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“Can’t We Talk About Other Things?” Asks Michigan State

Dr. Larry Nassar – a medical professional who worked for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University treating the athletes who represented both institutions – abused more than 325 of his patients. He spent decades insisting that his reported abuse was actually misunderstood medical treatment; he was only, finally, stopped after so many women had come forward to report him that it simply became impossible to ignore them.  He was and remains, by every possible measure, a monster.

But this is not about Larry Nassar. The Larry Nassars of the world do not operate alone. They are always –  always, always, always – aided and abetted by institutions that double and triple and quadruple down on a seemingly concerted effort to either ignore reported abuse completely and to further enable its occurrence. Nassar’s abuse thrived, at least in part, because so many people who could have stopped him chose to do otherwise instead. Ignore and enable is a strategy that has failed so often, and so spectacularly, that it is almost impossible to imagine any institution voluntarily adopting it. Perhaps that is an unreasonable ask; perhaps ignore and enable is endogenous to institutional existence; perhaps there is simply no escaping it.

It does seem reasonable, or at least comforting, to imagine that organizations badly burned by having voluntarily ignored and enabled abuse would have the common decency to learn the lesson that the previous strategy absolutely did not work. And yet, we have this, late last week, from Michigan State University’s The State News, the institution’s student newspaper. It is an article written by Anna Nichols detailing changes made to an issue of Spartan, the school’s alumni magazine. Alumni magazines are almost always little more than thicker brochures hyping the best that its publisher has to offer, but Spartan had apparently decided that it needed to properly account for an abuse scandal that had cost the institution more than half-a-billion dollars. From the article:

The goal of the magazine is to help survivors of Nassar’s abuse and the Spartan community heal and prevent such abuse from happening again at MSU, Magazine editor Paula M. Davenport said in her original editor’s note.

Davenport went further in her note, referencing The Penn Stater‘s Darkest Days issue, an issue released in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal, and noting that she sought to produce an issue that would help to bring the community together in a unified effort to prevent similar abuse from ever happening again. The goal was an entire issue dedicated to what, exactly, had gone so dreadfully wrong. Nichols’ excellent article (which is absolutely worth reading in its entirety) goes further:

The original magazine’s essays chronicle the history of Nassar’s abuse, gender inequality, the psychological effect of sexual abuse and a culture of silence. The narratives tell stories of the impact these topics have had on alumni and their ability to look back fondly on the school. 

Contributors to the special issue tell stories ranging from being sexually harassed by medical professionals as young adults, to unpacking how the issues MSU faces with Title IX, as an investigation report claimed a patient merely misunderstood Nassar’s procedure.

As the names and faces of hundreds of survivors of Nassar’s abuse were revealed, the university faced greater trauma than it had ever endured in its 163-year history, according to the “A Time to Listen and Learn” section.

“Rightfully, our faculty and students protested. And you expressed your disgust in countless phone calls, emails, social media posts, and letters. Broken, former President Lou Anna K. Simon resigned. Athletic Director Mark Hollis retired. A beleaguered Board of Trustees, an elected body, backpedaled,” the section said. “To be certain, this is only a beginning, not a conclusion. We believe that, with decisive action and open dialogue, MSU can emerge from this tragedy as a leader and a model for safer campuses and workplaces across the country. 

The entire issue, from its first page to its last, was supposed to focus on the scandal. But then John Engler intervened.

Engler is the University’s stopgap president. He is a former governor who was appointed to the position in the aftermath of Lou Anna K. Simon’s resignation. He has been on uneven ground since taking the position. More than 100 of Nassar’s victims stepped forward to oppose his nomination. He has been accused of trying to buy the silence of Nassar’s victims. He has accused Rachel Denhollander, one of Nassar’s victims and one of the leading advocates for his prosecution, of being involved in a kickback scheme with trial lawyers suing the school, an accusation which she vehemently denied. It was not hard to see why many of the institution’s fiercest critics had little faith in Engler’s ability to execute his position in an effective, unifying manner. Perhaps those were the missteps of a man who voluntarily put himself into a bad situation; maybe he was owed a certain amount of leeway to make mistakes, to then learn from them, and to do better.

But even if that was the case, Nichols’ article is going to give Engler’s critics all the ammunition they will need to argue that those previous mistakes were nothing of the sort. Engler apparently vetoed the first draft of Spartan. Three possible covers, each featuring vibrant uses of teal, were rejected. Language from the proposed covers which read, “Sexual assault and harassment allegations have rocked our community to its core and changed how we thought of ourselves as Spartans. In our quest for answers, we will build a path to a better future,” was replaced with the following quote:

“The University, which faced the most difficult challenge in its history, has emerged and is going to be stronger, safer, and more competitive than ever before.”

That bit of rah-rahing is from Engler himself. That though is hardly the end of Engler’s changes. The issue’s hard-hitting exploration of abuse on the MSU campus – which included a discussion about whether graduates could still claim to be proud to be Spartans – has been replaced with an issue that, well:

The new magazine paints a golden year for Spartans building up their community and bettering the academic world. It cites work creating housing for families in Michigan, expanding the College of Music building, a medical mission to Iraq and the hope that MSU’s Facility for Rare Isotope Beams becomes “the world’s most-powerful rare isotope beams facility when it becomes fully operational in 2022.”

Davenport’s note is gone too, replaced with a terse, rewritten note, that offers up coverage of Nassar as an afterthought. Davenport writes, presumably with Engler dictating:

“We’ve done our best in this issue to update you on significant changes to MSU policies, new building projects, and stories of Spartans doing good for the benefit of others. But first, you’ll find letters sent to us earlier this year when news of abuses by Larry Nassar went global.”

The earlier draft features an honest accounting of what it is like to be associated with an institution repeatedly looked the other way when confronted with evidence of Nassar’s abuse. The newest version features an interview with Engler, in which he declares that his meetings with students, faculty, and alumni are going great. Which is, presumably, news to all of those who might believe otherwise.

The university, when confronted with the two versions (the earlier one is available at The State News‘s website, and was apparently leaked to either Nichols or The State News or both), offered up the following explanation for its decision to neuter the magazine’s attempt to address the institution’s failures:

“During the course of development, the team was continuously evaluating many possible options for content and for feature stories. In the end, the editorial team took an approach that concentrated on the most important changes and improvements at MSU that have been made over the past six months related to campus safety and sexual assault prevention and education, as well as where the university is headed in the future. 

Alumni consistently communicate to the magazine team that they want to know what is happening on campus, so striking a balance between addressing the problems of the past but also showing the positive impact Spartans are having across a variety of fields was the desired outcome.”

This, for those wondering, is the cultural toleration of abuse. MSU is without any apparent shame arguing, in its defense of a decision to restrict a frank conversation of Nassar’s abuses and the institution’s inability to prevent it, that it preferred to look at anything else instead. This is, of course, par for Michigan State’s course; that contemptible gutlessness is how MSU ended up in this situation in the first place, a point inexplicably still lost on the institution.

None of what happened with Nassar was an accident. It was the result of actors at every level of an enormous institution repeatedly making awful, but intentional, decisions. And yet, in the immediate aftermath of having enabled one of America’s most notorious sexual predators and cost the institution hundreds of millions of dollars, MSU is betting once again on the same strategy that hurt it so badly in the first place. And all because focusing on other things is easier than choosing to do otherwise.


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165 thoughts on ““Can’t We Talk About Other Things?” Asks Michigan State

  1. In general, organizational psychology pretty easily explains why organizations cover up wrong-doing of any kind. There’s always some mental math, some risk assessment that happens, maybe even on the subconscious level, and they decide that doing nothing is easier and less damaging than doing something. We have to figure out a way to change that math. I suppose crucifying the people that enabled this behavior is one way to do it, but humans have been punishing humans for bad behavior for millennia and yet they still keep doing bad things.

    Unfortunately, while the OP enumerates all the reasons we should be disgusted with the organizations mentioned, it doesn’t actually offer any prescriptions for how we could do better. I would like to hear some actual proactive suggestions that might actually move the needle in a positive direction, rather than simply raging against humans failing each other again.

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    • There is but one action, at least in my opinion, that would have any effect: for the NCAA to impose the death penalty on the program. But, alas, there is way too much money involved for that to happen. If Jerry Sandusky raping boys in the locker room shower doesn’t bring the hammer down, nothing will.

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        • The idea might generalize.

          You say that crucifying individuals doesn’t work, and apparently it doesn’t because obviously Nassar dying in prison hasn’t done enough to change the impulse at MSU.

          So we need to impose the costs on more than just individuals.

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          • Make anyone proven to be involved in the cover up criminally and/or civilly liable. Not the organization, the person.

            The potential for abuse here seems large.

            I, a power seeking prosecutor, proclaim you or your company guilty. Any effort you make to disprove or oppose that is now illegal and part of a cover up.

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            • The potential for abuse here seems large.

              How can making “anyone proven to be involved in the cover up criminally and/or civilly liable” be potential for abuse? If they’re proven to be criminally/civilly liable, by law they’re liable.

              Christ, what is wrong with you people?

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              • My assumption is this law won’t be only used against the like of Enron and other black hats in extremely rare situations. You’d be handing a club to the forces of law and order, you should imagine how they could misuse it indiscriminately against the weak before being positive it’s a good thing.

                Never talk to the police.

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                  • I dunno about that. Just think what a hostile prosecutor could do with these kinds of laws to, say, Planned Parenthood. Or, even more realistically and relevantly, an organization like ACORN.

                    One thing that ratchets us towards ever more reactionary approaches to criminal justice [1] is the spectacle of rich, powerful, and influential people getting away with figurative (and very occasionally literal) murder. Some of this may be due to the fact that law enforcement doesn’t have the right tools for the job, but a lot of the time it’s just because law enforcers don’t want to bring the full brunt of the state’s power down on the powerful and influential.

                    [1] There are many, of course.

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              • There’s a difference between proclaiming and proving.

                Yes and no. I’d like the Church to face criminal charges because it seems they’re way past “cover up after the fact” and deep into “enabling various criminals to keep doing their thing”. At the same time, mostly our system proclaims and then plea bargains.

                The line between “cover up” and “argue against” seems pretty grey in some issues. We have various activists trying to criminalize various legal activities, just as a political club. There are ongoing efforts right now to claim oil companies should be held liable for arguing against global warming. So… do we want oil execs to be told they’ll be held personally criminally liable for “resisting”? That not proclaiming the truth of GW is “covering up the facts because the science is settled”?

                At some point this line of reasoning becomes “you back the policy choices I want or I have you arrested”.

                None of which changes that we justly put various Enron officers in jail nor that I think various Church officials should be.

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        • The only hope for the Catholic Church at this point is the legal system indicting, prosecuting and locking up priests and their enablers. I think the same is true of MSU as well. Internally to the organization there is zero incentive to report and clean house as a response to systemic sexual abuse allegations. The only incentive is to minimize the PR damage such abuse entails, initially by covering it up then doing damage control when the cover up is exposed.

          The problem, of course, is that prosecutors are themselves political animals operating within political institutions who *also* have an incentive to not file charges against individuals who cover-up these types of crimes. Whistleblower protections are a step in the right direction, but unless prosecutors are empowered (by clearer laws) and rewarded for going after those people the culture won’t change. Increase the penalties for both not reporting reliable allegations of sexual misconduct but also for being found guilty of having covered them up. Right now, plausible deniability seems like a defeater for prosecution. Make it a higher bar.

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        • Ok – but what about the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church, ENRON, Wells Fargo, the Trump organization, etc, etc, etc? Bad things covered up by organizations…how do we stop it as a broader issue?

          I think this is mixing various issues that shouldn’t be mixed.

          With ENRON the bad actors were running the show, incompetently, for the purpose of being bad. There were criminal things being done by the top guys but they didn’t want to burn down the company.

          Wells Fargo was an example of incompetent management. The managers set unachievable goals which could only be met by rule breaking, and then decided that cutting corners was acceptable.

          The Catholic Church is a midevil organization who used to run the world. The world has moved on, they have not. In theory they’re not a criminal enterprise but have bad apples and are simply used to hiding it.

          Trump is a one man band. His organization exists to cover him.

          Solutions:

          Enron was punished by the market (and various bad actors arrested) and serves as an example of what not to do. This is fine and the acceptable outcome.

          Wells Fargo was motivated by money and will respond to money. Now there is the issue of “risk” so I’m not sure they’re being punished enough. I.e. I steal $100 every day, if caught I must pay $300, the odds of me being caught are 1%… so not only should I continue but I should train others to do the same.

          The Church has multiple unique disadvantages/problems, such as being staffed by fanatics who are motivated by “god” and who presumably view the organization coming clean as losing to “evil”. Some form of collective punishment is probably needed.

          Trump’s organization will not outlive him.

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              • Heh. Nioe catch. I was struck more by the suggestion that since the Church has been around a *long time* it should be granted some sort of deference, a view which will make the Pope quite happy given recent developments.

                ?

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                  • It’s the “used to hiding it” and “haven’t moved on” which are poisonous here and I don’t see how you parse that into “deference”. They’ve had hundreds of years to get their act together so there’s reason to think they’re not going to on their own.

                    They used to rule the world and supply order, but they are to law and order what the flat earth theory is to geology.

                    Acknowledging history is useful if for nothing other than a description of how we got here.

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                    • It’s only when coupled with your complaint that holding people in the cover up accountable for their crimes is a recipe for abuse that I think your historical account is exonerating. Otherwise I agree that the historicity involved is irrelevant.

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                        • Well, I *might* be calling for fresh laws on that front. I really don’t know the status of the legislation, to be honest. If we need more, then lets get more. What I’m most def arguing is more aggressive enforcement against those who coverup this type of f***ing g**d**n bulls**t.

                          But either way, thanks for the more careful reading.

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    • I think it’s really tough to fix without some hard policy trade-offs. If (and this is the big if) we feel comfortable with the conclusion that too many big institutions are turning a blind eye to abuse we can legislate whistleblower incentives (i.e. monetary rewards for reporting or a share of a settlement or fine), and safe harbors that eliminate, limit, or cap liability for self-reporting. The trade off is an increase in false positives, and the reality that one day a legit victim will be barred from going after the big pockets. IMO the ongoing Urban Meyer scandal raises related, and much more interesting questions.

      Most commenters here probably know my priors and that I tend to favor restraint but there are policy ideas out there. They just aren’t without their own set of flaws and given my skepticism I’d leave it to others to argue the merits in favor.

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      • “…we can legislate whistleblower incentives (i.e. monetary rewards for reporting or a share of a settlement or fine), and safe harbors that eliminate, limit, or cap liability for self-reporting.”

        I think this is the direction of my thinking right now. I start from a place of ‘abuses will happen’ and want to incentivize fast reporting. It’s not going to stop bad behavior from ever happening but it will (hopefully) limit the damage as much as possible.

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      • I’m in favor of strong whistle blower protections, but I’m also in favor of strong penalties for ‘crying wolf’, something our CJ system seems to be very reluctant to do when people make criminal complaints that can not even hope to be substantiated.

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        • The challenge, as always, is in writing good statutes that cover these matters and lead to something like fair enforcement. I’m against severe penalties for crying wolf and/or false allegations, for the same reasons I lean so heavily towards due process in similar debates. I don’t think discouraging bad actors is worth the price of silencing murky or harder to prove allegations, but that goes hand in hand with my belief in a relatively free hand and robust procedural protections for the accused.

          What tends to happen is that legislators respond to big scandals like this where the evidence of guilt and conspiracy is pretty overwhelming. Then those laws are applied in illogical or unjust ways in more common, mundane circumstances. Which isn’t (necessarily) an argument against new laws, but its definitely an argument for well thought out and comprehensive laws, enacted after study and sober reflection.

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          • The devil is, of course, in the details.

            My choice of words here, “complaints that can not even hope to be substantiated” does not imply that a complaint can’t hope to be proven in court, but rather that a whistle blower has to be able to provide something to support the claim they are making. Perhaps that is already the case, I don’t know. I just wouldn’t want some nutjob seeking whistle blower protection while claiming that powerful people are running child sex rings out of the back rooms of pizza joints. At least not without some kind of physical evidence to back up that claim.

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            • Been following this subthread a bit, and here’s where I’m at: whistleblowers, by definition, are people who have evidence of a crime and, thus, blow the whistle. Strengthening laws protecting that type of activity won’t increase the likelihood of false reports, seems to me, since in those cases – by definition – there is no evidence of criminal activity. So I don’t see how the one will cause the other.

              If the worry is that people will just make stuff up about others, purely fabricated accusations and so on, to serve their own interests, well, we already live in a culture where that stuff has a massive appeal.

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              • This is missing the mark on what we’re talking about with whistleblowers. There are plenty of laws (including criminal statutes) that reward people financially for bringing offenses to the attention of authorities and leading to a successful prosecution and/or settlement. It’s common in the industry I practice in (healthcare).

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              • That is my worry. If it’s a non-issue, then I am fine making the protections stronger (although not necessarily the incentives, unless you want to make the case that the incentives are lacking).

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                • Well, I don’t really have a view on the effects of making the protections stronger. Not because I think it wouldn’t be effective, but because I have no opinions on whether it actually *would* be effective. I just don’t know. My point was that prosecutors don’t make cases based *merely* on individual’s claims. So incentivizing whistleblowers *won’t* lead to prosecutors inappropriately charging innocent people. I mean, they still have to make that case in court, and that means evidence.

                  The worry about damage to people’s reputations based on false accusations is worrisome, of course, but – as I was trying to indicate – runs outside the legal system (seems to me) and is more cultural than legal. And on that point I agree with you way back upthread that making false accusations against someone which can be *demonstrated* to be deliberately false should incur pretty serious penalties.

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  2. Simple Solutions:

    1. Prosecution of everybody who can be proven to have heard of allegations but done nothing about them, with the expectation being that allegations of abuse will be taken to the police or other authorities. Reporting allegations up the line does not count.

    2. End the statute of limitations on such prosecutions.

    3. Treat organizations as the top-down institutions that they plainly are, and pursue prosecutions against those in charge of them at the time that abuse occurred.

    4. And, for good measure, make a very public show of these prosecutions, such that conspiracy to aid and abet child abuse becomes understood as the crime it very obviously is.

    5. End the practice of assuming that people high up in organizations are good, trustworthy people, and instead assume the opposite. (This holds true across all of the organizations where these crimes have occurred.)

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    • That last one runs counter to the whole ‘innocent until proven guilty’. We can’t have a criminal standard like assuming that the executives of an organization practiced willful ignorance of bad behavior. The government would need to prove the top level willfully shielded itself from knowing about things.

      Civil law, however, has no restraint, and I see no reason why a civil suit can’t operate on the assumption that executives are obligated to be aware unless they can prove that their subordinates went through extraordinary measures to hide things from them.

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      • That last one runs counter to the whole ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

        Not really. Recognizing that those people act on incentives which can and often do run counter to the law doesn’t mean presupposing their guilt. It just means recognizing a basic truth about leaders of big institutions.

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        • What I mean is, if there is a assumption in criminal law that the leader of an organization had to be aware of bad behavior and thus was be default part of a criminal conspiracy by not reporting said behavior to authorities, then we are demanding that the leader prove a negative in order to prove their innocence. They’d have to prove they could not have known, rather than forcing to government to prove that there is no way they could have been ignorant except through willful action.

          Civil law, however (AFAIK & IANAL), has no such bar to cross, and the only reason we don’t have leaders personally sued more often is because corporate law shields the actors from being party in a suit unless it can be shown that they had a direct hand in the bad acts. But that bit of shielding is not a constitutional bar, just a legislative one. As Chip would say, it’s our rule, we can change it if we want.

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          • Sure, an actual trial can be ‘innocent until proven guilty’ but there’s no reason and plenty of evidence actual investigations don’t work that way. There’s a reason, for instance, cops try to clear the spouse or parents if a kid or spouse goes missing, before moving on to other possibilities. I see no reason why during an investigation, that companies shouldn’t have to prove they weren’t covering things up, as opposed to the current benefit of doubt they get from society.

            Basically, prove you’re not a bastard, because the past few decades have shown most people in power will default to being bastards.

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          • if there is a assumption in criminal law that the leader of an organization had to be aware of bad behavior and thus was be default part of a criminal conspiracy by not reporting said behavior to authorities, then we are demanding that the leader prove a negative in order to prove their innocence.

            In that sense, every criminal defendant has to prove a negative: that they didn’t do it. Of course, that’s not how trials work. Instead, there’s evidence a crime was committed and the state must make that case beyond a reasonable doubt. So it seems to me that if there are email chains showing that the CEO approved a coverup then charges are entirely warranted, and the state makes the case defending those charges in court.

            They’d have to prove they could not have known,

            No, they only need to demonstrate that the state’s case doesn’t rise to the level of beyond reasonable doubt.

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            • No, they only need to demonstrate that the state’s case doesn’t rise to the level of beyond reasonable doubt.

              That depends on the starting assumption. If the assumption is that the C-suite is legally a den of bastards, then rising to the C-Suite automatically makes you a bastard, and if there is a criminal trial, you will need to prove you are not a bastard to avoid being found guilty of bastardy.

              If, however, the starting assumption is that executives do not operate with perfect knowledge of all the goings on of their subordinates, then the state has to prove that the CEO had to have known (through memos, emails, recorded calls, or testimony). Civil torts are not obligated to make such assumptions, and one can easily make a case that leadership bears liability for the behavior of subordinates, unless the leadership can make the case to a jury that they could not have known because the bad actors worked hard to hide their activities.

              That said, in cases like Nassar, I tend to find that the state, for whatever reason, is reluctant to chase the reporting chain and find the person or persons who made the decisions to not report* crimes they’ve become aware of, and then prosecute them for conspiracy (or whatever the charge would be).

              *Or who massaged the reports so that they do not appear as serious as they are – this is a known issue in large orgs, that reports which move up a long chain tend to be massaged to appear more positive than they are.

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              • Your description of that second option is the precise cultural failing that ends up aiding and abetting abuse. The idea that university officials (or coaches, or bishops, or executives, or whomever) should not be expected to know everything that their subordinates are doing inoculates them from the consequences of their ignorance. It is also the excuse that is always used, in defiance of the standing that those individuals have demanded for, and of, themselves.

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                • You have kids, right? Do you know every single thing your kids are doing? They live under your roof, so you have no excuse to not be aware, so I’m certain your kids have never done something that you didn’t find out about until much, much later (or perhaps still don’t know about). If your kid steals a car, or gets caught with a doobie in his pocket, it’s perfectly fine to hold you criminally responsible for that, right?

                  A CEO has a lot more ‘kids’, and they are not all under his/her roof, nor are they legally his/her responsibility when they are on their own time. It’s impossible to demand that a CEO be criminally liable for every bad act a subordinate makes without first proving knowledge of the bad acts. Hell, military commanders are not even held to that standard, and they have a whole lot more control over the lives of their subordinates.

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                  • I mean, parents do get charged for allowing underage drinking in their house, even if they aren’t buying the alcohol or anything like that.

                    Also, to be blunt if you don’t mind being be treated as an all seeing economic God who can move mountains and effect economies with a single decision by CNBC, don’t be surprised when people want to give you responsibilities along with your rewards.

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                    • Because the parents were clearly aware of it and permitting it.

                      If mom & dad are spending a long weekend on holiday, and the kids through a house party, the police would have to show that mom and dad were aware the kids were going to throw the house party and that alcohol was going to be involved.

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                  • Well, to be very fair, just last week, we did discover that my four-year-old daughter had spent the last year covering up for a global child abuse scandal involving almost all of her stuffed animals, so I will be stepping down as her father.

                    But somewhat more seriously:

                    1. Employed adults are not kids.

                    2. “on their own time” means what here? Larry Nassar (and Jerry Sandusky, and accused Priests, and Scoutmasters) were not abusing people on their own time. They were at work. And the people that covered for them were also at work.

                    3. It is beyond clear that these people DID know. We’re not even talking about situations in which disconnected CEOs simply didn’t know was going on; we’re talking about situations in which the people in charge absolutely did know what was going on.

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                      • Because they enjoy favorable cultural support from law enforcement specifically and society generally. People are always willing to bend over backward to protect institutions, especially their own. It explains the response to reported sexual abuse throughout Catholic communities, it explains the response to reported sexual abuse throughout the Boy Scouts, it explains the response of reported sexual abuse at Penn State, and it explains the ongoing response we are seeing at Michigan State. If they cannot deny the scandal entirely, then people are desperate to make the scandals as minimal as possible, with as few people as possible involved.

                        It’s a sickness within the culture. Maybe that is a gross pronouncement, but it is impossible to deny what keeps happening, again and again and again, and always happening in roughly the same way.

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                        • I absolutely agree with this, and would add

                          “it explains the response to reported sexual abuse within families”.

                          Everyone thinks parental / sibling / etc. abusers get the book thrown at them if only victims speak out, and that is VERY much not the case. Children who speak out to stop their abuse, regardless of context, are lucky if it even serves to stop the abuse rather than just making things worse.

                          It is a pervasive societal sickness.

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                        • Because they enjoy favorable cultural support from law enforcement specifically

                          If this is true, then all the corporate rule changes won’t do much. If LE is unwilling to take such things seriously…

                          Perhaps we should start with the incentives and accountability of LE, then see what corporate rules we need to change?

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              • If the assumption is that the C-suite is legally a den of bastards, then rising to the C-Suite automatically makes you a bastard, and if there is a criminal trial, you will need to prove you are not a bastard to avoid being found guilty of bastardy.

                You’re starting to sound like Trump, that prosecutors are all corrupt… Yikes.

                I think you’re creating, or seeing, a false dilemma here. Sam isn’t suggesting that all CEOs should be treated like mafia Dons. He’s objecting to the existing alternative and what you seem to be suggesting as well: that CEOs be granted plausible deniability as a matter of course. The third hand, what Sam’s proposing, is to view CEOs and other leaders of big institutions, as making decisions derived from incentives that can and often do run counter to the law and normal morality.

                What he’s saying strikes me as so platitudinous, so trivially true, I have a hard time locating the psychological space where it appears objectionable….

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                • I’m not saying they shouldn’t, I’m saying it CAN NOT be the case in a criminal trial, but it most certain can in a Civil action.

                  If a leader can be assumed to have sufficient knowledge of subordinate activities that they can be assumed criminally liable, then so can every parent should their kids break the law.

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                  • I think you’re still of the opinion that Sam (and me!) are suggesting something nefarious here. CEOs via their corporate charter have an incentive to break the law*. The fact that they don’t shouldn’t be attributed to their moral purity, but a fear of getting caught.

                    *maximize profit for shareholders

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                      • No, Wells Fargo should have had their charter revoked.

                        Be that as it may, Trump is should have his charter revoked. Operationally, he’s no different than Wells Fargo.

                        If only there was consensus!

                        Add: well, sure. Fine them to the point of dissolution… It’s political…

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                • Addendum: If you are suggesting, as Sam does below, that corporations be required to report suspected felonious behavior to LE and that they will be held accountable (up to & including the CEO) should they not, then that is fine. Make that change in the law and the C-Suite has an incentive to make sure their subordinates get LE involved earlier, rather than later.

                  But given the current law, the C-Suite enjoys the benefit of the doubt because there is no law that demands otherwise.

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      • I did not propose abandoning the concept of innocent until proven guilty. I proposed ending the habit of giving those individuals the benefit of the doubt; in other words, stop assuming that “They couldn’t have known,” and work from there. After all, we have been repeatedly asked to believe that those higher up in organizations did not know what was happening within them; where does assumption come from, beyond the transparently desperate idea to believe that things are not as bad as they obviously are?

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          • I’m pretty sure he’s being paid the ginormous salary, possible stock options, or whatever else he has, to create a culture where problems within the company eventually be brought up to him. Ya’ know, part of the actual responsibilities of being the CEO. It’s just not first class airfare.

            If not, why is he being paid the salary that we’re told by CNBC is necessary for capitalism to survive and thrive?

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            • That’s an impossible ask. When you have something like harassment or abuse, you start at the bottom and continue upwards until you get to a level where you can definitely say there was no knowledge.

              Underlings do bad things all of the time without the boss’ knowledge. If the CEO drove a culture that encouraged this, then they should be taken to task for that. But we also can’t expect them to know what is happening at every level of the organization, especially in a large company.

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                • CEOs make big salaries because their decisions affect the livelihoods of a lot of people. Yes, they also have other obligations that fall under employee welfare, but if you think you could keep your finger on the actions of 400,000 employees in multiple countries…please share with me how because that would be a master-class in management.

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                  • CEOs make big salaries because their decisions affect the livelihoods of a lot of people.

                    CEOs make big salaries because their decisions positively affect the bottom line of their shareholders. End of story. Literally. Everything else is a means to that end.

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                  • To get back to the basic premise of the post, sex abuse scandals of the magnitude of MI State, Penn State, and the Catholic Church have all been cases where the clampdown came from the top. Yet, upper echelons have somehow escaped culpability, with only the actual abusers seeing any jail time. Why do you think that is? Why is there no prosecutorial will to go after the people who knew about the abuse, yet did nothing?

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                    • I am not going to speculate as to who knew what. If the higher-ups knew things and did nothing, then it sounds like they are protecting themselves. If they knew nothing, then the their obligation is to clean house until they reach the first person that didn’t know. If they should have known, that is where things get murky.

                      My alma mater became the first Division 1 school to be stripped of a NCAA basketball championship this year. Much of that was based on the assumption that the head coach and AD should have known what was happening, not proof that they actually did.

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                      • I get what , and probably what are going for now.

                        They are not saying that a CEO today should be dragged into court over bad behavior, they are saying that we should change the laws governing organizations such that organizations have a duty to report*, and if they fail in that duty, the liability will fall on the leadership for not creating a culture where reporting is expected.

                        If, say, we changed the law and another Nassar happened, leadership would have to make a choice, either they fall on their swords, or they sit down with LE and chase the reporting chain to find out where the failure happened. If they can show that the failure was so clean that it would be impossible for them to have known or suspected bad acts (subordinates worked hard for their own reasons to keep leadership ignorant), then they get to avoid criminal liability.

                        But if there is evidence or testimony that leadership was willfully ignorant, they go to trial. It’s possible leadership could convince a cutout to take the fall on their own, but even that will probably leave some evidence (paper trail, payouts, etc.).

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                        • There is, of course, a third option, which is making it clear what is to be done in situations of reported abuse, incentivizing those policies, punishing failures to adhere to it, and reminding employees on a fairly regular basis what is, and is not, to be done. It seems impossible to believe that it would be necessary to tell adults that abuse needs to be taken seriously, and handled appropriately, but clearly, both messages are not getting through as currently delivered (because they’re so rarely delivered).

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                          • I.E. Mandatory reporting, right?

                            Again, change the rule governing organizations such that if $CRIMES_OF_TYPE are suspected to have occurred, employees have to report to HR/Legal, and those depts are obligated to determine if LE needs to be involved (which would effectively result in ‘when in doubt, call it out’, let a badge make the call).

                            Right?

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          • Let’s suppose an organization does not have an explicit policy in place to report suspected crimes to local authorities. To my mind, it seems reasonable to pivot from there.

            We know that these organizations – Michigan State above, but plenty of other organizations too – clearly did not incentivize, in any meaningful way, taking reported abuse seriously, unless we’re defining “seriously” as “making it go away so that it limits the institution’s exposure to consequence.” That, to me, strikes me as intentional decision making, and that means that it goes all the way to the top of the organization, regardless of how big it is. Thinking of organizations in this way strikes me as neither unfair nor unreasonable.

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            • Ah, now, that is something we should fix. While I don’t have a problem with not requiring that private citizen A report to LE the known criminal activity of private citizen B, organizations SHOULD have such an obligation when it comes to persons in their employ (as direct hires or contractors) who commit crimes against other employees, or against persons the organization does business with, or using organization resources (including time).

              Organizations should not be able to bury such things by policy. It should be part of the obligations they have for enjoying the various legal charters they operate under. I’m fine with such organizations having internal reporting and investigations so that you don’t have employee A calling the police on employee B because they stole some office supplies, but once we are beyond the realm of low end misdemeanors, LE needs to be involved.

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    • “1….Reporting allegations up the line does not count.”

      Why not? I don’t know anything about legal standards of proof, or legal anything. HR people know that stuff. I have no authority to keep tabs on an allegation, find out if the police have investigated something and dropped it, or for all I know the police have flipped the accused guy and are going after someone bigger. Maybe the accused and accuser have settled out of court and neither of them can talk about it. If I say anything about an accusation, there’s a chance that I could be sued, and that HR knows the rules about that too. I’m going to make sure that the right people in the organization hear what I’ve heard, and I’m going to suggest to any accusers that they talk to the authorities, but I can’t be expected to do anything more.

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      • Agree with , reporting up the appropriate chain does count. It’s up to LE to chase that chain and find out where the failure happens, and hammer on everyone involved with the failure.

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        • Well, not surprisingly Pinky’s argument runs counter to Sam’s argument….

          Suppose you already *know* that reporting the incident to HR will bury it. How does reporting it up the chain “count”?

          The problem Sam is describing, and one we’ve seen play out repeatedly over the last few years, is that the decision to report it up the chain leads to a culture of corruption and coverups and plays into the hands of the coverer-uppers. [redacted – Mike Dwyer]

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          • Does that cultural of corruption have to exist within your own company, or is it just a general, “Companies are terrible,” thing?

            *Also, thank you for acknowledging above that your crossed a bit of a line there. The rest of your comment was solid so I have redacted accordingly.

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            • To be honest I’m glad you redacted as quickly as you did, even tho I still believe it to be true. It wasn’t a good conversational prop, if ya know what I mean.

              I think you’re not quite understanding the point I (not necessarily Sam tho I think he would agree) am making here, which is that the purpose of a corporation is fundamentally in tension with abiding by the law. The purpose of a corporation is to maximize shareholder value (I didn’t make that up, the US Supreme Court did). So laws are abided or not based on an accounting calculus. Corps aren’t fundamentally corrupt or not. They’re fundamentally able to get away with stuff or not.

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                • So if we assume inherent bad intent with every corporation

                  Again, Mike, I’m not making a normative argument here but instead a purely descriptive one. It’s just a fact that the purpose of a corporation is to maximize value to the shareholder (that’s not me, but SCOTUS). OTOH, lots and lots of people think that maximizing shareholder value is actually a normative ideal, even come what may…, and that it’s the pinnacle of capitalism which, as an economic system, has lifted more people out of poverty than any other mechanism known to humankind. (I’m in no position to argue with them.)

                  Corruption isn’t quite the right word here. Illegality is. If, as in the case of the Church and MSU, certain observed actions violate the law, then reporting those violations to law enforecement is the best (and probably only) mechanism available.

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                  • “If, as in the case of the Church and MSU, certain observed actions violate the law, then reporting those violations to law enforecement is the best (and probably only) mechanism available.”

                    So you are saying, if something is illegal, stop reporting things through a company structure and just go straight to the police? If I’m understanding you correctly, I don’t necessarily find fault with that.

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                    • Well, this is where it gets dicey, per some of Oscar’s worries. I think you don’t go to law enforcement willy-nilly, but if there’s a culture of not taking those complaints seriously *in house*, and you’re aware of it, then yeah, go to the authorities.

                      I mean, if you believe that the higher-ups at HR aren’t going to move on internal complaints then reporting up the chain is an empty gesture, one that gives someone a false sense of solace even while they know bad stuff is happening.

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              • But goodwill is an accounting entry. Don’t you think that Wells Fargo or Facebook would have been better off on the straight-and-narrow? Reputation is important. You want employees and customers to believe that you’re decent, and one of the ways to accomplish that is to act decently.

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                  • To elaborate on that a bit…

                    Wells Fargo and Facebook are in wildly different economic sectors, with each sector having it’s own set of competitive challenges and externalities and identifiable costs…. But they both acted consistently with one basic principle. WF gamed the system on the expectation that the fines on their obviously corrupt practices would be less than the total profit received if not for the corruption. And they were correct.

                    FB gamed the system on the expectation that the fines on their obviously corrupt practices would be less than total total profit received otherwise (which as of today, in the US, are zero) so they were correct too.

                    Both take a hit on reputation, but in the US that’s one compelling ad campaign away from being resurrected. Literally. Americans are the most commercially pliable people in the world.

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                • I think they would have, but clearly they didn’t. Or rather, the cost of getting caught (and taking the various hits) was deemed smaller than the potential gains.

                  Remember, people both individually and in groups utterly suck at assessing risk and costs, and the bigger the egos, the more likely they are to assume their abilities are up to the task of mitigating blowback (either because they are good enough to avoid the blowback, or because they trust that others will shield them or give them a hand up after it’s over).

                  Let’s be honest, the personal impact of failures of leadership in the US do not fall nearly hard enough on private or political (or even public) leaders (with the military often being the lone exception). Most times, a disgraced leader is maybe sent to the wilderness (to enjoy a terribly comfortable vacation) for a few years, then welcomed back into the fold none the worse for wear.

                  I have to wonder. how many years will it be before Ms. Simon is giving 6 figure corporate seminars on how to mitigate employee wrongdoing?

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                • Reputation isn’t enforced. It’s a constantly-revised approximation. It’s flawed (except in the case of the obviously-satanic Procter and Gamble), which is one reason that it’s always changing. I’d guess that no industry suffers from this worse than airlines, where their reputations revolve around personal experience, crashes, and videos of people being removed from planes. None of these incidents accurately predict what a future travel experience would be like, but they register in people’s minds.

                  Notice that I said that acting respectably is one way of seeming respectable. It doesn’t guarantee your reputation, and a successful cover-up may have the same result, but it’s generally a good approach. That’s really the point I was trying to make in response to Stillwater’s argument. A company can treat morality as a means to the end of profitability.

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                  • A company can treat morality as a means to the end of profitability.

                    And that’s called “cynicism”. And it is profitable. At least in the short term. I’m not sure what you’re arguing now.

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                    • I’m saying that a pursuit of profit doesn’t preclude obedience to the law. That’s the whole point of what I’ve been saying.

                      If someone’s driving down the road in the right lane, he could be morally sound, or he could be a sociopath who has decided that a law-abiding strategy maximizes his personal happiness. Corporations are sociopathic in that they don’t have emotions or individual souls, but they can pursue profit maximization through a strategy of social responsibility. See? The starting point is the corporation, and the end point is profit maximization, but due to the impact of reputation on the bottom line, a company can be motivated to imitate good citizenship. All that is necessary is a fair legal system and a feedback mechanism such as reputation.

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                      • I’m saying that a pursuit of profit doesn’t preclude obedience to the law. That’s the whole point of what I’ve been saying.

                        And, seriously – or literally, if you’re more comfortable with that verbiage – no one is arguing that it does. The argument is that the incentive to make a profit runs orthogonal to obedience to the law. And that lots of companies and individuals have made money by violating the law, or alternately, creating laws that allow them to make profit or paying the (minimal) fines incurred.

                        The purpose of a company is to maximize shareholder value, dude.

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                        • You said earlier that

                          “…the purpose of a corporation is fundamentally in tension with abiding by the law. The purpose of a corporation is to maximize shareholder value….Corps aren’t fundamentally corrupt or not. They’re fundamentally able to get away with stuff or not.”

                          But just now you said

                          “…the incentive to make a profit runs orthogonal to obedience to the law.”

                          So, where’s the tension if it’s orthogonal? There’s no tension between things that aren’t opposed, or even on the same plane. I’m not playing semantic games here, either, or at least I don’t think I am. I’m drinking a Coke. It’s Tuesday. There’s no tension between those things. I drink Coke every day, and I just had a juice. It’s as meaningless to say (or specify) that people named Joe have incentives to obey or disobey the law as it is to say the same thing about corporations. Maybe “meaningless” isn’t the right word, but it’s close. It doesn’t provide any insight.

                          Am I missing something?

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                          • So, where’s the tension if it’s orthogonal?

                            Orthogonality is divergence, hence tension. It’s built right in.

                            This strikes me as an insipid, desultory, and condescendingly semantic criticism Pinky. I continually expect better from your intellect and ability, but you’ve repeatedly demonstrated that I’m wrong to think you deserve it. More fool me.

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                            • Point of order:

                              Orthogonality within a debate is not divergence, it is, as Pinky suggests, things which are unrelated. Think of the mathematical definition. Two lines which are orthogonal are not, and have never been, parallel, or anything approaching parallel. They are at a right angle to each other. They can not be diverging because they where never anywhere close to one another except at the point of crossing.

                              Ergo, when declaring two concepts orthogonal to one another, the speaker is saying, “these two things only come close at a specific point”. And that point may be definable, or it may be that the point merely exists because someone erroneously brought the two concepts together in an argument.

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                              • Orthogonality within a debate is not divergence, it is, as Pinky suggests, things which are unrelated.

                                Orthogonality means “of or involving right angles; at right angles.”

                                What the hell are you revisionists talking about?

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                                • When performing statistical analysis, independent variables that affect a particular dependent variable are said to be orthogonal if they are uncorrelated

                                  uncorrelated – lacking a mutual relationship or connection

                                  divergence assumes there was a relationship or connection

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                                  • Google definition of “orthogonal”:

                                    of or involving right angles; at right angles.

                                    Notice the absence of a reference to or use of the term “statistical analysis”….

                                    Merriam definition:

                                    intersecting or lying at right angles. In orthogonal cutting, the cutting edge is perpendicular to the direction of tool travel.

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                                    • 1) Orthogonal has more than one definition in mathematics. Almost every single one is suggestive of things not being related to each other.

                                      2) Orthogonal as an definition of relative angle is still suggestive not of things diverging from a common point, but of things that have never had a common origin (with the exception being the origin of a coordinate system).

                                      Think of divergence as being an acute angle. There was a common point, and paths are still moving in approximately the same direction, of not exactly the same direction. Things which are orthogonal were never moving in the same direction.

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                                      • But I wasn’t using it in a mathematical context Oscar. I also used three other words over the course of all my comments to identify the tension (including the word “tension”!!!) which that particular word choice was also used to refer to. This is fucking silly, and perfectly consistent with Pinky’s semantic games when the argument is against him.

                                        You know exactly what I mean, in any of the interations of the same concept I expressed. That *that* particular term of all those that I used has become the fulcrum you think any argument I made turns on is a fucking joke.

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                                        • You know exactly what I mean, in any of the interations of the same concept I expressed.

                                          Actually, I don’t. You used the term to suggest that two concepts are related, when the term means exactly the opposite.

                                          If two ideas/concepts/arguments are orthogonal, then they are unrelated to each other. That is what it means in mathematics, and that definition was extended into the conversational realm.

                                          Your rephrasing of it as a tension was the proper correction, so I’m at a loss as to why you are making a huge deal of this unless you have some attachment to an incorrect application of the term ‘orthogonal’ as it relates to concepts and ideas.

                                          If A is orthogonal to B, they are unrelated, it’s as simple as that. Things which are unrelated can not affect each other, and thus can not be in tension. Hence the confusion.

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                                          • You used the term to suggest that two concepts are related, when the term means exactly the opposite.

                                            Christamighty this is ridiculous. They’re related by *being at 90 degrees* from each other. So they’re perfectly related.

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                                          • This might be a better way to end this absolutely f***ing ridiculous debate. Here’s the comment I made that Pinky objected to:

                                            the incentive to make a profit runs orthogonal to obedience to the law.

                                            If you want to say those to things have nothing to do with each other because the meaning of the word “orthogonal” in statistical analysis yadayada blah blah blah means that they have nothing to do with each other, then I’m perfectly fine with that, since that was my point. The two things – incentive to make profit and obedience to the law – don’t have anything to do with each other, are on tension. The way they’re connected is that a *single decision-maker* needs to account for both.

                                            So thanks for making a point that was pretty simple incredibly complicated but true nevertheless.

                                            Add: I only hope that you now don’t say that those two things *DO* have something to do with each other and we’ll go round this horsehead carved carousel again…

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                                            • So, I’m granting your ridiculously trivial, incredibly academic (I’m running out of adjectives here…) point because it actually sustains the argument it was embedded in, right? Right?

                                              Or do you wanna go back down the rabbit hole again…..

                                              Chriminy. I can’t believe the both of you. Well, Pinky I can, of course, but not you Oscar…. Sad!

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                        • Though more seriously, what you write reminds me of comments I recall being attributed to law-abiding health insurance companies which were very approving of the ACA regulations since they they made rescission a more easily prosecutable crime and curtailed “unfair” market-based, profit-focused decisionmaking.

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          • Suppose you already *know* that reporting the incident to HR will bury it. How does reporting it up the chain “count”?

            This assumes that I actually have a problem with the fact that HR will bury it, correct? Otherwise why would I bother reporting it, I’d bury it myself.

            This is where whistle blower protections kick in, right? If I know it’s going to get buried, and I take issue with that, then I make sure I keep copies of the reports I file, and after I have a few, I call the EOC or FBI or whoever and file a complaint.

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            • Uh, are we still talking about CSA here?

              Because if we are, I’d really rather people *didn’t* decide to not go to the police until they have sufficient proof of the organization burying it…

              I mean, it’s the sexual abuse of children.

              WTF would we not expect that the standard is that anyone who has heard allegations or otherwise developed a suspicion of this *currently* occurring *in the damn workplace* should go to cops, or CPS, or both, AND talk to HR (if they don’t expect HR to use that knowledge for evil reasons)?

              I mean, people can make honest mistakes and there are people at Michigan who probably honestly believed that from what little they heard, Dr. Nassar was on the up and up, and didn’t suspect anything.

              But how is anyone else who did hear, or suspect, such things not morally culpable to an extreme degree if they hear an allegation this serious and leave it up to some other party to decide whether it’s criminally reportable?

              That’s abdicating your responsibility to humanity, in my opinion. I’m open to being convinced otherwise, but I’m having trouble thinking of why.

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              • I’m speaking more of your normative criminal activity here (embezzlement, harassment, discrimination, fraud, risk to the public, etc.). Stuff like Michigan or the Church should most definitely fall under ideas like mandatory reporter.

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                • Ah. I was confused b/c the idea that reporting it up the chain doesn’t count was specifically part of one of Sam’s ideas of what we ought to be doing to end the cutural illness of looking the other way about child sexual abuse. I can see why you’d feel differently about many other kinds of crimes.

                  What gets me is that theoretically a lot of what has been covered up already comes under mandatory reporter, *except* that “mandatory reporter” currently does count “reporting it up the chain” and/or “to a designated party” in a lot of situations.

                  My observations about the way mandatory reporter laws currently seem to work are:
                  1) MR laws erode trust between vulnerable children and people who *would* help them / rescue them / save them if said people knew, because vulnerable children have been threatened with “if you tell this to anyone, they will have to tell the police, and then person X will go to JAIL FOREVER AND IT WILL ALL BE YOUR FAULT” – ofttimes by person X – and/or because vulnerable children are aware enough of the incentives for person X to make them keep quiet that they are terrified of person X ever finding out they talked to anyone
                  2) MR laws do sweet fish-all whatsoever to constrain, punish, deter, or otherwise affect any person who participates in actively or passively sweeping massive abuses under the rug, at least if said person isn’t a grad student or an administrative assistant or someone with equally low amounts of power and cashola.
                  3) Plenty of people feel like the problem’s not really a large or serious one (yes, even now) because hey, obviously if anything like that were happening, it would be stopped, because MR laws exist. (I know neither you nor I think that way about laws, but I’m constantly surprised to find so many examples of 3 out in the world…)

                  I confess I don’t really understand WHY things work this way but I really have trouble seeing them as working any way other than this, or understanding how as a society we’ll ever get out of it.

                  Which means that while I absolutely think it’s morally culpable to not report anything like this to as many agencies as you think might actually lead to the kids in question being helped, I also don’t have much hope that we’ll ever find a way to make mandatory reporting laws work FOR abused kids instead of against them.

                  At least until we change the way individuals think about the sexual abuse of children in the first place, ie dispel the myths and replace them with real stories of real people.

                  Maybe then people will consent to seeing (and doing something about) horrific things that are happening nearly in front of their literal faces.

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  3. I just want to add a bit to a conversation we’ve had as a community over the past few weeks regarding Sam’s posts:

    I think Sam’s posts are valuable precisely because they ride right along an edge of civil respectability. I remember back in the old days of this site when people posted libertarianish views that butted right up to that line, and in lots of people’s minds crossed it, and the site was better for it*. Pushing the boundaries of what’s viewed as “acceptable thought” seems like not only a good socio-political pursuit, but the identity of this site. I applaud him, just as I applauded Jason K and Mark T and even the Rich Buddha for making arguments that stretched and challenged our conception of normality.

    Add: I draw the line at pro-Nazi posts tho. Especially if they’re from Illinois.

    * Tho the fact that the vast majority of those folks defected from the site might be evidence that I’m wrong…

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    • As a counterpoint* to the above, why don’t we see FP posts pushing the envelope by arguing that twelve year old Tamir Rise was justly killed by cops for brandishing a toy gun on a play ground?

      My guess is cuz everyone knows his death is a f***cking tragedy, even tho some of us won’t criticize cop culture as a factor contributing to it.

      *not really a counterpoint, is it?

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      • I don’t know that I agree that these posts are designed to create civil discourse. I think a more accurate statement would be that they are intended as a sort of litmus test for the commenters…disagree if you dare.

        With that said, there is an effort being made to ensure that the comments remain civil, regardless of the intent of the OP…and I think the comment sections on Sam’s last two posts are proof that the starting point does not have to drive the tone of the conversation.

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        • I don’t know that I agree that these posts are designed to create civil discourse. I think a more accurate statement would be that they are intended as a sort of litmus test for the commenters…disagree if you dare.

          i dunno Mike. When I first started commenting here the posting culture wasn’t “disagree if you dare” but “I dare you to disagree cuz I’ll argue my premises with you!” Sam does that. The only difference is that he’s not talking about taxi medallions but cops killing black folk. One is more easily made “objective” than the other. That’s the only difference I see.

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          • Tho the stakes are a lot higher.

            maybe that’s what surprises me about the pushback Sam experiences as a poster. He’s talking about actual lives being actually lost. For some reason, one that I guess my cynical mind can wrap itself around but only reluctantly, it’s easier to talk about the effects of government policy on on-demand transportation than policy that accepts killing unarmed black people.

            Like John Prine said, it’s a big ole goofy world. Not in a funny way tho.

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            • Generally I think the place is richer for Sam’s contributions. It would get old if every post was a smooth cabernet. Sometimes it takes shots of fireball to get the party started.

              That said, on the matter of police shootings, I still think the posts lack depth on the law and policy front. You yourself had IMO the best distillation here where you said:

              If that’s the correct analysis – that there’s a racial disparity between how people are policed – then resolving that particular problem can be accomodated merely be making the disparity go away. For example, by cops killing more unarmed white men (and Latino and Asian men, etc).

              On the other hand, if the analysis is that cops are too prone to use lethal force in general, and that the (unendingly) visible outliers of that predisposition are unarmed black males (cuz racism) then perhaps we should think about reining in cops reflexive tendency to use lethal force as a general procedural disposition. Like, by prosecuting the shit outa those m*****f*****s.

              It’s right and understandable to be pissed about this and I wish more people were as pissed as Sam is. At some point though moral outrage needs to be channeled into something practical and ‘cops need to be less racist,’ while true as far as it goes, does nothing to address the behemoth of bad policy underlying those unendingly visible outliers. I take others in good faith when they say they’re mad about police shootings but I do start to wonder why they only seem interested in attacking it at the most superficial level.

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              • I pick my poison: I can rage against the injustice, I can propose solutions for the injustice, or I can do both. If I do the first, I get people asking me to propose solutions, because just being angry isn’t enough. If I do the second, I get people insisting that the solutions are unnecessary or unworkable, because either the problem does not actually exist (these are the folks who carefully legislate away every police shooting by coming up with some explanation for why, actually, it was okay) or because the solutions risk the possibility of innocent people getting accused (the innocense of those killed is asked, implicitly, to take a backseat), or I can rage about both (and get a mix of the two). So in the end, I write what I write. Some people like it, some people don’t, some people want me to write something else, and some people troll relentlessly, and I just have to accept that about the thing.

                *shrugs*

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                • All fair enough. And as I said above, I am glad you share it (and more glad you go to bat in the comments). It takes guts to post here and even more to wade into the comments. The few times I’ve done it I’ve aimed for light work days since I know I’ll be on my phone sparring with everyone for the next 24 hours.

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    • Hey, if I didn’t care, I wouldn’t argue with Sam as much as I do. Getting these things right is important, so arguing about it is equally important.

      Besides, if Sam didn’t want people to challenge his thoughts, he wouldn’t put them up on a forum where people are most likely going to challenge his thoughts.

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      • I also haven’t seen you objecting to his view that the police kill unarmed black folk with impunity. Heck, from a cultural pov you were the one who really emphasized the relevance of the Castillo case to me. I had my suspicions, but that case sorta put the nail in it.

        Add: not that cop behavior is determined by the NRA and etc so on etc. It’s just a data point…

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  4. Let’s ditch the pedantic point and go back to the original claim, that profit incentive and legal compliance are somehow in sufficient tension that companies have trouble making money if they obey the law.

    To a point, this is true. Regulatory burdens can and do impact profitability, and companies have been known to skirt regulations, or lobby to have them changed, in order to improve profits.

    But when it comes to the topic at hand, criminal behavior unrelated to everyday regulatory compliance, the profit incentive isn’t really at play here. Rather, organizational and professional survival is the driving motive for not being a good corporate citizen and getting the police involved right away. Leadership isn’t thinking, “Shit, Bob down in finance is running an underage sex dungeon in the sub-basement, if we call the cops, we are seriously going to miss the quarterly numbers.”; they are in full on panic mode because if Bob’s workplace side project comes to light, there will be negative media reports, reputational hits to the corporation and the leadership personally, criminal investigations of leadership, fines (both personal and corporate), and the lawsuits… oh the endless lawsuits.

    And all that is assuming that leadership actually has a problem with Bob’s hobby, rather than being indifferent, or worse, active participants.

    So at best, leadership is worried about the survival of the organization and their own careers for the next decade*. At worst, everyone one of the bastards is complicit in the crime.

    If we change the laws** such that reporting known crimes protects the organization with a degree of indemnity (if the matter is reported to police as soon as it comes to light, the organization and leadership can’t be sued unless they are linked to the crime in some defined fashion), that could satisfy those companies where leadership is only concerned with survival. Now they have an incentive to get the police involved sooner, rather than later.

    It won’t affect the other cases though. And cases like Michigan, it seems as though it wasn’t about profit or survival, it was mainly indifference. I truly have no idea how to use the law to make people care, especially if LE is not inclined to take such reports seriously. That’s a cultural and social issue.

    *Profit does enter into, I guess, but saying that it’s all about profit at that point is like accusing a person who just lost their job that they shouldn’t be so focused on making money.

    **Assuming the laws need changing, I have no idea if such indemnity exists already.

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