Pilant's Business Ethics

Business Ethics Blog

Author: James Pilant (Page 3 of 202)

The Irish Apple Edition

The Irish Apple Edition

Where we discuss what should and should not be done in regard to national borders and taxes.

Apple, the company, exists and does not exist. It exists very firmly in reality if you wish to buy its products or contract for services. It has no legal geographical existence for tax purposes, that is, it cannot be taxed because it has no locality at which it can be taxed. 

Apple in this way is almost identical to the character in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Hotblack Desiato, a rock singer, who is “dead for tax reasons.” Corporate amorality has reproduced Douglas Addams humor. 

It’s fascinating. Modern tax avoidance methods allow multi-nationals to suck up subsidies and the countless benefits of organized societies from education to roads without so much as paying a dime in support. If you were at a safe distance in a society where the tax burden hadn’t been shifted to middle class incomes, it would probably be funny. You’d think, “What kind of silly people would allow that nonsense?” But we are the people whose elected representatives allow and facilitate this kind of “globalism.” 

This is truly wretched business ethics. There is an implied social contract under which we cooperate for the common good and Apple chooses to abuse all of us by evading its responsibility. 

I never get to be consultant or even work very much in the field. And this is because I write these kinds of posts. What is wanted is a general denunciation of workers stealing from their employers or a long winded diatribe aimed a worker sloth. Writing that gets you jobs. Writing that international business acts in many ways as parasitical pirates makes businessmen uneasy about their own morality and beliefs and if there is anything they loath it is doubts about there own worthiness. In their own eyes, they are doing “God’s work” much like the Wehrmacht. 

But tax avoidance is a legitimate subject for business ethics and many, many companies are evading their most basic responsibilities. 

James Pilant

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From the Blog, Random Public Journal

The Iris Apple Edition

Years of Irish wheeler-dealing directed towards attracting business from multinational corporations has produced an at least morally bankrupt near zero rate of corporate tax. While on the books Ireland has two rates for corporation tax – 12.5% for trading income and 25% for investment income, special deals negotiated by the government with the bigger fish in the Irish pond has resulted in companies like Apple paying no more than 0.005% on declared wealth generated in Ireland. In the last few days the European commission has called last orders on this shady dealing and has called in almost €13 billion in unpaid taxes from Apple.

Ireland – of all European member states – could do with this money. In over a decade of failed state “leprechaun” economics Ireland has found itself in a deep dark hole. Social welfare and spending cuts have ensured that more Irish people emigrate or die as a direct result of these decisions. Lower levels of real employment, zero hour contracts, a housing crisis, and levels of homelessness as high as the years of the Great Famine have brought Ireland to its knees, and yet the suits in government are “outraged” that Europe would dare to help them with their money problems. What they have done instead is take the side of the corporate giant and keep up the policy of screwing Irish people.

From the Guardian’s Matthew Gardner

!!!i_00i_145_tnThe international tax system is only as strong as its weakest link. This is the clear message that the European Commission sent on Tuesday when it announced that Apple will have to repay as much as €13bn ($14.5bn) in back taxes due to illegal Irish tax breaks it has received.

Tax justice advocates across the globe lauded the decision as a big step toward tax fairness. Unfortunately, an immediate critical response from US lawmakers, coupled with a slick and disingenuous public relations play from Apple CEO Tim Cook, suggests that American taxpayers will probably continue to pay the price for Apple’s tax dodging for some time to come. This is a shame, because the commission’s goal of ending tax haven abuse is one in which the United States should, and ultimately must, be a full participant.

The facts of the Apple case are straightforward: with the blessing of the Irish government, Apple created a byzantine network of subsidiaries to shelter its profits in an entity that was a tax resident of no country. As a result, billions of dollars of Apple’s income have flowed almost tax free through Ireland’s tax system. The European Commission estimates that in 2014, one of Apple’s Irish affiliates paid a tax rate of just 0.005% on its Irish profits.

From Dear Kitty, Some Blog!

Andrew Walker at BBC News

05Was this week a turning point? It has certainly been expensive for the biggest stock-market listed company on the planet.

Of course, Apple can afford that €13bn (£11bn) tax bill that may be heading for the chief financial officer’s in-tray. And who knows whether it will actually have to pay up.

Perhaps the planned appeal will be successful. But it certainly feels like a very important moment in the battle to get multinational businesses to pay what many governments – as well as ordinary people – think would be their fair share of tax.

It is true that this episode has not brought unity among the governments concerned. The United States in particular is livid about the way the European Commission has gone about trying to get Apple to cough up.

But despite the spat, there’s still a degree of underlying common purpose. It is driven in part by a recognition that voters, many of them at least, detest what they see as the devious behaviour of many multinationals and some wealthy individuals.

From Real-World Economics Review (My favorite comment. jp)

!!!i_00i_207_tnIreland (the government plus the private sector) has by far the largest net international debt of all EU countries (measured as a % of GDP). To an extent this is caused because the Irish state was pressured, by its EU friends, to borrow money from other countries to bail out (the creditors of) Irish banks. The large and fast deterioration of the Irish position in 2014 and 2015 might be caused because large international companies finance their Irish headquarters with inter company international debt. But whatever the cause – it is ridiculous that a country like Greece, which is in a much better state when it comes to its net international investment position, is pressured (among others: by Ireland!) to cut pensions, sell government assets and raise taxes – while the Irish government even refuses to collect taxes due.

Apple taxed at 0.005% rate in 2014

013mEarlier the European Commission said Ireland had enabled Apple to pay substantially less than other businesses, in effect paying a corporate tax rate of no more than 1%.

Ireland and Apple both said they disagreed with the record penalty and would appeal against it.

“Member states cannot give tax benefits to selected companies – this is illegal under EU state aid rules,” said Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

The standard rate of Irish corporate tax is 12.5%. The Commissions’s investigation concluded that Apple had effectively paid 1% tax on its European profits in 2003 and about 0.005% in 2014.

Ms Vestager said that the tax agreement reached between Ireland and Apple meant that the company’s taxable profits “did not correspond to economic reality”.

The Disastrous Drugs Edition

(What drugs should we give soldiers in the field and at home?)

The Disastrous Drugs Edition

Here is some blogging I’ve been following. Some are more business ethics than others. We open with a contribution from the ever versatile, “Dear Kitty, Some Blog.” The blog, Kempton Ideas Revolutionary, talks the importance of original sources. We discover that research universities in the quest for money are fueling inequality. “Meet the billionaires” speaks for itself and a truly fascinating take on how immigrants become “white!”

I close with a blogger returning from life crisis to blog again.

Best wishes!

James Pilant

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This is from “Dear Kitty, Some Blog.”

(This is the disastrous drugs mentioned in the title.jp)

Please share this important podcast as we hear from ex-Irish Defence Force members highlight the grave circumstances around the use of Lariam. Lariam is an extremely dangerous drug with damaging and long lasting side effects. This show must be heard and spread across Ireland.

Members of the Irish Defence Forces are not legally or constitutionally protected in this matter. They need the people to raise a voice and stand for them and with them in putting an end to this and protecting our fellow country men and women.

I’m seeing similar problems with American soldiers in a more general way. This is from author, Alan Zarembo, writing for the Los Angeles Times. 


The Disastrous Drugs Edition

U.S. Army researchers have found that soldiers coming home from war suffer from chronic pain and use prescription opioids at far higher rates than civilians.

In a survey of an infantry brigade that had recently returned from Afghanistan, 44% of soldiers reported having been in pain for at least three months, and 15% had used opioids during the past month.

By comparison, researchers estimate than 26% of civilians live with chronic pain and 4% use opioids.

“We were surprised by the percentages,” said Robin Toblin, a psychologist at the Walter Reed Institute of Research and lead author of the study, published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Experts said the study suggested that, despite the military’s efforts to improve pain management — a growing concern during the course of the recent wars — more needs to be done. It also raised but did not answer questions about whether opioids were being prescribed properly.

Dr. Mark Edlund, a psychiatrist and pain expert at RTI International, a North Carolina nonprofit research group, said the study gave no indication that painkillers are being used any differently in the military than they are in other health systems.

“American medicine in general is overprescribing,” said Edlund, who was not involved in the study.

Kempton Ideas Revolutionary

(He’s quite right – it is always most rewarding to read the originals rather than the current summarizers. Go to the original where possible! jp) 

One time I was looking at a beautiful picture book of fractals, my elderly and wise math professor ask why didn’t I go read the master Benoit Mandelbrot himself instead? Since then, I’ve made it a habit to read masters’ works by the masters themselves, often in their original papers.

!!!!!!i_00i_00i_136_tnResearch Universities encouraging inequality

We’ve been learning a great deal about the conditions and consequences of the obscene levels of inequality in the United States—now, in the past, and it seems for the foreseeable future.

Right now, inequality is escalating within public higher education, especially in research universities that are chasing both tuition revenues and rankings. Thus, the editorial board of the Badger Herald, the student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin, found it necessary to criticize the lifting of the out-of-state student enrollment cap because it betrays the Wisconsin Idea and is making the university both “richer and whiter.”

Meet the billionaires pushing charter schools

How Immigrants became white?!

!!!i_00i_035_tnHere it is important to understand how, exactly, Americans ‘become white’. The history of Polish-Americans is an illuminating example. Upon arriving in the U.S. en masse in the late 19th and early 20th century, Poles endured discrimination based on their appearance, religion and culture.In 1903, theNew England Magazine decried the Poles’ “expressionless Slavic faces” and “stunted figures” as well as their inherent “ignorance” and “propensity to violence”. Working for terrible wages, Polish workers were renamed things like “Thomas Jefferson” by their bigoted Anglo-Saxon bosses who refused to utter Polish names.

The Poles, in other words, were not considered white. Far from it: they were considered a mysterious menace that should be expelled. When Polish-American Leon Czolgosz killedPresident William McKinley in 1901, all Poles were deemedpotential violent anarchists. “All people are mourning, and it is caused by a maniac who is of our nationality,” a Polish-American newspaper wrote, pressured to apologize for their own people. The collective blame of Poles for terrorism bears great similarity to how Muslims (both in the U.S. and Europe) are collectively blamed today.

!!!!!i_00!i_00i_114_tnFrom the Blog – Rainbows and Road Rage – A blogger suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune but returns to blog anew

Hi. Its been a while.

I wish I had some extremely life changing event that would explain why I took time off so early in my attempted blogging “career” (cuz I’m making ZERO dollars from this venture). I wish I had some amazing trip that explained my absence from the blogosphere and provided a wealth of writing material for those who haven’t unfollowed me at this point.

I don’t.

Instead, I have this explanation: Life got in the way and is basically being a bitch at this point.

The Linda Fisher Thornton Edition

The Linda Fisher Thornton Edition

I was looking at the blogs I subscribe to, yesterday and came across “Leading in Context” which has a really sophisticated looking logo. (It made me wish I had one – it was that good.) Anyway, I was struck by the August 17th blog post entitled – Ready To Change the Ethics Quo (For Good)? In this post, Linda Fisher Thornton lists three recommended changes to “the Ethics Quo” and lists them as follows.

  1. EXPECT MORE FROM SENIOR LEADERS: Think of several examples of senior leaders who were coached, penalized or fired for ethical violations. If you can’t think of any, does that mean your organization prevents problems or lets senior leader infractions slide by?Always hold senior leaders to the highest standards since they model what others throughout the organization should do.
  2. HAVE ALL LEADERS MODEL AND REWARD ETHICAL ACTIONS: Keeping in mind corporate ethics policies and company values, examine what leaders are making important by their actions.  What are they doing? What are they holding people accountable for?Make sure that ethical decisions and actions are modeled and rewarded.
  3. SEE YOUR CEO AS THE “ULTIMATE ETHICS OFFICER”: Take a careful look at who is responsible for ethics in your organization. Is it just the compliance officer and HR Manager? It is the CEO and 1 or 2 other managers? Or is it every manager and every associate? Make sure that everyone is responsible, and be sure that the CEO is actively playing the role of the “Ultimate Ethics Officer.”
The Lind Fisher Thornton Edition

She followed up on August the 31st with a Part 2, listing three more recommended changes.

  1. BE DEEPLY COMMITTED TO DOING GOOD: Take a hard look at the positive impact your organization is having in the communities you serve. Does the total impact say “deeply committed to doing good” or “trying to appear good?” Move toward “deeply committed to doing good” with intention.
  2. MAKE COMMUNITY SERVICE PART OF YOUR DAY TO DAY MISSION: Identify at least one important way that you are improving the communities you serve. If we stopped associates on the way in to work, would they all know what it is? If not, start the conversation and make the commitment today.
  3. COMMIT TO OFFERING SINCERE MUTUAL BENEFIT – FOR ASSOCIATES, COMMUNITIES & THE ORGANIZATION: Does the way you are improving communities also benefit your associates? Do they find meaning in volunteering their service and do you support them doing that during paid work hours? If not, make the financial commitment that backs the message and shows you care about associate AND communities.

She plans a third installment with some more rules. I’ll try to come back to this post and add those when she does.

I was impressed by the posts. Seldom do I attempt to create rules for businesses to use and not many of my colleagues try that either. But she jumps in and gives some structure to business decision making and I applaud her efforts.

Now, as usual, when I am quoting from another blog. I want you, my dear reader to visit the original blog, “Leading in Context,” and read the full article. In this case, don’t just read the article but look around the blog. The writing is in chunks, designed in the context of the overall design to give you a certain kind of business experience, very sophisticated.

As always, Share, Subscribe and Like!

James Pilant

Here is some more about Linda Fisher Thornton –

Linda Fisher Thornton – YouTube

And this is her video on ethical lenses as applied internationally.

We Need to Make Decisions Like Global Citizens – YouTube

The Gene Wilder Edition

The Gene Wilder Edition

!!!i_00i_193_tnIs an actor like Gene Wilder a product or art?

Gene Wilder is dead. He died yesterday. I got up this morning and just couldn’t bring myself to write one more word about epi-pens or greedy hell-bound CEO’s. I want to talk about Gene Wilder.

If all movies were equal entertainment, each would be worth the same amount of money and each deserve the same amount of attention. They don’t. It is possible for large number of automobiles to be identical, and much simpler items are even easier to be simple duplicates. But movies resist being made standard products. They vary in countless ways.

I was teaching business ethics and I used a film called “Bringing Up Baby.” The film when originally released was a disaster but when re-released several years later was  a great success. So, I asked my students to write an essay and defend one point of view over another. The two points of view being art for art’s sake and movies are a commercial venture to make money.

So, which is it? Are movies an art form with intrinsic value beyond simple money making or are they justified only in term of monetary return?

!!!i_00i_097_tnEnter Gene Wilder.

When I said goodbye to classroom teaching at NWACC, I said it by playing as the last classroom assignment the film, “Young Frankenstein.” (My students had to write an essay.)

Young Frankenstein Greatest Moments – YouTube

Wilder isn’t just memorable in the film. He’s unforgettable. And that makes the value of the film highly debatable. I suppose from a neo-liberal point of view, one should demand a premium for a film with an unforgettable actor. Perhaps, some kind of interest paid for when humor last decades instead of minutes.

What Wilder is doing is beyond conventional acting. To quote my favorite, Twilight Zone episode. His performance is “one for the angels.”

He’s giving more than he could possibly get back.

!!!i_00i_054_tnValue for Value?

Sometimes, I think that we have forgotten any values except commercial ones. More and more I see people thinking of relationships as exchanges of value rather than, well, relationships.

Relationships involve love and love doesn’t work as a medium of exchange. Someone always gets less and someone always gets more. And sometimes, you just give it, just because you have to. Your heart doesn’t give you a choice.

We are at best temporary and we really don’t get to own or keep anything. We are visitors with an allotted time. Maybe what Wilder did in giving more than he got is an example of what we could be if we weren’t corrupted by greed or valuing every exchange looking to come out even?

James Pilant

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Here are some Gene Wilder Films –

Funny About Love – YouTube

World’s Greatest Lover 1977 – YouTube

The adventure of sherlock holmes smarter brother 1975 – YouTube

Some Gene Wilder Articles from the News

From Variety

He was born Jerome Silberman in Milwaukee and began studying acting at the age of 12. After getting his B.A. from the U. of Iowa in 1955, Wilder enrolled in the Old Vic Theater school in Bristol, where he learned acting technique and fencing. When he returned to the U.S. he taught fencing and did other odd jobs while studying with Herbert Berghof’s HB Studio and at the Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg.

Wilder’s memoir “Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love and Art” was published in 2005. After that he wrote fiction: the 2007 novel “My French Whore”; 2008’s “The Woman Who Wouldn’t”; a collection of stories, “What Is This Thing Called Love?,” in 2010; and the novella “Something to Remember You By: A Perilous Romance” in 2013.

Dead at 83

Gene Wilder, who brought a wild-eyed desperation to a series of memorable and iconic comedy roles in the 1970s and 1980s, has died, his lawyer, Eric Weissmann, said.

He was 83.
Wilder is best known for his collaborations with director Mel Brooks, starring as the stressed-out Leo Bloom in Brooks’ breakout 1967 film “The Producers,” and later in the monster movie spoof “Young Frankenstein.” He also portrayed a boozing gunslinger in “Blazing Saddles.”
For many people, Wilder might be best remembered for “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” playing the mysterious candy tycoon in the 1971 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book.

The Robo-Baby Edition

The Robo-Baby Edition

How do you sell the Robo-baby, a counter productive anti pregnancy tool, to gullible high schools?

Robo-Baby – A Business Ethics Tragedy

The Robo-babies exist as part of anti-pregnancy programs in 89 countries.

What evidence do we have that they prevent teen pregnancy?

As far as I can tell, none.

Did this cause the schools not to buy them?


And they aren’t cheap. According to the Australian study, about 1200 dollars (American) for each unit.

What kind of business ethics is this? After all, we’ve seen this before. Abstinence programs actually result in higher rates of teen pregnancy. And, of course, who can forget the disaster of “Scared Straight?”

Discouraging teen pregnancy means taking on a complicated problem with many cultural and historical variable. It requires careful study and planning and, almost certainly, huge resources to be successful.

But why do that when you can employ on the cheap, religious organizations selling watered down versions of their anti-sex and anti-contraception beliefs? Or when you can have a “purity” ball?

And finally, you can buy semi-electronic dolls to simulate the horrors of child rearing

Did anyone notice, anywhere at any time, that we as a people have children regularly in spite of the fact that they are often inconvenient? And did anyone notice that new mothers get a lot of attention, most of it positive? And how about the strange fact, that many people like children even when they are babies?

What kind of idea is this, anyway? This only works if children are a horrible burden that are so horrifyingly draining and disgusting that one weekend with a “simulator baby” will turn you away from all things sexual.

I’m sorry. For many people (including me), parenthood is the greatest experience of their life and we do get through tough weekends with babies without permanent harm.

Okay, let’s have some rules. It’s time. No one should get to sell their anti-pregnancy program to any school in America without at least some evidence of success. In a perfect world, a several year study with a control group would be preferred. But looking at the horrible landscape of our current efforts to reduce teen pregnancy, I’ll take pretty much anything.

Business ethics would suggest that people sell products that do what they say they will. This product does not appear to meet that test.

Let’s do something else.

James Pilant

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!!!i_00i_078_tnRobot Babies are Creepy

Caring for lifelike robot babies for a few days is supposed to discourage teen pregnancy, but a new study in The Lancet found that Australian teens were undeterred.

Students who participated in the virtual infant parenting (VIP) program with the computerized “infant simulators” were actually more likely to get pregnant by age 20 than girls in a standard sex-ed program. Pregnancy rates among robo-baby recipients were 17 percent, compared to 11 percent in the lower-tech intervention. The lead author categorized this difference as small but statistically significant.

!!!i_00i_085_tnCould we just do sex ed instead? 

The makers of the robo-baby aimed to teach teens about the hardship of having a baby at the early stage of life. It is programmed to cry, laugh, get hungry, and so forth just like any baby would, so as the teen being educated will somehow experience how it would be to have a baby. The goal is to make the young people discouraged to start a family or have a kid at their young age. Nonetheless, to the dismay of sex educators, the effect of the robo-baby is said to be the opposite, as a study says.

In Australia, researchers studied 57 schools in Perth by dividing them into two categories. Total of 28 schools were given robot babies and 29 schools were given normal health programs. These girls were carefully tracked and studied. From the records in 2003 up to 2006, it turned out that 8 percent of the girls with robot babies had at least one birth compared to the other group that had 6 percent. Much worse is that, 9 percent of the robot group had at least one abortion while the other group had 6 percent. It seemed that the kids who had robo-babies were amused and got encouraged to have babies.

A young woman who actually went through the program discusses her experience. (She’s brutally frank.)

Robot Baby Story – YouTube

!!!i_00i_055_tnActually increased rates of both pregnancy and abortion 

Brinkman said researchers at Western Australia’s Telethon Kids Institute were trying to determine whether the robot babies, which she said cost over US$1,000 each, were worth the money.

She said while some of those researching the life-like dolls thought they were perhaps ineffective, no one had expected them actually in increase the likelihood of an early pregnancy.

“We never went into the study thinking this would increase teen pregnancy,” she said.

!!!i_00i_045_tnApparently promotes pregnancy

What could have possibly gone wrong? According to Dr. Sally Brinkman, the study’s lead author, numerous teens became attached to the fake babies. She concluded that the program failed because a lot of girls enjoyed taking care of the robo-babies; therefore, they found motherhood easy. Moreover, they felt like they were ready to be mothers because they believed that the exercises reflect real-life motherhood experience.

As the abovementioned findings show, it might be safe to say that looking after robo-babies can indeed make teenagers think that they are preparing for actual parenthood; hence teenage pregnancy is promoted. It can also be safe to say that the difficulties and demands of being parents would not necessarily scare teenagers.

Meanwhile, adolescent sexuality expert Melissa Kang said there are other reasons why a person would opt for contraception. One great factor is the access to resources, something not covered by taking care of robo-babies. This fact makes other experts believe that taking care of fake babies cannot really mirror real-life parenthood experiences.

!!!i_00i_009_tnRobo baby moms

A weekend caring for a computerized baby doll — a popular sex ed technique — doesn’t discourage pregnancy, according to an Australian study published in Lancet. Girls who mothered Baby Think it Over dolls were more likely to become pregnant than sex-ed students who didn’t get the lifelike dolls.

Costing several hundred dollars, the “robo-babies” mimic “six-week-old infant behavior including crying when hungry or needing changing, or gurgling when rocked and burped,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

Robo babies increase teen pregnancy

Around the world, technology is being deployed as a tool to try to teach girls to use contraception. More specifically, a program using an “infant simulator” (or robotic baby) is used to teach teen girls about the harsh realities of motherhood. Over the last decade, the use of this program has exploded — it’s now in 89 countries. But a new study published today in The Lancet reveals that the robo-babies aren’t working as hoped.

A study that followed 2,834 girls from 57 randomly selected schools in the state of Western Australia found that girls who participated in this program had significantly higher rates of pregnancy.

The Philosopher’s Blog Edition

Today, I recommend the ethics blog, A Philosopher’s Blog, it often deals with business ethics but is also just excellent. 

The Philosopher’s Blog Edition

One of the delights of blogging is that sometimes you can take a day off from the horror of regular blogging and do something fun. Now, I’m sure that a lot of people have more fun than I do blogging. For instance, if you blog about dogs or cats, you can find many wonderful stories, films and pictures. But I blog about business ethics which by comparison makes economics sound like fun. In my subject, thousands die and millions are stolen from and otherwise mistreated. If that wasn’t bad enough, there are anti ethicists who exalt greed and evil and contend that if we just let the market run free, nirvana will ensue. So, I need the occasional break.

A Philosopher’s Blog can be found here. He sometimes blogs about business ethics but more often about general ethics and this makes him an ally in the cause, so to speak.

I going to list some of his blog posts with a paragraph or so from each. I want you, my kind readers to know that his paragraphs are nicely constructed and I think you can often make a good case that I should have chosen one or another over my selection. There is indeed a wealth here of writing, and I hope my critical judgement is up to the task.

Here are some selections from his work –

!!the sheriff on the trail from Zane Grey novelDo We Want Rapists, Robbers and Murderers Voting?

A reply to this is to inquire as to why such a moral standard should be used in regards to the right to vote. After all, the right to vote (as I have argued before) is not predicated on moral goodness or competence. It is based on being a citizen, good or bad. As such, any crime that does not justly remove a citizen’s status as a citizen would not warrant removing the right to vote. Yes, this does entail that rapists, murders and robbers should retain the right to vote. This might strike some as offensive or disgusting, but these people remain citizens. If this is too offensive, then such crimes would need to be recast as acts of treason that strip away citizenship. This seems excessive. And there is the fact that there are always awful people voting—they just have not been caught or got away with their awfulness or are clever and connected enough to ensure that the awful things they do are not considered felonies or even crimes. I am just as comfortable allowing a robber to vote as I am to allow Trump and Hillary to vote in their own election.

Felons & Voting


The Philosopher’s Blog

In a state that professes to be a democracy, the right of citizens to vote is the bedrock right. As Locke and other philosophers have argued, the foundation of political legitimacy in a democracy is the consent of the governed. As such, to unjustly deny a citizen the right to vote is to attack the foundation of democracy and to erode the legitimacy of the state. Because of this, the only crimes that should disenfranchise are those that would warrant taking away the person’s citizenship. In general, the crime would need to be such that it constitutes a rejection of citizenship. The most obvious example would be treason against the country.

Simulated Living


The Philosopher’s Blog

One of the oldest problems in philosophy is that of the external world. It present an epistemic challenge forged by the skeptics: how do I know that what I seem to be experiencing as the external world is really real for real? Early skeptics often claimed that what seems real might be just a dream. Descartes upgraded the problem through his evil genius/demon which used either psionic or supernatural powers to befuddle its victim. As technology progressed, philosophers presented the brain-in-a-vat scenarios and then moved on to more impressive virtual reality scenarios. One recent variation on this problem has been made famous by Elon Musk: the idea that we are characters within a video game and merely think we are in a real world. This is, of course, a variation on the idea that this apparent reality is just a simulation. There is, interestingly enough, a logically strong inductive argument for the claim that this is a virtual world.

Now, these three selections are just his last three. He has a lot more. The gentleman has been blogging since 2007 (two years longer than me!).

I would like for you to click on at least one of the titles and read one of them in full to get more of the impact of his writing. Sometimes, he’s clever and funny but I sense a strong moral center in his work and that is the most important thing in my mind.

I strongly recommend the blog, A Philosopher’s Blog and I wish you, my kind readers and the blog author well.

James Pilant

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The Volkswagen Kills Edition

Today, we open with a little (1:01 minutes) film about Volkswagens and death. Then there is a strong article about the national parks and the drive to steal those public resources. We have a little short story about a guy pulling off one of the oldest cons – “Producers” style. There are several business ethics stories but the most interesting of what follows is a public musing on what might happen if Donald Trump loses. I don’t think his supporters are going home quietly after the election, either. 

As always Share, Like and Subscribe!

James Pilant

From Reuters!

Read more from one my favorite blogs – Dear Kitty, Some Blog. 

National Parks in danger of privatization and neglect

While the political landscape has tilted, public support for national parks remains rock solid. It’s almost impossible to find an issue that 95% Americans agree on, but polling suggests this is the level of support for federal government protection of national parks.

Separate polls show a hefty majority of voters would be unhappy if their representatives stripped protections from public land. A record number of visitors – almost 305 million – gazed at the vistas of Yosemite, Yellowstone, Gettysburg and other NPS properties last year.

While the NPS could be enjoying a triumphant centennial in 2016, it has to cajole funds from a recalcitrant Congress to deal with crumbling visitor centres, trails, campgrounds and education programs.

An overdue maintenance backlog has grown from a headache under George W Bush to a weeping sore under Obama. It will cost nearly $12bn to patch up all of the creaking infrastructure in national parks, at a time when a recent study found Congress has trimmed the budget of the NPS about 15% over the past 15 years.

A Producer’s Style Fraud? 

It sounds like the plot of Broadway hit “The Producers” come to life: A man conned seven investors into giving him $165,000 to produce a fake Broadway play, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said Friday.

003CEO Severance Raises Eyebrows

The corporate food system rigs the game

What do Trump supporters do if he loses? 

So I think the danger is . . . when they lose and I tend to agree with you, I think they’re gonna lose, although it’s not guaranteed. The question is, If the vote total is close — if it’s 10 points, it’s different — but if it’s 4 points or 5 points or less, where do they go? I wrote “Dear White America” in 2012. My argument at the time was, What do these white folks do who have been nurtured in this anxiety and resentment and this idea that they’ve ‘lost their country’?

At the time I was thinking about the Tea Party; I wasn’t even thinking about Trumpkins. My point at the time was, What do these people do? Are these the kind of people who gladly say, “Oh gosh, we lost, that sucks. But we’ll just work harder next time and gosh darn it, in four years we’ll come back and we’ll be ready to go.” My argument was then, and is now, I don’t think that that’s what Trump’s people are like. I don’t think Trump’s people are the kind of people who go, “Gosh darn it. How can we tweak our message to get moderate voters?” These are people who I think, to be perfectly honest, lose in November and then they look around and look at their wall and they say, “Well goddamn. We’ve got a lot of guns. We don’t have the vote, but we got the guns.”

Is Wal-Mart a magnet for criminals? 

Time reported last week that police in many communities get more calls to Walmart shopping centers than anywhere else. For some stores, police are called multiple times a day. The problem appears to be far larger for Walmart than for competing retailers like Target. And the crime ranges from mostly standard shoplifting and petty theft to the occasional rape, stabbing, shooting, murder, or meth lab hidden in a 6-foot drainage pipe under the store parking lot.

“I’ve got all my bad guys in one place,” Darrell Ross, a Tulsa police officer permanently stationed at the local Walmart, joked to Bloomberg.

Critics in both stories point to Walmart’s aggressive cost-cutting, beginning in 2000 with the tenure of former CEO Lee Scott, as a big part of the problem. Retail consultants told Time that Walmart likely has about 400,000 fewer workers in the U.S. today than a decade ago. In giant stores that can range up to five acres, that translates into one worker for every 524 square feet of retail space — a 19 percent decrease in workers per square foot from 10 years ago. The greeters at the entrances are gone, many cashiers have been replaced with automated checkout scanners, and there are simply fewer eyeballs monitoring everything than before.

A majority of men believe sexism is gone!!!

And for my devoted readers —-

For FREE – from my friends at Project Gutenbergs – The Count of Monte Cristo – fully illustrated

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas [père]

Is it Time to Prohibit All Non-Audit Services for Audit Clients? (Guest Post)

Independence Impairments Threaten the Public Interest

(My friend, Steven Mintz, the Ethics Sage, has a new column that he has graciously allowed me to post. This is his blog – here.)

The Ethics Sage
The Ethics Sage

The accounting profession has lost its way and has reverted to old behaviors, including increased commercialism, and created a worrisome trend of deficient audits. It may be time to change the regulatory regime and completely prohibit the performance of all non-audit services for audit clients. Restrictions in place since the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) in 2002 seemed to work at first as audit firms were on their best behavior, but recently the profession has reverted to commercial behaviors that brings into question their commitment to serve the public interest, not the client’s interest or self-interest.

Most people do not realize that the accounting profession is the only profession where the public interest must be placed ahead of other interests. In law, the client’s interest is above all else. In medicine, with some exceptions, the patient’s interests are paramount. Indeed, the accounting profession is a profession because the SEC created its franchise right in that only CPAs can conduct audits of public companies.

The years and activities since the passage of SOX shows that the profession has reverted to its old ways. Firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers sold off its consulting business back in 2002 to IBM for $3.5 billion. It didn’t take long for PwC to back-track and in October 2013, the firm announced it was acquiring the consulting firm of Booz & Company thereby adding $9.2 billion in global consulting revenue to its total global firm revenue of $32.1 billion, or a 28.5% share for consulting services of the overall firm revenue.

Other firms have been sanctioned for providing prohibited non-audit services to audit clients. In January 2014, KPMG agreed to pay $8.2 million to settle charges by the SEC that the firm violated auditor independence rules by providing restructuring, corporate finance, and expert services as well as providing non-audit services such as bookkeeping and payroll services to an affiliate of an audit client. These activities create a self-review threat to independence because the audit firm winds up reviewing its own services.

Some of the independence impairments border on the bizarre, at least with respect to the broadening efforts of Big-4 firms to gain a competitive advantage and bring in lucrative consulting work. In July 2014, Ernst & Young agreed to pay more than $4 million to settle accusations by the SEC that the firm violated independence rules by lobbying on behalf of two of its audit clients, an advocacy threat to independence.

Greed has also infected the actions of some auditors. In May 2013, Scott London, the former partner in charge of KPMG’s Southern California regional practice, provided inside information to a close friend about audit clients. Once KPMG found out, the firm had to recall its audit reports on two clients, Herbalife and Skechers, because of the lack of independence. London sold his soul for $50,000 in cash and a Rolex watch.

A troubling trend is the high level of deficiencies cited in inspection reports by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB). In 2014, the PCAOB identified deficiencies as high as 54% (KPMG) to a low of 21% (Deloitte). The deficiencies most often cited include a failure of internal controls over financial reporting, inadequate responses to risks of material misstatement, inadequate review and assessment of auditing estimates, and deficiencies in the audit of inventory, loan reserves, and revenue recognition.

The nature of the revenue stream for public accounting firms has changed since the passage of SOX. The audit function that had previously been treated as a loss-leader in many cases has now become a consistent source of firm revenue in part due to compliance requirements with SOX. New requirements, such as the rotation off the audit of the lead and reviewing partners every five years, has, presumably, created a check on auditors getting too cozy with their clients. Moreover, the PCAOB is considering whether to require audit firm rotation every 10-20 years, as has been done in the European Union (EU) for public interest entities.

Protecting the public interest starts with maintaining the foundation of independence and commitment to serve investors and creditors above all else. Given the ongoing challenges for the accounting profession and questionable results of prohibitions of certain non-audit services for audit clients in the post-SOX era, I believe it’s time to prohibit all such services for audit clients. Of course, firms would still be able to provide non-audit services, just not while they perform audit services for the same client.

Are there other options to protect the public interest? Yes. Similar to audits in the EU, the audit function might become a statutory one regulated through “audit directives”. In this case the annual and consolidated financial statements of public interest entities would be based on these prescribed regulations. The big firms would still be able to perform such audits but they would be answerable to the state as well as to investors and creditors. This exists in the U.S. right now through the PCAOB audit requirements, but a statutory regime implies determination by a governmental body that currently does not exist except for areas such as regulated industries (i.e., utilities).

The time has come for the audit profession to rethink the way in which it provides services, both audit and non-audit, to public clients. The recent trends cited above give me great pause about a diminished commitment to professionalism. I believe the reason is non-audit services are performed largely by non-CPAs that have a lesser commitment to the ethics of the profession and serving the public good rather than the commercial and financial reporting interests of their clients. The audit culture and non-audit culture can sometimes be diametrically opposed.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on August 18, 2016. Dr. Mintz is Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at http://www.ethicssage.com.

The Fatwa Hotline Edition

Today, we discuss the fact that it is better to understand than not specifically in regard to Islam.

The Fatwa Hotline Edition

Ignorance can kill you. It can also hurt a business and lead to unethical content. One kind of ignorance is the simple unwillingness of men to get it, to realize that women have a different experience of the workplace than they do. The idea that your experience is typical is one we have trouble shaking. We devote considerable mental energy to finding ourselves “normal” even mundane.

014-1But the facts are otherwise. We live in bubbles of meaning. Don’t believe me? How about this? A recent poll shows that 63% of Republican men believe sexism is over.  That’s a real bubble. Hopefully, you don’t need me to reiterate the grim statistics on women in the workplace to find the idea that sexism exploded in a bubble of political correctness to be nonsense.

Of course, we can’t know everything but we can try to learn essential things like “how to cross the street” and “what indicates someone is angry.” Knowing that different sexes, races and belief systems are treated differently is important knowledge to both employer and fellow employee. A little sensitivity  and knowledge is good.

While I begin by discussing women in the workplace, my focus today is on religion.

I came across this article in the Guardian. It is called –

The fatwa hotline: ‘We have heard everything’

It can be read in its entirety here.

I think it is one of the best reads I’ve seen in many days. For one thing, it clarified my understanding of what a fatwa is and how hard followers of Islam work at their religion. And I often found it humorous and fascinating.

In the UAE, they have a hotline to answer questions about what should and should not be done as Muslims. There is one for women and a much more elaborate one for men.

What’s a fatwa and where does it come from?

(from the article)

A fatwa is not merely an opinion, however. It must be based on the verses of the Qur’an or the hadith, or the opinions of previous generations of Muslim scholars across 1,400 years of history, or, in the rare cases when those sources do not provide an answer, well-argued logic, to come up with a completely new ruling. These complexities tend to be missing from many self-styled Islamic experts, whose opinions are just a quick Google search away. You can find fatwas giving permission to behead captives or, in the case of Isis, take women as sex slaves. This free-for-all is why the Emiratis have taken steps to direct people towards approved scholars.

“On the internet, not everything is correct,” Zaidi says. “You ask a simple question and get many opinions. I believe it is better to go to a specialist if you have a problem.”

“Most questions from Muslims will have to do with their relationship with the divine and their ability to fulfil that for which they will be rewarded not in this world but in the world to come,” says Justin Stearns, an American associate professor and head of the Arab Crossroads Studies programme at New York University Abu Dhabi. I meet Stearns in a cafe in the sprawling pale stone campus surrounded by miles of sand on Saadiyat Island on the north side of Abu Dhabi. He has a short, greying beard and peppers his speech with fluent Arabic as he types on a silver MacBook. “In the marketplace of religious opinion, if you are just an average Muslim out there, you’d look to someone who can separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to religious authority,” he says. “Here you have the state doing that.”

What you should do.

I recommend you read this. One of the issues in the current election is the status of the followers of Islam in the United States, and, of course, all of us are likely at some point in the future to encounter other religions and it is better to have actual knowledge than the lurid fantasies of the Internet or talk radio.

As a matter of business ethics, an understanding of different religions, their ethical systems and beliefs on business is critical and should be part of every four year business degree although currently it is not a requirement. That we have a separation of church and state does not imply a separation of business and religion (although several of my students have claimed just that). The different ethical systems in play in society affect how we think and act. Business should pay attention.

James Pilant

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The Private Prisons Edition

Today we talk about a milestone in the saga of privatization.

The Private Prison Edition

The Federal government announced a gradual phase out of the use of private prisons. It turns out that studies show that the government run prisons do a much better job, a much, much better job, as the investigative report cited below conclusively proves.

The Private Prison Edition

This may be a turning point in the neo-liberal privatization story. For years, decades, we’ve been told that everything the government does can be done better by private business. Usually this discussion centers around quasi-religious claims of the free-marketers, you know, some Ayn Rand stuff with scary collectivists and greed being the greatest and most wonderful human impulse of all time. It gives you a sense of how awful it would be to be trapped on a long flight trapped against the window with a free market zealot sitting right next to you.

This may be it, the turning points – the place where people say, “Hey, these private companies promised us the moon and we got worse what they wanted to replace – what gives?”

“What gives?” is the simple lie that private industry can always outperform the government. That’s nonsense. Sometimes, you have subjects that don’t lend themselves well to the profit motive like war and health care. The private sector moves in, scoops up the money and the you’re left with a disaster. Probably, a private company might make a better uniform or provide a service but the government does not always seek to make a profit, sometimes it needs to win a war or make sick people well. For profit making both war and sickness need to last as long as possible but for the sake of the nation we need victory and health.

But in spite of the economic disasters of the last decade, neo-liberalism’s adherents are not discouraged. They’ll be back. They’ll have a think tank make up some studies, hire a couple of ivy league economists to explain the beauty and purity of the free market and how the government must in theory not work well. They’ll say, “Just give us a few billion dollars and watch the money roll in.” Just like they always do.

And we need to be there to say no.

James Pilant

Feds Done with Private Prisons

Yates said in her memo that research had found private prisons “simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources” and “do not save substantially on costs” either. Essential government education and training programs for prisoners “have proved difficult to replicate and outsource” in the private sector, she said.

The decision was announced days after the Department of Justice’s inspector general released a damning investigation report. It found instances of inmate-on-inmate assaults were 28% higher in contract prisons than in government-run facilities, and that the confiscation of contraband mobile phones occurred eight times more frequently.

Federal inmates in private prisons were found to be nine times more likely to be placed on lockdown than those at other federal prisons, and were frequently subjected to arbitrary solitary confinement.

The Feds run prisons better than private companies. 

For the most part, however, the report lays out a much more mundane case against private prisons. The private facilities failed, in large part, not because of high profile incidents — but because, compared to their government-run counterparts, they simply weren’t good at running a correctional facility. In this battle between socialism and the free market, socialism clearly won.

After the Inspector General’s office evaluated prisons along eight different categories, it found that private facilities underperformed government-run prisons in six of them. “Contract prisons,” the report explains, “had more frequent incidents per capita of contraband finds, assaults, uses of force, lockdowns, guilty findings on inmate discipline charges, and selected categories of grievances.”

Mother Jones article on CCA

Private prisons pose serious problems 

Still, where private prisons do exist, they seem to pose extraordinary problems.

The OIG report isn’t the first to indicate that private prisons are worse off, although it is the most recent one. A 2001 report from the Department of Justice found the rate of inmate-on-inmate violence at private prisons was 38 percent higher than the rate at public prisons. And in a four-month undercover investigation, reporter Shane Bauerwitnessed high levels of violence — particularly stabbings, which seemingly went underreported in official numbers — and lockdowns at a private prison in Louisiana.

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