2006 "Easy Calls"
Examining the legal basis
underlying Ken Lay's conviction
for his role in Enron's systematic defrauding of investors is beyond
the mission of this site, but Lay's protestations of innocence went
beyond a legal defense every time he claimed that he "did nothing
wrong." The Scoreboard has said this before in reference
to CEOs who oversee crooked companies, but it bears repeating. Corporations
are big, powerful things, like atom bombs, locomotives, steam-rollers
and King Kong. Like these things, big companies have to be carefully
monitored, managed and controlled. Boards pay CEOs obscenely rich
salaries and perks exactly because such companies have so much capacity
to create wealth and waste it, to strengthen the economy or savage
it, to help citizens or hurt them. These executive jobs carry a lot
of responsibility, with many people's lives and welfare depending
on how well they are performed. For anyone to accept such a job and
all of its rewards and be so incompetent, inattentive and negligent
as to be unaware of massive fraud at a company's highest levels is
the equivalent of piloting a 747 blindfolded after taking a correspondence
flying course, or being drunk behind the controls of an oil tanker.
It is the equivalent of a novice juggler moving from scarves to his
first attempt with live hand grenades in a room full of spectators;
it is the equivalent of accepting the job of overseeing a federal
disaster response agency when you have no experience without making
damn certain that the deficits in your skills are covered by others.
All of these are wrong: arrogant, reckless, inept, and wrong, so wrong
that they reach the point where unethical conduct justifies criminal
penalties. Lay's jury apparently did not believe that he had no hand
in Enron's scams. Maybe they were mistaken…I doubt it, but perhaps.
From an ethical point of view, it hardly matters. His job was to make
sure that the corporate behemoth under his command was well-trained
and friendly. He not only failed to discharge that job, he deceived
people who trusted him by insisting that he had. [5/31/2006]
It was an issue obliterated
by the shock and "Awwww!" that followed the surprising exit
of presumptive "American Idol" favorite Chris Doughtry, but the show's
producers and judges have displayed a terrible sense of fair play
in their treatment of dark horse Idol competitor Katherine
McPhee. First, they stacked the cards against her by decreeing
that the last four competitors had to duke it out with selections
from the repertoire of Elvis Presley. "The King"
was a man's man of a rock singer, and his hits are hardly conducive
to allowing female vocalists to show their abilities to good advantage.
Even if a female singer did manage to do a decent interpretation of
an Elvis classic, it would be difficult for an audience accustomed
to the Ol' Swivel-hips' version to appreciate a feminine approach.
While Chris Doughtry would be a natural doing Elvis's bluesy laments,
and Elliot could emulate Elvis the Crooner, and hyperactive Taylor
would slide naturally into Vegas Elvis, McPhee was left to choose
her songs from the likes of "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Burning Love;"
was this sabotage? Just maybe it was: after only one male winner in
four years, the "Idol" gurus' seem to feel it's time for a guy. Predictably,
Katherine tanked when she accepted the hopeless challenge and attempted
"Hound Dog," a song that suits her talents (classically trained voice,
Victoria's Secret catalogue looks) and persona (bland) about as much
as "Satisfaction" would serve the song-styling skills of Julie Andrews.
The producers' tactic, if it was that, didn't work due to Chris' inexplicable
rejection by the TV land voters, but it was still an unethical move
by a hit show that purports to be running a fair contest. Then in
the final showdown between McPhee and Happy Feet Taylor Hicks, the
producers assigned her a truly awful original song that would have
defeated Barbra Streisand, Billy Holliday or Nina Simone. Finally,
the lone articulate and arguably sane judge, Simon Cowell, sealed
Katherine's defeat by declaring Taylor Hicks the winner before a single
vote had been cast by the audience. Yes, it's only a TV show, and
yes, when your only stand-out performance is a version of a 1939 ballad
that was the signature of a showbiz icon who has been dead for 40
years, you probably aren't headed for pop stardom. But American Idol
did not even attempt to be fair to Katherine McPhee.
The film of The Da Vinci
Code is kicking up a another lively round of Dan Brown bashing,
with the general thrust of the criticism being that the best-selling
author is a lying infidel who is trying to undermine the faith of
millions by spreading slander about the Catholic Church. There has
even been an effort to pressure the movie's director, Ron Howard,
into approving a disclaimer to run in the opening credits. As Howard's
film is already recognized by everyone with two neurons to rub together
as an adaptation of a work of popular fiction, the disclaimer
would presumably say something like: "This film is really,
really, really a silly story made-up just for fun and
to make Dan Brown richer than Oprah, and by the way, Tom Hanks isn't
actually a Harvard symbologist." What seems to rankle DaVinci
Code haters is that Dan Brown's novel says that it is "based
on fact." "That's just not true," said one Catholic activist on CNN.
Oh, really? Based on fact? "Gone with the Wind" is based
on fact. "Dracula" and "The Godfather" are based on fact.
Heck, "Jurassic Park" is based on all sorts of facts, but
I'm not looking over my shoulder for dinosaurs. "The Day After Tomorrow,"
one of the most absurd movies in recent history, is based on facts
galore…it just makes idiotic assumptions from them. True, the characters
in The DaVinci Code toss off quasi-historical factoids with
the certitude of the imaginary Ph.D.'s that they are, but it can't
be that hard to remember Basic Cheesy Novel Principle #16, which says
(I'm paraphrasing now), "If the person making a statement isn't real,
there's a substantial likelihood that what he's saying isn't real
either." There are so many misstated, garbled, made-up and otherwise
mistaken "facts" in Dan Brown novels that a cottage publishing industry
has emerged creating books ( better books, too: see Secrets
of The Da Vinci Code and Secrets of Angels and Demons)
to identify and clarify them all, for they include whoppers concerning
history, architecture, geography, science, religion, politics…you
name it. A novelist saying that his book is "based on fact" is like
a food manufacturer calling its product "all natural." It's meaningless,
except to the gullible, the inattentive and the slow-witted. The Catholic
Church's concern about losing followers to Dan Brown's obvious nonsense
makes the Scoreboard question its respect for them and confidence
in itself. Attacking Dan Brown looks more and more like an attempt
to shift responsibility for the Church's very real problems of its
own making. [5/15/2006]
People sometimes ask
how something can be both legal and unethical. A Plainfield, Indiana
gas station found the answer the hard way when it inadvertently
listed the price of regular gasoline at its pumps as .002, or one-fifth
of a penny, instead of the real price, $2.75. An unnamed number of
greedy drivers promptly filled their tanks and drove off.
They were clearly
within their legal rights to do so: a posted price is always enforceable.
But those who filled their tanks had to know that this price was a
mistake, given that the high price of gas is a major issue of the
day and gas hasn't cost two-tenths of a cent since the horse and buggy.
They also had to know that the owner of the station would suffer a
financial loss that they could easily prevent by taking two ethical
actions: not filling their tank at two-tenths of a cent a gallon,
and telling the owner about the mistake. They chose to do neither.
This is similar to seeing someone walking ahead of you dropping dollar
bills out of a hole in his pants. You can return the bills that have
fallen and tell him about the hole. You can pick up and keep a couple
of the bills and then tell him about the hole. You can pick up and
keep as many bills as you can get away with and not tell him, or you
can keep the fallen bills and alert your friends that a guy dropping
bills is coming their way. The options decline in ethical content
until you are simply exploiting and adding to another's misfortune.
Legal though it may be, taking the gas at an absurdly low price is
a clear violation of the Golden Rule, and not telling the owner about
the expensive error so he can be exploited further by others is a
second Golden Rule foul that compounds the first. [5/15/2006]
- Massachusetts Governor
Mitt Romney just proved that he, like most politicians, voters,
and editorial writers, doesn't comprehend the whole "conflicts of interest"
concept. The Boston Globe reported that the Governor was preparing to
return a $750 political contribution received from Robert Prosperi,
one of six Aggregate Industries NE Inc. employees accused of falsifying
records to hide the delivery of inferior concrete to the "Big Dig,"
Boston's epically corrupt and mismanaged tunnel construction project.
Romney's decision Friday came just a day after the arrests of the six
men inspired him to condemn them and their employers by saying, "No
one in Massachusetts should be surprised to learn that a project so
badly mismanaged, over budget, and grossly delayed is now also facing
allegations of criminal misbehavior." Then, having made it clear that
he was no fan of campaign supporter Prosperi, Romney's political action
committee announced that the Governor felt that it was appropriate to
return his contribution. Now wait a minute. The standard logic
behind allowing direct political contributions to elected officials
by those who may benefit from their future decisions is that the contributions
are completely unrelated to the decisions when they are made.
So why does Romney think it makes him look more ethical if
he returns the gifts of men whom he has decided to oppose? The action
makes it appear that the gift was indeed a quid pro quo, and
returning it is the Governor's way of saying, "Sorry, Bob, but our deal
is off. I can't help you. I'm an ethical man: I'll only accept a bribe
if I can deliver on it! You understand." What would have send a truly
reassuring ethical message would be the exact opposite conduct: sending
back the contribution if Romney felt the right thing to do would be
to support Prosperi, and keeping it if, as is the real case,
he chose to condemn him. That would demonstrate that Romney did not
regard accepting the contribution as a tacit promise of support. Quid
pro quo ("this for that") gifts are bribes, and by giving back
the contribution of a political supporter Romney no longer can support,
he has actually behaved in accordance with the quid pro quo understanding:
if I can't give you your quo, I'll send back the quid.
That doesn't make him look like he's ethical; it just means that
he's fair to those who bribe him. Nope…Gov. Romney just doesn't get
it. Or, more disturbingly, perhaps he does. [5/8/2006]
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