Self Regulation in 1819

Self Regulation in 1819

Labeling poison as, well, poison, might strike you as an obvious social good. That wasn’t always so obvious as the selection below indicates –

Stratmann’s portrait of the age of arsenic (by far the most frequently used poison) is more than a string of grisly tales, and more relevant to our age than you might think. Two hundred years ago, lethal substances were readily available in a way that now seems utterly perverse. Arsenic was used widely in medicine, agriculture, industry and the home. It was employed to dip sheep, kill rats, anoint fly papers, and could be purchased in powdered form from grocers, no questions asked. In 1819 a bill was introduced that would have made the labelling of deadly poisons compulsory, but it was opposed by the Society of Chemists and Druggists as potentially damaging to their business. It never passed.


Has it always been this way and will it always be this way? Every attempt to do the most obvious necessary thing that might conceivably cost a business man money will be opposed by trade organizations, corporations, chambers of commerce and laissez faire conservative of all stripes regardless?

Self Regulation in 1819

Yes, the dollar always has a constituency and never lacks for friends. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence of wrong, the dollar will still scream out in pain and let us all know of its suffering.

But we have a responsibility too. The dollar has friends but so does humanity. Humankind is not always valued as much as money but should be and if money always has friends the some brave souls will have to volunteer to stand up for all of us and sometimes the least of us.

James Pilant

Pay to Pray Scam

Pay to Pray Scam

Suppose that you are in trouble. Your child is dying. You are told of a web site run by a Christian pastor with followers who can help. His site has testimonials to the healing power of prayer and how he has helped many before. All you have to do is make a thirty-five dollar contribution and thousands of Christians will pray for you. Your child may be saved.

Pay to Pray Scam

Unfortunately some of this is true and some not. The true parts are about the dying child and the web site. But there was no pastor and no followers and no people praying and all the testimonials were lies. There were however fraudulent withdrawals from the credit card account once the site had the data. The money was very real.


As a result, the owner of and its Spanish-language counterpart,, have been ordered to pay up to $7m in restitution to an estimated 125,000 desperate consumers who reached out for prayers in their times of need.

Seattle businessman Benjamin Rogovy and the Christian Prayer Center “created fake religious leaders and posted false testimonials in order to attract consumers”, the attorney general’s office said in a statement announcing the settlement last week.

Christianity and other religions have always been magnets for hucksters and thieves. This is just the latest thing.

The appalling morality here is disgusting. The cynicism is breath taking. Many Americans are Christians or have some kind of religious belief. When people are in trouble they tend to appeal to a “higher power.” And the question asked by our intrepid enterprising young businessman is “How can I turn this into profit?”

He made a lot of money but that was not the only angle. He also helped with “consumer complaints” and provided ordination online.

But this whole matter I find very upsetting. I don’t see any criminal investigation. The last I heard make extra withdrawals on a credit card account is illegal. Further, is the financial penalty in any way commiserate with the profit made? The article is silent on this.

But what really gets me is this question: If he had gotten a real pastor to pray each week presumably with some members of the church participating, would he anything he did be illegal? Making false charges on the credit card would still be actionable but as long as someone prayed and people wrote testimonials about how in their experience these things were good, I don’t see anything actionable.

So, could you charge people for praying or for having someone else pray? I think you probably can. I am sure most denominations would back away from this but this is the United States and setting up a church here is quite simple.

So I don’t think we have seen the end of incentivized prayer, a kind of Neoliberal Christianity. Which, of course, makes the religion more marketable if that is desirable. I’m from a previous era where Christianity had something to do with service, believe and sacrifice. I admit to being both out of fashion and economically archaic in my beliefs.
James Pilant

NFL Admits Link between Football and Degenerative Brain Disease

This is from the Guadian – and is followed by my comments.

An NFL official has acknowledged a link between football and a degenerative brain disease for the first time.

Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety, spoke about the connection during an appearance Monday at a congressional committee’s round table discussion about concussions.

Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) asked Miller: “Do you think there is a link between football and degenerative brain disorders like CTE?”

Miller, who was referring to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), began by discussing the work of Boston University neuropathologist Dr Ann McKee, who has found CTE in the brains of 90 out of 94 former pro football players.

“Well, certainly, Dr McKee’s research shows that a number of retired NFL players were diagnosed with CTE, so the answer to that question is certainly ‘yes,’ but there are also a number of questions that come with that,” Miller said.

Schakowsky repeated the question: “Is there a link?”

“Yes. Sure,” Miller responded.

Will football as we now understand it continue?

hmlbr30I think that this kind of admission reflects a conclusion that the NFL has already reached, and that is, that the game cannot continue in its current form.

I believe right now they are busy looking at new ways the game can be played and at fairly immediate rule changes to limit the damage to players and the league’s bottom line.

They don’t have a choice. The evidence that repeated impacts are destroying the players brains is accumulating very quickly and looks very solid.

I am very impressed that they didn’t choose the tobacco defense of deny and stall or decide to fund some “climate denying” style web sites and organizations. Of course, that kind of thing would have only worked for a while and I suspect that stalling the inevitable when they have other and better choices such as re-designing the game struck them as painful and revenue threatening. They’d rather play ball and make money. That makes sense to me.

James Pilant

The Media Is Clueless

The Media Is Clueless

Basic business ethics requires that you perform a business function with competence. Yet, our American media simply doesn’t understand the American people.

The success of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are in the minds of our media incredible beyond all bounds of rationality, and they continue to write long serious stories about how both of them will explode and crash any time now -basically the same articles they’ve been writing for months.

(Now understand clearly, it is not hard to see that Trump and Sanders are very different phenomenon. The only reason I’m talking about them both at the same time is that the media doesn’t get either one.)

The Media Is Clueless

I’ve been reading much of the discourse about the two candidates since the beginning and the old fabled beltway, villager, very serious people analysis is failing and they are astonished; aghast that their establishment alternatives (always very limited in number) are not the public’s choice. And therefore, according to them, the American people are just stupid. 

Well, there is stupidity here and it’s a mile deep but it is not the American peoples’ problem. It is the gross incompetence of a complacent, servile media. It is the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of our ruling class whose servitude to the intellectually shallow concept (more of a puddle, actually) of Neoliberalism has wrought havoc on the lives of millions with little discernable gain unless you are a billionaire. 

Why are the media and the ruling class unaware of the anger of the American people? Because they live in an economic bubble. They literally don’t know anyone who makes less than $250,000 a year. And that means, they don’t know anyone who has to work three jobs. They don’t know anyone with a terminal degree doing adjunct work making an average of $22,500 a year. They have never met someone who works a job where their schedule is created by a computer for the company’s convenience so they can’t hold a second job, get an education or have any kind of home life. 

In short, they are ignorant of the lives of the great mass of the American people. They walk this land like tourists, living in nice hotels, eating in nice restaurants and keeping the locals at a safe distance. 

I don’t know how you can live in this country and not know that things have gone badly wrong. The economic statistics by themselves are staggering in their implications. The United States has a huge underclass, a seeming flood of the homeless and mentally ill and a real continuous problem with people not having enough to eat.

And if that isn’t enough to get your attention, we have a brand new study showing that white males with less than a college education have diminishing life spans due to suicide, drug and alcohol abuse. These people are dying but apparently unless they throw themselves under the wheels of a press bus, our media elites are not going to consider the implications.

It takes a lot of willful stupidity for the media act and treat us the way they do. I think they’re paid to be stupid. I think that our media outlets find the stories of the lives of real Americans and the real suffering that people have to be unpleasant and not worth covering. Furthermore and most importantly, the elected officials they idolize, the decisions they respect, are all corporate just like them. That’s why there was little coverage of the Flint, Michigan water crisis until the ugly facts became overwhelming and, dare I say it, that people began to die (legionnaire’s disease). 

I don’t expect them to get any better. But there are a few writers who seem to have some grip on the situation. 

Here’s Jeb Lund writing in the Guardian – 

Anger is pretty easy to miss when it’s something pretty difficult to feel. When you sit at the center of the world and are unlikely to ever lack for the basic materials of self-sufficiency, the idea of blind, gnawing resentment – let alone of feeding that resentment even with irrational aims – is ineluctably beyond your ken.

It’s harder still to understand that there are millions of people in America whose ambitions for a life of steadily improving conditions cratered sometime around nine years ago and have never recovered. If you can hardly imagine that you could follow the Horatio Alger script to the letter and still find yourself sinking in quicksand, you’re never going to understand why someone would be so contemptuous of the pieties of a system that only pays attention to you when doing soft-focus interviews in search of a journalism award or a campaign ad.

And anger isn’t something so easily ratiocinated. When your job is explaining world events, irrational phenomena lie fundamentally outside your brief. Explaining things with, “Well, people are angry!” is like surrender; it’s explaining badly resolved story lines in a TV show with, “A wizard did it.” Journalists learn to see the world in terms of the push/pull of conflicting ideologies and the necessary stratagems within a needlessly complicated governmental system; they’re necessarily going seek their explanations for seeming irrationality in the more elegant realms of philosophy and economics and political science.

He’s right. 

We are being ill served by our news media and the ruling elites that have created this giant economic nightmare.

Perhaps this election will not just change politics but upset the mindset of the blindingly stupid who write our news and create our policies.

James Pilant

Mozzarella without Mozzarella?

Mozzarella without Mozzarella?

Please read the following excerpt from a Salon article entitled: The only thing missing from McDonald’s new mozzarella sticks is mozzarella cheese.

One of the main ingredients in mozzarella sticks is, well, mozzarella. I mean, it’s right there in the name. Which explains why McDonald’s patrons who purchased the chain’s newest menu item have been extra disappointed to find their mozzarella cheese sticks sorely lacking in mozzarella cheese.

 Using the hashtag #Wheresthecheese, disappointed customers have been posting photos showing cheese sticks that look like hollow breaded encasings. The mozzarella cheese filling that comes to mind when you think of traditional mozzarella sticks is nowhere to be found. On its website, McDonald’s features pictures of mozzarella sticks filled with rich, gooey, “100 percent real and melty mozzarella cheese.” Contrast those with the sad, empty food sticks people report receiving in real life: …
Sometimes, you don’t realize that there is problem with a business or corporation for many months. The pollution, the deaths, the injuries, etc. don’t form a pattern and causation is often tricky. But when you come down to the simple and the mundane, you can see the business ethics problem before your eyes and in this case taste it.
Real cheese is expensive compared to milk by-products, etc. But we don’t have to worry about substitution in this case. According to the numerous pictures which can be found of which a single sample can be found here. there isn’t any cheese.
Should we let the market take care of this or should the government act? Well, it seems to me that McDonalds is likely to get clobbered on social media and there probably will be consequences in terms of their profits. On the other hand, the product is advertised as full of real cheese, and we have laws about false advertising.
Abraham LincolnThere is story that Abraham Lincoln used to tell about a settler who got in a fight with a bear. His wife didn’t want to be seen as taking sides because she didn’t know who was going to win, so she’d shout, “Go bear!, go husband!” I don’t have a dog in this fight, so “Go government!, go consumers!. Whoever gets them first is fine with me.
James Pilant

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

Did TransCanada Just Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership?

Did TransCanada Just Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership?

Democracy is a precious thing. It is easy to see that throughout history, autocrats of all types have attempted to end or limit government by the people whenever possible. Corporations are not different in this respect. They often and quite publicly prefer the autocratic and the certain over the will of the people and its variability.

Did TransCanada Just Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership?

As time has gone by the United States has entered into treaties like NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. This agreement like many other trade agreements limits the sovereignty of participating nation states and gives power to international tribunals that are not answerable to the people.

These tribunals have not gained a great deal of public attention. That’s probably wise. The idea that a band of unknown bureaucrats can contradict the will of the people as a community, a county, a state or even a nation is a wonderful selling point if you’re a corporation but probably less than persuasive for the citizens who don’t realize that a big chunk of democracy (control over their lives) just went away.

One of the big chunks of democratic power that was given away was the right of governments to be not be sued by foreign corporations.

And while this has not been well known, it is about to be. You see, TransCanada had a stake in the building of the Keystone Pipeline and since the United States government said no, they are suing for more than fifteen billion dollars.

That will put the rest of us on notice that we can be sued if we obstruct international corporate profit making.

This is unlikely to make passage of the Trans Pacific Partnership easier for once people realize that even mundane decisions in the public interest can be reversed and penalized with money damages, they may decide that free trade agreements carry too high a price.

You may think at this point that I’m being an alarmist. TransCanada has yet to win any money and perhaps you don’t even believe that these international tribunals every really sue anybody. Well, what about Australia?

Let’s say you are a tobacco company and you don’t want people to regulate your product. You can use “free trade agreements” on your behalf. (This is from the Huffington Post

Absent state intervention on their behalf, tobacco companies found a new way to fight efforts to regulate tobacco marketing. They take advantage of an “investor-state” dispute options being built into more free trade agreements between countries, which allows companies to directly challenge regulations they believe discriminate against foreign products. Unlike fighting laws in domestic legislatures or through WTO disputes, which are more formal and predictable, investor-state conflicts are decided by a panel of international arbitrators with no appeal, making them more attractive to multinational corporations.

So when Australia tried to put limits on how cigarettes were sold, the tobacco companies used the free trade agreements and used them well. –

(Further down in the same article -)

PMI has used that tactic to challenge Australia’s proposed “plain” packaging rules, which would eliminate bright colors and branding on packs and cartons, and Uruguay’s plan to require 80% of cigarette packs be covered in warning labels. The company argues that these restrictions on its trademarks and branding are akin to expropriation (which would require the country to pay the restricted company for selling its product unbranded) and violate trade deals between Australia and Hong Kong, where PMI has a subsidiary, and Switzerland and Uruguay.

What kind of democratic decisions could be challenged in the United States under these agreements and who could bring these law suits? Any decision that could affect profitability could be challenged. That would include things as mundane as zoning laws all the way up to federal legislation. Any corporation or citizen of a nation participating in the TPP could sue should they believe their operations are being damaged.

For example, Fayetteville, Arkansas could re-zone an area residential. If property there was owned by a foreign corporation say, one from Vietnam, an international tribunal might very well find that this act amounts to an expropriation of the company’s property and force the community to re-zone and pay damages for its “illegal” act.

Over time as the number and complexities of these “free trade agreements” grows, the city will have to become increasingly lawyered up to stay aware of the effect of city decisions on possible litigants all over the world.

Sound good? If you don’t like what you’re hearing, maybe you should do something to let your representatives from the President down to local government know that maybe we shouldn’t be weakening democracy to protect the profitability of foreign corporations.

James Pilant

Here is an excerpt from an article from the Guardian

For many, the Keystone XL pipeline was a catalyst for environmental action, and when the State Department denied developer TransCanada’s permit application in November, it was a signal that the environmental movement had triumphed over corporate and fossil fuel interests. So when the tar sands company announced this week that it was filing a claim against the United States for $15 billion, under provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), many were outraged.

But TransCanada’s heavy-handed use of the Clinton-era agreement might be the rallying point activists need to stop another, perhaps even more far-reaching, federal action: the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is a massive, Pacific Rim trade agreement that would apply NAFTA-like provisions — including prohibitions on interfering with private investment — to the relationships between the United States and 11 other countries, including Japan, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

It might be the rallying point activists need to stop another, perhaps even more far-reaching, federal action: the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is a massive, Pacific Rim trade agreement that would apply NAFTA-like provisions — including prohibitions on interfering with private investment — to the relationships between the United States and 11 other countries, including Japan, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

The Earth Moved in Oklahoma

The Earth Moved in Oklahoma

The selection that I have posted at the bottom of this page is from the Guardian and it tells of a 4.2 magnitude earthquake is almost certainly related to the practice of fracking in that state.

This is a business ethics issue. In the past, companies have polluted severely damaging the water, the air and often the top soil. But this is new. We have companies whose disposal of fracking waste water by injecting it deep into the earth is undermining the stability of the land itself.

It’s a new kind of pollution. What do you even call it? – Foundational pollution? Instability pollution? Deep earth interference? Or maybe – earthquake enabling? That large bodies of water could cause earthquakes has been known for some time. The mental leap from the idea that moving water into a man-made reservoir could destabilize fault lines to the idea that directly injecting fracking waste water deep into the earth could cause similar instability is not big.

I have a strong suspicion that the risks were already understood back at the beginning of the Bush administration when Dick Cheney’s energy task force created a package of protective laws for the fracking industry many of which simply prevented the collection of information.

Should energy companies be liable for damages caused by earthquakes which result from the injection of waste water into known fault lines? That’s a good question that I am sure will be before the courts in the next decade. I am so confident of this that I am also confident that ALEC will have legislation preventing these kinds of lawsuits up on state legislative agendas before the end of 2017.

Inflicting earthquakes upon citizens of this country is wrong. It’s understandable if there was no perceivable risk but this is hardly likely to be the case since finding an oil company without highly reputable geologists is highly unlikely.

It appears to me that this problem is easily solvable. We do not allow the industry to inject waste water near known fault lines and to stop injecting should evidence of a fault line develop.

We have discovered how to play havoc with the pillars of the earth. Could anything be more arrogant than this Frankenstein like willingness to play God?

James Pilant

A 4.2 magnitude earthquake struck north Oklahoma City early on New Year’s Day, the latest in a series of temblors in the area in recent days that has prompted state regulators to call for more restrictions on oil and gas operators.

No injuries and only minor damage were reported with the quake, which struck at 5.39am on Friday near Edmond, about 16 miles north-east of Oklahoma City, according to the US Geological Survey.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission issued a statement on Friday saying its Oil and Gas Division staff were taking action in response to the earthquakes in Edmond and that details should be available on Monday.

“The issue is extremely complex, as the initial review of the data for the area in question has not identified any oil and gas wastewater disposal wells that are both high volume and in the state’s deepest formation, a combination that researchers have identified as being at the highest risk for inducing earthquakes,” the commission release stated.

My Mother’s Name is not Invalid!

My Mother’s Name is not Invalid!

My Mother's Name is Not Invalid.
My Mother’s Name is Not Invalid.

By means of one of those routine IT e-mails, I got one of those announcements that I had to change my e-mail. A continuing unpleasant duty is changing the password every so often, and I often joke with my students that due to the frequent changes and the large number of passwords each faculty member has to master -that half the passwords on campus are written on something underneath or attached to the computers themselves. (I keep a word file with mine.)

Anyway, so I attempted to change my password and when I did, it said I wasn’t finished. There was an error. My security question was wrong. The question is – what is your mother’s middle name? And the answer was wrong. How was it wrong? My mother’s middle name is four letters long and there must be five.

That’s right. The IT people have decided all on their own that names less than five letters long are invalid. I am certain that my mother’s middle name appears on her birth certificate and I am certain as an attorney that under the laws of Oklahoma, the United States and under the law of nations, that name is valid. It also appears to me that under the customs of this nation, the name, a relatively common one, is acceptable to one and all.

Yet, it is invalid.

I like to think of IT people as normal people. Their children are apparently named things like John! or Ann&* or Jo^87 and they are probably a little more fascinated with Dr. Who than the average American but I still like to think that a human heart beats within them.

So, let us try reasoning with them.

TO Those in the Information Technology Department.

“People name their children sometimes on a whim and other times after a relative. Sometimes, they even name them after themselves. Many of them have pre-computer era names. They are all letters, and at the current time, whatever your insistence, while they do have a capital letter and a “small” letter, they do not have a number, a special character like an _ or a space.”

“Your insistence that people follow arbitrary rules that you have developed in an apparent cultural isolation chamber is unwise. People are likely to become angry and disillusioned that you are making important decisions in their lives just because you can. I do understand that you have reasons for these ideas. It is highly likely that if we use letters from the Cyrillic alphabet or perhaps even Japanese phonetic symbols, it will make our passwords and names more difficult to predict for those trying to break into the system. And yet, we must remember that computers are here to facilitate our work and that they are here to serve us.”

“And so are you.”

“So, let us who create the product at our joint enterprise continue with our and our relatives’ too short names and we will leave you in peace to do whatever it is that you do in your department.”

James Pilant


Steven Mintz Writes a Perfect Paragraph

Steven Mintz Writes a Perfect Paragraph

The paragraph at the bottom of the page is from The Ethics Sage‘s latest post called – Bespoke Tranche Opportunity: It’s déjà vu all over again

The Ethics Sage
The Ethics Sage

I call it a perfect paragraph and in terms of business ethics, it is. The lessons of the 2007 financial crisis that would have made an intelligent man cautious about financial innovation have not been learned. The one lesson that has sunk in, is that if your institution is big enough and influential enough not only will the government prevent its failure, you will keep your job and with a little luck your bonus.

The Ethic Sage’s analysis is correct. There is going to have to be more government regulation. If not, we risk another global catastrophe.

The financial crisis and its aftermath created a hole in the moral ozone that is supposed serve as a check on excessive, risky behavior by investment bankers. It is a breach that, in my opinion, is irreparable absent any dramatic steps to better control the risk appetite of some in the financial services industry. This saddens me because the last thing we need is more government regulation. Unfortunately, it may be necessary because the very ethical standards that are supposed to protect the public under capitalism have broken down. Adam Smith in his iconic The Wealth of Nations stated that: By pursuing his own interest he [the capitalist] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. His theory no longer describes the way our free market economy works and its breakdown explains, in part, the economic gap in our society.

As always, I recommend you to go to The Ethic Sage’s blog and read the entire post. Further, you should favorite the site and read it regularly. I do.

James Pilant