Business Ethics: Tales Of Two Partisan Dunces

grocery Discount

1. The Trump Supporter: Jose Colon, owner of the Fresh Food Supermarket in Oakdale, New York,

Mr. Colon, a legal immigrant  from the Dominican Republic and a naturalized citizen, advertised a discount for supporters of President Trump on the store’s Facebook page last week.

“Trump supporters get 20% off.  Mention at the cash register you are a Trump supporter to get discount. (Excludes beer),” it read, as you can see above.

The store was immediately inundated with threats and social media posts advocating a boycott. Colon says he’s puzzled. .“We’re supposed to live in a free country,” Colon told Fox News. “This is weird. It’s crazy…We live in a free country where we support democracy, where we can go both ways, we can support left, right — whatever you want. I decided to vote and support the best interest, I believe, for this country.”

He has responded by offering the same discount to Biden supporters, and is claiming that this was his intent all along, though he is a vocal supporter of the President.

Let me try to explain what this particular citizen doesn’t seem to understand about his free country. It’s not going to remain free if people and businesses withhold goods and services from citizens based on their political beliefs, just as it is destructive to discriminate based on other criteria. If you want to break the nation into armed camps, having special restaurants, bars, grocery stores and movie theaters restricted to those of certain political persuasions is an excellent way to do it. What Colon did was well-intentioned, but un-American. He deserved the blowback, though the social media messages quotes don’t demonstrate any more civic comprehension than the grocery store owner seems to posess: what’s wrong with the discount isn’t that “Orange Man Bad,” but that it is unethical  for businesses to reward customers for their political views, which is the same as penalizing other customers for their political views. What does Colon think he’s doing? Buying votes with his discount?

I wouldn’t organize a boycott against a store that did this, but I wouldn’t buy groceries there again.

Then Colon’s solution to this dilemma of his own making was to offer the same discount to Biden supporters, discriminating against those who want to vote for the Libertarian or Green Party candidates, or Kanye West. Or me. Wrong. This flunks the Golden Rule test, Kant’s Universality test, and simple utilitarianism. In short, it’s unethical, and there is no ethical or civic defense for what he did. To be fair, the conservative news sources I’ve checked on this story, like Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, don’t seem to comprehend the problem any more than Colon does.

Meanwhile, does anyone believe that Colon always intended to offer a 20% discount to both Trump and Biden supporters as he now says? This is another reason for amateurs to stay out of politics: the pros lie better.

Well, usually.

2. The Biden Supporter: David Barrett, CEO of the software company Expensify.

Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Mary’s Gourmet Diner in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Welcome to Mary's! Some are more welcome than others...

Welcome to Mary’s! Some are more welcome than others…

I wish this were a joke, (thinking back on the previous post) but apparently it’s not.

The diner gives a 15% discount to customers who appear to say grace before eating. Yes, it’s a public prayer discount. Mary’s  has been doing this for years, a co-owner confirmed to NPR. Finally someone posted a receipt with the line item for “15% Praying in Public ($6.07)” to Facebook.

I detest this kind of thing, and so should you, because it is ethically indefensible and un-American to the core. The policy, whether it is well-publicized or quietly implemented as this one was, exacerbates societal divisions and embraces bias and prejudice. There may be a legal difference between this and charging a premium (that is, a penalty) to those who have Obama stickers on their cars or who are wearing T-shirts with the logo of the local team’s nemesis, but ethically it is all the same: splitting the world into them and us, good guys and bad guys, the virtuous and the reviled. All of “Mary’s” customers are human beings, and that is the only thing that should matter in the United States of America.

Now that this offensive policy has been outed, the question is this: Is it unethical for a non-believer to pretend to pray in order to get the diner’s unethical discount for the godly? Of course it is.

It’s also unethical to patronize a restaurant that discriminates against its own patrons.

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Facts: NPR

Occupational Hazard: Those Annoying, Hair-Trigger Ethics Alarms

cab metter

The danged ethics alarms start ringing loudly at the oddest times.

On Thursday afternoon, I was completing a cab ride from Houston’s Bush airport to the downtown law firm where I was to participate in an elaborate Inn of Court presentation, when I noticed some fine print on the window to my left. In its wisdom, the state of Texas had a)  designated me a senior before my time, and b) decreed that such newly-minted seniors were among those guaranteed  a 10% discount on their can fares. I had two disparate reactions to this stunning development in rapid succession.

First, in the tradition of Shirley MacLaine in “Terms of Endearment” when she raged at her daughter (Debra Winger) for becoming pregnant and thus making it imminent that she would be a grandmother, I was ticked off. Then I thought, “Well, what the hell. If Texas wants to save me money (this was going to be a hefty fare), why should I stop it?” Then the ethics alarms started ringing. Continue reading

The House Ethics Committee Sends A Message: “Keep Your Corruption Within The Loopholes, And You’re Still ‘Ethical'”

"We just want to be friends."

“We just want to be friends.”

Let us stipulate that when a body’s ethics committee shows itself to be hopelessly confused about ethics, the chances that the body it is supposed to enlighten will be anything other than habitually, shamelessly and irreparable unethical are somewhere between Frosty’s chances of surviving in Hell, and the likelihood of me doing an infomercial for Wen Hair.

Remember the “Friends of Angelo” scandal? This was the so-called  “VIP program” that former Countrywide founder and CEO Angelo Mozilo used, not to be unkind, to bribe lawmakers into assisting Countrywide’s predatory mortgage loan practices, or at least to look the other way. In June 2008  it was revealed that key policy makers, including former Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd  (D-Conn.), and current Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) received special terms on mortgages from Countrywide.

In 2009,the House Oversight Committee began investigating the program and learned that similar sweetheart loans were extended to almost a dozen lawmakers, executive branch officials, and other employees of Congress, the White House, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and other government agencies. Countrywide also allowed some VIP program participants “free floats,” which meant that if interest rates fell during the time when loans were being processed, the company allowed applicants to take the lower rate at closing, something it does not typically do.

Let’s be clear: these are bribes. No matter whether they fall within or without specific laws or regulations, they are bribes. This is a large corporation providing special benefits to legislators and others in the government that it did not make available to the general public, in order to make “friends” with them. Why would a financial company like Countrywide want policy-makers indebted to it, to “like” it? Use your imagination. This is called creating a conflict of interest and warping independent judgment. We should expect our officials and elected representatives to recognize such transparent corruption, and avoid it. But they didn’t, and don’t.

One reason they don’t is that voters refuse to hold them accountable. Another is this:

From the LA Times:

“The House Ethics Committee has found no rules violations by  lawmakers and staffers who used a VIP loan program from Countrywide Financial Corp. saying the allegations of special treatment fell outside the panel’s jurisdiction. The committee’s leaders said its investigation largely led to the same conclusions as the Senate Ethics Committee, which determined in 2009 that there was “no substantial credible evidence” that Sen. Kent Conrad (D-S.D.) and former Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) had broken rules by accepting loans through the special program…”

“The House Ethics Committee statement said that people in the VIP program appeared to be offered ‘quicker, more efficient loan processing and some discounts.’ But the committee said there was evidence showing those discounts “were not the best deals that were available at Countrywide or in the marketplace at large.” Because participation in the program “did not necessarily mean that borrowers received the best financial deal available either from Countrywide or other lenders,” it was not a violation of House rules to participate, according to the Ethics Committee.” Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week, Regarding the Most Unethical Idea of the Month: Prof. Herb Asher

“It might attract some customers. It might drive some away. If I were a businessperson, the first thing I’d ask: Is this a winner or a loser for me?”

—-Prof. Herb Asher, an Ohio State University political science professor, commenting on an initiative in Dayton, Ohio that will have participating businesses give discounts to Tea Party supporters.

Gee, Professor…I would think the first thing you’d ask would be, “Is this program ethical and civically responsible?”

Because it isn’t, you know. Oh, I’m sorry…that’s right, you don’t know, and that is why you said the first think you’d wonder is “What’s in it for me?” Continue reading