New York Times

Trump Snubs Constitution


In a bold and dangerous move late Friday, Donald Trump pardoned racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio in a move described by New York Times columnist Adam Liptak as characteristically unconventional. In his op-ed piece in the Times, Paul Krugman details exactly how the powers vested in the presidency, when exercised to the extreme, can lead to a fascist state.

David Frum, senior editor of The Atlantic, concluded in his article How to Build an Autocracy,  "Those citizens who fantasize about defying tyranny from fortified compounds have never understood how liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state, not by dictate and violence, but by the slow demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms but with an unvarying insistence upon the honesty, integrity and professionalism of American institutions and those that lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don't be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.” 

Trump is a deflector and manipulator of the highest order. He has demonstrated that he has no regard for the rule of law or the U.S. Constitution. In my book, From Bully to Bull’s Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I give advice to the bystander. I suggest that the Republican leaders take a strong stand as they have very little time left to stop him. 

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The Insidiousness of Hidden Ageism Can Destroy Careers and Lives

There was a time when the companies believed in “last hired, first fired.” The reasoning was that these new hires were usually younger, so it was easier for them to find new employment, and had less training, so the company would retain the experienced heart of their workforce.

Those days are no more. Now my generation, the baby boomers, are the first to go when companies seek to cut costs. According to this article by Elizabeth Olson in the New York Times’ DealB%K, older workers cost the company more money so they’re the first to go regardless of the fact that it is increasingly hard for them to find new jobs—a fact confirmed by AARP. Ironically, companies who indulge in ageism also find that they no longer have competent, experienced employees as a foundation of good operating practices.

I wrote about this at length in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, where I shared the case of William, who was systematically forced out of his job after restructuring to save costs. Ageism is a particularly insidious form of discrimination that makes little sense: we will all be old one day—if we’re lucky.

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Sessions' Threat to Lock Up Journalists is an Attack on the First Amendment

Maybe he was doing it to get back into the good graces of his bully boss, but Attorney General Jeff Session’s announcement today that the Justice Department has increased investigations to find “leakers” even if it means jailing journalists is nothing less than an attack on the First Amendment.

“I strongly agree with the president and condemn in the strongest terms the staggering number of leaks undermining the ability of our government to protect this country,” Sessions told a press conference where he allowed no questions. This comes on the heels of bullying comments from Donald Trump calling Sessions “weak” because he’s been frustrated that the DOJ and the FBI haven’t been looking for who is sharing what happens behind closed doors.

Although Trump refers to these people as “leakers,” I think we need to clearly define the difference between someone who leaks information and a whistleblower. A leaker, according to the New York Times, is someone who provides “confidential information to the public in a surreptitious way and without official authorization.”

A whistleblower takes it up a notch. Whistleblowing is usually about abuse of power or illegality that involves governmental or corporate wrongdoing. Because the stakes are even higher, whistleblowers have a hellish time. I know because I was one and suffered the consequences, which I discuss in my book From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire. But imagine the consequences if Deep Throat hadn’t blown the whistle on Richard Nixon. Because of the necessity of keeping people in power honest, we should do more to support those who come forward. I fear Session’s actions will do just the opposite and make it difficult, if not impossible, to hold Trump accountable.

The irony here is that Trump himself is a leaker. Remember when he revealed sensitive intelligence about Israel to Russian officials? That might be a good place for Sessions and his department to start.

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Workplace Culture Contributed to Lawyer’s Death from Addiction

Attorneys may be the last profession to recognize the need for psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces, but as Eilene Zimmerman points out in her New York Times article, “The Lawyer, the Addict,” they need them as much as everyone else. The article is a heartbreaking examination of what drove her ex-husband, a successful patent attorney, to the drug addiction that eventually killed him and how everyone in his life missed the red flags.

Lawyers are notorious for working 60 hour weeks driven by competition for dwindling jobs, professional rivalry and the need to achieve a certain number of billable hours. The effect can take quite a toll. A report in the Journal of Addiction Medicine found that 21 percent of lawyers qualify as problem drinkers, 28 percent struggle with depression and 19 percent struggle with anxiety. The numbers reporting drug use are much lower, which is unsurprising for officers of the court. Attorneys don’t seem to be more predisposed to addiction than other profession. In fact, studies of incoming law students have shown them as being more physically and psychologically healthy compared to other graduate students.  Clearly the workplace culture and the legal training take a toll.

The sad truth is that there is no segment of society immune from issues with mental health and/or addiction. What is truly tragic in Zimmerman’s story is the fact that there were bright red flags everywhere, but both the workplace culture in law firms and society’s mental picture of successful lawyers rendered them invisible.

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire

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Ignorance is No Excuse for Bad Leadership

When it comes to CEOs, ignorance of the culture in your workplace is unacceptable. Former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recently came to the defense of Uber’s Travis Kalanick saying that she didn’t think Kalanick knew about the toxic culture at his company: “I just don’t think he knew. When your company scales that quickly, it’s hard,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle.

This is like Donald Trump defending Vladimir Putin. To say that Kalanick didn’t know about toxic culture puts him in the same league as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and his infamous comment in the New York Times expose on his workplace’s culture: “That’s not the Amazon I know.” Mayer’s defense of Kalanick as a “great leader” reflects the general attitude of organizational leaders today—their only concern is shareholders and they just don’t care about their workplace culture and, by extension, their employees.

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire

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What to Do When Your Boss Asks You to Compromise Your Ethics

Employees being asked to act immorally by their boss have become far too common. The dilemma is—what to do? And how to do you weigh the price that whistleblowers usually have to pay such as lack of advancement, alienation and even reprisal? Daniel Victor in the New York Times’ Smarter Living column explored this question recently and based on my research forFrom Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I disagree with some of the advice he offers.

I agree with Victor that employees should first make sure that they didn’t misunderstand their supervisor’s request. There are times when things are poorly stated and it’s imperative that this isn’t misinterpreted. But let’s say that the request was crystal clear—what do you do next?

 First, determine if this request restricted to just this manager in this department, or is it something being enacted throughout the organization? Second, forego human resources, which in my experience is usually part of the problem, and send an anonymous note to the audit committee of the Board of Directors apprising them of an ethics issue and request an investigation. In your note indicate that if there is no response within a set limit of time you will seek external recourse with legal representation, the media, or both.

Under no circumstances would I recommend following Victor’s advice to expose the situation internally—this could be fraught with danger. Had the employees who went from victim to villain at Wells Fargo exposed the scandal in the manner I advocate, their story would have had a far happier ending.

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When it Comes to Doing Right By Your Coworker, Forget HR

What does it mean to be a bystander in a toxic workplace? Sometimes it means being forced to decide between doing what you know is right and protecting your job. In this excellent installment of The Ethicist in the New York Times Magazine, Kwame Anthony Appiah discusses the quandary of an office worker who knows a young coworker was unjustly fired. The advice given is very sound and reflects the situation that many people face at work. In a perfect world, the correspondent should have been able to go to human resources with her problem. However, as I discuss in From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, in toxic cultures human resources is part of the problem, rather than being part of the solution—which is what makes Appiah’s advice in the column so on target.

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Frustrated Board and Shareholders Put Cash Flows Before Bros -- Finally!

Activist board members and shareholders can be a last line of defense when a CEO is bullying his entire company, which is why Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned today.  According to reports, investors demanded that he step down, in what New York Times reporter Mike Isaac described as an “outright rebellion.”

Some news sources were more cynical about the departure. The tech news site Pando said that Silicon Valley puts “cash flows before bros,” but whatever you believe, it’s about time. I’ve been calling for Kalanick’s resignation for months as this textbook case of a Silicon Valley “bro” who mismanaged the company he founded and allowed the regular abuse of his employees has dominated business headlines. It’s amazing how motivated people can be to stop abuse when their investment is at risk.

According to Adrienne LaFrance at the Atlantic, “It was ultimately concerns over the bottom line—not merely the toxic culture, or Kalanick’s trademark hubris, or explosive allegations of sexual harassment, or revelations about Uber’s secret software to evade of law enforcement—that forced Kalanick out. Well, out of his job as CEO, that is. He’ll still be on Uber’s board of directors, and he will retain his control of a majority of Uber’s voting shares.”

This doesn’t sit well with Benjamin Edelman at Harvard Business Review. He sees Uber’s troubles as deep and systemic: “I suggest that the problem at Uber goes beyond a culture created by toxic leadership. The company’s cultural dysfunction, it seems to me, stems from the very nature of the company’s competitive advantage: Uber’s business model is predicated on lawbreaking. And having grown through intentional illegality, Uber can’t easily pivot toward following the rules.” For this reason, Edelman is calling for regulators to shut down the company.

I’ve discussed all of these issues at length in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, and dedicated the entire first third of the book to the critical question—“Is Your Workplace Culture a Ticking Time Bomb?” The bottom line is that Uber was a ticking time bomb, but shareholders finally got it right. Investors and boards have a responsibility to employees to be responsible for a psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplace. I’m glad to see that they’ve stepped up at last. Maybe now we can have a news cycle without Uber dominating the business headlines.

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The New Economic Reality: Smoke and Mirrors as a Substitute for Substance

We are losing sight of the difference between presentation and reality, what we say we do and what we actually do. The ascendance of the Trumps has given rise to a society where branding trumps substance. There’s no better example than Ivanka Trump, who is touted as a savvy, Wharton-educated businesswoman, but who is in reality an heiress employed by her billionaire father. Her icy beauty is part of her brand dedicated to having it all—a loving family, a flourishing career and magazine-cover good looks. The truth is that she, like her father, are living off the proceeds of an inheritance while contributing precious little of lasting value to the greater world.

This sort of style over substance is everywhere in our culture right now.  As Carina Chocano discusses in the New York Times Magazine’s First Words column, “We are now expected to favor the story over reality, to accept that saying a thing makes it so.” For example, the Wells Fargo debacle had its roots in projecting a new image in banking that placed “storytelling” over promotion. This “story” resulted in employees being pressured to create millions of fake customer accounts in order to collect additional fees. No wonder this era is being described as a kleptocracy. This is far beyond false advertising—we are in a scam economy where advertising is used to cover up abusing customers and employees.

There is grave danger in letting this go unremarked. The scam economy is generating a groundswell of discontent and anger and an appetite for dystopian fiction that mirrors our own despair. People do not trust the establishment, the elite, or the capitalist system that props up this undeserved privilege. It’s time for business to take a stand and for companies to do an independent audit to reconcile that what they pontificate, promote and advertise conforms to reality. It’s fine to build your dreams in the clouds but no nation will last long built of smoke and mirrors.

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire

Where are the Waldos?

Do you remember the children’s puzzle books, Where’s Waldo? by British illustrator Martin Handford?You would have to find the skinny guy in the red-striped shirt and glasses in a thickly populated illustration.  The Board of Directors at Uber are starting to remind me of this popular series. No matter how hard they look they can’t seem to find someone to take responsibility for what goes on in the company.

I’ve written quite a lot about Uber this year, from the shocking revelations of sexual harassment made by a former employee, to the assurances of board member Arianna Huffington that the company had no systemic problems, to the heartrending suicide of one of their engineers, Uber has been dominating the business news. Now they’re again grabbing headlines, this time for pocketing millions of dollars of drivers’ commissions due to a “miscalculation.” The company has been basing its percentage on a driver’s entire fare, rather than what the driver makes after taxes. Uber spokeswoman Rachel Holt has issued a statement according to the New York Times that “We are committed to paying every driver every penny they are owed — plus interest — as quickly as possible,” but I have to wonder how a company of this size could make not only this mistake, but expect drivers to pay the taxes on fares instead of passing that cost on to the customer.

Where is the board’s oversight in this? Either they’re ignorant of what is going on here and therefore negligent, or they’re complicit. The solution is simple. Rather than trying to find a chief operating officer to babysit CEO Travis Kalanick, they’d be better off replacing him. The buck, like their fares, has to stop somewhere.

 Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire

Illustration credit: Where's Wally at Wemberley?