I Regret Being Obligated To Say It, But I Told You So…

You might want to get to know these guys, Mr. President: you are probably going to spend a lot of time with them in the history books.

You might want to get to know these guys, Mr. President: you are probably going to spend a lot of time with them in the history books.

(I have wrestled to the floor past urges to write a post like this, but this time, I think I have to.)

In May, I concluded a post about the “scandal trifecta” with this:

“Four years of hyperpartisan, arrogant, irresponsible, rudder-less and badly managed government have had the predictable result, and I will be stunned if we have yet seen the worst of it.”

I was not stunned, unfortunately. And we may see worse yet. We probably will.

May 2013 was far from the first time I noted the apparent vacuum of leadership in the Oval Office. Two years earlier, when the Administration was breaching security to take credit for Bin Laden’s death, I wrote, “To hell with “Hope and Change”…I’ll settle for responsibility and competence.” Of course, we have gotten neither, nor did I expect a different result even then. I didn’t expect a different result in January of 2009, to be frank. Oh, I hoped, as I think almost everyone but Rush Limbaugh and Mitch McConnell did, that Obama would prove adept at the job he had the audacity to seek.  Some Presidents with leadership credentials almost as thin as Obama’s have turned themselves into competent executives, though I suspect that those successes had the self-awareness and humility to know that they had some learning to do, as Obama does not. They also did not have a chorus of sycophants in the media and the public telling them how magical they were. It was quickly obvious, however, that President Obama’s concept of leadership was (and is) to give speeches, raise campaign funds, appoint loyalists, and sit back while they do the best job they can until they royally screw up, then express surprise and disappointment and let the same people have another crack at it.

And lie, of course. Can’t forget that. Continue reading

PolitiFact Bias: the Smoking Gun

I could not resist this one. Colleague Bob Stone, better known as “Ethics Bob,” has jousted with me over the Tampa Bay Times’ “fact check” web page, PolitiFact. Though far from the worst of the newspaper fact check features, PolitiFact is routinely biased leftward, and sometimes worse than biased. Bob, and some other worthy visitors here, rise to PolitiFact’s defense whenever I smite it, though it deseves to be smought, or smitten, or whatever. Here is a ringing example of why Politifact drives me crazy, and a ridiculous display of biased reporting.

You may recall that  when she was House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi used military aircraft to travel to and from her home district in California, costing taxpayers millions of  dollars. This became a Tea Party rallying cry (as well it should have), and was taken as symbolic of the profligate Democratic Congress. John Boehner, the current Speaker, pledged during the 2010 campaign that if he took over, he would fly commercial. He reiterated the pledge after 2010’s red tide gave him the gavel. Continue reading

Ethics Bob: You Were Right; the Kansas Republicans Are Dunces

Yes, Bob, you were right again and I was wrong; you don't have to be so damn happy about it.

When I wrote about Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal, who disgracefully circulated Psalm 109 to all Republican House members that he said was a perfect prayer for Obama—a Psalm that calls for the death of a despot—my colleague Bob “Ethics Bob” Stone disputed my prediction that his GOP party leaders would force him to step down.

Bob was right; I was naive. A national petition is circulating to demand O’Neal’s ouster, but it is being pushed by Democrats, which conveniently gives Republicans, and O’Neal, the chance to argue that the effort is “partisan.”

It isn’t partisan. It’s necessary, rational and reasonable. The fact that Republicans don’t have the integrity to take the lead in purging their ranks of this irresponsible, uncivil and vile official–that’s partisan.

Bob wins. I ignored a key rule that controls in such situations: Never overestimate a political party’s capacity for courage, decency, or common sense.

Especially Republicans.

An Ethics Muffin Wreck

Tim Matheson in “Animal House,” as “Justice Department Inspector General”

In the end, it was Ethics Bob who saw the light first. Responding to last month’s Ethics Alarms post about the Justice Department’s inspector general flagging extravagant costs for conferences, Bob Stone, a business ethics expert and blogger who comes from a long career with the Defense Department, wrote this:

“As a sometimes victim of smear-by-IG, I’d recommend turning down the outrage. Just as there never was a $400 hammer, there probably wasn’t a $16 muffin. I’ve been involved with a lot of government conferences—I’ve sponsored a few—and my experience is that the people are as diligent with expenses an informed taxpayers would like them to be. IG’s records are built on how many outrages they turn up, and they often manufacture them.”

Continue reading

Comment of the Day on “Ethics Bob Opens An Ethics Can of Worms…”

Chase Martinez enters the debate on the ethics of Nike’s labor practices abroad, raised by a post by Bob Stone on his blog, and explicated here with some business ethics questions that have long perplexed both critics and advocates of American capitalism.Here is his Comment of the Day:

“The company has a duty to make money.”

“I think what is unethical is consumers abdicating their ethical duty to make informed choices. In big business, “everybody does it” is self-propagating because there is no consumer pressure to be better than your competition. The “free market” assumes an informed consumer-base that punishes companies who disagree with their values by taking their business to those that do. This doesn’t happen, and while some fault lies with companies for using the EBDI rationalization, most, I think, lies with consumers for being apathetic. As long as American consumers don’t care about Chinese peasants working for a dollar a day because they don’t know any better, corporations like Nike have no reason to care.”

Ethics Bob Opens An Ethics Can of Worms, All Named “Nike”

Ethics Bob opens an ethics can of worms with his latest post, “Is It Ethical For Nike To Make It’s Shoes $4 a Day?” Among the worms, some older than dirt:

  • If workers agree to work for a given price, is the company’s obligation to pay them more?
  • Should any company pay less than a living wage for full-time work, whether or not desperate workers assent?
  • Is it better for a company to pay fair wages and go out of business because it can’t compete with competitors who pay less, than to keep creating jobs, products and wealth for investors by keeping the business profitable?
  • Is a US company justified in using local standards of fairness when it is doing business in a foreign country, rather than America’s ethical standards?
  • Can a company wash its hands of the arrangements made by its foreign contractors, no matter how unjust or exploitive?
  • Is it not per se unethical for a company like Nike to pay millionaire athletes obscene amounts of money for mere endorsements while it pays only $4 a day to the workers who make their shoes?

You can, and should, read Bob’s post here, and then we can argue about the above questions for the rest of our lives.

Ethics Quote of the Week: “Ethics Bob” Stone

Is Joe Scarborough the new Arthur Godfrey, as in "nice guy" revealed as "unethical creep"?

“It’s always upsetting when one of your heroes turns out to be an unethical creep.”

Ethicist and business ethics professor Bob Stone on his blog “Ethics Bob,” expressing his disappointment in the conduct of MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough, who persuaded guest and colleague Mark Halperin to “go for it” when Halperin suggested that his description of President Obama’s press conference was not appropriate for public broadcast, and then did nothing to accept responsibility for the uproar when Halperin referred to Obama as “kind of a dick.” Halperin was suspended indefinitely by MSNBC, following a complaint from the White House.

Bob had expressed hope, in a comment to the Ethics Alarms criticism of Scarborough’s role in the incident, that Scarborough would do the right thing by the next day. He did not. And Bob is correct: this is proof positive that Scarborough is an unethical, cowardly creep.

What should “Morning Joe” have done? Several things: Continue reading

Ethics for Bureacracies—On An Index Card

Ethicist Bob Stone has proposed a useful and perceptive solution to the perplexing problem of lax ethics in government bureaucracies. Calling on them to adopt “a strong sense of mission and a culture of trust, with authority and responsibility shifted from the few at the top to the many front-line workers,” Stone declares that too often “what passes for ethics is merely another set of rules to comply with, and ethics training usually consists of badgering workers about bribery, conflict of interest and favoritism.”

As a solution, Bob proposes a statement of ethical principles, so brief that it would easily fit on an index card:

I will:

  • Do my best at work
  • Avoid conflict of interest
  • Speak truth to power
  • Be a good citizen
  • Shun any private gain from my employment
  • Act impartially
  • Treat others the way I would like to be treated
  • Report waste, fraud, and corruption

When in doubt, my test is can I explain my actions to my mother or to my child.

Stone recommends that leaders and managers customize this to their own organizations, print it, distribute it, and then–and this is the most important part—regularly use events and decisions to discuss ethical lessons and principles with the staff, using the Statement of Principles as the starting point.

You can read his entire essay here. I recommend it. Bob has a long and distinguished background in that Mother of All Bureaucracies, the Pentagon. He knows what he’s talking about.

Nancy Pelosi and Forced Virtue

I’m sure my friend and colleague Bob Stone will forgive my picking on a casual phrase he used in a comment on the previous post, for it is the inspiration for this one, and it involves the important issue of forced virtue.

Bob alluded to Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally doing “the right thing” when, as reported in the morning media, she told House Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel that he had to resign his post because of multiple ethics violations. Pelosi, we now know, had avoided this for as long as possible, first ignoring Rangel’s actions, then making the dodge that the Ethics Committee first had to make its ruling (Rangel’s egregious violations have never been in doubt), then suggesting that the violations were not significant (knowing that among them was a failure to pay taxes on $75,000 of income as well as acquiring hundreds of thousands of dollars of unreported—that is, hidden—income, all on the part of the reigning chair of the committee that oversees tax legislation) because the country wasn’t “jeopardized” by them. But now the press is calling for Rangel’s head, the Republicans are making accusations that seem, for once, reasonable, and other Democratic House members have joined the chorus demanding that Charlie must go. And this is all occurring as Pelosi is trying to martial her House majority as she attempts to ram the latest health care reform package past the nation’s gag reflex.

In short, Pelosi isn’t really doing the right thing. She’s doing the only thing. Continue reading