Former CEO Who Went to Prison for Upper Big Branch Coal Mine Disaster is Senate Candidate

Don Blankenship. former CEO of Massey Energy, the then-owner of the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, is now a candidate in West Virginia for the U.S. Senate. No matter that the signs of protestors outside his campaign events read, “You must be joking.” He is dead serious, and many coal miners support him. The miners say he was “railroaded.” Experts, regulators, and courts found that mine management allowed and covered up a build-up of combustible coal dust, which resulted in the explosion. The pressure that Mr. Blankenship and others brought to the miners was legendary: required hourly production reports, Blankenship descending in his helicopter for surprise checks, and safety shortcuts that resulted in guilty pleas or convictions for many managers. Mr. Blankenship’s platform? Coal is king.

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“There are times when I want to hug him and hold him. There are times when I want to punch him in the face.”

Ben Brafman, attorney for defendant Martin Shkreli, at Mr. Shkreli’s sentencing hearing. With defense lawyers such as this, who needs prosecutors? Mr. Shkreli, who was found guilty of fraud earlier, was sentenced to seven years. The sentencing guidelines provided for up to 21 years. Mr. Shkreli said during the hearing, “This is my fault. I am not a victim here.”

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“Collars for Dollars”: It’s Back From 1994

In 1994, the Mollen Commission issued a report that concluded that police in New York City came up with various arrest strategies in order to increase their overtime pay. The strategies included questionable arrests, multiple arrests, and the involvement of additional officers so that more could earn overtime.

How soon they forget. Now pending in federal district court in Brooklyn is a civil rights suit by a defendant who alleges that he was arrested by New York City police officers solely for the purpose of increasing their income and not on the basis of a crime. For the arrest of Mr. Hector Cordero and others, the suit alleges that the officers pulled in $1,400 in extra pay. The suit promises to result in the exposure of the conduct of police officers in making arrests. Some of the allegations in the suit are that officers made up false information to justify the arrests. The charges against Mr. Cordero were dropped five months after his arrest. New York City says the officers had probable cause. The trial promises to offer insights into the old and now repeated “collars for dollars.” Be careful how you pay and what you reward — perverse incentives are dangerous.

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Dr. Ben Carson and His $31,000 Dining Table

He is a brilliant surgeon. He is a kind man. He is the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. And, as HUD faces $6.8 billion in budget cuts, he chose to redecorate his office. The new dining table is a custom-made deal that went way over the maximum government allowance of $5,000. As the press got wind, the stories shifted — Dr. Carson knew nothing about the table. Dr. Carson had delegated the redecorating to his wife. Eventually, Dr. Carson recognized the optics and tried to cancel the order. The custom nature of the table may make halting the order difficult. Bright people sometimes get involved in the darndest things.

Congress is investigating the table deal because Mrs. Carson is alleged to have sought the help of an aide in circumventing the $5,000 spending cap. We will be at this one for some time to come.

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“Arizona Sticks With Coach Despite Bribery Allegations”

Now there’s a headline that leaves you scratching your head. The Regents for the Arizona system are all over it — they asked for a meeting to seek legal advice on the coach’s $1,5 million per year contract. Yes, it would be better to keep him on as coach than risk a breach of contract suit?? The FBI seems to have him dead-away on a wiretap discussing a payment of $100,000.

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Russian Olympic Curler Doped????

Russian curler (you know, curling –the Olympic sport in which you watch a tea kettle glide down the ice) Alexander Krushelnnytsky and his wife took the Olympic bronze in this year’s competition. However, a drug test revealed that Mr. K had Meldonium is in his system, a drug that has been banned by the IOC since 2016. Meldonium is the drug that hurled Maria Sharapova from tennis for a season.

Meldonmium is said to increase the ability to concentrate.Yes, one would not want to miss one nanosecond of the break-neck pace of the sport of curling. Staying focused on that kettle as it glides down the ice is difficult to sustain.

The Russians explain that Mr. K took the drug only once and that there were just traces in his blood. When on thinks of doping, one thinks of baseball sluggers, Tour de France cyclists, fleet-of-foot track stars,and power-lifters. Squatting down to watch a drifting teapot defies the need for Meldonium or even toned quadriceps. However, the Russians leave nothing to chance — just the risk of getting caught.

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Cheating on Your Fitbit: Strap It To Your Hamster’s Wheel or Tape It Tp Your Electric Saw

The Wall Street Journal reports that folks are so obsessed with meeting their Fitbit goals for the day that they have developed techniques for meeting their activity level goals without participating in all that nonsensical and taxing exercise. Tape the Fitbit to your hamster’s wheel or tape it to your electric saw and then leave the saw running. The hamster’s motion and the saw’s vibration will get your steps tony level you want.

We chortle at these creative notions for padding our numbers, but we probably do it every day in some way in our jobs. The accounting interpretations that allow us to book revenue that isn’t real. The on-time records at airlines that do not include the regional jet routes. The ratings for television and radio that eliminate viewing during the holidays by calling the shows something different for tw weeks. Our little tricks to make it look as if we are doing better than we are seem silly when we are talking about fitness achieved through hamsters and saws. What exactly is the difference between those self-deceptions and the ones in business? Too many companies are using saws and hamsters to feign performance that is not real.

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“19% of recruiters/hiring managers have witnessed a candidate hitting on them.”

USA Today, February 7, 2018.

Observation 1 — Was it an out-of-body experience that they witnessed it? Perhaps “experienced”a candidate hitting on them?
Observation 2 — Is this really the best approach for landing a job?

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VA Secretary and His Wimbledon Excursion

The Inspector General came out with his report on Veteran Administration Secretary David Shulkin’s July trip to Europe. You can read the full report here: https://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-17-05909-106.pdf. Herewith, some highlights:

1. Less than two weeks before the 11-day trip began, the Secretary sent out a memo to VA employees titled “Essential Employee Travel.” The memorandum instructed staff that before approving any employee travel, managers must determine whether the travel is “essential” in order to decrease “employee travel and generate savings” within VA.
2. The trip included 3.5 days of conference and meetings in Denmark to study their veteran’s programs and facilities. Given the vast Danish army, one understands the need for that detour.
3. The VA paid for Dr. Shulkin’s wife’s travel because Dr. Shulkin’s chief of staff represented to the VA that Dr. Bari (aka Mrs. Shulkin) was an “invited guest” for an award ceremony. There was no award or ceremony. It strikes the Barometer that the VA has a way to go before being in award territory. The IG made a criminal referral to the Justice Department for possible prosecution for the fraudulent statements about the award. The DOJ declined prosecution at this time.
4. Dr. Shulkin and his wife received tickets to the women’s finals at Wimbledon from someone they called as friend of Dr. Bari (Mrs. Shulkin). When the IG’s office interviewed the “friend,” after 19 attempts to contact her, the “friend” could not recall or did not know Dr. Bari’s first name. The VA ethics officer had approved the gift of the tickets under the “relationship”exception to federal officials accepting gifts.
5. The total cost of the trip for Dr. Shulkin and his wife was $122,334, not counting the time a staff member spent arranging all of the leisure travel for the secretary and his wife. The OIG concluded that this VA staff member became the secretary’s travel concierge.

One observer said, “A lot of them may want him to go, but who would replace him?”

Perhaps someone who has respect for the limited resources of the VA and believes those resources should go to veterans and not European excursions. Can the VA really get better under a leader with such a tin ear on both spending and example?

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ICE Lawyer is Charged with Identity Theft

Now there’s a headline that is a tad disconcerting. New York Times, February 15, 2018, p. A21.

Raphael A. Sanchez, the top lawyer for immigration in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Seattle was charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft (one wonders the proof requirements for “aggravated identify theft” vs. “run-of-the-mill identify theft). He is charged with stealing the identities of seven people who were in immigration proceedings that he was handling. Between October 2013 and October 2017, Mr. Sanchez is alleged to have used the identities to open credit accounts at American Express, JPMOrgan Chase, Bank of America, Capital One, Citibank, and Discover.

Here’s the best part — Mr. Sanchez used his government e-mail to send information for his aggravated activity to his Yahoo mail account. One e-mail had the following documents attached: a utility bill, a biographical page, and a Chinese passport from a Chinese immigrant who was seeking permanent residence in the United States.

The Barometer is without words.

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“Greed is a growth industry, and it always will be.”

from the late Melvyn Weiss, a plaintiff’s lawyer whose firm (Milberg Weiss) recovered an estimated $20 billion in damages for corporate fraud for shareholders. Ironically, Mr. Weiss ended up in federal prison for 30 months for funneling money to investors for serving as the lead plaintiffs in his cases. The cases Weiss brought on corporate financial fraud were solid, and his cases resulted in accounting and financial reporting reforms. But his recruiting methods were as his sentencing judge noted, “breaking the rules.” In the ultimate irony, Mr. Weiss ended up being a Bernie Madoff victim. RIP

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The Ethicist’s Analysis of Cheating

A middle-school young ‘un wrote into The New York Times“The Ethicist” column (Sunday, February 11, 2018), which appears courtesy of Kwame Anthony Appaiah. This poor little soul had witnessed friends cheating on a test when the teacher left the room.

Barometer note: What teacher in his/her right mind leaves a room during an exam? The urchins have absolutely no compunction about cheating. Opportunity and need — the motivations for both fraud and cheating. Their need is academic success. The teacher afforded the opportunity. Never leave the little cherubs unattended during exams, quizzes, PE class, and anything else in middle school.

The young student asked her friends to stop cheating, and they told her to “lay off.”

Barometer note: One suspects that “lay off” was soft language for another phrase.

The friends did not stop cheating, and this young student wanted to know whether to report the cheaters to the teacher.

The advice from the Ethicist: No, because it might cost them their admission into prestigious high schools. And, “losing a place at a prestigious high school can be a big deal in our society, where educational opportunity is unfairly distributed.”

Barometer note: Oh, let me get this straight. Admitting those who cheat the best is a way of fixing said injustices?

The advice from the Ethicist: No, because whistleblowers often suffer. And because the school had no honor code, there was no requirement to blow the whistle. Besides, considering the impact of reporting the students on young your life is as important as considering the impact of reporting the cheaters.

Barometer note: The sooner cheaters are found, given due process, and forced to face consequences, the less likely they are to end up with the types of sanctions that will come as their chutzpah (born of getting away with it) increases. Why must we assume that reporting them is a bad thing with only negative consequences? Save a life; report a cheater.

The advice from the Ethicist: Write a letter to alert the school to cheating generally. Suggest that teachers stay in the room.

Barometer note: Report fellow students who cheat and we might reach a point where the presence or absence of the teacher will be irrelevant in levels of academic integrity. Nothing that is meaningful or important ever comes easy.

Last Barometer note: It never occurred to the Ethicist to think of alternatives. Tell the students that either they can self-report or be reported. Sometimes backing cheaters into a corner is the only way.

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The Health Curse: Conflicts and Ethics

Tom Price was replaced as Health and Human Services(HHS)secretary after news reports of his ownership of health-care related stocks surfaced. Conflicts, conflicts. Mr. Price was replaced by now secretary Alex Azar. Poor Mr. Azar had to show Brenda Fitzgerald, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the door, after a report that during her tenure as Georgia’s health secretary she had owned shares in five tobacco companies (Reynolds American, British American, Imperial Brands, Phillip Morris, and Altria). Further, Ms. Fitzgerald had begun her tenure at CDC with initiatives to convince Americans to stop smoking. Her divestiture of the tobacco stocks was glacially slow and becoming an irritant to congress as she recused herself from all matters tobacco.

The spokesman for the CDC indicated that the stock ownership “complicated” her work at CDC. Conflicts of interests do tend to bring those complications to the fore. However, beyond the slow divestiture, was her purchase of shares in a Japanese tobacco company one month after taking over the CDC. Once that purchase hit the airways, Ms. Fitzgerald resigned.

Here’s the Barometer’s thought — if you are the boss of getting people to stop smoking, why would buying stocks in tobacco companies be a smokin’ deal? (as it were) The conflicts are embarrassingly large, but perhaps we should also question the now former secretary’s wisdom and judgment as well. Then again, the purchase was of shares in a tobacco company located in a country where they puff away without CDC efforts. Perhaps the move was a shrewd one, diabolical even. She was betting on smokers in Japan. You can’t make this stuff up.

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Feds Order Wells Fargo to Get 4 New Board Members

Despite the fact that Wells had already shuffled its board once, the Federal Reserve is now requiring Wells Fargo to remove at least four of its current directors. The Feds’ concern? Eight of the current directors were on the board during the period when Wells managed to haul in 3.5 million fake accounts and engage in other consumer debt shenanigans. The Feds did not name names for ouster, but Wells will proceed with the changes.

We have seen board member held personally liable for damages. We have seen board members charged civilly in some fraud cases. But, actually getting down to “You’re outta here,” ’tis a rare thing. However, Wells has had a tin ear for some time now and sharpening up the hearing (as in putting ears to the ground) does require new minds, new views, and new blood.

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