Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: ethics

The wisdom of Wal-Mart

Meeting social and environmental standards is not optional. I firmly believe that a company that cheats on overtime and on the age of its labor, that dumps its scraps and its chemicals in our rivers, that does not pay its taxes or honor its contracts will ultimately cheat on the quality of its products. And cheating on the quality of products is the same as cheating on customers. We will not tolerate that at Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott at a conference for suppliers in China. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Wal-Mart, but I can’t argue with Scott’s logic or principles in this case.

Naked self interest

I’ve been watching the big fight over a brief the Department of Justice filed in support of the Defense of Marriage Act. During the campaign, President Obama promised to support the repeal of the act, but the Solicitor General is defending the law in the face of a legal challenge. This has led to much drama.

Here’s the thing. When President Bush was in office, liberals were rightfully outraged at the politicization of the Justice Department. The Bush administration regularly broke the law and defied convention in its dealings with Justice, which relies on its independence from the White House to operate effectively. Now we see some of the same critics attacking President Obama because it’s their ox being gored. When President Bush is putting political pressure on the Department of Justice to provide legal cover for a torture program, it’s bad. When President Obama fails to pressure the Department of Justice to abandon its duty to defend laws he doesn’t like, it’s also bad.

Here’s another example. Conservatives like to talk about the evils of judicial activism and the folly of using empathy as a judge but then they attack Sonia Sotomayor for hewing to the law as it is written and failing to empathize with a firefighter who was denied a promotion in Connecticut.

It’s worth differentiating between this phenomenon and rank hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is when one adulterer calls on another to resign. This is about the exceptions we’re all willing to grant ourselves when whatever we want is really important. Civilization is about putting the emphasis on the means rather than the ends. Let’s not punish people for being civilized.

Don’t be evil

A lot of people have made fun of Google’s informal corporate motto — “Don’t be evil — since it was originally disclosed in 2001. And clearly it’s a motto that they’ve failed to live up to at times, but what I really like about it is that it sets the standard to which Google expects to be held.

If Google is evil, every critic can say that the company doesn’t live up to its word. That’s a powerful thing.

Indeed, it’s something that I’ve come to appreciate about the Obama transition. They’ve made a lot of promises, now it’s up to us to measure their performance against those promises, and hold them accountable when they’ve failed to live up to the standards they set.

Yesterday Dan Froomkin, the Washington Post writer who tirelessly chronicled the misdeeds and mistruths of the Bush administration, talked about how he plans to cover the Obama administration. His starting point is that he plans to hold them to the standards that they have promised.

Self-imposed standards are a shortcut to establishing trust. By creating these standards and then living up to them, you demonstrate that other promises you make can be trusted as well.

On a personal level, I’d rather deal with a person or entity that sets high standards and sometimes fails to meet then than one that refuses to claim any standard at all.

Today, Obama set a high mark for himself and his administration: “Let me say it as simply as I can, transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.” Let’s hope they live up to it.

How not to handle trolls

Andrew Brown noticed that Pluck Site Life, a community software package for newspaper Web sites, handles obnoxious commenters in an unusual way: it enables moderators to put them in a ghetto where they see their own posts but nobody else can see them.

Here’s why it’s inhumane:

But in all these cases, the public punishment of bad comments serves to encourage better behaviour, which is what we ought to be trying to do. People go online to show off, and they will respond to incentives about what sort of behaviour gets them admired.

The Pluck method removes all that. The loonies are robbed of their dignity and don’t even know it. It is entirely corporate. It comes from the world of the Marching Morons, which is, increasingly, the world in which we discover we were living all along.

On Hillary Clinton and Florida

Last year there was a huge squabble over the order in which various states would hold their primaries. A few state parties wanted to subject the unfortunate citizens of their states to more automated phone calls and other annoying forms of campaigning, so they moved up their primary dates. The national Democratic party penalized two of them — Florida and Michigan — by decertifying their delegates. The delegates assigned in those primaries will not count toward naming the nominee. That may or may not have been a good idea, but all of the Democratic Presidential candidates agreed to abide by the decision and not campaign in either state. None of the major contenders even had their name on the ballot in Michigan other than Hillary Clinton.

Hillary won the Michigan primary by a huge amount (for obvious reasons), and it looks like she’s going to win Florida as well. Now her campaign is maneuvering to insure that those delegates are counted at the convention. In other words, it seems clear that she is planning on going back on the agreement she made with the other candidates.

I’ll say this. If Hillary Clinton does renege on her agreement and winds up being the Democratic nominee for President, I will not vote for her in November, regardless of her opponent. Either your word counts or it doesn’t.

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