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Posts Tagged ‘ethics’

It’s been close to a week since the midterms, and the disappointment still lingers.

Now if you’re still with me, you might be saying “another liberal scumbag” or something similar. But you’d be far from the truth. I actually agree with some GOP fundamentals. The cost of doing business here, including the hiring of employees, is too high. This keeps our economy depressed. There are many things controlled by the feds that really belong with the states. And many of our social programs actually result in a culture of entrapment and dependency that’s counterproductive.

Regardless, I’m not only incredibly disappointed in the GOP takeover, I’m actually disgusted.

It’s About Ethics, Stupid

Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign famously told its staffers “it’s the economy, stupid.” This was meant to keep them on-message: that all other issues are effectively meaningless in the eyes of voters. People vote with, and because of, their pocketbooks. Totally understandable, you can’t really fault folks for wanting to provide for their families.

Unfortunately, there is actually something more important than the economy. That something is ethics.

I’m not naive enough to suggest we have to elect ethical politicians. I’m not naive enough to suggest that Congress or state legislatures need to be squeaky-clean with nothing but honest men & women doing nothing but good, honorable work. That would be like suggesting unicorns are a sustainable food source. Unethical politicians are part-and-parcel of governing since the Roman Empire. Both parties have them, always have, and always will.

But there’s something deeply disturbing about today’s Republicans. They have reached a level of unethical behavior that’s well beyond free hot tubs and kickbacks.

The Pockets of Big Business

Big money in politics is also nothing new. But we have to go waaaay back to the robber barons to see the level of corrupting influence we have today. We have reached a point where our very freedoms are challenged by Big Business. Of course, you can pick apart big-money donations and find reprehensible influence-peddling amongst Democrats and Republicans, and say “they all do it”, but the Republicans made absolutely certain that this influence peddling not only continues, but that it’s absolutely protected as free speech.

Yes, I’m talking about Citizen’s United. Citizen’s United clearly puts the principle of free and fair elections, and sane and responsible government, at direct risk. Citizen’s United basically said it is perfectly acceptable for money to control the political process and the political discourse. And who supports Citizen’s United wholeheartedly, and refuses efforts to put political power back in the hands of the people?

Republicans.

Only the GOP is working to guarantee that big money will control our political process, even when it opposes the interests of the population as a whole. They’ve basically put corruption into law.

Denying Science

The worst of today’s influence peddling surrounds energy. The Koch Brothers and other moneyed interests are basically using their millions to fight science. And the Republicans are the town criers of this inanity. There is something specifically reprehensible about science deniers. Basically, these people are combating the very laws of physics because they are on someone’s payroll. I can’t barely form words to describe how disgusting this is.

Science denial is very nearly the worst of the unethical behaviors. When you deny science you directly put people at risk. You compromise safety. You compromise health. You compromise food supplies. You compromise the education of our children. You compromise damned near everything. And that makes you a reprehensible human being.

And for what? Because some rich bigwigs donate to your campaign, control the media, and manipulate the message? And why are they doing so? To make money.

Refuting the facts in order to make more money is the very definition of unethical, scumbag behavior.

But What’s Even Worse …

So if you had to pick something that was truly unethical amongst politicians, what would it be? What would be worse than intentionally supporting & passing bad policies in order to profit your supporter? What would be worse than intentionally combating scientific data simply so your supporters could make more money?

How about intentionally manipulating the system solely so you can stay in power?

This is the worst of the worst. This behavior has been used successfully by tyrants the world over, for decades and decades, and we’ve rightly condemned them for it.

Yet, this is what the GOP is doing, and not just doing, but doing with full admission and even bravado!

These Republicans intentionally derailed Obama’s presidency simply so they would have a better chance getting elected. They intentionally manipulated election rules to benefit themselves. They intentionally gerrymandered congressional districts to ensure their own victory (fair representation be damned). They intentionally passed policies with the express intention of disenfranchising folks who might vote against them! This is Boss Tweed stuff, this is the direct manipulation of the voting process, of our very democracy! It is a thumbing of the nose at the fundamental freedoms, the very basis of our Constitution, the very foundation of any definition of “liberty”.

The Democrats aren’t particularly honest, I have no doubt of that. They also aren’t particularly bright, nor are they particularly good at running campaigns. But all of that pales in comparison to the sleazy, slimy behavior of Republicans. They simply do not deserve to be in power, regardless of their policies.

And yet, put them into power is exactly what we did.

Congratulations.

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The Death of Technology

In 1985, a group of engineers discovered a flaw in a design. Using engineer’s diligence, this team collected data, performed tests, ran some models, and came to a very scientific conclusion: under certain conditions, the most complex machinery in existence on Earth had a fatal flaw, and something needed to be done. They followed the chain of command, and told the appropriate management team.

That team ignored the report.

On January 28, 1986, the exact conditions specified in that report came to be, and the well-formulated set of conclusions derived by those same engineers six months prior came to pass.

Due to unusually cold conditions on the ground, the o-ring seals on two solid rocket boosters gave way. High-intensity flames erupted from the casing in the wrong place, forcing the booster into the main liquid fuel tank, rupturing the entire assembly. The resulting explosion and erratic expulsion of the two solid rocket boosters left a cloud of smoke whose shape has indelibly etched itself on the minds of all Americans (and especially all engineers). The passenger compartment of the vessel continued on its ascent until, at 65,000 feet elevation, gravity finally beat inertia. The compartment, and the seven brave souls still strapped inside, plummeted horrifically into the Atlantic Ocean. The vehicle known as the Space Shuttle Challenger ceased to exist.

That management team was wrong, dead wrong. I hope they’ve led miserable lives since the day they put facts aside for the sake of a government contract.

The engineering team, however, was right on the money. They did their best to avoid this tragedy, but were ignored. The lead man of that team, Roger Boisjoly, quit Morton-Thiokol and toured the country, speaking to engineering conferences about the value of quality; the failure of arrogance, ambition, and haste; and the ugly reality of corporate malfeasance. Roger died on January 6th, 2012. In my view, Roger and that entire team of engineers were American heroes.

I was working in the college computer lab on that day, trying to turn a Motorola 68000 processor into something other than a hotplate. We had the launch on the small TV, but were barely paying attention. By this time, shuttle launches were so routine the countdowns and announcements were as mundane as elevator music. But there is something special about the droning of repetitive launch instructions: the minute something is amiss, you know it. The tone changes: the monotone becomes the emotional, the drone of hard facts becomes the stuttering of uncertainty. Something was wrong. We turned, and saw the corkscrew plumes of death through that tiny screen.

My heart sank that day. Here I was, studying fervently to become a skilled technician. Technology was always my dream job, from the first time I saw Scotty fret over his dilithium chamber. I took apart my Pong game, my radios, the family TV. I taught people how to work their VCRs and had to constantly clean the gunk out of my stepbrother’s Nintendo. I was programming in assembly and machine language and BASIC, but was really a hardware weenie. Circuit boards, op-amps, laser diodes, these were the shiz-nit. I loved physics, excelled at mathematics, and, plain and simply, loved making things work.

Yet there I was, watching technology die.

It’s not that technology ceased to exist. Au contraire, we were at the very beginning of the greatest technological revolution ever. It would simplify our lives, improve our productivity, extend our life, and connect the world. One cannot even compare the technology of 1986 with today. Touch screens? Optical chips? Dense wavelength digital multiplexing? Microminiature cameras? Still highly theoretical, if that, back then. We’ve made tremendous advancements, that 16-bit processor I would soon turn to slag is now a mere wafer in the I/O chip of that crappy PC your grandma uses to play Scrabble.

But technology is still dead.

I say it’s dead because we don’t care for it. We don’t respect it. We don’t cherish it. We don’t put our heart and soul into it. We throw something together, slap a fancy label on it, shove it in an appliance, and then hope — not for it to work, but to make us a big, hefty profit. And if it doesn’t, oh well, right into the scrap heap. Look, a newer, shinier bauble just got released at E3!!!

The Challenger tragedy was my first experience with poor quality and the disinterest that leads to it. And look around you, what do we have today? Microsoft, the foremost manufacturer of operating systems since the early 80’s, still can’t make an operating system worth a shit.  American car companies suffered from decades of quality neglect, only recently turning themselves around (whether this trend continues remains to be seen), and some of the murmurings coming from airplane mechanics make your head spin. Union Carbide failed to properly maintain one of their facilities and kills thousands. BP and its shoddy suppliers dumped millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico (the environmental effects of which are still undeterminable); and the Japanese, once paragons of quality, can’t even apply their own earthquake remediation science to their own nuclear reactors! Technology, as bright-and-shiny as it is, fails us on a daily basis, often with disastrous results. Why is that?

It fails us because we don’t care about it. We don’t want to care for it, nurture it, respect it. We want to use it and abuse it and toss it away. Do people want that hand-crafted North Carolina furniture that will live longer than you? No, they flock to IKEA to buy that cheap-ass particle-board shit that’ll degenerate to it’s natural elements within 18 months (and exude toxic gasses the whole way). Cheapcheapcheap, and tosstosstoss. And God forbid if you want to apply quality to your  job. If you want to take the time to fine-tune that dilithium chamber for optimal performance, safety, and long life, you’ll be fired for wasting your time and energy that could be better spent polishing Powerpoint presentations that prove just how smart your executives are.

Quality is dead. And therefore technology is dead. And therefore, people are dead and will continue to die. God bless you, Roger Boisjoly, and any other engineer who has risked his career in the name of quality and safety.

[Photo of Roger Boisjoly is copyrighted to the New York Times.]

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Screw the Rich

[Note to my sensitive readers: there’s some pretty strong language in this post, just thought I’d warn ya. Also, this post is not meant to insult or demean the NPS or the fine staff & volunteers at Hampton NHS. They were friendly & terrific and I thank them for the job they do. — Barky]

In the tony suburbs north of Baltimore sits the magnificent mansion and grounds of a wealthy, “old money” family: the Ridgleys. Tourists traipse through the buildings, marvel at the architecture and rare collectibles (like Chinese pottery, Swiss grandfather clocks, silk-upholstered Queen Anne furniture, and ivory-handled cutlery). They meander through the grounds and ogle the symmetrical gardens and flowering shrubs, oohing and aahing all the way. If they’re feeling adventurous, they may trundle to the old farmhouse and sigh “oh dear, slaves once lived here”, followed shortly by “let’s get to Denny’s before the Early Bird Special expires”.

Who gives a fuck.

Seriously, I couldn’t give a rabid rat’s ass about fawning over treasures or discussing “the history of wealth in America”. Why? Because that history is a nasty, sordid one. By and large, the truly wealthy are nothing but a pack of leeches and have been for most of our history. From human traffickers to slave owners to Civil War profiteers to robber barons to market speculators to environmental rapists to “offshorers” to Bernie Madoff to the Koch brothers, these soulless bastards have screwed over this country time and time again, and continue to do so to this day.

It wasn’t always this way. Way back in the beginning, many of the wealthiest people on the continent gathered together to overthrow the yoke of British imperialism. Benjamin Franklin was an inventor, entrepreneur, and visionary businessman. To this day, adjusted for inflation, he solidly sits amongst the 50 wealthiest men in America. John Hancock also sits on this list, he ran one of the most powerful trading companies on the Atlantic coast. Many of the other signers of the Declaration of Independence, the crafters of the Constitution, and the financial backers of the Continental Army were wealthy businessmen and landowners. These folks risked their fortunes, put their necks in the metaphorical noose, and stood up to oppression for the good of all.

The rich don’t have to be jerks today, either. There are all sorts of good guys in business, folks who provide good value for a fair price, use innovation and provide quality products and services to the public and turn a tidy yet fair profit. There are business people who support noble causes, stand up against injustice, and work as much for their employees as they do for them. Sadly, though, these people will never become one of the “uber wealthy”, that gaggle of cocksuckers who connive and conspire to screw over the country for the sole purpose of lining their own pockets and stroking their own ego.

Folks like those have been here since the beginning of the country. Shortly after we gained our independence, the wealthy began to be part of the problem instead of part of the solution. A mere 35 years later, wealthy merchantmen pressured James Madison and Congress to declare war on Great Britain. Publicly, they wanted “honor”, but in reality, their businesses were in jeopardy due to the British execution of naval power. In the eyes of these rich Americans, war was a small price to pay to return to profitability.

Wealthy Southerners prevented the nation from handling the slave issue. Slaves were dirt-cheap labor, the source of Southern wealth, and the foundation for the entire Southern economy. Of course, it was a double-edge sword, for the slave economy also prevented entrepreneurism, invention, and advancement in the South. But it was what gave the wealthied gentry their power, their prestige, their income, and therefore they influenced Congress for decades to ignore their “peculiar institution” until 600,000 Americans died horribly painful deaths to end the barbaric practice. Of course, some folks became wealthy as war profiteers, which I guess proves the point that the rich almost always prosper at the hands of the rest of us, one way or another.

The rest of our history is equally sordid. Railroad magnates paid pseudo-slave wages, cared little for the safety of workers, used well-practiced fraud to steal millions from the government, and influenced the pace of the near-annihilation of the native Americans. Oil magnates displaced homeowners, despoiled huge tracts of land, crafted vertical monopolies to control the nation’s commerce, and formed holding companies to hide their tracks. In the industrial age, the rich burned people alive in shoddy New York City garment factories, flooded the entire city of Johnstown because they didn’t maintain the dam at their country club, violently cracked down on mine safety protests and spread cancer and misery across the land by polluting the air we breath and the water we drink.

Nowadays, they don’t act in nearly as bloody a manner as in the past. Instead, they use scam after scam to steal from the common man and bribe and cajole lawmakers to let them do so. They’ve moved far from simply convincing lawmakers to look the other way. They’re packing the courts so they can have free reign, paying off Congress to legalize their schemes, and use phony “grass roots” organizations to convince the voting public to support more scams intended to fatten their wallets and enable the continuing screwing of America. Oh, and occasionally they rape the maid.

So here’s the question: what good does the rich do for America today? None. Do they create jobs? Yeah, overseas, where they can (again) get cheap labor and work the local population so hard they jump to their deaths from high windows. Do they provide quality products and services to the public? Yeah, as if: the richest men in the country today sell technology so weak and treat our personal privacy so poorly, I’d bet a Russian crime syndicate knows more about your private life than you do.

Do today’s fat cats even use their wealth to support charitable endeavors? Frankly, I’m not even convinced that’s true. Look at right-wing nonprofits like the Heritage Foundation, who preach the screwing of America. Who funds that? Not middle-American bake sales or bike-a-thons, those things are funded by rich fuckers trying to “prove” that screwing over America is good for America. I would love to see an honest study of charitable giving by the rich. I’d bet far more goes to private “shell game” foundations (set up to protect their trust funds) or supports  right-wing “foundations” preaching the Gospel of Screw-You and buying off Congressmen than goes towards curing cancer, buying ambulances, feeding the hungry or rebuilding communities devastated by tragedy.

This long-winded diatribe is not intended to encourage or condone another Bolshevik revolution. I fully understand that we are a nation that succeeds because we are allowed to succeed, and that becoming rich is one part of the American dream. What it is intended to do is call out the wealthy in America for their thoughtlessness and greed.

In that spirit, I will address the rest of this post directly to them, the top 1% of income earners who control 40% of the nation’s wealth: there is nothing on heaven or earth that gives you the right to abuse your wealth and power. There is nothing on heaven or earth that gives you the right to profit off the misery of others. There is nothing on heaven or earth that gives you the right to scam millions off your customers whilst providing nothing of value or (even worse) causing harm to them. There is nothing on heaven or earth that gives you the right to earn 300 times the income your employees earn while your bad decisions ruin the company.

What does exist is your responsibility to act as much in the good of the country as the next guy. It could even be said that because you have more wealth and power than the average man, you have more responsibility to contribute to the nation in which you live in a positive and constructive manner. You are rich and powerful because of the freedoms this nation affords (witness a certain oil executive living life in a Russian prison if you doubt what I am saying), and you owe this nation your honest and kind-hearted support.

Bottom line: you need to stop being douche bags. Not all of you are. You can be rich, you can be successful, you can have power, but you can also be  decent human beings.

[All pictures on this post, and the post itself, are mine and mine alone and are not to be copied without my express written permission. My other photos of Hampton are here.]

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Links:

Hampton National Historic Site

By the Numbers: Wealth in America

Warren Buffet on Taxes

Does Income Inequality Matter?

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