Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Service of When Is It Worth Selling Your Soul to the Devil?

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

There was a day when many wouldn’t buy products from companies or countries they disapproved of. There may be a few who still don’t though I suspect less than in earlier periods. Stock brokers ask if there are industries clients want to avoid investing in. Some PR and Ad agencies refuse to represent certain clients because they don’t like what they stand for or how they operate.

But this isn’t always the case. As recently as the midterm election constituents voted into high office—the Senate–a man who was indicted on federal corruption charges. [The Justice Department dropped the charges against him after a hung jury and mistrial.] In order to win, another senatorial candidate [photo right] swallowed his dignity and unctuously made up to a former opponent who had seriously trashed his father and his wife. He also won.

The Roman emperor Vespasian is said to have remarked “money does not stink.” The headline of Eliot Brown’s Wall Street Journal article illustrates how true this still is: “In Silicon Valley, Saudi Money Keeps Flowing to Startups Amid Backlash–Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists have remained generally quiet about Saudi funding since grisly killing of journalist.”

Brown wrote: “Two startups— View Inc., which makes light-adjustable glass, and Zume Inc., which uses robots to make pizza—disclosed investments over the past week totaling a combined $1.5 billion from SoftBank’s Saudi-backed Vision Fund.” Katerra Inc. that constructs housing units, is into SoftBank for $3 billion. SoftBank is in negotiations to lend WeWork $15-$20 billion. Wikipedia describes WeWork as “An American company that designs and provides shared workspaces for technology startup subculture communities and services for entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups, small business and large enterprises.” [This reporter wrote in a subsequent article on November 14 that the actual SoftBank investment in WeWork is $3 billion, although his sources told him that the larger amount is still under consideration.]

SoftBank is Japanese-owned. The Vision Fund has $100 billion to invest in tech companies. According to Bloomberg’s Pavel Alpeyev, “Saudi Arabia is the biggest investment partner.” Brown reported “Saudi Arabia has become the largest funder of U.S. startups in recent years as it works to diversify its economy by steering a big chunk of its Public Investment Fund toward technology. The kingdom has committed more than $12 billion to U.S. startups since mid-2016, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis, largely through its $45 billion commitment to SoftBank’s $92 billion Vision Fund.”

After Turkish allegations about journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder some companies refused to attend an October conference “in Riyadh sponsored by the Saudi sovereign-wealth fund,” Brown reported—even some backed by SoftBank.

Companies that wanted to cut ties with Saudi Arabia include what Brown called Hollywood’s biggest talent agency, Endeavor, as well as Virgin Group and “multiple Washington lobbying firms…. Republican and Democratic lawmakers also have called for curbing ties with the kingdom. …Other companies, including many in the energy industry, have stood by Saudi Arabia through the controversy.”

Are there exceptions in which crossing a moral line is legit? Have you boycotted purchases or refused to work for a company or organization on ethical grounds? Have we lost our compasses that determine right and wrong now more than before? Have expedient choices always been pretty much acceptable here?

Service of Gray: Senate and the Supreme Court

Monday, March 21st, 2016

I was far stricter when young than I am now [though close friends and family might not agree]. Then I saw life as black and white, wrong and right, with little room for compromise. Today I can live with gray fairly comfortably on many subjects.

That’s why I’m surprised at the intransigence of Republican senators and their refusal to give Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland the courtesy of a hearing. Not all of these women and men are young—haven’t they learned anything in their years on this planet? What happened to the greater good and being strong enough to admit a mistake and change your mind and give the President respect and the judge a chance?

I find this heels-dug-deeply-in-the-ground stance, a child’s tantrum attitude of “we won’t recognize someone” [even if we respect him] conflicts with an easy-peasy nonchalance when it comes to what Supreme Court judges are allowed to do.

In “Scalia Was No. 1 on Court in Paid Trips,” Eric Lipton wrote “Among the court’s members, he was the most frequent traveler, to spots around the globe, on trips paid for by private sponsors.”

According to Lipton in his New York Times article, “Legislation is pending in the House and the Senate that would require the Supreme Court to create a formal ethics system, beyond the Ethics in Government Act, similar to the one that governs actions of all other federal judges. That system is known as the Code of Conduct for United States Judges.”

Lipton continued: “Chief Justice Roberts has argued that the Supreme Court, even though it generally abides by this judicial ethics code, is not obligated to do so. It restricts how much judges can be paid for private travel, and limits other activities outside the court, such as allowing private organizations to use ‘the prestige of judicial office’ for fund-raising purposes.”

Justice Scalia took 258 subsidized trips between 2004 and 2014, according to Lipton, who noted that he gave speeches, participated in moot court events and taught classes in Ireland, Hawaii and Switzerland to name a few places. When he died he was the guest of the owner of a company that had “recently had a matter before the Supreme Court.”

In addition, “Many of the justices are frequent expenses-paid travelers, a practice that some court scholars say is a minor matter, given that many of the trips involve public talks that help demystify the court. But others argue that the trips could potentially create the appearance of a conflict of interest, particularly when the organizations are known for their conservative or liberal views.”

So while the Republican Senators are avoiding the job they are paid to do—to select a Supreme Court Judge—do you think that at the least they should turn their attention to legislation that would require the court to create a formal ethics system?

Service of Freebies

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

In one of my first real jobs after college the policy was clear: If you interview someone who works for a match manufacturer, don’t let anyone even light your cigarette and don’t accept a book of them. I subscribe to this philosophy for myself today although I’m not always as strict when observing others’ behavior.

Standing in line at a service station to pay for milk and a lotto ticket last week the cashier waved at a State Trooper, who’d made himself a cup of coffee, and called out, “Go on!” He did, without paying. Didn’t bother me. My husband thought he should have paid.

In “P.R. pros evaluate mayor’s free rides,” on crainsny.com, Andrew J. Hawkins reported that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio doesn’t pay for his subway rides. I don’t think that police staff or MTA workers do either. So that didn’t bother me.

What did was when I read Michael Howard Saul’s article in The Wall Street Journal that taxpayers covered the cost of his white Mercedes and driver during his vacation in Italy, [his spokesperson wouldn’t tell Saul what it cost]; his travel expenses to a family funeral in Massachusetts last weekend and to Atlantic City for non-work related reasons in May.

I thought of the matches when I read earlier that his children were given coveted City Hall internships–a leg up on any young person’s resume even if unpaid. The Mayor got the OK from the conflict of interest board. Legality isn’t the issue.

Back to Hawkins who wrote: “Other elected officials said they reimbursed the city for non-official travel, but the mayor’s office pointed to a ruling that allows him to travel on the public’s dime.” I wonder if employers/clients would welcome taxi/car rental charges from employees/consultant’s vacations on expense/out of pocket reports? Sure it happens. But should it? Remember the matches.

Where do you draw the line? Should public officials be models of behavior? Am I too straight-laced on the subject?

Service of Conflict of Interest II: One Olympic Skating Coach for Top Two Winning Pairs

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

In the PR and marketing businesses clients are sensitive about conflict of interest and frown on it. For this reason agencies bringing in a bigger fish most often must resign the tadpole they represent.

So I was fascinated that nobody blinks an eye about Marina Zoueva who coached the gold and silver medalists in this year’s Olympic ice dancing competition as well as at the Vancouver games. The same pairs–Meryl Davis and Charlie White for the US [who won this year– in the photo above] and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir from Canada [who won four years ago–in the photo below, right]—both also earned silver at alternate games.

Julian Linden, who wrote “Olympics-Figure skating-Zoueva coaches gold and silver winners” for Reuters pointed out that Zoueva has coached these skaters for 10+ years “but [they] have completely different routines and styles, each as spellbinding as the other,” he observed.

I can’t think of many other instances in which competitors welcome counsel from the same source. As I wrote, it doesn’t happen in advertising or public relations.

When a team of physicians, either in the same or allied specialties, collaborates to diagnose and cure a patient you could say competitors are working for the same client/patient. But the same thing can happen in marketing or PR when a corporation brings in several agencies to practice a specialty for one brand–so this example doesn’t hold up.

I admire this trust in the fiercely competitive world of sports. Does the Olympic spirit shine on the dynamic?  In what other industries are relationships that are considered a conflict of interest by most thought of as copacetic?

 

Service of Watching Your Back on Social Media

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Friends and relatives post all matter of information on Facebook and Twitter thinking it will never adversely bounce back at them. I hope it never does.

Think of the contradictions. On the one hand we’re horrified that the government is spying on us—with good reason. Yet many hand scofflaws buckets of ammunition by  posting photos of family members [kidnapping?], sharing intimate information [will anyone be home when you’re at a funeral?] and political views [potentially losing clients or a job] without a thought of the future.

We purchase security systems and ask a neighbor to empty the mailbox so would-be robbers bypass the house as we simultaneously post photos of ourselves in front of the Eiffel Tower and the family waving from a gondola in Venice.

The head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center and contributor to NBC News, Art Caplan, Ph.D., told of a young man who was removed from a liver transplant list because he posted a transplant-damming photo of himself on Twitter. In “Is your doctor spying on your tweets? Social media raises medical privacy questions” he wrote: “There he was for all the world to see, surrounded by booze, hoisting a cold one in a picture he himself had posted,” wrote Caplan. The photo was seen by a person on the transplants team who sent it to a psychiatrist who was about to approve him for the list.

Caplan noted that no liver transplant team would accept a person who was drinking alcohol.  Result of this photo, according to Caplan, “in all likelihood a death sentence.”

With his ethics hat on Caplan asked: “Should this doctor or any health care professional have checked the transplant candidate out on social media?” He continued: “But even if ethical restrictions existed, it is probably fair to assume that a lot of doctors and those who work with them, many who grew up with Facebook and Twitter and the like, will be tempted to do so.

“Take for example, you say your back really hurts and you are disabled — let’s take a peek at your Facebook page to see if you manage to hit the tennis court, the jogging path or the golf links. Promise to be abstinent due to your venereal disease—what are you doing on dating sites on Craigslist? Swear to stay away from fatty foods and high calorie treats—why did your doctor just read a review by you of barbecue joints on Yelp or Zagat?”

He continued: “I think the transplant candidate had the right to know that he tweeted himself right out of a shot at a liver transplant. And you need to realize that information you put up on social media sites may wind up being used by your doctor, hospital, psychologist, school nurse or drug counselor.”

He concluded what we know—the Internet is the Wild West, without rules. “If they [doctor and patient] are going to continue to trust one another then we need to recalculate existing notions of medical privacy and confidentiality to fit an Internet world where there is not much of either.”

Do you think that it’s fair game for a doctor to research a patient’s social media sites to check up on them? Do you believe that there will ever be rules impacting social media? What’s the point of lying to your doctor anyway?

Service of Civility: Weber Shandwick/Powell Tate Survey and East Hampton, N.Y. Manners

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Sometimes I think I live on the moon. I was reading Nicholas Joseph’s highlights on researchscape.com of a survey of a thousand Americans that KRC Research conducted for Weber Shandwick and one of its divisions, Powell Tate. I’m in sync with the condition but not with the cause to which 80 percent of respondents attributed incivility: Government leaders.

What about parents and guardians? Is this another game of hot potato where nobody wants to be left holding the vegetable when the music stops?

Joseph wrote: “Civility in America remains at a steady low level as 54% of Americans expect civility to continue to decline in the next few years….. With Americans encountering incivility more than twice a day, on average, and 43% of respondents expecting to experience incivility in the next 24 hours, dealing with incivility has become a way of life for many.

“Many Americans believe that uncivil words are provoking harmful deeds: 81% of respondents believe that uncivil behavior is leading to an increase in violence in our society. Respondents view the government, general public, and large corporations as uncivil, while they see local news, small businesses, and their community as civil.

69% of respondents view the government as uncivil

63% think that the American public is not civil

63% also view the media as uncivil”

I’d like to insert easy access to guns also leads to an increase in violence.

Toward the end Joseph added: “The level of civility will not improve until government leaders act more civilly and 83% of respondents think that politics is becoming increasingly uncivil.”

Granted, the survey blamed the American Public second after government…but that’s far too fuzzy for me. It’s not the public but a person that lets a door slam in my face as I enter an office building with my hands full; watches the elevator door slap shut as I’m about to step inside or crashes into me on the sidewalk without taking a breath to apologize.

Respondents—70 percent–also directed fault at the Internet. Almost half  have blocked missives from an uncivil offender while Joseph reported cyberbullying has increased 15 percent since 2011.

Manners are a first cousin of civility and Jim Rutenberg focused on the former in the title of his New York Times column, “Mind Your Manners, Or Else.” Datelined East Hampton N.Y., the first instance he described—of a hedge fund person and Wall Street lawyer trying to scam a local real estate company of its fee by leaving behind notes in one property asking the homeowner to deal directly with them—wasn’t about manners, it was about ethics and honesty.

After mentioning venues that capture unmannerly behavior, such as TheRudeHamptons.com, Curbed Hamptons and twitter character Joe Schwenk, whose handle is @HamptonsBorn, Rutenberg continued: “‘The Hamptons are, first and foremost, the locus of all this stuff: It’s where the powerful, the glamorous, the rich and the exalted go to summer,’ said Neal Gabler, the Amagansett-based author. ‘Because it’s their playground, the place where they can let themselves loose, it’s the place where you are likely to see them do things that they wouldn’t do in their own environment.’

“Mr. Gabler, who wrote the seminal biography of the gossip columnist Walter Winchell (“Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of the Celebrity”), views the sites devoted to reporting on suspected misdeeds as practicing a form of homegrown gossip columnizing, the whole basis for which, he said, “is essentially to equalize and take down the mighty to make sure they know they’re not better than we are.”

Manners apply whether or not you are rich or important or think you are. Some have them regardless, others don’t.

Definitions of “civility” and “manners” widely differ so we would naturally have diverse expectations about each. Is the reason we step on one another therefore inadvertent? I’m also curious about why survey respondents leave themselves out of the equation on the subject of civility and point far away to government and the public.

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