So, a funny thing happened on the way to the office … after many years of writing nonfiction, I got the idea for a novel about an unhappy young lawyer and her friendship with an angel. (Really?) It was so different from anything I’d ever written before that I balked for a good long while. But the story kept nudging me. Just for fun, I wrote it down, and it became Dancing at Angel Abbey.
Many stories have been told about brief encounters between human beings and the angels, but there have been far fewer which portray a person in a sustained relationship with even one angel, much less more than a dozen. No other novel I’ve seen features archangel commentary at the end of each chapter. Dancing at Angel Abbey is unique – and I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please check it out at http://www.dancingatangelabbey.com.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged angels, archangels, ethics, fiction, inspirational fiction, novel | Leave a comment December 11, 2014
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the CIA’s alleged use of torture is, in a word, appalling. I’ve tried to read it, but some of the interrogation practices it describes are more than I can handle. Consequently, this post relies primarily on news reports written by people with stronger stomachs than mine.
Let me start by acknowledging that our nation is at war and American lives have been at stake for more than a decade. Innocent people don’t deserve to be murdered, and the CIA has an affirmative duty to protect our citizens from terrorists. I get that. I really do. But there’s an aspect of the public discussion around the Senate report that absolutely must be addressed. Even the sharpest critics of the brutal interrogation practices attributed to the CIA routinely qualify their comments by observing that, not only were those practices abhorrent, they didn’t even generate useful intelligence. Does that mean that, if torture does generate useful intelligence, it’s distasteful but ultimately okay?
Three years ago, Senator John McCain, himself a war hero, wrote in an op-ed piece for The Washington Post that torture cannot be justified on utilitarian grounds. Mistreatment of enemy prisoners, he very correctly observed, not only endangers our own troops, but stands in fundamental opposition to the American principle that “an individual’s human rights [are] superior to the will of the majority or the wishes of government.” To further quote Senator McCain, this isn’t a question of what works and what doesn’t. “This is a moral debate. It is about who we are.”
Tomorrow night, I’ll take the stage with more than fifty friends in a musical revue titled “A USO Christmas,” celebrating the brave men and women who risked their lives in World War II. If there was ever a more evil scourge on the planet than Hitler’s Third Reich, I don’t know what it was, and the brave warriors who fought and died to defeat that evil deserve our gratitude and praise. We owe it to them, and to generations of Americans to come, not to allow the foundational principles of our country – that the rule of law matters and basic human decency must be preserved – to be eroded by fear and expediency. Yes, it matters that we live, but how we live matters, too.Posted in ethics, Social Ethics | Leave a comment December 4, 2014
Last night, I witnessed the chokehold death of Eric Garner. My fondness for television shows like Castle and Criminal Minds has familiarized me with dramatic death scenes. But this was no staged drama. It was the last moments of a real person’s life, recorded as he lay gasping for breath in the arms of another man. Even though the event took place several months ago, watching that video was every bit as horrifying as if Mr. Garner had been choked to death right in front of me. It will haunt me for a long time to come.
President Obama has promised that he is “not going to let up until we see a strengthening of the trust and a strengthening of the accountability that exists between our communities and our law enforcement.” That’s both good and important. Our legal system cannot serve unless and until all Americans can trust it to deliver equal justice under the law. Legal reform alone, however, will not be enough.
The financial meltdown of 2008, orchestrated by Wall Street financiers who were far more clever than smart, did profound and lasting damage to the American economy. Minority workers were hit hardest. According to the Pew Charitable Trust, median black household income was only 59% of median white household income in 2011, a wider gap than existed before the financial crisis. More recently, The Huffington Post reported that, at over 13 percent, the black unemployment rate was nearly twice that of whites. Underemployment for black workers was over 20 percent, compared to less than 12 percent for white workers. In other words, one third of black Americans are under- or unemployed and, again according to The Huffington Post, more than 11 million black Americans lived in poverty last year. Linking poverty and crime may be controversial, but there’s ample reason to believe that otherwise honest people who are desperate for money may be more likely to break the law to survive than people who have plenty.
The police reportedly approached Mr. Garner because they thought he was selling loose cigarettes for less than a dollar apiece. Selling “loosies” is a poor man’s crime, something white collar criminals like Bernie Madoff wouldn’t even consider. Perhaps, if Mr. Garner had been able to find a job that paid enough to feed his family, he wouldn’t have been out on the street in the first place and this tragedy would never have occurred.
Yes, we need to reform the legal system, but our financial system is in desperate need of reform as well. Economic inequality and lack of opportunity for minority workers are complex problems, not easily solved. But solve them we must if we want to prevent disasters like Eric Garner’s death from continuing to occur. America can, and must, do better.Posted in Business Ethics, ethics, Legal Ethics, Social Ethics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment November 25, 2014
Last night, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced that the grand jury assigned to review the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown had declined to bring criminal charges against police officer Darren Wilson, the man who killed him. There’s plenty to criticize about prosecutor McCulloch’s handling of this heartbreaking situation. His choice to take Michael Brown’s shooting through the secret grand jury process, rather than to a public preliminary hearing, is questionable at best. It appears from news reports that Mr. McCulloch may have abdicated his responsibility to present a coherent case, dumping a haystack of conflicting evidence in front of the grand jurors and leaving them to sort through it for the possible “needle” of probable cause. I wonder if the grand jury even understood that its job was not to rule on Officer Wilson’s guilt, but simply to decide whether to send him to trial for any of several crimes ranging from illegal discharge of a firearm all the way up to first-degree murder. There’s a lot of law involved in making that decision, not something that, in my opinion, one could reasonably expect lay people to sift through without legal advice. Former New York State Chief Judge Sol Wachtler once remarked that a prosecutor could easily persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” That this grand jury failed to issue an indictment against a police officer who reportedly shot twelve times at an unarmed teenager makes me question whether Mr. McCulloch made even the slightest effort to get one.
Worst, however, was Mr. McCulloch’s performance at the podium last night. Perhaps he thought he was just being matter-of-fact, but I found him to be condescending and dismissive. Those of us who see the shooting of Michael Brown as a tragedy born of institutional racism weren’t “disappointed” by the grand jury’s decision – we were outraged. Mr. McCulloch’s dismissal of that outrage was profoundly offensive.
As the protests began in Ferguson and across the country last night, President Obama made a plea for calm, pointing out that “we are a nation built on the rule of law.” He’s right, and the rule of law is rightly the foundation on which our society rests. But neither President Obama nor Mr. McCulloch seems willing to admit that our legal system is predisposed to uphold the status quo, however unjust it might be. Courts look to precedent – decisions made by judges of the past – to resolve problems. When those past decisions were based on bigoted beliefs, they can only inspire unjust results.
Like it or not, the status quo in this country is riddled with racism, and it makes young people of color walking targets for violence. We saw it with Trayvon Martin, we’re seeing it with Michael Brown, and I’ll predict right now that, as the facts emerge, we’re going to see that racism was a factor in the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot by two Cleveland police officers who feared that the toy gun the boy held was real.
I’m not looking to crucify Officer Wilson, who may well have shot Michael Brown in genuine fear for his own life. But I think that we, as a supposedly civil society, can no longer afford to overlook the racism that permeates our culture and corrupts so many of our institutions. Yes, it’ll take time, effort and money to generate real change. It’s well worth the investment, however, to make sure that our legal system gives every citizen equal access to justice. Michael Brown deserved better. So do his parents, and so do we all.Posted in ethics, Lauren Recommends, Legal Ethics, Social Ethics | 1 Comment September 23, 2014
Frequent readers of this blog know that I have no use for industries that derive their money from cruelty, whether to people or animals. I’m writing today to help publicize what appear to be particularly abusive conditions at the dairy farms who supply Leprino Foods, reportedly the world’s largest mozzerella cheese maker. According to SliceofCruelty.com, Leprino is a major cheese supplier for Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s.
Please take a moment to visit SliceofCruelty.com’s website, where you can see firsthand video taken undercover at the dairy farms that provide milk to Leprino Foods. It’s not easy to watch workers torture sick and injured cows, but it’s important to know just how much pain is involved in the production of the cheese that tops your pizza. And, while SliceofCruelty.com doesn’t specifically mention it, I think it’s important to point out that the dairy workers who appear to be viciously beating the cows in the video don’t look especially happy, either. If those workers think it’s necessary to abuse the cows to get their jobs done, I’d bet the rent that someone higher up in management is abusing them pretty badly, too.
I’ve signed a Change.org petition calling on Leprino Foods to stop the abuses, and hope you will, too. SliceofCruelty.com is encouraging visitors to go vegan. Maybe that’s more than you can manage, but please consider switching to locally-farmed, certified cruelty-free dairy products and cheeses. Write to your legislators about animal abuse in the dairy industry, and consider joining the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s efforts to change federal laws that allow barbarism down on the farm.Posted in Business Ethics, Corporate Governance, corporate responsibility, customer relations, ethics, Lauren Recommends, Legal Ethics, Personal Ethics, Social Ethics | Leave a comment September 18, 2014
Workers in Pennsylvania made headlines last week when they walked out of a Chipotle restaurant near Penn State. They left a sign on the door blaming “borderline sweatshop conditions” for their decision to leave and featuring the phrase “People>Profits.” The sign went viral on Twitter and, suddenly, the world was watching.
In an interview, former manager Brian Healy was quoted as saying,”Working conditions are heinous … I’m not trying to take down the Chipotle corporation, I just want to see people treated better. We’re not trying to start a strike or anything like that.”
Really, Mr. Healy? Why not?
If working conditions are so “heinous” that people making less than $10 an hour are willing to give up their livelihood rather than endure them, they’ve got to be pretty horrendous. A single fast-food worker can’t do much to change the system, but a group of them pulling together can. That’s why we have occupational safety laws, and workers shouldn’t be bullied into relinquishing their rights by social pressures that always put profits ahead of the workers who generate them.
Yes, profits are important – you can’t run a business for long without them. But people matter more than money, and workers shouldn’t suffer to put still more money in the pockets of those who have plenty already. You and your colleagues were right that People>Profits, Mr. Healy. Don’t let yourself be pressured into putting that principle aside.Posted in business communications, Business Ethics, Corporate Governance, corporate responsibility, ethics, Personal Ethics, Social Ethics | Leave a comment September 5, 2014
The media’s been all aflutter over the recent hacking and posting of nude photos of various actresses and female athletes. Accusatory fingers are pointing in every direction, but especially at Apple and other companies that allow customers to keep confidential adult content on their sites, social media platforms like Reddit that allow hackers to post stolen material for public viewing, and even the ladies themselves who, gasp, allowed themselves to be photographed au naturelle with every expectation that the photos would be kept private. (Some of the pictures may have been taken when the women were under age. For the record, taking and distributing nude photos of minors is illegal and just plain wrong.)
What concerns me in all the brou-ha-ha, though, is that nobody seems inclined to blame the pirates who reportedly hacked into private accounts, stole the photos, and posted them online. Nearly everyone appears to be taking for granted that hackers, like blackflies and kudzu, are an unfortunate fact of life about which nothing much can be done. Thus, people who create adult content or fail to thwart its theft become the new targets, criticized up one side and down the other for falling short in their efforts to prevent others from breaking the law.
That approach is unreasonable and unfair. Yes, we can and should expect vendors to put reasonable safeguards in place to prevent hacking, and every parent in America is probably using this sorry situation as a teachable moment, urging kids to keep their clothes on in front of the camera. But the real culprits here are the criminals who stole the photos. Point your fingers at them, not the people and companies they victimized.Posted in Business Ethics, corporate responsibility, customer relations, ethics, Legal Ethics, Personal Ethics, Risk Management, Social Ethics | Leave a comment August 12, 2014
It feels as though the world is in mourning today for Robin Williams, comedian, actor, writer, and philanthropist extraordinaire. Any fan could have told you that he’d suffered from bouts of depression and struggles with substance addiction. After all, he joked about it, right? Only Robin Williams would claim to have gone to rehab in wine country “to keep [his] options open.” According to news reports, though, the darkness overwhelmed him yesterday, and he apparently took his own life.
What does Robin Williams’ tragic death have to do with business ethics? According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 10 Americans suffers from depression. SAVE.org, a suicide prevention site, reports that nearly 30,000 Americans take their own lives every year. And yet, until very recently, many health insurance companies severely limited or denied coverage for mental health care. The Affordable Care Act, derisively dubbed “Obamacare” by its relentless opponents, changes that. One of its key benefits is requiring insurers to provide the same coverage for mental health problems as they do for other medical issues, and limiting insurers’ ability to deny coverage for preexisting mental health problems. That has to be a good thing, right? So, why do so many businesses continue trying to get out of offering health care benefits to their employees under the Act? And why do so many elected officials continue to fight to repeal a law that finally offers some help to those who suffer from debilitating illness? It’s all in the name of money, folks, and that’s about as ugly as it gets.
Look, I know medical care can be expensive, and that mental health issues can be especially tricky to treat. Robin Williams himself was indeniable proof of that – even repeated trips to rehab didn’t tame his demons. I also recognize that corporate investors want and deserve reasonable returns and that the cost of health insurance cuts into companies’ profits. But isn’t there some point where the bottom line becomes less important than the health and welfare of the workers who generate the profits in the first place?
Robin Williams leaves behind a matchless body of artistic work, from “Mork & Mindy” to “The Crazy Ones,” including “Good Will Hunting, ” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and my personal favorite, “The Fisher King.” Still, I believe that the man whose loved ones described him as a good neighbor and better friend would want his legacy to include a reminder to all of us that depression isn’t self-indulgence or weakness of character, but a real illness that can and must be treated. The best way to thank Robin Williams for the good times he gave us and to honor his memory would be to take better care of people who suffer as he did.
Thanks, Robin, for the good times. We’re really going to miss you.
Posted in Business Ethics, corporate responsibility, ethics, Personal Ethics, Social Ethics | Leave a comment August 7, 2014
This morning, NPR provided a stunning report on how the circumstances of children’s birth determine their futures. In the forthcoming book The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood, researchers from Johns Hopkins University report on their study of nearly 800 schoolkids from Baltimore over a 25-year period. Their findings are disturbing, to say the least.
According to The Long Shadow, kids’ opportunities to prosper – or not – are largely determined by the families they’re born into. Kids with wealthy, married parents generally do well; kids from impoverished, single-parent households generally don’t. So, for example, only 33 of the children from low-income families managed to move into higher income brackets, less than half of what would have been expected if family circumstances weren’t a factor. Kids from low-income families were less likely to go to college, less likely to get decent jobs, and more likely to end up in jail than their wealthier peers. Separately reporting on the study, Hub.com quoted one of the co-authors, sociologist Karl Alexander, as saying that “‘a family’s resources and the doors they open cast a long shadow over children’s life trajectories… This view is at odds with the popular ethos that we are makers of our own fortune.'”
So, here’s my concern. The resource disparity between the rich and the rest of us continues to widen. I believe that the public has tolerated the growing wealth gap, at least in part, because they still believe that, with hard work and talent, anyone can make it in America. The Johns Hopkins study demonstrates otherwise. The longer we tolerate a business model that richly rewards the few while generating widespread and deepening poverty, the more doors we close in the faces of our children and grandchildren. We can’t expect future generations to pull themselves up by their bootstraps if their parents can’t make enough money to provide them with any.
Posted in Business Ethics, corporate responsibility, ethics, Personal Ethics, Social Ethics | Leave a comment August 1, 2014
Employees of the Market Basket supermarket chain in Massachusetts captured international attention when they went on strike to demand the return of the company’s CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas. According to news reports, Mr. Demoulas, a generous soul who insisted on liberal employee benefits and regular social contact with his workers, was recently forced out by a profit-minded Board of Directors that’s reportedly controlled by his cousin. (That’s gotta hurt.) Despite alleged management threats to replace them, however, workers continue to protest and urge customers to stay away until their beloved boss is returned to them.
The British Daily Mail is cheerily calling the workers’ actions “The ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Protest.” Personally, I’d call it long overdue.
News stories nearly always oversimplify things, going for an engaging tale rather than a thorough reporting of facts. Nonetheless, the story of employees going to bat for the boss who cared about them as people and thought their welfare was more important than wringing out every last penny of profit for the owners is compelling. That they’re banding together to help him despite the risk of losing their own jobs is positively inspiring.
Job search websites continually assert that it’s especially difficult for older people in management to find new jobs if they get laid off or, as in Mr. Demoulas’ case, forced out of their positions. Senior execs can’t afford to get too comfortable, we’re told, and that may be true. But the Market Basket protests offer at least two lessons that I think executives are wise to heed. First, when pushed hard enough, employees are still willing to band together to fight for decent working conditions. Second, if you’re smart and good-hearted enough to make sure they’re treated decently, the boss they’ll fight for just might be you.Posted in business communications, Business Ethics, corporate responsibility, ethics, Personal Ethics, Social Ethics | Leave a comment ← Older posts Newer posts →