an attendant shot by Steve Buscemi in “Fargo,” you’ll recall.)
  • A woman, obviously ill, staggers into a restaurant and begs to use the rest room. The establishment has a “patrons only” policy for its use. Should it refuse her?A student finds a knife in the hallway of a school, and immediately hands it over to the teacher. The school has a strict “no tolerance” policy on weapons, and the student is technically in possession of the knife: policy dictated that he not touch it, but alert an administrator. The teacher is certain that the student did not own the knife. Should the student be punished?
  • An adult dwarf on the Olympic riding team wants to buy a ticket on the carnival horse back ride to be with his child, but he doesn’t come up to the height mark on the sign designed to screen out young children. Should the operator tell him he can’t ride?

Answers to the above: “No way,” “Certainly not,” “Never”, “No,” and “Don’t be silly!”

Policies can’t be perfect. Human beings have an ethical obligation not to stick to them when they result in outrageous consequences to others, and there is no counterbalancing benefit to be gained by doing so, other than not varying from the policy.The teller should have asked for sufficient identification to satisfy himself that Valdez has a valid check. Valdez had it: he had his driver’s license with an address matching his wife’s on the check. That’s what the would have wanted, reasonably, if he was the one with no arms. And there was absolutely no reason not to bend the rules. The ADA wasn’t necessary to solve this. People need to know when to consider the impact of their conduct on others when there are no laws involved.

Any individual, and any bank, that needs a law to remind them not to insist on a thumbprint from a man with no thumbs is ethically impaired, and has no common sense. And having no common sense is a much greater handicap than having no thumbs.