Observations On “Flight/Risk”…And Related Matters

“Flight/Risk,” an Amazon production, was released on the streaming service today. The documentary is the most recent examination of the tragedy and scandals surrounding the crashes of two Boeing 737 Max planes within a five month period in late 2018 and early 2019. The horrible and disturbing story  is narrated by Pulitzer-winning Seattle Times journalist Dominic Gates, and revealed from the perspective of the deceased passengers family members, their lawyers, and whistleblowers.

Amazon’s fatuous description of its own product, primarily designed to be a “trigger warning,” explains that the movie may be too traumatic to watch for “some” and says the planes crashed “without anyone really understanding why.” That is, to be blunt and vulgar, bullshit. Lots of people understood why, including Boeing engineers, Boeing executives, FAA officials, and anyone (like me) who knows why large organizations are almost always incompetent, unethical and untrustworthy. {Ethics Alarms has several posts about the 737 Max scandal.]

What is so infuriating about the story is that it is so familiar. This is the Challenger disaster all over again, even to the detail of a whistle-blowing engineer being punished for having the courage to speak up, and eventually killing himself. In other ways, it is like the recent Ernst and Young cheating scandal, which Ethics Alarms discussed here.

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Introducing Rationalizations #25B, and #25C: “I’m Just Doing My Job,” and “It’s Policy!”

Here are two  more rationalizations for the list, bringing the grand total to 89.

#25B  The Nuremberg Rationalization, or “I’m Just Doing My Job!”

Amazing: 87 previous rationalizations described, and the word “Nuremberg” did not appear once.

Rationalization # 25. The Coercion Myth, covers the excuse for unethical conduct that the actor “had no choice,” and # 25A. Frederick’s Compulsion or “It’s My Duty!” posits that duty excuses wrongdoing. #25 B follows the theme of denying free will by using the fact of employment to justify or excuse unethical conduct. It embodies the defense of the Nazi officers at the Nuremberg Trials that because they followed the orders of others, they were simply agents, and their horrible crimes against humanity should not bring them punishment…after all, they had no choice. It was their duty to follow orders, because that was their job.

We all need jobs, but we all have a choice whether to remain in a job or not. Sometimes it’s not a very attractive choice, and even a frightening one, in which choosing the ethical course requires personal sacrifice. Nonetheless, when a job requires one to commit unethical acts, the choice is this: quit the job and refuse to perform the unethical act, or commit the unethical act, following orders but accepting the responsibility, accountability and consequences of doing so.

For inspiration, we need look no further than the first admittee to the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor, the amazing Henri Salmide.

From the Ethics Alarms post:

In 1944, Salmide was a German officer in the 159th Infantry Division of the German army occupying the French city of Bordeaux, the largest seaport on the west coast. It was August 19, and Allied Forces were spreading out from the beaches at Normandy and taking control of the war. An order came from Berlin calling on the Division to destroy the entire seven miles of port infrastructure before abandoning the city. The port’s destruction was scheduled to occur within a week.

“It fell to me,” Salmide recounted in an interview, because, as head of the bomb disposal unity, he had expertise with explosives. “I couldn’t do it. I knew the war was lost. What was the point of this, I asked myself. People would die and suffer, and the war would still be lost by Germany.”

On  August 22, he filled a bunker at the docks with detonators, plungers, timers and other hardware needed for the planned demolition. But instead of using them to destroy Bordeaux, Salmide blew them up with dynamite, in a terrifying explosion. “It was all I could do,” he said later.

French historians estimate he saved 3,500 lives by refusing to carry out his orders. About fifty Nazi soldiers died in the blast instead. “I could not accept that the port of Bordeaux be wantonly destroyed when the war was clearly lost,” he explained in an interview. “I acted according to my Christian conscience.”

Salmide deserted, and was hunted by both the Gestapo and the French authorities. He hid with the French Resistance for the remainder of the war. Then Salmide adopted a French name, married a local woman, became citizen of France, and raised his family in the very city his conscience had rescued. The Germans regarded him as a traitor, and even the French were reluctant to give him the recognition he deserved, according to his wife.

“No one wanted to admit that he had done it,” Mrs. Salmide told the New York Times. “If he had been French, it would have been easier for him.”  It was not until 2000 that the French government finally awarded him the French Legion of Honor,* and the Bordeaux City Hall said this week that it wants to erect a memorial to Salmide.

His best and most lasting memorial, however, would be for his story to be known around the world, and taught in every school, of every nation. For when any of us finds ourselves being required to act under authority to accomplish unjust and cruel ends—to blindly do our job, knowing that the results would harm others unjustly, and we wonder if it is fair for us to be accountable for our actions when, in reality, we seem to have no choice, we should recall Henri Salmide. His moment of courage should remind us that we are always accountable, and we always have a choice, provided we also have the ethics and courage to take it.

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The Flint Water Bills: Is This The Most Outrageous Ethics Story Of The Year?

“What do you mean it’s brown and poisonous? Water is water! Pay up.”

This story out of Flint, Michigan is so wrong, so astoundingly and obviously unethical, such a satire of government ineptitude at its worst and bureaucratic soullessness at its most damning, that I literally didn’t believe that it could be anything but a momentary hiccup, and that it would be resolved by the state, the city, an elected leader with guts and the sense God gave a mollusk, within a day or two, after the voices of millions were heard screaming. “WHAT????”

I was wrong. You want to know why it is insane to place your freedom, health, livelihood and survival and that of your families in the hands of government? THIS is why. Exactly this.

Thousands of Flint, Michigan residents risk losing their homes if they don’t pay their overdue water bills  less than three years since the start of a prolonged, botched, water safety crisis that led to extremely dangerous levels of lead in the city’s water pipes. In a move that will stand through the ages as the epitome of shamelessness and gall,  the Flint government sent threatening letters to more than 8,000 residents warning them they will face a tax lien if they do not pay water and sewage bills they have avoided for six months or more. Residents have until May 19 to pay the delinquent bills, and after that, a process begins that could end with foreclosure on their homes. Flint sends these letters annually to property owners whose payments are at least six months late, but skipped this process in 2016, given that the water the residents weren’t paying for was only technically water at all. The better label was “poison.” This year’s letters cover two years of past-due balances. Continue reading

A Horror Story From The Law vs. Ethics Files: The Mario Hernandez Saga [UPDATED and BACKDATED!]

Mr. Hernandez? Mr. Unger would like a word with you...

Mr. Hernandez? Mr. Unger would like a word with you…

This is complicated.

Occasionally a trusted source sends me to a link or a news item that turns out to be old, sometimes many years old. I assume it is current (I need to learn to check the dates), write the post, and then find out that what I wrote about took place in 1978. I usually trash the post. There have been a few like this. Now this story came to me from a trusted source, and linked to a current story, or so I thought. The post, on a site called “America Now,” is dated August 25, 2016. But WordPress pointed out, right at the bottom, that I had in fact written about Mario Hernandez’s citizenship problems two years ago. What? For a second I thought there were TWO Marios (Mario brothers?), who had the same problem, but no, they are the same guy.

The story  I was given today, based on this New York Times story from May of 2014, led to the post below. There is an ending to the story, which was explicated by me in the post of two years ago. However my two posts were on two different ethics issues, and today’s though inspired by a stale story, is still ethically useful. Pretend Mario plight isn’t two years old: that doesn’t alter the principles involved, or my analysis. I’ll tell you what happened at the end of the post..

***

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Inevitable, Unethical, Technological Incompetence By Our Governments

Hey, what could go wrong?

Hey, what could go wrong?

The legal profession is in the midst of an ethics crisis not of its own making. New technologies, including social media, have created opportunities for vastly improved legal services, to such an extent that the American Bar Association has decreed that an ethical, competent lawyer, must use them. It has also made it clear that using them carelessly to the detriment of clients is unethical as well. It all sounds reasonable, except for this: few lawyers are equipped by education, training or nature to be adept at technology. Worse, technology is now changing so fast that few lawyers can keep up with it.

Thus they make mistakes. Costly mistakes, disastrous mistakes, stupid mistakes, and there is no learning curve, because by the time lawyers understand and master a new technology, it is no longer new, and it has taken on a different form that requires them to start all over again. The ABA and other bar associations have acknowledged this through inaction. After numerous instances where their ethical guidelines regarding the use of technology were obsolete or wrong from the moment they were issued, these bodies have resorted to general edicts only, essentially saying, “You must master available legal practice technology, and you must not screw it up. Don’t ask us how, we’re as confused as you are.”

Gee, thanks.

Unfortunately, it is not just the legal profession that is in peril from technological overload, unrealistic expectations and the speed of innovation. Our various levels of governments are, if anything, in even worse peril from the same phenomenon.

One week ago, the Virginia State Board of Elections frantically voted to  decertify use of the AVS WinVote touch-screen Direct Recording Electronic voting machine, meaning that the machines, which were used by dozens of cities and towns in Virginia, are effectively banned. Virginia is holding primaries  just two months from now, so this has thrown those local governments into a panic. The decision was unavoidable, however, after a shocking a report that demonstrated that the machines could be hacked, and elections rigged, by a 12-year-old…that is, anyone with more technological expertise than local government officials.

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Ethical Quote Of The Month: Sgt. Shane Ortega

Trans Military Service Member

“You have to exercise patience with people, but people are not going to understand the subject overnight.”

—-Sgt. Shane Ortega, helicopter crew chief in the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, speaking to the Washington Post about his legal battle with the U.S. military, which continues to classify him as a woman despite his transition to a man.

The reason we say that “hard cases make bad law” is that the toughest cases fall between the cracks in rules and regulations, and they all have cracks. The law seeks consistent precedents, so anomalous fact patterns threaten the integrity and efficiency of otherwise effective laws and rules that work well in the vast majority of situations. Yet those hard cases usually indicate flaws in policies, rules and laws, and sometimes point to the need for change.

Often, an organization, especially a bureaucratic one like the military, will deal with such disruptive cases by simply looking past the actual facts, and treating them “by the book.” Ortega represents a particularly glaring instance of this phenomenon, which in his case not only harms his career, but also makes the military appear rigid to the point of absurdity.

Yet, as his Ethical Quote of the Month indicates, he understands. Change is painful, and it takes time. Continue reading

On The Other Hand, Libertarians Have Good Reasons To Distrust The Government, Like Washington’s 520 Bridge Toll Trap

SR-520-toll-signNicola Livic, of Redmond, Washington  has a transponder on his car that is linked to a credit card that automatically pays his tolls when he crosses Washington’s floating Highway 520 Bridge. His credit-card number was changed by his bank due to a fraud threat, so his online account stopped working.

The motor-vehicle department also had his mailing address wrong, so when it tried to alert him that his tolls were in arrears, the letter ended up who-knows-where. Meanwhile, fees and fines were added, and compounded. By the time Mr. Livic realized the problem, he owed $3,545 to the state, less than $300 of which were the tolls.

He appealed the bill at the state Department of Transportation (DOT), and was told, in essence, “Tough.”

He is not alone. The system, in which a photo of a vehicle is taken as it crosses the bridge and the owner is billed, but without subsequent warnings or reminders if payment is overdue, is guaranteed—a conspiracy theorist would say designed— to generate snafus that the citizen is always going to pay for, and through the nose. The fine on each missed four dollar toll is $40, and over time, the fines turn into multi-thousand-dollar collection actions. Appeals go to an administrative review system set up by the transportation agency itself. This is what we commonly call  “a conflict of interest.” The state makes an average of $65,000 just in fines on the 520 bridge tolls each day. It loves this system. Continue reading

The Sixth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2014 (Part 1)

Cosby3

2014 was the year of the Ethics Train Wreck. They were coming so fast that they were getting tangled up with each other, and old wrecks from past years started rolling again, or the damage that was triggered a year ago or more started kicking in. I don’t know if every year really is more ethics free than the year before, or that it just feels that way because I’m getting better at sniffing it out. By any standards, it was a wretched year, with epic ethical misconduct across the culture. But I can’t stall any more: let’s wade into it. There will be more installments this year, so the misery is coming in smaller bites. You’re welcome.

Ethics Train Wreck of the Year

trainwreck

It’s a tie!

The Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck and The Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck

The obvious winner is the Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck, which has managed to hook up with the 2012 winner, The Trayvon Martin- George Zimmerman Ethics Train Wreck, as well as a the sub-EthicsTrain Wreck attached to the death of Eric Garner, to further degrade U.S. race relations, undermine the stability of numerous cities, get several people, including the recently assassinated NYC police officers killed, revive race riots, give vile demagogue Al Sharpton unprecedented power and influence, and pick up such distinguished riders as President Obama,  Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, New York Mayor de Blasio. It is also still barreling along at top speed after many months, and is a good bet to continue its carnage well into 2015. 

Yet, it became clear to me this summer with this post that the entire Obama Administration has become an Ethics Train Wreck, and one that is neck-and-neck with the one spawned in Ferguson in threatening short and long-term damage. Incompetence, dishonestly, lack of transparency and arrogance have hardened cynicism in the public, corrupted the ethical values of defenders, let journalists to disgrace themselves, and fertilized festering potential disasters internationally and domestically. This is also, I now see, a wreck of long duration that started in 2009, and had gathered momentum with every year. It also has sparked other wrecks, including the one that now keeps it from being the sole 2014 winner. How much damage will The Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck do in 2015? Which agency or department will prove itself to be corrupt, incompetent and mismanaged, which official will continue in a post after proving himself unfit to serve, which inept pronouncement or abuse of power will further degrade American trust and freedom?

I’m not looking forward to learning the answers.

Fraud of the Year

The U.S. Justice Department, which allegedly participated in a plot to force  Sierra Pacific Industries and other defendants  to pay $55 million to the United States over a period of five years and transfer 22,500 acres of land as settlement of charges brought against the company by DOJ for causing a 2007 wildfire that destroyed 65,000 acres of land in California. Naturally, the national news media has barely covered this scandal, which is still in litigation. Runner Up: The Victoria Wilcher scam, which made KFC pay for plastic surgery for a little girl when there was no evidence that the company was in any way involved with her injuries. After the fraud was discovered, it didn’t dare ask for its money back. Well played, fraudsters! Continue reading

The Case of the Truant Prodigy and the Incompetent School System

Avery Gagliano is a 13-year-old student in the District of Columbia school system, and an acknowledged musical prodigy. She has won competitions and soloed with orchestras nationwide.She was one of 12 musicians selected from around the world to play at a prestigious event in Munich last year. All of this periodically disrupts her school attendance, and because the District continues to threaten treating her as a truant, Avery’s parents say they have been forced to pull her out of her classes, where she was a happy A student.

“As I shared during our phone conversation this morning, DCPS is unable to excuse Avery’s absences due to her piano travels, performances, rehearsals, etc.,” Jemea Goso, attendance specialist with the school system’s Office of Youth Engagement, wrote in an e-mail to Avery’s parents, Drew Gagliano and Ying Lam, last year. This a classic example of how bureaucratic rigidity, in the absence of employees or officials willing to take initiative and address a non-conforming anomaly, will lead to needless harm and absurd results. Nobody would, or if they did, they did so in such a dysfunctional system that it didn’t make any difference. Continue reading

Government Horror Story: What Happens When We Expect Bureaucrats To Protect Us

Horror1

Indignant and self-righteous activists  argued that the real problem underlying the shootings at Virginia Tech, the D.C. Naval Yard, Newtown, Tucson and elsewhere—other than the Second Amendment, of course– was the failure of the health care system and the government to apprehend and stop emotional disturbed citizens before they start shooting.

This might have some validity, if it were not for a fact that Big Brother worshipers know but refuse to acknowledge. The health care system and the government are operated by people, many of them dedicated and competent, but a lot of them fearful, lazy, irresponsible and stupid. When we place power over the lives and liberty of others in the hands of such people, bad things happen.

They just happened to my family, and I am furious—both at the immediate fools who have abused us, but also the smug social architects who always think a new law and more government control over our lives is the solution to every problem.

At this moment, be warned:

I hate you people.

Stay out of my way. Continue reading