Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 7/21/18: Seven Questions For A Rainy Day: UPDATED!

Good afternoon!

1. What did you expect? Following close on the heels of Scott Pruitt’s firing from the EPA as a result of blatant ethics violations, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said last week that he would sell all of his stock holdings to “maintain the public trust” after the Office of Government and Ethics pointed out that his financial transactions could get him into legal trouble.

“I have made inadvertent errors in completing the divestitures required by my ethics agreement,” Ross said in a statement. “To maintain the public trust, I have directed that all of my equity holdings be sold and the proceeds placed in U.S. Treasury securities.”

To maintain that public trust. Right.

The culture of CEOs and business executives is so alien to ethics that this kind of thing was assured as soon as Donald Trump was elected President. I wouldn’t say the business culture is necessarily more unethical than the political culture, it is juts unethical different ways. However, President Trump brought this brand of malfunctioning ethics alarms with him, and we shouldn’t expect it to abate until he leaves the White House.

Then we will get back to the good old-fashioned political versions of unethical conduct we’re become numb to. Ah, those were the days!

2. A question of degree. Professor Brian McNaughton, a former professor at Colorado State University, is facing a felony charge for fabricating an outside job offer to get a higher salary. This meets the technical definition of fraud. Apparently he presented the school with fabricated offer letter from the University of Minnesota. McNaughton resigned his position and apologized, and returned the fruits of the ill-gotten  raise,  about $4,000 per year over four years.

He also says that he was urged to use the tactic by other faculty members, who said it was a standard ploy. When does the “I have other job offers” gambit cross the ethics line into fraud? Clearly when you use a forged letter, but short of that, it’s just lying—unethical, but not criminal.

Writes one idealistic commentator:

…if an employee is performing a job and is good at it, that person should be compensated for it accordingly and in line with individuals within the same organization at an equivalent level professionally (ideally pay should be bench-marked against similar-sized institutions in states or parts of the country with comparable income ranges). Does a job offer and the suggestion that the employee is desirable to another organization change how well that person is performing? Promotions and rewards should be directly related to performance and an individual’s contribution to the organization and to science.

Well, yes, but competition and reality interferes with this nice, fair but overly simplistic and impractical theory. In fields where employees are not fungible, basic economic theory comes into play: you can’t deny the influence supply and demand. The fact that there is competition for an individual’s services does increase that individual’s value. Just saying “it shouldn’t be that way” doesn’t change reality. That’s what makes McNaughton’s lie fraudulent: he’s misrepresenting his value, and using false means to do it.

3. Would you fire Dan Coats for this?

Naturally the anti-Trump mob loved it, and that was the director of national intelligence’s intent: he was playing to the mob and virtue signaling to the detriment of his boss. Either than, or he’s thoroughly unprofessional and can’t be trusted to be on TV. Washington Post reporter Dan Baltz is either foolish, naive or dishonest when he writes: Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Case of the Unauthorized Clean-Up

The photo on top is how the lot looks today, thanks to a generous citizen. Philadelphia wants it put back to the way it looked in the lower photo. Wait…WHAT?

Can an act that benefits everybody still be unethical? That’s the underlying conundrum in this week’s Monday Warm-Up Ethics Quiz.

In the Point Breeze neighborhood of Philadelphia, a city-owned lot was in nightmarish condition, filled with trash, weeds and rats. Ori Feibush owned a coffee shop that backed onto the lot, and had repeatedly petitioned the city to do something about it, like clean it up. Feibush, who also is a real estate developer, says he submitted seven written requests to buy or lease the land, calling the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority about it 24 times. There was no response to any of this, and the city claims that it has no record of any inquiries.

Finally, Feibush couldn’t stand the mess any more. He spent more than $20,000 of his own money to clean up the lot, removing more than 40 tons of junk, garbage, and trash. Point Breeze residents are thrilled.

The city, however, is threatening to take legal action against Feibush for trespassing, explaining through a spokesman that “Like any property owner, [the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority] does not permit unauthorized access to or alteration of its property. This is both on principle (no property owner knowingly allows trespassing) and to limit taxpayer liability.” It is demanding that Feibush return the land to its original condition—that is, fill it up with garbage so it is an eyesore, dangerous, and useless again.

Your Ethics Quiz:
Who is in the wrong, the city, or Ori Feibush? Continue reading

Unethical Website of the Month: Facebook Event—“If Boehner shuts down the government I am taking my trash to his house”

Hypothesis: If you can't persuade your adversary he is wrong, dump this on his lawn.

Two guys who shouldn’t be allowed out of the house, or near a laptop, without adult supervision have launched an unethical Facebook event, entitled “If Boehner shuts down the government I am taking my trash to his house.” See, if the federal government shuts down, one of the District’s services that will stop is trash pickup. Clever boys.

The organizers of the event are Jonah Goodman, who is listed in the Democratic National Committee network and Nolan Treadway, the political and logistics director for the liberal group Netroots Nation, lead off their “event” announcement saying that… Continue reading

Police Brutality: Direct TV Strikes Again!

In a previous post that apparently established the proprietor of Ethics Alarms as a “fuddy-duddy,” I discussed the disturbing series of stereotype-bashing Direct TV commercials that sets out to show how amusing irrational hatred and gratuitously cruel behavior can be. The commercials seem to be escalating, and why not? Ethics Alarms isn’t their only, or most prominent, critic, and ethics be damned—the ads are being watched and talked about! Victory! And besides, they’re aimed at football fans, a demographic that is rather less likely to find the encouragement of random violence upsetting in any way.

The latest “hurt your rival” drama from Direct TV shows two police casually tasering a man who “cheats” in the Fantasy Football league by using his Direct TV NFL  feed to get an upper hand on the competition. (He is seen twitching on the floor. LOL!). As a commenter on the previous post has pointed out, police nationwide are fighting a perception and public relations battle over alleged incidents of excessive force, many involving tasers. This commercial encourages distrust of the police, and reinforces a false and unfair perception that misuse of their power and authority is the norm. Is it worth the laughs, if indeed there are any?

I think the standards for comedians and commercials should be different, with comics having the broadest possible discretion to do or say whatever they feel is necessary to promote mirth from their audiences. TV commercials are more than entertainment: the audiences don’t choose the content of ads or know when they will see them, and their visibility and repetition gives the commercials enough influence over cultural attitudes to warrant a higher level of responsibility on the part of the company and the ad agency.

Mainstream media ads both reflect public attitudes and mold them. The Direct TV ads either show we have a callous society, or are helping to make us one.

Direct TV’s Commercials For Hateful Jerks: NFL Sunday Ticket

The ad campaign for Direct TV’s NFL Sunday Ticket raises the question: if it is despicable, unethical and wrong to do something hateful to another individual because of his race,religion or national origin, can it be cute, funny or socially acceptable to take the same action against someone because of his pro football loyalties?

The Direct TV campaign, depicts the fans of various NFL teams expressing their anger and dismay over the fact that the satellite television service allows neighbors who have recently moved to their area can continue to root for their home town football teams by subscribing to NFL Sunday Ticket. In each commercial, a fan expresses his or her hatred for the newcomer by inflicting some form of surreptitious insult,  indignity, or attack: Continue reading

The Last Word on “Taser Boy”

Today the New York Times weighed in with an editorial on the Phillies taser incident, not surprisingly siding with the kinder, gentler majority who have argued against the position taken here, sometimes, like my passionate friends over at Popehat, in a not so kind or gentle way. “The best course there [Philadelphia], as anywhere, is smarter, more attentive security in the stands,” the Times said. “Maybe it’s also higher Plexiglas, stiffer trespassing fines, less beer. Force must always be the last resort. Tasering a showboating kid is just plain excessive.”


Continue reading