Facebook’s Unconstitutional News Hoax Policy

I've got your backs, you contemptible jerks...

I’ve got your backs, you contemptible jerks…

Boy, there’s a lot of pro-censorship sentiment going around these days. I wonder why?

The latest comes from Facebook, which now is going to attempt to shield us from “hoaxes.” I don’t trust the government to decide what I should read and I don’t trust Facebook to do it either. Nobody should.

Back in the sixties, Economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote papers and books asserting that large corporations were becoming the new nations and states, and that it was their power, not elected governments, that would decide how we lived. Galbraith wasn’t the best professor I aver had (he was the tallest), and his assertions in this realm were certainly exaggerated, but a lot of what he foresaw has come to pass. It is true that the First Amendment prohibition against government censorship of expressive speech doesn’t apply to private entities, but it is also true that huge corporations like Facebook weren’t even a twinkle in the eye of the Founders when that core American value was articulated. Any corporate entity that has the power to decide what millions of Americans get to post on the web is ethically obligated to embrace the same balance of rights over expediency that the Constitution demands of the state, specifically free speech over expediency, period, exclamation point, no exceptions. Embodying Clarence Darrow’s statement that in order for us to have enough freedom, it is necessary to have too much, the Supreme Court has even pronounced outright lies to be protected speech.

For this reason, Facebook’s well-intentioned anti-hoax policies—boy, there’s also a lot of well-intentioned lousy policies going around these days, being applauded for their goals whether they work or not. I wonder why?—add one more offense to core American ideals.

You can read Facebook’s new policy here. The key section: Continue reading

Burger King Ethics: What’s Unethical About Burger King’s “Tax Inversion” (And It’s Not Burger King)

BKAs you may have heard by now, Burger King is preparing to merge with the larger Canadian equivilent of Dunkin Donuts, Tim Hortons and move the company’s headquarters to Canada. As with the proposed Walgreens move to Europe that was considered and ultimately rejected, the Burger King merger was made for tax reasons, and good ones. The good ones should be clearly explained to the American public, especially voters and those with unemployed workers in their families, but they are not. Let’s  call this BK Ethics Foul #1: news media incompetence. Because the public doesn’t understand what “tax inversion” means, they are vulnerable to having it distorted and demagogued for them by unethical politicians and pundits, and so it has been. Let us designate this BK Ethics Foul #2: the anti-corporate disinformation campaign.

The United States tax rate is  a whopping 35%, more than any other large industrial nation, even more than those that tend toward socialism. There’s nothing unethical about this, necessarily, though it can be argued that it is a foolish and self-destructive policy. Did you know, however—and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t, because not being an international corporation myself, I didn’t know until this issue arose—that the U.S. applies that tax to all global earnings of U.S. companies. This means that the earning of U.S. companies doing business abroad are not only taxed where they earn the profits, but also in the U.S., or as this is technically called, twice. (UPDATE: I should have made it clear that the the US does give a foreign tax credit for the money paid in taxes abroad, so the effect is not completely double tax, just two taxes.) That is definitely unfair (and also bad policy), and will be called BK Ethics Foul #3: predatory taxation Continue reading

Some Ethics Comments On The SCOTUS Hobby Lobby Decision

Hobby-Lobby1. First, read the decision, here. When you do, you will be disgusted at the blatant exaggerations and outright misrepresentations by various pundits, advocates, activists and reporters. In the case of the latter, this is incompetence and a breach of duty to the public. In the case of the rest, it is either dishonesty and willful deception, or stupidity. For example, as an exercise, count the number of misrepresentations and misstatements inherent in this tweet, from MSNBC ‘s Cenk Uygur:

 “I love that conservatives are now on the record as against contraception. Brilliant move to be against 99% of women!”

I count five, but I could be off by one or two. Is this genuine misunderstanding, or just intentional rabble-rousing? Who can tell, with shameless partisans like Cenk? Continue reading

The Irresponsible, Greedy 1% and the Hypocritical, Greedy .01% of the 1% Who Get Away With Attacking Them…That Is, Hillary Clinton

...for less than an hour's work. But it's HARD work,..you know: talking.

…for less than an hour’s work. But it’s HARD wor…you know: talking.

Robert Samuelson accurately categorizes America’s CEOs as a new economic aristocracy in his most recent column. Why CEO salaries are so absurdly high is caused by many factors, some of which the columnist lists, but that fact is inescapable that the salaries cannot be defended by rational arguments. This is in stark contrast, by the way, to similarly high-salaried entertainers and sports figures, who tend to really earn their money. There is, after all, only one LeBron James, Tiger Woods, or Jon Stewart. Corporate CEOs, though they would like to think they are unique talents, seldom are. Could you replace most of them for considerably less than the going rate of 20 million dollars a year? Absolutely.

Thus continuing to accept such absurd salaries and attendant benefits while the economy stutters, their companies restrict hiring and the gap between worker salaries and executive compensation widens is unethical, pure and simple. Doing so is based on greed and willfully ignoring the consequences of the conduct, as Samuelson points out, though he hardly needs to, so obvious should it be to corporate executives and outside observers alike:

“Americans dislike aristocracies. Unless companies can find a more restrained pay system, they risk an anti-capitalist public backlash. This is the ultimate danger. For all the flaws of today’s system, government regulation of pay — responding to political needs and pandering to popular prejudices — would be much worse.”

Just as irresponsible as these gorging, selfish, unrestrained and greedy executives are the class-dividing hypocrites who try to exploit public resentment and pander to those popular prejudices while profiting from the same irrational system of misaligned resources that make those CEOs the equivilent of sultans. I know I have been critical of Hillary Clinton regularly of late, but I am not responsible for flaunting her in  front of my wincing eyes and abused ears on a daily basis. How dare she try to pose as an advocate of a rational system of wealth distribution? And how pathetic that her tone-deaf and logic-free supporters tolerate it!

In a weekend interview with the  Guardian, Clinton pronounced herself a fit champion of populism and a credible agent of reform for skewed income levels because progressives “don’t see me as part of the problem because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we’ve done it through dint of hard work.”


Those progressives are gullible and naive idiots then!

Thanks for that clarification. Continue reading

When A Frivolous Defense Isn’t Frivolous, Or Why Ethical Lawyers Represent Unethical Clients

Mr. Friedman, wasting time and money, and proud of it.

Mr. Frieman, wasting time and money, and proud of it.

I don’t know if Jonathan Frieman is an Occupy Oakland refugee, a failed lawyer, a scofflaw, a dummy or just a trouble-maker, but he decide to game a California “2 or more persons” car pool lane by  “sharing” his vehicle with corporate documents. Thus, when he was pulled over, he  handed the Highway Patrol officer incorporation papers that were in the passenger seat. Get it? The corporation is a “person,” legally, so there were two “people” in his car! The officer ticketed him anyway, since his defense was ridiculous. But funny! Continue reading

Incompetent Elected Official of the Month: Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.)

Rep. Jim McGovern is the champion of the People’s Rights Amendment, which shows that some people are so violently opposed to the Citizens United ruling that they would be willing to give the government sweeping power to censor speech, political or otherwise. This Pandora’s box of an amendment states:

Section 1.  We the people who ordain and establish this Constitution intend the rights protected by this Constitution to be the rights of natural persons.

Section 2.  People, person, or persons as used in this Constitution does not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected state and federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.

Section 3.  Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people’s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, and such other rights of the people, which rights are inalienable.

This is playing with Constitutional fire, designed to appeal to gullible citizens who don’t understand how the Constitution limits government power and the danger of  making simple-minded fixes. Prof. Eugene Volokh, an expert on Constitutional law, writes, Continue reading

Presenting 2012’s “Most Ethical Companies”

The World’s Most Ethical (WME) Companies designation recognizes companies that truly go beyond making statements about doing business “ethically” and translate those words into action. WME honorees not only promote ethical business standards and practices internally, they exceed legal compliance minimums and shape future industry standards by introducing best practices today.

Ethisphere, which recognizes corporations that set a good example for ethical business practices internally and in their business dealings, puts out an annual list of its “World’s Most Ethical Companies.” This year a record 145 companies, including more than three dozen industries, from aerospace to wind power, made the list. Ethisphere notes that since the list’s inception, more than 20 companies have made the list all six years including, including Aflac, American Express, Fluor, General Electric, Milliken & Company, Patagonia, Rabobank and Starbucks, among others.

You can read the list of 2012 honorees here.

(Thanks to Ira Levy for the link.)

The Corruption Problem

“Maybe, just maybe, the legislative and judicial systems have been corrupted, by, dare I say it, corporations?”

—Ethics Alarms commenter and OWS warrior Jeff Field, in his comment regarding the weekend post, The Marianne Gingrich Ethics Train Wreck

I don’t know how Jeff reaches the conclusion that the judicial system has been corrupted by corporations. Judges, unlike legislators, do not grow rich as a result of their inside knowledge and corporate connections. Judges, unlike revolving-door Congressional staffers and lawyers, do not generally come from corporate backgrounds. The fact that a judicial decision benefits the interests of some corporations, and many do not, does not mean that the decision was not just or was influenced by more than persuasive legal arguments. Those who believe that begin with the biased and untenable position that any decision that benefits a corporation must be, by definition, wrong.

So let me put that dubious assertion aside as the result of excessive reformer’s zeal and crusader’s license, and deal with the general proposition that corporations corrupt the legislative system, and society generally. Well, sure they do, but the statement is misleading, and, I would argue, meaningless because it places disproportional importance on the corrupting influence of this one, admittedly important, societal force.

Yes, corporations can be corrupting influences. So can government, and the lure of public office. The news media is a corrupting influence on the legislature, and upon society generally. Religion corrupts; as does popular culture, with its celebration of empty celebrity, glamor and wealth. Non-profits and charities are corrupted by their tunnel vision of specific worthy objectives to the neglect of others; the civil rights movement corrupts, as does feminism and all other advocacy efforts, which often, if not usually, succumb to an “ends justify the means” ethic, which is unethical. Indeed, freedom corrupts, as does dependence. Cynicism corrupts, and corrupts with a vengeance. Ignorance corrupts; so does the belief, however well-supported, that one knows it all. Ideological certitude and inflexibility corrupts.

Education, and the cost of it, corrupts. Sports, both professional and collegiate, corrupt people, students, and institutions. Science corrupts; technology corrupts. Heaven knows, the internet corrupts. Leisure and success; triumph and defeat; wealth and poverty, love and hate, desperation, patriotism; kindness, loyalty, sex, lust; intellectual superiority, beauty, physical prowess, passion. Talent corrupts. Kindness and sympathy too.

Self-righteousness. Fear. Worry. Envy. Stupidity. Zealotry.

And, as we all know, power and the love of money.

All of these and more corrupt human beings and the institutions, organizations and governments that they make up. If individuals are corruptible, something will corrupt them, as sure as the sun rises and the quinces ripen. To focus upon any one of the limitless and abundant sources of corruption and to say, “This, above all, is the cause of our problems” is naive and unfair. By all means, we must seek ways to limit the opportunities for corruption and the damage it can do, but we must also recognize that the ability to corrupt does not mean that something or someone does not or cannot contribute much good to society as well. Heroes can corrupt, as we saw in the tragedy of Joe Paterno, but we need heroes. Leaders can corrupt, and often do, but we still need leaders.

Ultimately,  the best way to stop people and things from corrupting us is to understand what corruption is and how easy it is to be corrupted. Our inoculation is ethics, understanding right and wrong and how to recognize both, and learning to recognize when we are biased, conflicted, or being guided by non-ethical or unethical motivations. Shifting the blame for corruption away from ourselves is comforting, but intimately counter-productive. We have the power to resist corruption, just as it is within out power to select public servants who are not likely to be corrupted. It is our responsibility to do so.


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

Outrageous Corporate Conduct 2011: Transocean’s Unconscionable Bonuses

"Sure, but other than THAT: great night at the theater, right?"

I believe that much of the time the corporate sector is unfairly treated by the media, politicians, and the public. Part of this conviction arises from my experience working at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, directly under its current president when he was a rising young Turk. I dealt with corporate executives every day, and got to see the challenges of big business from their side. Most of the time, they struck me as genuinely concerned about workers, communities, fairness, while believing, of course, that an unfettered private sector was in the economic interest of everyone.

Increasingly, however, I see corporate behavior that is so arrogant, so transparently greedy, so contemptuous of the public’s intelligence, so blatantly, obnoxiously wrong that I wonder if it was all a dream. There was AIG, accepting billions from American taxpayers to save it from the consequences of its own fiduciary crimes, immediately spending some of it on lush retreats and parties for its executives. There were the leaders of Goldman Sachs, telling gape-jawed U.S. Senators that, no, they didn’t see anything unethical about selling their trusted clients investment products so awful that the company made money betting on their failure. There are the U.S. banks, hoarding their money and refusing to refinance mortgages that were unconscionable to begin with,  preferring to make the nation’s economic problems worse by foreclosing on families’ homes rather than making a good faith effort to undo a human and social catastrophe that was substantially of their own making.

Now comes the news that Transocean Ltd., owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, has announced that it is giving millions of dollars in bonuses to its executives after “the best year in safety performance in our company’s history.”  Which seems perfectly reasonable, unless you want to make a big deal over that one little Gulf oil spill incident last April…you know, the one that began when a Transocean oil rig exploded, killing eleven people including nine Transocean employees. Continue reading