The United Airlines Edition

The United Airlines Edition

United Airlines has acted outside the norms of business ethics. They have done so in a manner the requires the guilty be punished.

Let me list some links so you can get a grasp of the actions of what calls itself an airline:

United Airlines passenger forcibly removed from overbooked flight

Passenger dragged off overbooked United flight

Man Violently Dragged Off Plane After United Airlines Overbooks Flight

Or my favorite –

Video shows man forcibly removed from United flight from Chicago to Louisville

I’ve thought about this since I first saw the headlines and I gone from rage to lamenting the sorry spectacle of human stupidity.

The Fire Everyone Edition

Here we have what purports to be a business overbooking flights and using the way the contract is worded to get rid of the unwanted passengers. You notice I don’t call them customers. It’s obvious that the “airline” doesn’t consider them to be that big a deal. Maybe the words, victims, suppliants or some other word the implies a human being considered as nothing more than temporary way to turn some coin might be found to fit.

I suppose the company might have been within its contractual rights to drag everyone off the plane using whatever force it considered reasonable. Maybe the passengers are lucky that didn’t occur to the leadership at United. It’s possible the the company would have considered the unhappy publicity a small price to pay for compliant and obedient passengers in the future. I don’t know.

What I do know is this – somebody has to be fired. In fact, a lot of people need to be fired. This sorry spectacle shows what happens to people when corporations can use the law to enforce their whims. The company took a simple civil dispute and converted into a tragedy. It appears they dragged a doctor off a plane and injured him for not giving up his seat and attempting to assert his rights under the law of this nation.

What we see here is raw power on display.

Did they intend to explain to us who really matters and who doesn’t? It doesn’t matter. The lesson is clear. If you fly United, be obedient and servile or they can drag you from your seat and throw you off the plane like garbage.

Fire everyone. That’s one it is going to take for the lesson to take hold. And what lesson it that, you might ask.

We’re Americans, a proud people and we don’t have to obedient to any company’s whims, and they shouldn’t be able to harm us for standing up for our rights.

I think that’s important. Don’t you?

James Pilant

The Sugar Industry Follies

The Sugar Industry Follies

I was reading an article from the web site, The Week, entitled: How sugar became Public Enemy No. 1.

The Sugar Industry Follies

The article tells a story of an industry that shapes our diets with its products and its advertising. A couple of decades ago this industry had a factual problem, that is, sugar makes you fat and you should probably avoid it in almost all eating. According the staff at The Week, the sugar industry decided to create research indicating that fat was the real culprit and then induced the federal government to get on the scent like a bewildered blood hound chasing the wrong villain and launch a nation wide campaign against fat that had no discernable affect on Americans’ weight.

Here’s an excerpt:

The industry launched an aggressive advertising campaign in the 1970s to convince Americans that sugar actually helps you lose weight by suppressing the appetite. “Sugar can be the willpower you need to undereat,” one ad asserted; another recommended eating a cookie before lunch each day. That campaign, combined with work by the Harvard researchers, helped muddy the scientific waters enough to keep dietary sugar guidelines vague. The American Heart Association approved of added sugar as part of a healthy diet, and millions of Americans embraced low-fat, high-sugar diets. Consumption of added sugars soared 30 percent between 1977 and 2010. It’s no coincidence, many nutritionists say, that obesity rates more than doubled over that same period.

If the article is true and I believe it to be, then the industry and the federal campaign it inspired resulted in Americans gaining weight.

This is what I call “negative business ethics.” You do the wrong thing with planning, skill and certainty in execution and you make bundles of money. It’s the kind of immoral lesson conveyed almost incessantly in the business press and much of the media. Yes, the industry did a bad thing but its leadership got multi-million dollar retirements and get to choose among multiple homes how to spend their lives. Their influence in government is immense and people flock to work for them.

Yes, they behaved badly and their actions diminished the lives of millions of Americans and almost certainly led to many deaths but what’s a few Americans compared to the wonders of the free market in action? After all, there is no apparent illegality in misleading the government as to the cause of obesity and, of course, you can always pretend like global warming deniers that the science is still up in the air.

Where is justice in this case? There is none. And businessmen and business schools will absorb the lesson of this. And the lesson is that if you make a product that should or is regulated, you can finance some studies, contribute to some politicians and maybe even get the government to act on your behalf and not only can you evade regulation – you can increase your market share.

James Pilant


The Importance of Character

The Importance of Character

Today, I want to talk about my friend, Steven Mintz and his recent post, Character and Free Speech Go Hand in Hand. Steven has rightly pointed out that character is a critical value and below is a little segment from his essay (which of course in no way does it justice).

The Josephson Institute identifies Six Pillars of Character. They include: trustworthiness; respect; responsibility; fairness; caring; and citizenship. I define them a bit differently and place them in six categories I call “The Magnificent Seven Core Ethical Values.”

Truthfulness: Be honest and non-deceptive: don’t hide important facts from others.

Trustworthiness: Keep promises, be reliable, treat others faithfully.

Responsibility: Be accountable for your actions; learn from your mistakes.

Fair-mindedness: Treat others equally, impartially, and objectively.

Respect: The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Caring: Be kind to others; be sensitive to their needs; show empathy for others.

Civility: Listen to others attentively; don’t be rude or disrespectful.

All of Steven’s writing is constructed in carefully organized format and reading these little pieces does not give you the full flavor of his writing so please journey to his web site and read them all in full.

I think that character is often manifested in civic virtue and patriotism. One of things that pains me about modern society is the willingness of many businesses to casually discard American workers and Americans interests such as patents and trade secrets as long as the money is good enough. This kind of thinking is the opposite of character and is evidence of narcissism and greed.

It seems to me that we should actively seek to build character by rewards. Shouldn’t it be possible in our policies of taxation, in our rules admitting people to attend training or schooling that we could introduce the concept of rewarding virtue, not just good grades but good actions and living with others in mind?

If we want to have a society where we want the rules to be followed, shouldn’t we reward those that follow the rules? And rewards do not have to be money. It can be honor. Napoleon once wrote that a man wouldn’t give you his life for any sum of money but would gladly yield it up for a piece of metal on a ribbon but isn’t his little story more an example of how we wish to be thought of, and the sacrifices we are willing to make to others to appreciate and value our contributions?

Can we do something along those lines at this time in this society?

James Pilant


A Post from My Friend, Dan Bodine

013A Post from My Friend, Dan Bodine

One of the pleasures of having a web site is the opportunity to bring other works to the my readers. Here is a post from Dan Bodine. He always has interesting things to say, and this one is very good indeed, a very reflective piece. Have a read!

James Pilant

Celebrating Life thru a garden, works of Holocaust witness

But what prompted this post also was some inner reflections of another kind, upon reading in Sunday’s El Paso Times of the death of Albert Schwartz, 94, of El Paso Friday.

He was a well respected businessman here for many decades. But what hit me the most was his small role in helping to turn back two of history’s most evil culture tides. Can we carry reform even further?

Foremost, in our gloom over the economy and a row of increasingly serious world events though, the two coming together as they did (he and Noemi’s birthday) were reminders.

Not only of not just how lucky we are at times, but of the enormous stride we as a people have made in bringing peace and reconciliation to a fragmented world also.

Lift your chin up a bit, was the message.

As a veteran of World War II, Schwartz witnessed first-hand some of the atrocities of Hitler’s Holocaust. And after the war, he urged passage in El Paso of a landmark law forbidding racial segregation.

All in just one lifetime!

Bodine, D. (2014, March 25). Celebrating life thru a garden, works of holocaust witness. Desert Mountain Times, Retrieved from

From around the web.

From the web site, Nazi Holocaust by Thomas Frick. (This is a student paper and as a college instructor, it is always a pleasure to advertise good work.)

To begin with, Hitler sent out his S.S. (soldiers) to European towns and villages and told them to herd up Jews and shoot them. After a while he found that this method was both inefficient and was having a large mental effect on the S.S. with many of them committing suicide for the atrocities they had committed. So instead, he developed Concentration Camps.

From all over Europe – including Germany, Russia, Poland and Holland – Jews were rounded up by Hitler’s S.S. and were sent to concentration camps such as at Auschwitz and Dachau. There were camps near every major German city.

Once at these camps, people were inspected and either told to go left or right. One way and they would be forced into slave labour, the other way they were taken to gas chambers were they were killed instantly.



A Developing Crisis in Business Ethics, Automation

i_256A Developing Crisis in Business Ethics, Automation

I predict that automation is going to be the hottest, most critical issue in business ethics in the next few years. It has been an issue in business ethics for the last fifty years. From time to time, it has risen to be a major issue but it has been a long time since it sat on the front burner of the field. Currently, there is more discussion over wage theft, outsourcing and even parental leave then there is over automation. But that is about to change.

In the past, automation was a danger to the employment of low skilled workers. I’m sure you can recall news photos of giant machines performing routine tasks on an assembly line. That is still happening but there is a new phenomenon. Computing power has now become so close to human intelligence that the jobs of those higher on the food chain are now threatened. Technological change is accelerating and more complex jobs are under threat.

Lawyers, Doctors and Professors will all find their jobs under attack in the years to come. All these professions will soon be replaceable in part, and in time, virtually all functions may be assumed by machine. These individuals are long used to being in a privileged position in society. The shock of the loss of prestige, money and most of all, power will produce a crisis in our society not seen since industrialization.

What will a world in which professions become irrelevant look like? How will we measure social class and achievement? Who will make the key decisions in our government?

This crisis will produce a new set of concerns and a new sense of purpose for the field of business ethics. The government, the professions and every kind of business will speak in a cacophony of voices. Each will be trying to make this brave new world conform to their vision. In this critical discussion, those of us who have been trying to makes sense of what is right and wrong for so long and with such limited results, will have a new importance.

James Pilant

When robots take our jobs, humans will be the new 1%. Here’s how to fight back | Michael Belfiore | Comment is free |

Will you be replaced by a machine? There’s nearly a 50-50 chance,according to a recent study by Oxford University researchers who found that 47% of the labor market in the US alone is at risk of being mechanized out of existence. Approximately 702 jobs thus far held by humans are now threatened by non-humans, as we were reminded by a widely shared report on the study this week.

It’s not hard to see why. Advances in robotics and artificial intelligence are bringing robots into more and more workplaces. For example:

  • Autonomous vehicles now in development by just about every major automaker threaten the jobs of truckers and cabbies.
  • TheBaxter robot from Rethink Robotics is designed to work side-by-side with human factory supervisors, learning new tasks on the go – something only human workers could do previously.
  • Robotic surgeons such as those made by Intuitive Surgical and the open-sourceRaven project currently require human surgeons in the loop, but inroads have already been made into giving these machines autonomy as well.
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles – as in, drones – are getting set for integration into the US national airspace next year, potentially replacing the jobs of many human pilots.
  • My profession isn’t immune to robotic outsourcing either. The Quill robotic journalist digests facts from raw data, and spits out fully formed sports and business stories.
  • Oh, and Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are now backing a computer that thinks like a person except it doesn’t need to eat or sleep”. So there’s that.

There’s even a robotic burger flipper in the works. The website of Momentum Machines boasts that its slicing, grinding, frying robot can do “everything employees can do except better”, and that it will “democratize access to high-quality food, making it available to the masses”.

via When robots take our jobs, humans will be the new 1%. Here’s how to fight back | Michael Belfiore | Comment is free |

Belfiore, M. (2014, March 22). When robots take our jobs, humans will be the new 1%. here’s how to fight back. The Guardian, Retrieved from

From around the web.

From the web site, Coal Cracker Classroom.

One of the biggest misconceptions about online learning is that it leaves a complete void regarding human interaction and social-emotional learning.  I have to beg to differ, here.  Technology use and online learning can support social and emotional learning when done correctly.  Textbook-like curriculum, delivered via an online interface, is not true, online learning.  It puts far too much prominence on the tool versus the actual learning that should take place.  Those of us in a classroom daily, who do support the use of technology as a tool for learning, know that in order to be successful, we must strike a balance between teaching, learning, and technology.

Nestico, Suzie. Why technology can’t replace teachers, yet. Retrieved from

Does Teaching Business Ethics Matter? From the Ethics Sage

Are Ethics Courses Failing to Produce Ethical Business People? – Ethics Sage

The bottom line is there is no way of knowing whether business ethics education has made a difference. A graduate of a prestigious school might commit fraud in the future, but it doesn’t mean business ethics has failed them or even all students. Organizational pressures and the culture of a firm can create barriers to ethical behavior. The key is to find a way to work through the obstacles and voice your values.

I’m asked all the time why I teach ethics and am challenged whether it is even possible to change one’s ethics by a college course. After all, some argue, ethics is formed at a very early age. I don’t dispute that but do point out that my goal is to get students to reflect on their actions in a safe setting so they can better develop the tools to deal with ethical challenges in the workplace. I am not a guarantor of ethical action.

Teaching ethics should not rely on having one college course in business ethics and that is it. I see the failure of business ethics education to be one of not integrating ethics into each course and each decision in business. When colleges rely on one course to teach ethics, they are not sending the message that ethics counts.  If they cover it in all courses and in the context of functional courses, then they send a completely opposite signal that it is an important part of every business decision.

I can teach business ethics – I know it from past experiences including grading papers, exams, and student presentations and papers on the topics. What I don’t know is whether students will really learn the lesson. Similarly, I can teach Intermediate Accounting to my students but I don’t know if they have truly learned the material and will be successful on the CPA Exam or in their accounting careers.

There is old African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child”. It is quite appropriate to say that it takes an organization to raise an ethical employee.

Are Ethics Courses Failing to Produce Ethical Business People? – Ethics Sage

(I should mention that a great deal of this posting dealt with the “Giving Voice to Values” curriculum and the work of Mary C. Gentile. I have visited the web site for this curriculum and liked what I saw.)

I guess you could ask if classes in art, history or music are effective? It’s hard to measure the results once you wander even a little distance from the hard sciences, and even they have trouble coming up with hard data at times. Many of the most important subjects like leadership are difficult to teach and have results hard to measure. Ethics is no different. We “cast our bread on the water” and hope for it to return.

James Pilant

“What, no measurable results!”


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Islamic Business Ethics!

Business Ethics – Mufti Menk – YouTube

Mufti Menk explains the rules of a good bargain.

I have taught business ethics for some years now and I have tried to emphasize the application of religion to the field. Several Protestant denominations have strong codes of business ethics, and the Catholic Church has an vast array of teachings on the proper conduct of business from a moral standpoint. However, both Judaism and the religion of Islam have a lot to say about business ethics. I have been impressed by the Islamic take on what constitutes proper business conduct.

This brief video is eloquent and beautifully explains the concept of “blessings” in business dealings. Blessings in this teaching are the benefits of the bargain. They are not to be concentrated on one side of the deal but both parties are to share in the prosperity brought about by business deals. I was delighted with the concept and I hope you enjoy it too.


Kaaba at night (from wikipedia)

In these days, when many are willing to judge all practitioners of Islam as militant radicals, it is important to recognize the basic morality of the religion and the benefits it has brought hundreds of millions of people. Among those benefits is a strong well taught set of rules for Islamic business ethics.

James Pilant

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The Poor Suffer Media Neglect

Media Neglect makes it less likely the poor will live like other Americans. They are cast from the garden.

Media neglect results in the issue of poverty in America is never treated as an important issue even though 15% of all Americans suffer from it.

Take at look at this quote from the a study from FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

Discussions of poverty in campaign coverage were so rare that PBS NewsHour had the highest percentage of its campaign stories addressing poverty—with a single story, 0.8 percent of its total. ABC World News, NBC Nightly News, NPR’s All Things Considered, and Newsweek ran no campaign stories substantively discussing poverty.

The New York Times included substantive information about poverty in just 0.2 percent of its campaign stories and opinion pieces—placing it third out of the eight outlets, behind PBS and CBS.

By contrast with other issues that have received wider attention in recent campaign coverage, “poverty” was mentioned at all, with or (most often) without substantive discussion, in just 3 percent of campaign stories (309 stories) in the eight outlets. This compares to “deficit” and “debt,” which were mentioned about six times as often, in 18 percent (1,848) of election stories.

Even throwing a wider net, to include stories that mentioned “poverty,” “low income,” “homeless,” “welfare” or “food stamps,” turned up just 945 pieces, 10 percent of total election stories—still well below the rate at which “debt” and “deficit” were mentioned.

News coverage focuses concern on issues covered. Media neglect results in important subjects failing to become subjects of concern.

Why isn’t the subject covered? Why is media neglect so prevalent on this problem. Is it not sexy, lurid or violent enough? Is this the result of editorial decisions made at the corporate level? This is a failure in journalism, an ethical failure. The lives of a sixth of Americans are of virtually no concern to the media. The vital issues of the day have to be covered for democracy to function. Media neglect harms our ability to have the knowledge to function as effective citizens.That is wrong.

Is poverty a serious issue? Look at this quote from the same study cited above.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 report (9/11), poverty in 2010 was at a 19-year high, affecting 46 million people, or 15.1 percent of the population. That’s up sharply from 11.3 percent in 2000, and 12.5 percent in 2007. And several groups feel the effects of poverty at a much higher rate than the national average. According to the 2011 census, more than one in five children (22 percent) live in poverty, as do more than a quarter of all blacks (27 percent) and Latinos (26 percent). A 2011 Brookings Institution study (9/13/11) predicted that as many as 10 million additional Americans will join the ranks of the poor by 2014.

The Census Bureau counts a single person under 65 as being in poverty if they make less than $11,702; for a family of four, the cut-off is $22,314 a year. These thresholds—calculated since the 1960s simply by multiplying estimated food costs by three—have been criticized for failing to account for the increased costs of necessities like housing, transportation and childcare, so the official poverty rates may grossly understate the number of families actually living in poverty. The National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University (6/08), for example, estimates that “families typically need an income of at least twice the official poverty level ($42,400 for a family of four) to meet basic needs.”

A recent AP report (7/23/12) summarized the dire predictions of economists, academics and think tanks about poverty’s current trajectory: “The ranks of America’s poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.”

The economic status of 46 million people is important but these human beings are invisible. They have less media existence than a good car chase, a celebrity wardrobe malfunction or a funny cat video. The result is an impoverishment of political, commercial or religious dialogue. A critical matter is placed in the background of public discourse.

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” or in this case, 15% of Americans, fellow citizens, human beings, and brothers and sisters before the eyes of God. The marketplace of ideas is where Americans have traditionally found solutions to our problems. Impoverish our dialogue. Limit our thinking. Keep this issue off the front burner, and the problem will have little chance of any positive outcome. It will linger like the poor on the margins of our society.

Democracy thrives on the application of reason and judgment. When a subject is neglected to this extent, the dominant themes will be those based on myth, opinion or lies. There can be no defense if there is no discussion. Facts and evidence are little used and thus, welfare Cadillac’s and women having children to qualify for more money dominate the discussion.

The media should take its responsibilities seriously and give Americans a chance to consider the plight of the poor amongst us.

James Pilant

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Actress in “Innocence of Muslims” Says Director Lied to Her

Innocence of Muslims Actress Speaks “says film is nightmare” – YouTube

This film is very much like screaming fire in jam-packed movie house with one small door. This was designed to provoke violence. Whether or not it is protected speech under the first amendment is highly questionable. Remember, fighting words are an exception to free speech protections.

It would be a mistake to consider Moslems to be particularly violent compared to other racial and religious groups. We can offend dozens of religious groups around the world by destroying their symbols and literature, by alleging that their leaders and holy men are frauds and that their religion is based on nothing more than lies and deceit. Many of them can be expected to take to the streets under that kind of provocation.

What would happen Americans burned national flags or symbols, attacked their customs, and insulted their past? I suspect we could see some serious mob action, diplomatic problems and possibly military action.

And consider what would happen if such a film were made about head of the Christian religion and his followers in America. Would many people find charges of sexual misconduct offensive? What would worshippers do if confronted with a film alleging that Christianity is a bundle of lies and its followers deluded fools?

Patriotism and religion have always been sources of violence and conflict in spite of many great and reasonable men who have tried to seek peace and reconciliation.

What “Innocence of Muslims” does and is designed to do is to incite hatred for the United States and violence against its citizens, to disrupt the Moslem world and damage the reputation of their religion.


J. Christopher Stevens, a victim of the Libyan riot

There are a billion and half followers of Islam on the earth. Very few are interested in damaging American institutions or killing Americans. If so many as 1/10 of 1 percent were devoted to the destruction of America, that would be one million and five hundred thousand Anti Americans. There are 5.62 million Americans overseas. Don’t you think we would we suffer some injuries and death on a daily basis if that number of enemies chose to take any kind of action?

Let’s keep our views of violence in perspective and realize that words have consequences. You may have the right to speak your mind in this country (and that is questionable in this case) but should you do it?

If any amount of rational judgment had been a factor in this matter, it would never have happened.

James Pilant


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The Ethics Sage Addresses Youthful Cybercrime – Hacking and Online Bullying

Cyber ethics education – Ethics Sage

I feel strongly that cyber ethics education is a must. Students tend to react more positively to discussing right and wrong behavior when they are personally invested. After all, it is difficult to discuss with youngsters the ethics of some Congressional representative; they can’t relate; they have no frame of reference. However, using computers to steal information or bully others is front and center in their consciousness.

Dr. Marvin Berkowitz of St. Louis University conducted an analysis of the behavioral development factors that must be considered in searching for an optimal age range for instruction of cyber ethics. Dr. Berkowitz concluded that the 9-12 ages was a “very reasonable” age to target for a first time strategy of cyber ethics instruction. Several factors led to this conclusion. This age range is considered a “gateway” age and has been used by other groups to begin message delivery; e.g. substance abuse and sex education. Absent hard data on the age at which children actually begin to go on line, we can generally assume that by age 13 children have routine access to the Internet. The 9-12 ages is also the point in development where children begin to understand abstract values, for example, privacy rights, and can begin to evaluate the consequences of their actions. It is important to be able to think abstractly, particularly when working in a medium that is routinely described as “virtual.”

Cyber ethics education – Ethics Sage


I also feel strongly about this issue. Ethics training should begin in the schools as early as possible and the article is absolutely correct. Dealing with real current issues is completely superior to hypothetical scenarios.What is happening in your life now is almost always more important and more relevant then what might happen. Hacking and cyberbullying, also referred to as cybercrime, are gateway crimes. I believe they can lead to more serious crimes because they make unethical behavior more acceptable and more routine.

I believe that we strengthen our ethics and moral stance by our choices in our life experiences. You can choose to limit television viewing to programs that have strong themes of morality and justice. You can choose motions pictures based on whether or not the film conveys messages of kindness and healing as opposed to wanton killing and theft. You can choose to surround yourself with art, culture and literature choosing to become a fuller and better human being instead of relying on consumerism to make you content in the narrow sense.

Ethics is not just a class in college. It is a lifetime pursuit of the what Greeks called the “good life.” The earlier we begin ethical training and the more relevant it is, the better to begin that internal conversation that builds judgment and wisdom.

There is no doubt in my mind that this society at this time in history needs more judgment and wisdom. We are in the midst of an ethics crisis. The great financial institutions of this country have engaged in trickery and deceit on a massive scaled as well as engaging in the most reckless kind of speculation with other peoples’ money.

Concentrated around Washington and its environs, is a relatively small number of opinion leaders known as “very serious people” or the Washington Elite or the “villagers.” They believe that standardized tests solve educational problems, that cutting the benefits that feed the helpless and keep the elderly out of poverty have to be cut in a time of economic recession and high unemployment. They seem to have no idea how the great mass of Americans live and little curiosity about them. We live in the richest nation on earth and we are unable to maintain our infrastructure or feed the poor. This is immoral. Exalting greed is immoral. Evading taxes by moving money overseas is immoral and unpatriotic. Making corporations already profitable even richer by tax breaks is immoral.

We should start moral education early and if we do so, we see real effects with a little luck in our lifetimes. It is obvious that there has been failures in the moral teaching delivered to this generation.

Let us build a new consensus that “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it”

James Pilant

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