Pilant's Business Ethics

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For Want of a Shoe!

For want of a shoe.

i_00i_115_tnThere is an old children’s story about a lost horse shoe causing a kingdom to fall. It says that the loss of the shoe meant the horse couldn’t fight, so the mounted soldier couldn’t fight and his company lost without his presence up the chain until the kingdom is destroyed with the originating cause being a defective horseshoe nail.

I haven’t written in quite some time. I am similar to the aforementioned kingdom in that it is simple matter to describe the problem and in terms of weight it is very small indeed.

I have a shattered right lower molar and it is causing swelling across my face and some stomach distress. My ears, sinus cavities and the glands in my neck are all causing me pain in the wake of this tooth problem.

I am scheduled tomorrow to have this tooth out and some reconstructive work done. Kind thoughts are appreciated.

If all goes well, I will be writing again very soon.

Thanks!!

James Pilant

(Teaching – a little wonky) Patterns of Corruption

Patterns of Corruption

This post is particularly aimed at other professors who teach business ethics. I was on YouTube and found a film by Adam Curtis called The Great British Housing Disaster and it is a business ethics masterpiece. Here’s a piece of if  –

The very banality and consistency in the greed and incompetence of the malefactors here is amazing and in my experience, I have found that attitude commonplace in this country as well.

The film tells the story of how Britain decided to build a great deal of housing in a very short period of time and how that gave opportunity for unscrupulous contractors to build sub-standard housing. It takes you through the whole process from politics at the national level to the local and then, architects, contractors,workers and regulators. We are shown the building process and we see, in this case literally, the “concrete” results of the corruption.

I like the film because it’s well done and because it’s historical. I don’t want to be too topical,  too current, when teaching. When all the students have decided already what they think, it makes teaching more difficult. If you give them history and ethics, you have the opportunity of showing how corruption and incompetence follow particular patterns, and you see these patterns over and over again. If you watch the patterns, you can see the corruption as it develops in many other situations.

Now obviously I do teach on some current events but I prefer to use a film and a subject original to the students so they all begin at the same place.

For those of you who don’t teach, it’s a very fine piece of documentary film making and it is the first work listed in Wikipedia for Adam Curtis. So, it is kind of a preview of his later career.

James Pilant

Carmen Ortiz Used Swartz Case to Advance Her Career?

Carmen Ortiz Used Swartz Case to Advance Her Career?

Swartz didn’t face prison until feds took over case, report says | Politics and Law – CNET News

State prosecutors who investigated the late Aaron Swartz had planned to let him off with a stern warning, but federal prosecutor Carmen Ortiz took over and chose to make an example of the Internet activist, according to a report in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

Middlesex County’s district attorney had planned no jail time, “with Swartz duly admonished and then returned to civil society to continue his pioneering electronic work in a less legally questionable manner,” the report (alternate link) said. “Tragedy intervened when Ortiz’s office took over the case to send ‘a message.'”

The report is likely to fuel an online campaign against Ortiz, who has been criticized for threatening the 26-year-old with decades in prison for allegedly downloading a large quantity of academic papers. An online petition asking President Obama to remove from office Ortiz — a politically ambitious prosecutor who was talked about as Massachusetts’ next governor as recently as last month.

Swartz didn’t face prison until feds took over case, report says | Politics and Law – CNET News

From further down in the article:

But the sweeping nature of federal computer crime laws allowed Ortiz and Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann, who wanted a high-profile computer crime conviction, to pursue felony charges. Heymann threatened the free-culture activist with over 30 years in prison as recently as the week before he killed himself. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat whose district includes the heart of Silicon Valley, has proposed rewriting those laws.

The Boston U.S. Attorney’s office was looking for “some juicy looking computer crime cases and Aaron’s case, sadly for Aaron, fit the bill,” Elliot Peters, Swartz’s attorney at the Keker & Van Nest law firm, told the Huffington Post. Heymann, Peters says, thought the Swartz case “was going to receive press and he was going to be a tough guy and read his name in the newspaper.”

Carmen Ortiz - Future Governor?

Carmen Ortiz – Future Governor?

Just three months ago, Ortiz’s office, as TechDirt reported, severely escalated the already-excessive four-felony-count indictment by adding nine new felony counts, each of which “carrie[d] the possibility of a fine and imprisonment of up to 10-20 years per felony”, meaning “the sentence could conceivably total 50+ years and [a] fine in the area of $4 million.” That meant, as Think Progress documented, that Swartz faced “a more severe prison term than killers, slave dealers and bank robbers”.

Swartz’s girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, told the WSJ that the case had drained all of his money and he could not afford to pay for a trial. At Swartz’s funeral in Chicago on Tuesday, his father flatly stated that his son “was killed by the government”.

Ortiz and Heymann continue to refuse to speak publicly about what they did in this case – at least officially. Yesterday, Ortiz’s husband, IBM Corp executive Thomas J. Dolan, took to Twitter and – without identifying himself as the US Attorney’s husband – defended the prosecutors’ actions in response to prominent critics, and even harshly criticized the Swartz family for assigning blame to prosecutors: “Truly incredible in their own son’s obit they blame others for his death”, Ortiz’s husband wrote. Once Dolan’s identity was discovered, he received assertive criticism and then sheepishly deleted his Twitter account.

Carmen Ortiz – Governor?

From the Boston Globe:

The US attorney’s office’s strong focus on the probation controversy adds a particular sensitivity to the speculation that Ortiz, a 1978 George Washington Law School graduate, is considering becoming a candidate.

It could open her to charges by her opponents and others that she has used the investigation into political leaders to ­advance her political ambitions. Ortiz, however, would be among a crowd of regional federal prosecutors who have used their office to create a high public profile that allows them to run for office.

For example, William F. Weld, who served as US attorney in Boston in the early and mid-1980s, relentlessly pursued former mayor Kevin H. White. No charges were ever brought against White, but the intense publicity gave Weld the ability to parlay that investigation and others into a successful campaign for governor in 1990.

Other US attorneys who went on to successful political careers included former mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, and former governor ­Janet Napolitano of Arizona, now US secretary of homeland security.

From around the web –

From the web site of Glenn Greenwald:

Just three months ago, Ortiz’s office, as TechDirt reported, severely escalated the already-excessive four-felony-count indictment by adding nine new felony counts, each of which “carrie[d] the possibility of a fine and imprisonment of up to 10-20 years per felony”, meaning “the sentence could conceivably total 50+ years and [a] fine in the area of $4 million.” That meant, as Think Progress documented, that Swartz faced “a more severe prison term than killers, slave dealers and bank robbers”.

Swartz’s girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, told the WSJ that the case had drained all of his money and he could not afford to pay for a trial. At Swartz’s funeral in Chicago on Tuesday, his father flatly stated that his son “was killed by the government”.

Ortiz and Heymann continue to refuse to speak publicly about what they did in this case – at least officially. Yesterday, Ortiz’s husband, IBM Corp executive Thomas J. Dolan, took to Twitter and – without identifying himself as the US Attorney’s husband – defended the prosecutors’ actions in response to prominent critics, and even harshly criticized the Swartz family for assigning blame to prosecutors: “Truly incredible in their own son’s obit they blame others for his death”, Ortiz’s husband wrote. Once Dolan’s identity was discovered, he received assertive criticism and then sheepishly deleted his Twitter account.

From the web site, Translation Exercises:

Conversely, Aaron Swartz was not Muslim, and thus his chances of being targeted as a potential terrorist were significantly decreased. However, his crime was taking concepts like public-access and creative commons too seriously–and thus thwarting the private property interests of info-hoarding profitable (though “officially” non-profit) companies like JSTOR–and officially for-profit companies like Elsevier. As with most policies under the Bush and Obama Administrations, what we have come to understand is that they will fiercely, staunchly, defend the interests of banks, mortgage companies, and their Wall Street friends–and be perfectly equanimous about trampling powerless individuals–especially if they are hotheaded, suggestible, or “excessively” idealistic about standards of fairness and justice.

It is not surprising that Eric Holder and Carmen Ortiz are consistent in their overzealous prosecutions against individuals who are engaged in political dissent: For Aaron Swartz, this dissent took the form of challenging the electronic paywalls that prevented public access to work done by scholars like myself, who will never see a penny from the tens of articles that I have published. Mehanna’s speech at sentencing is worth reading; he is clearly a politically aware young man. His dissent took the form of challenging and criticizing the US government’s imperial war—perhaps in extreme terms—but that is also part of the flexible boundaries of speech.

From the web site, Who What Why:

The suicide last Friday of information activist, computer hacker and technical wunderkind Aaron Swartz has focused attention on Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, whose overzealous prosecution may have led to his death. Swartz, co-founder of a website later acquired by Reddit as well as a prime developer of the online publishing infrastructure known as Rich Site Summary (RSS), was under federal indictment for logging into JSTOR—a database of scholarly articles accessible from universities across the country—and downloading its content with the intent to distribute the articles online free of charge.

Despite JSTOR’s subsequent securing of the “stolen” content and refusal to press charges, Swartz was arrested by the feds and charged originally with four felony counts under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. On those charges alone, Swartz was facing a possible 35-year sentence and over $1,000,000 in fines. Just three months ago, a “Superseding Indictment” filed in the case by the U.S. attorney’s office upped the felony count from four to 13. If convicted, Swartz was looking at possibly over 50 years in prison: a conceivable life sentence.

Ortiz, the politically ambitious U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, spearheaded the prosecution against Swartz. “Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar,” Ortiz proclaimed in a 2011 press release. Her point man in the case was Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann, a specialist in computer crime and son of Philip Heymann, the United States Deputy Attorney General during the Clinton administration. Stephen Heymann led the 2010 investigation into Albert Gonzalez, the TJX hacker, in the largest identity fraud case in history. Heymann’s office suspected that one of the unindicted co-conspirators named in that criminal complaint—“JJ”—was Jonathan James, a juvenile hacker who also killed himself two weeks after his house was raided.

 

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Doug Guthrie addresses Business Ethics

Doug Guthrie addresses Business Ethics

Business Ethics and Social Responsibility – YouTube

 

I listened to this video and enjoyed it, particularly the discussion of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman early in the lecture.

Dean Guthrie’s background in Chinese studies is particularly interesting to me, since I also have a great interest in the nation’s culture. I am less sanguine about that nation’s prospects than he is. China’s long term geographical and political ambitions are not compatible with continued economic cooperation with the United States.

James Pilant

The glacier like movement of business ethics

The glacier like movement of business ethics

 

From around the web –

From the web site, Capitalism and Friedman:

There’s no way to appreciate fully the contributions of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman (1912-2006), who would have turned 99 years old this weekend, to the growth of libertarian ideas and a free society.

This is the man, after all, who introduced the concept of school vouchers, documented the role of government monopolies on money in creating inflation, provided the intellectual arguments that ended the military draft in America, co-founded the Mont Pelerin Society, and so much more. In popular books such as Capitalism and Freedom and Free to Choose, written with his wife and longtime collaborator Rose, he masterfully drew a through-line between economic freedom and political and cultural freedom.

From the web site, Lisa Richards, Rock and Roll Politics:

The federal government appears to be under the impression Wall Street CEO’s are better at managing the United States Treasury than trained economists.[26] [27] [28]  America has over two centuries of proof that bankers and legislators cannot be trusted with the people’s money,[29] yet, despite forewarnings from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman, Washington ignores the experts and continues helping itself to the Treasury. 

     America has gained and lost many times,[30] learning repeated lessons the central government continues committing: monetary stupidity.  In truth it is useless to wonder why Washington continues creating and wreaking economic havoc when it is obvious that human nature has proven those with power will continue doing harm[31] as long as mankind exists.  It is for this reason economics was invented, is practiced and taught: too often, lack of common sense has been in charge of money and the need for fiscally wise minds analyzing trade and industry is cost effective to society overall.  That being said, financiers tend not to listen to the money-wise discussed here: men who forewarned disaster if certain fiscal policies were not implemented, and devised solutions to resolve and repair monetary failure.  

And finally, from the web site, UNLADTAU:

To all fellow men and women out there who may have deep fondness for the liberal capitalist model of economic adaptation, I hope that you can make some adjustments in your cognitive banks. Capitalism is not a permanent facet of human life, but merely one among various epochs that will come to pass. Only impermanence is sacrosanct in the cosmos, so please refrain from singing hallelujah to a world system that is on its death knell as I articulated in a previous article.

And please refrain from swallowing hook-line-&-sinker the contentious propaganda of Francis Fukuyama about the ‘end of history’, that accordingly history had concluded with the galvanization of liberal capitalism, that history makes no more sense. Fukuyama’s theory is a slapstick narrative of hyper-valuation of the ‘mad economics’ of late capitalism and hypo-statization of reality that has no relation at all to the real in the world out there. Fukuyama had taken as ‘real’ what is actually ‘virtual’, and froze time much like unto a fairy tale of timelessness, of history-less Nietzschean moment that is fit more for infants than for adult humans. 

 

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Mortgage Industry as the Wolf?

Mortgage Companies as Wolves

Mortgage Companies as Wolves

Mortgage Industry as the Wolf?

Foreclosure Review In New Settlement Leaves Homeowners In Banks’ Hands

For more than a year, housing advocates and their allies worried that a review of foreclosed loans managed by banking regulators was vulnerable to mortgage industry interference.

On Monday, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve Board — the two regulatory bodies that had taken the lead in making the nation’s largest banks accountable for rampant foreclosure fraud — announced that homeowners no longer need worry about the independence of the reviews. The regulators, essentially admitting that the reviews were too difficult to conduct, and that assigning appropriate compensation to those most harmed by the banks was no longer a priority, said the mortgage companies themselves will determine how to distribute $3.3 billion to more than 4 million homeowners forced into foreclosure in 2009 or 2010.

Housing advocates, while acknowledging that the foreclosure reviews were flawed, said they don’t understand how turning the process over to mortgage companies improves a system already insufficiently independent.

“The regulators have decided to replace the fox in the henhouse with the wolf,” said John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a Washington-based housing nonprofit. “It is just incomprehensible to me that they could not find a third party that has the wherewithal and independence to fairly determine what the damage is to homeowners.”

Foreclosure Review In New Settlement Leaves Homeowners In Banks’ Hands

Is this good business ethics? Well, let’s look at it from the mortgage companies’ point of view. They made an enormous profit by misleading courts and mortgage holders as to who actually owned the property. In many cases, they told clients that they should skip payments, usually three payments, explaining to them that they would then qualify for government programs like HAMP. Once the home owner had skipped the payments, the bank immediately foreclosed. It terms of money, it was an incredible success.

Let’s analyze based on the Social Responsibility. Social responsibility rests on four pillars: economic, legal, philanthropic, ethical, and philanthropic.

Did the mortgage companies profit? Yes, but it depends on which stakeholders you look at. The shareholders did well. The employees did very well. The customers, at least as far as mortgage holders, were crushed. They are unlikely to ever be customers again. It is very difficult for families to buy a home in the first place. A second bite after foreclosure is not likely. The community was hurt badly by the thousands of empty homes, the collapse of the housing industry and the larger economic bust.

But let us have a special look at our last major shareholder, the regulatory agencies. They came, they saw, they said it was too difficult and gave it all back to the banks after extracting a promise that the banks will be good and give back 3.3 billion of the money they stole in the first place. It would appear the regulators are doing okay. They have shed their responsibilities to the public, which is always much easier than doing your job.

Was it legal? No. The banks violated the law thousands of times, perhaps hundreds of thousands. They lied routinely in official documents requiring affidavits and, for all intents and purposes, were in the business of stealing homes. They have, however, walked away unscathed.

Was it ethical? You have lying on a cosmic scale and theft of the property in the many billions of dollars. I don’t feel further analysis is required here.

And finally, was it philanthropic? Did they give back to the community? This is a pure case of negative philanthropy. The banks often had no concept of what to with the homes they took. They often didn’t care for them. Sometimes, they found it cheaper just to bulldoze them. They took value out of the community and replaced it with negative costs.

This is another sorry episode, which I will wonder if it is wise to mention to my business students? Should I tell them that stealing people’s homes will make you enormously rich while you with virtually no penalties? I am honest. I will. But I would rather not have negative business ethics taught so well by the mortgage companies. It makes what I do look foolish.

James Pilant

From the web site, The Support Center:

Major banks have once again agreed to a settlement, this time worth $8.5 billion, to compensate homeowners whose homes were fraudulently foreclosed upon in 2009 and 2010 through practices such as “robo-signing.” JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and and Wells Fargo will pay $3.3 billion to homeowners, and the remaining $5.3 billion will reduce mortgage bills and forgive principals on homes that were sold for less than what the owners owed on their mortgages. 3.8 million homeowners will be eligible to receive compensation ranging from a few hundred dollars to a maximum of $125,000.

In another settlement, Bank of America has agreed to pay the federal housing finance agency, Fannie Mae, $11 billion for selling the agency bad mortgages that defaulted, causing Fannie Mae to assume all the losses. $3.6 billion will be used to compensate for the bad mortgages, and $6.75 billion will be used to buy back mortgages.

Both of these agreements are part of a process to mitigate the impacts of the housing crisis and to hold the banks accountable for their role in both creating the housing bubble and in using questionable, if not fraudulent, methods in servicing their loans and processing foreclosures. Having faced significant losses, Bank of America continues to move out of the mortgage market, and in the deal with Fannie Mae, it agreed to sell the servicing and collection rights for 2 million loans, totaling $306 billion. Some economists and analysts are concerned that as the major banks shift away from mortgage lending, the industry is being consolidated into the hands of a few banks. However, though the housing market is recovering slowly, banks, such as Bank of America, might not be in a position to compete, given the losses they’ve already incurred and the problems they’ve had in servicing loans.

From the web site, Buzz Sourse:

Housing advocates, while acknowledging that the foreclosure reviews were flawed, said they don’t understand how turning the process over to mortgage companies improves a system already insufficiently independent.

“The regulators have decided to replace the fox in the henhouse with the wolf,” said John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a Washington-based housing nonprofit. “It is just incomprehensible to me that they could not find a third party that has the wherewithal and independence to fairly determine what the damage is to homeowners.”

Regulators said the review process, which sought to determine if specific loans were unfairly foreclosed upon, was too costly and time-consuming. Under the new deal, 10 mortgage companies, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase, will pay $8.5 billion. Of that, $3.3 billion is earmarked for direct payments to “eligible borrowers” whose foreclosures were handled improperly. The remaining $5.2 billion will help struggling borrowers with programs such as loan modifications.

And finally, from the web site, 4Closure Fraud (reprinted from ProPublica):

The Independent Foreclosure Review was supposed to be a full and fair investigation of the big banks’ foreclosure abuses, and it was trumpeted as the government’s largest effort to compensate victimized homeowners. Federal regulators, who designed the review, forced banks to spend billions to carry it out. Millions of homeowners were eligible and hundreds of thousands submitted claims. But Monday morning, the very regulators who launched the program 18 months ago announced that it had all been a massive mistake and shut it down.

Instead, 10 banks have agreed to pay a total of $3.3 billion in cash to the 3.8 million borrowers who had been eligible for the review. That’s an average of around $870 per borrower. But typical of a process that’s been characterized by confusion, delays and secrecy, regulators said the details of how the money will be doled out were not yet available.

The headline number for the settlement is $8.5 billion, but that includes $5.2 billion in “credits” the banks will receive for actions they take to avoid foreclosures, such as providing loan modifications. That’s very similar to the separate $25 billion settlement reached last year between five banks, 49 states and the federal government. That settlement has been criticized for awarding credit to banks for things they were already doing.

 

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British Haves and Have Nots

British Haves and Have Nots

Beveridge and the Royal Family

Sara Ibrahim

Sara Ibrahim

There are two things that have really struck me this week: Osborne’s proposals to make real term cuts to welfare and the impending arrival of a new royal baby. To my mind these things are inextricably linked. Before you ask this isn’t bourn of too many mince pies and mulled wine before Christmas.

We are increasingly living in a polarised society of haves and have nots. The Tories are trying to weave a narrative that pits ‘strivers’ against ‘scroungers’. However, our attitude to the news of a royal baby to me shows how confused our attitude to the state and state provision has become. The British Monarchy is a cornerstone of our social structure but one that is arguably funded by the public purse. Currently, the monarchy receives 15% of Crown Estate income amounting to about £200 million a year.  Debatably this land isn’t private land but land kept in trust for the public. Further, there are myriad costs of running the monarch including security and special occasions such as the Jubilee celebrations. While the public subsidy for the monarchy has been subject to trimming, few have expressed anything but delight at a new addition to ‘the firm’.

This piece doesn’t seek to make the case for a Republic but instead to probe why we can express unreserved joy at the impending royal birth and simultaneous disgust at so called scroungers and their families. Osborne’s decision to increase welfare benefits by 1%, under the rate of inflation will mean real term cuts for many. One of the groups who will be adversely affected by these cuts are mums (and dads for that matter) who will be hit by below inflation rises to child benefits and working tax credits. This has been termed the mummy tax by Labour. The term seeks to highlight the impact of Osborne’s tax cut on real families who rely on these benefits to work and support their families.

The author, Sara Ibrahim, works in law like me. I find her juxtaposition of royal family and welfare recipients to be clever and I recommend you read it in full.

The problem of haves and have nots is not a purely British phenomenon. The United States has increasingly become two societies with different laws, expectations and responsibilities for the different classes. Single mothers with three convictions for marijuana possession can wind up with fifteen years in prison while bankers who launder nine billion dollars in drug money are unprosecuted.

Business ethics under these circumstances become more and more a matter for humor. Business ethics cannot exist in a moral vacuum. There has to be support from the press, the church and the state. Having two societies moving in different directions complicates that support and promotes the moral vacuum.

There maybe some of my readers who may find some justification for very large differences in income. But is it so easy to justify two standards of law, one for the great mass of Americans and another for the one percent?

James Pilant

From around the web –

From the web site, The Guardian:

There’s nothing new about the attempt to divide “benefit claimants” from deserving working people. Tough settlements for the welfare system have long been justified by claims to be cutting largesse from an undeserving poor. But neat categories like these have long been confounded by reality, and changes in the welfare system over the past 20 years have made them all but nonsensical. As Resolution Foundation analysis shows, 60% of the chancellor’s benefit squeeze hits working households. Whatever the rhetoric, it’s so-called strivers that bear the brunt of the cuts.

Why is the formula of “skivers and strivers” showing signs of age? One reason is Labour’s system of tax credits, which changed welfare by supporting low and middle income working households – the group the chancellor claims to be talking to. Tax credits themselves were in part a political move, to change the debate about welfare and poverty. But they also reflected new economic realities: childcare costs had soared, and many parents, particularly women, could not afford to work. Meanwhile, low pay had crept up to epidemic levels. For the one in five working people who now earn below £7.50 an hour, in-work support is vital.

From the web site, Alex’s Archives:

Plenty of political announcements made at this time of year are little more than conference fodder. They grab a headline and a round of applause and that’s the last we hear of them. But George Osborne’s proposals to cut another £10bn from welfare don’t fall into that category. They were buried in the detail of previous policy statements and it was only a matter of time before they bubbled to the surface. Conference season is the ideal time because it allows some posturing against the modern folk devil – the feckless scrounger.

We only have media reports of Osborne’s speech at the moment, and we’ve no idea what’s going on behind the scenes, but a key element to this story is going to be how it plays out within the Coalition.

Clearly the New Victorians of the Conservative party are full-speed ahead for cutting welfare, with a strongly Malthusian undertone that if we lose a few scroungers along the way through starvation then that’ll save us a bit of money.

And finally from the web site, Liberal Conspiracy:

At the Autumn Statement we were told that the Chancellor is increasing spending on infrastructure whilst cutting spending on welfare. Such statements are confusing “infrastructure” for “lumps of rock”.

There are two reasons that you would increase spending on infrastructure. The first is that you believe that the spending itself will be good for the economy: the money will create jobs, the newly employed people will buy new things, shops will employ more people, etc.

The second reason might be that you believe that the underlying framework of your system could be more efficient. The classic example would be that late trains cost people time working, so you invest in better train lines.

However, in practice, I see very little notable difference between what Osborne sees as ‘welfare’ and what he sees as ‘infrastructure’ – other than who it is for. What the Chancellor calls infrastructure, I could call corporate welfare.

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Pope Criticizes Unregulated Financial Capitalism

Pope Criticizes Unregulated Financial Capitalism

 

Pope criticizes unregulated financial capitalism

Pope criticizes unregulated financial capitalism

Pope on New Year’s Day: find inner peace in God

Although the world is sadly marked by “hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism,” as well as by various forms of terrorism and crime, I am convinced that “the many different efforts at peacemaking which abound in our world testify to mankind’s innate vocation to peace. In every person the desire for peace is an essential aspiration which coincides in a certain way with the desire for a full, happy and successful human life. In other words, the desire for peace corresponds to a fundamental moral principle, namely, the duty and right to an integral social and communitarian development, which is part of God’s plan for mankind. Man is made for the peace which is God’s gift.

Pope on New Year’s Day: find inner peace in God

I was reading the online news when I ran across this headline from Huff Post Religion: (Above is the exact quote from the Pope’s short statement.)

Pope Slams Capitalism, Inequality Between Rich And Poor In New Years Message

I do not believe that the headline is an accurate description of the Pope’s brief statement. The Pope says “unregulated financial capitalism.” It would appear to me we are talking about unregulated financial markets and there is probably a veiled reference to the banking scandals of 2012.

I have read a good deal about Catholic Social Doctrine but had never considered it anti-capitalistic. I had certainly noted it as being extremely hostile to free market fundamentalism but I don’t mistake that belief system for capitalism.

Maybe the headline was just meant to attract readers to click in on it, but I think what the Pope says about our current financial system is worth reflecting on.

James Pilant

From around the web –

From the web site, Front Porch Republic:

“The answer is obviously complex. If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy,” “market economy” or simply “free economy.” But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality and sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative. …

From the web site, Political Snapshots:

What grasped my total interest and attention was his just attack on unrestrained capitalism without any ethics. He wrote, “Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty. “ As someone who has been concerned with anarcho-capitalism (an economic system that destroys government regulation of the economy, and creates anarchy within the global economic system) I think the Pope’s comments on capitalism is timely.

 

The conscious deregulation of the economy that started during the Reagan administration in the U.S. reached its climax during President George W. Bush’s tenure and has brought the global economic chaos the world is in at the moment. Their bankrupt economic theory of the  market policing itself, has proven to be as hollow as their dreams of making trillions of dollars without manufacturing anything.

And finally from the web site, Here and Now 2012 Indy Info:

The pope said economic models that seek maximum profit and consumption and encourage competition at all costs had failed to look after the basic needs of manyThousands of peace marchers carrying rainbow banners released balloons in cold St Peter’s Square as the pope spoke.

A longer version of the Pope’s annual message was sent to heads of state, government and non-governmental organizations on December 14th.

Reuters reports that in that message “the Pope called for a new economic model and ethical regulations for markets, saying the global financial crisis was proof that capitalism does not protect the weakest members of society.”

The pope said economic models that seek maximum profit and consumption and encourage competition at all costs had failed to look after the basic needs of many and could sow social unrest.

 

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HSBC Avoids Criminal Charges

HSBC Avoids Criminal Charges
HSBC Avoids Criminal Charges

HSBC Avoids Criminal Charges

Insight: How Colombian drug traffickers used HSBC to launder money | Reuters

In a typical transaction, a middleman in a drug cartel would offer to deliver consumer goods, such as computers or washing machines, to Colombian businesses on favorable terms. Another person in the United States would buy the goods from firms using funds from drug trafficking, and fulfill those orders.

Money launderers exploited the laxness of HSBC in policing shadowy money flows, the Department of Justice said earlier this month. Failures included not conducting due diligence on customers, not adequately monitoring wire transfers or cash shipments and not having enough employees to run anti-money laundering systems. U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer called the lapses “stunning failures of oversight.”

The situation was so bad, according to the Department of Justice, that in 2008, the head of HSBC’s Mexican operations was told by Mexican regulators that a local drug lord described the bank as “the place to launder money.”

The Chaparro probe, led by ICE and the Justice Department, converged over the past two years with two other investigations – led by federal prosecutors and investigators in West Virginia and by the Manhattan district attorney – resulting in this month’s settlement with HSBC.

HSBC and its employees avoided criminal indictments, as the bank agreed instead to a deferred-prosecution deal that forces it to strengthen controls and accept a compliance monitor.

Insight: How Colombian drug traffickers used HSBC to launder money | Reuters

Where to start? This bank has committed crimes on a scale almost beyond comprehension.

Our first question; is this good business ethics? Under Friedman analysis that a corporation’s sole purpose is to serve the shareholders, the HSBC’s actions were a marvelous success. The bank paid a fraction of its profits on its wrongdoing. Further it evaded any prosecution and the resulting loss in prestige and publicity damage that would have resulting from actual criminal punishments. But even more important when looking at the profit side of the ledger, a precedent has been set that if a bank has reached a certain size, it is beyond prosecution. This insures that banks of this size can in the future launder money with confidence that it will both be profitable and free from criminal charges.

Is this bad business ethics? The bank laundered about nine billion dollars in drug money from the Mexican cartels. These financed the drug trade smoothing the shipment of drugs into the United States and other countries. It paid for assassinations and kidnappings, bribery of public officials, and the creation of large heavily armed criminal mafias capable of exerting control over large geographical areas. The was at the very least a subversion of the government and economy of Mexico. Similar but smaller effects were felt in the United States.

However, this is not the whole story, the banks also laundered money for Saudi and Bangladeshi clients who were highly likely involved in terrorists activities and in some cases known have links to terrorists. I don’t think I need remind you that the United States has embarked and continues a “war” against terrorism. The bank actively subverted that war. In addition, the money helped finance rogue regimes like Iran in defiance of American sanctions, strengthening the nation’s enemies, and making those regimes more able to resist reform and democracy.

There can be no doubt that the religions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism and a giant list of smaller religions would find these acts in violation of their rules of ethical conduct.

Philosophically, unless you consider Friedmanism, a legitimate source of wisdom, almost all philosophical schools with the probable exception of Nietzsche, would condemn the bank’s actions.

Capitalism is in a crisis. This is not an isolated example of few individuals’ greed. This is a giant financial institution deliberately acting against the interests of its host countries and financing murder and mayhem around the world. But further, have we not seen banking incompetence and law breaking on a massive scale on a regular basis since the 2008 financial crisis. This hardly seems to be passing phase.

This particular bank makes more money than most of the nations on earth. Its power to cause harm is enormous and it deliberately, over a long period of time, with direct knowledge of its leadership, caused that kind of harm.

This is a moral and ethical bankruptcy that is not just wrong but endangers the long term welfare of citizens in the United States and the rest of the world.

It’s hard to think of any phrase more sad when have knowledge of these crimes than, HSBC Avoids Criminal Charges.

James Pilant

From Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

Though this was not stated explicitly, the government’s rationale in not pursuing criminal prosecutions against the bank was apparently rooted in concerns that putting executives from a “systemically important institution” in jail for drug laundering would threaten the stability of the financial system. The New York Times put it this way:

Federal and state authorities have chosen not to indict HSBC, the London-based bank, on charges of vast and prolonged money laundering, for fear that criminal prosecution would topple the bank and, in the process, endanger the financial system.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the reasoning here is beyond flawed. When you decide not to prosecute bankers for billion-dollar crimes connected to drug-dealing and terrorism (some of HSBC’s Saudi and Bangladeshi clients had terrorist ties, according to a Senate investigation), it doesn’t protect the banking system, it does exactly the opposite. It terrifies investors and depositors everywhere, leaving them with the clear impression that even the most “reputable” banks may in fact be captured institutions whose senior executives are in the employ of (this can’t be repeated often enough) murderers and terrorists. Even more shocking, the Justice Department’s response to learning about all of this was to do exactly the same thing that the HSBC executives did in the first place to get themselves in trouble – they took money to look the other way.

From further down in the article:

On the other hand, if you are an important person, and you work for a big international bank, you won’t be prosecuted even if you launder nine billion dollars. Even if you actively collude with the people at the very top of the international narcotics trade, your punishment will be far smaller than that of the person at the very bottom of the world drug pyramid. You will be treated with more deference and sympathy than a junkie passing out on a subway car in Manhattan (using two seats of a subway car is a common prosecutable offense in this city). An international drug trafficker is a criminal and usually a murderer; the drug addict walking the street is one of his victims. But thanks to Breuer, we’re now in the business, officially, of jailing the victims and enabling the criminals.

This is the disgrace to end all disgraces. It doesn’t even make any sense. There is no reason why the Justice Department couldn’t have snatched up everybody at HSBC involved with the trafficking, prosecuted them criminally, and worked with banking regulators to make sure that the bank survived the transition to new management. As it is, HSBC has had to replace virtually all of its senior management. The guilty parties were apparently not so important to the stability of the world economy that they all had to be left at their desks.

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/outrageous-hsbc-settlement-proves-the-drug-war-is-a-joke-20121213#ixzz2GhlpEBQs
Follow us: @rollingstone on Twitter | RollingStone on Facebook

From around the web –

From the web site, Wall Street on Parade:

The following are findings from the Senate report:

  • HSBC Bank USA, N.A., known as HBUS [pronounced H-Bus] functions as the U.S. nexus for HSBC’s worldwide network. HSBC has 7,200 offices in more than 80 countries and 2011 profits of $22 billion; HBUS has 470 branches across the United States with 4 million customers. HBUS provides accounts to 1,200 other banks including more than 80 HSBC affiliates.
  • In 2010, HSBC was cited by its federal regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), for multiple severe anti-money laundering deficiencies, including a failure to monitor $60 trillion in wire transfer and account activity; a backlog of 17,000 unreviewed account alerts regarding potentially suspicious activity.
  • HBUS offered correspondent banking services to HSBC Bank Mexico, and treated it as a low risk client, despite its location in a country facing money laundering and drug trafficking challenges. The Mexican affiliate transported $7 billion in physical U.S. dollars to HBUS from 2007 to 2008, outstripping other Mexican banks, even one twice its size, raising red flags that the volume of dollars included proceeds from illegal drug sales in the United States.
  • Foreign HSBC banks actively circumvented U.S. safeguards at HUBS designed to block transactions involving terrorists, drug lords, and rogue regimes. In one case examined by the Subcommittee, two HSBC affiliates sent nearly 25,000 transactions involving $19.4 billion through their HBUS accounts over seven years without disclosing the transactions’ links to Iran.
  • HBUS provided U.S. dollars and banking services to some banks in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh despite links to terrorist financing.

From the web site, Hue and Cri:

The HSBC deal includes a deferred prosecution agreement with the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the Justice Department. The deferred prosecution agreement, a notch below a criminal indictment, requires the bank to forfeit more than $1.2 billion and pay about $700 million in fines, according to the officials briefed on the matter. The case, officials say, will claim violations of the Bank Secrecy Act and Trading with the Enemy Act.

Prosecutors found that HSBC had facilitated money laundering by Mexican drug cartels and had moved tainted money for Saudi banks tied to terrorist groups.

On November 11 HSBC said it had “reached agreement with United States authorities in relation to investigations regarding inadequate compliance with anti-money laundering and sanctions laws.” The bank is also expected to reach a settlement over the matter with Britain’s Financial Services Authority, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

November 10, federal and state authorities also won a $327 million settlement from Standard Chartered, a British bank. The bank, which in September agreed to a larger settlement with New York’s top banking regulator, admitted processing thousands of transactions for Iranian and Sudanese clients through its American subsidiaries. To avoid having Iranian transactions detected by Treasury Department computer filters, Standard Chartered deliberately removed names and other identifying information, according to the authorities.

And finally from the web site, LIVINGLIES:

But HSBC is not being indicted and nobody will be criminally prosecuted because of the perceived or projected threat to the financial system if such a large bank and its officers were penalized criminally for commission of crimes that everyone agrees did take place. Why? Because HSBC is too big to indict.

The obvious answer here is to dismantle the mega banks that are so big that their every move produces swings in the financial markets. Instead DOJ and other law enforcement agencies have given a green light to anyone who can build a bank that big. They can now commit crimes with impunity, which is to say that we are guaranteed to see repeat behavior. Now when a smaller bank engages in the same illicit schemes, it too can point to the fact that law enforcement decriminalized what is clearly a crime under all applicable statutes.

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Jewish Business Ethics: “Perfecting the World”

Jewish Business Ethics: “It Was Only Business”

Are Business Ethics an Oxymoron?

Our daily business ethics speak far louder than the words we utter in synagogue.

Rabbi Benjamin Blechby Rabbi Benjamin Blech

And if Harvard MBAs get it, and corporate titans understand it, we certainly ought to focus our attention on the issue of business ethics as one of the most relevant concerns of anyone interested in tikkun olam – perfecting the world.

When we talk about the importance of business ethics as a barometer of spirituality, we need to remind ourselves of the remarkable passage in the Talmud that tells us that after we leave this earth to face our divine judgment, there are many things we will be queried about as the heavenly court reviews our lives. Yet the very first question posed will be: “Were your business dealings conducted honestly?”

And no one will be able to justify his misdeeds by claiming “It was only business!”

Are Business Ethics an Oxymoron?

I want to put more in the blog about religious ethics. I strongly believe that it is neglected and often discarded in discussions of business ethics. But religion has much to say about business conduct from the Old Testament’s demand for just weights to Islam’s ban on interest payments.

James Pilant

From around the Web –

From the web site, Business Ethics Review, here is a post by Yasir Samad:

If the company never seriously thought about whether it is ethical and corporate social responsibility issues, these six can provide guidance to start the process. Although it is important to behave ethically, it is equally important to get the message to the public if a company wants to take advantage of “doing well”.
1. Define what your company stands for and what values it places on the market. Public awareness of these values? Do they have a positive reaction to them?
2. Check the internal and external relations of the company. Do not they make sense and reflect the values of society? Public and the media frequently proclaim the guilt of the association. To search for new relationships with companies that meet ethical standards.
3. Understanding what the public expect from a company today. Are you ready to meet those expectations?
4. Check the location of assets, liabilities, and promises of brands, products, public sector and community initiatives.
5. Compare your public profile, in which private actions. Are in conflict?
6. Do not be shy about spreading the word through the media, employees and community.

From the web site, Richard James Sharp’s Blog:

Ethics involves the notion of morals however they’re different but interrelated concepts (Ethics and morality, n.d.; Tallman 2009).  Morals are the individual establishment between right and wrong whereas ethics occurs in the context of groups of individuals who build shared values and standards creating a culture in which decisions influencing the causal relationship of right and wrong exist (Clawson 2006 ; Hrebiniak 2005 ; Klebe Treviño, Pincus Hartman & Brown 2000 ; Northouse 2009 ; Schein 2004).  There’s a philosophical question of whether businesses have ethics due to the notion that business is apart from society (Longstaff 1991).  However, individual people who constitute the business are part of multiple collectives defining the wider societal and cultural values environment in which ethics resides and the business operates (Huntsman 2008 ; Longstaff 1991).

And finally, from the web site, Bhavin Gandhi’s Blog:

Have you ever saw the definition of business? If you have then you know what I am talking about. In defining a business, ethics don’t play in to the picture at all. Sole purpose of a business is to increase the value for its stakeholders. Thus, can you blame those businesses, who are taking advantage ofthe lower tax policies in Ireland to increase their net income? It might be morally wrong forthose businesses to show all of their profit in Ireland, while they get their 50-70% profitfrom United States, but you can’t do anything about that. As more and more countries loosen their tax policies to attract foreign businesses, there would always be somecompanies who want to move there to increase their net profit by paying lower taxes there.

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Netflix Hammers Privacy Protections

Netflix Hammers Privacy Protections
Netflix Hammers Privacy Protections

Netflix Hammers Privacy Protections

Netflix now has the right to share your viewing habits – Salon.com

After nearly two years of intense lobbying, Netflix has won the reform it needs to integrate its services with Facebook. Ars Technica first reported that the Senate quietly passed a reform to the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) last week, giving video streaming companies the right to share your data for up to two years after asking for your permission once. (Mother Jones notes that “The Senate didn’t even hold a recorded vote: The bill was approved by unanimous consent”).

Netflix now has the right to share your viewing habits – Salon.com

 

This is a government subsidy to a business, in this case, a particular business. The act gives away a right to privacy with no return to the consumer.

Is this good business ethics? One of the first tests of ethics is the question, “Is it legal?” The “reform” makes what was previously illegal into a legal act. It’s also intensely profitable. This passes the sole test of Friedman’s code, “Does it enhance shareholder value?” Yes, it makes more money for the company. I would expect the company’s value to be enhanced.

But this is slicing good business ethics pretty thin. It’s legal and profitable. But so are a great many things that we can be ashamed of.

Is it bad business ethics? It takes a public good, privacy, and converts it to private profit. What did consumers gain from allowing Netflix to sell their information to other companies? That easy, they won the right to be specifically targeted in advertising. Their viewing habits can be used to get a handle on their political beliefs, whether they have children, etc.

It might be argued that the consumer has to give permission to access his records. A blanket right has been abolished and replaced with a private opt out clause. One of the things I have learned is that few of my students even though they are computer literate have any concept of how their data can be used against them. Considering that observation and the mass of e-mails we are bombarded with, I find it unlikely an informed decision is going to be made in many cases.

A company has been profited at a cost to the public interest. It is a government subsidy with all that implies. The company could have done better.

James Pilant

From around the Web –

From the web site, 33 Bits of Entropy: (This article highlights another important issue in online privacy. jp)

New lines will need to be drawn defining what is acceptable data-release policy, and in a way that takes into account the actual re-identification risk instead of relying on syntactic crutches such as removing “personally identifiable” information. Perhaps there will need to be a constant process of evaluating and responding to continuing improvements in re-identification algorithms.

Perhaps the ability of third parties to discover information about an individual’s movie rankings is not too disturbing, as movie rankings are not generally considered to be sensitive information. But because these same techniques can lead to the re-identification of data, far greater privacy concerns are implicated.

From the web site, Tech of the Hub:

Today, Netflix presented at the F8 conference to talk about their planned integration with Facebook. You can see what you friends are watching and they can see what you are watching on Facebook. Not only on a granular level, but Facebook will present what it finds to be interesting trends among your friends’ viewing habits. Mark Zukerberg’s example showed that four of his friends just watched movies staring Johnny Depp. Netflix will be integrating with both Facebook’s newly announced Timeline as well as their OpenGraph platform. Facebook will have similar integration with Hulu.

And, finally, from the web site, Addicting Info:

An archaic 1988 law, the Video Privacy Protection Act, currently prevents the sharing of your video watch lists, such as with services like Netflix or Hulu, on social media outlets such as Facebook or Google+. Earlier this month, the US Senate put through an upgrade to the bill to address this issue, to little notice. It was a minor correction to an old set of laws. But when the US House got ahold of it, they put forth some edits, which is where the problem begins.

These changes, as reported by the ACLU, divorces the bill from a larger set of laws, called the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. In so doing they eliminated protections which were in place to require a warrant for accessing of cloud-based private electronic communications and other content, such as email, private social network posts, any information stored on cloud based servers. Instead, a subpoena is all that is required, a legal process but one which does not require the due diligence of a warrant, not even requiring an active investigation to acquire.

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