Category Archives: Ethics Heroes

Ethics Hero: HBO Comic Bill Maher

at_the_end_of_the_world

Yes, you read that right.

Soon dogs and cats will be sleeping together, the world will stop spinning on its axis, and there will be snowball fights in Hell. It is the end of the world.

On the latest installment “Real Time with Bill Maher, “HBO’s weekly conservative/ Republican bash-fest, Maher, whom his progressive guests trust  implicitly to be of a like mind, read a quote that the posted graphic  identified as issuing from Rep. Paul Ryan. The 2012 GOP Vice-Presidential candidate had been slammed earlier in the week for “racially coded” comments about the need to change the culture in the inner city. Here is the quote:

“When it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered. They’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.”

Then Bill let his guests take turns criticizing Ryan for blaming black Americans for problems over whichthey had no control, while sole conservative guest (Bill only allows one token punching bag from the right per show) Rick Lazio was mocked and laughed at by the studio audience for defending Ryan’s point. Finally, after letting everyone hang themselves, Maher revealed that the real speaker was…. Michelle Obama.

As Ralph Cramden…that is, the Great One, Jackie Gleason, used to say,

Thank you, Bill!

He was the perfect one to pull this revealing and damning stunt, being a reliable race-baiter himself (on an earlier show, Maher countered Bill Kristol’s challenge to the liberal cant that Republican opposition to President Obama is based on racial bias by asserting that he “absolutely” believed that.) But Bill isn’t above tricking and embarrassing his loyal allies and toadying audience for publicity and to pose as a truth-teller so his future deceptions, slanders and lies have more credibility. One can do the right thing, and a very beneficial thing, for unethical reasons, and I am absolutely certain that the despicable, amoral, cynical and vicious “comic” had nothing but base motives for this stunt. In fact, tricking invited guests who trust him into exposing their own bias was despicable, terrible host etiquette, and dishonest, but then Bill’s show is something of an ethics-free zone anyway. Anyone, right or left, who enables Maher by appearing on his show has waived the right to have my sympathy. In another case, I might argue that the end doesn’t justify the means, but anyone who voluntarily agrees to keep Maher’s show on the air deserves what he or she gets. This is the Scorpion and the Frog at its clearest.

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Filed under Character, Ethics Heroes, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Race

Ethics Observations On A Journalism Scandal

washington-post-logo

Shame.

Executive Summary: Washington Post reporters Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin wrote a story for the website’s Wonkblog headlined, “The biggest lease holder in Canada’s oil sands isn’t Exxon Mobil or Chevron. It’s the Koch brothers.” The story was essentially false. It was based on easily disproved data from a progressive activist organization. Eilperin has close ties to both the environmental advocates opposing the Keystone pipeline, and desperately trying to turn public opinion against it. She also has tied to the White House. John Hinderaker, on Powerline, his respected conservative politics blog, exposed the Post story as a blatant misinformation with a likely political motive. The reporters responded with a jaw-dropping rationalization, and are currently being excoriated by the Post’s readers online.

The Facts: The Post article by Mufson and Eilperin begins: Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: Dick Masten—When Ethics Trumps Law

A heroic and ethical snack...

A heroic and ethical snack…

One way I can always start an argument on Ethics Alarms is to state my position that willfully breaking the law is per se unethical as a breach of citizenship. Like all rules, however, this one has exceptions. Dick Masten, the Director of Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers, recently demonstrated one of them.

The former police chief was ordered by Judge Victoria Brennan to reveal the name of a tipster in a cocaine possession case, State vs. Lissette Alvarez. Alvarez was arrested in 2013 and charged with cocaine possession. Brennan called for Masten to come into court and confer with her in chambers regarding the case. Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers sparked the eventual arrest after getting information from a tipster who was assured anonymity. Alvarez’s attorney insists that the tipster’s information is part of the evidence against his client, saying, “Ms. Alvarez, in this case, has every right to confront her accusers. But more particularly in this case, it’s not the accuser, but the evidence that the State will use against her.”

Ordered by the judge to reveal the name of the tipster, Masten, insisted that he couldn’t divulge information to be reviewed in closed court that might be discoverable as evidence. “There is a possibility that looking at certain documents, a defendant could work that case backwards and put the tipster at peril, and I’m not gonna let that happen,” he said. In a dramatic touch, Masten swallowed  a slip of paper that held the tipster’s name. “What is personal to me, is the promise,” Masten said before his ethical snack. “Some of these tipsters could end up dead. Not on my watch.” Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Law & Law Enforcement

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Reubin Askew ( 1928-2014)

Askew

In a better United States where only character, demonstrated skill, experience and leadership ability were necessary to become President, Reubin Askew would have been one. Unfortunately looks, luck, money and timing are important too. Askew had the looks, all right; he just missed the other three.

Never mind. Reubin Askew, who died yesterday, did all right.

His father was an alcoholic, and soon his mother had divorced him and was supporting Reubin and his five siblings as a single mother in Pensacola, Florida. She worked as a waitress, seamstress and hotel maid, while Reubin shined shoes, bagged groceries, delivered newspapers and sold his mother’s homemade pies door to door to do his part to support the family. After graduating from high school in Pensacola,  Askew served two years in the Army and, thanks to the G.I. Bill, graduated from Florida State in Tallahassee, where he was elected student body president. He was an Air Force officer during the Korean War, and in 1956 graduated from the University of Florida law school. That same year he joined a Pensacola law firm, and married Donna Lou Harper, who remained his wife for 57 years, until he died.

Askew ran for Florida’s House of Representatives in 1958, and won. After four years in the House, and eight more as a state senator, he ran for governor.  He was already nicknamed  “Reubin the Good,” and his opponent, Republican Claude Kirk, ridiculed the well-publicized fact that Askew, a devout Christian, never drank, smoked or used curse words by referring to him as a “mama’s boy,” not tough enough for high office. Askew’s rebuttal: “I love my mama.”  He won easily. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, History, Leadership, Race

Ethics Heroes: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Michael Robertson: pervert, creep, outrageous abuser of women who deserves to be shunned, despised and condemned by all decent people. But a criminal? Not yet...

Michael Robertson: pervert, creep, outrageous abuser of women who deserves to be shunned, despised and condemned by all decent people. But a criminal? Not yet…

The degree to which our media pundits fail to grasp the essential nature of the rule of law remains confounding, and this is another in a long line of examples. Worse, the lower court in this weird case failed to grasp it as well.

You see, there is conduct that is obviously wrong, which we call unethical. Some of that conduct is so wrong, so harmful, and so difficult to discourage with social opprobrium and informal enforcement alone that we pass laws against it, both to signal strong disapproval but also to add serious negative reinforcement, in the form of tangible punishment, to the mix. Then the wrongful conduct becomes both unethical and illegal. If we skip the essential intermediate step of writing and duly passing the law that designate the conduct as illegal, however, we have established a dangerous, indeed frightening precedent. Then we have created a society where one can be imprisoned or fined for conduct that is regarded as unethical without a law in place that empowers the state to take such actions against citizens who engage in it. Ethics, unlike law, especially on the margins, is never etched in stone. Once society starts imprisoning individuals based on ethics alone, none of us are safe.

Yet this morning I was subjected to the protests of one TV commentator after another who derided the absolutely correct decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to uphold this principle by throwing out the conviction of Michael Robertson, a sick sleaze-ball who was arrested in August 2010 by Boston transit police who had set up a sting after getting reports that he was using his cellphone to take photos and video up female riders’ skirts and dresses: Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Heroes, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Science & Technology

Ethics Hero: Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert

Laser Klan

Putting the jester’s privilege to great use, Comedy Central comic Stephen Colbert not only defied his corporate masters, communications giant Viacom, but mocked them in the process. He was officially warned of the corporation’s “concern” about “Laser Klan,” his planned animated riff involving the Klu Klux Klan during Black History Month. Colbert aired it anyway.

I have to wonder if he would have done the same if Viacom had been concerned about offending Muslims, rather than, hmmmm, let’s see, being worried that some racial victim-mongers would decide that making fun of the Klan, sworn enemies of blacks, Jews, and, oh, so many others, was somehow disrespectful to  blacks in February because only they could…oh, I don’t know what the complaint would be. I can’t blame the suits at Viacom…I bet someone at MSNBC and the NAACP are working up a political correctness offense theory right now, so Colbert will have to humble himself and beg for forgiveness.

Before that happens, though, let’s give Colbert his due. What he did takes principles and guts…and high ratings. Just be careful your numbers don’t fall off, Stephen.

And remember the Smothers Brothers.

___________________________

Graphic: YouTube

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Comment of the Day: “Ethics Hero: Michael Sam”

Dave Kopay, an earlier NFL Ethics Hero who paid the price for honesty

Dave Kopay, an earlier NFL Ethics Hero who paid the price for honesty

The media and sports talk show uproar about NFL prospect Michael Sam announcing that he is gay prior to the upcoming NFL draft has subsided considerably (just wait until Draft Day, though), but the Ethics Alarms threads about Sam’s decision and the ethical dilemmas and choices it represents remain vigorous.

Here is Penn’s thoughtful and well-rendered comment from yesterday, the Comment of the Day, on the post, Ethics Hero: Michael Sam…

Interesting “damned if you do; damned if you don’t” discussion here. The only point I see is that Sam stepped up to the plate (dis gut NFL speak, no?), which took guts. In this, I am in full agreement with Jack’s first paragraph.

Whatever Sam’s motivations or goals, or the reactions (or non) of his chosen profession and its fan-atics, or the general public, I don’t see any value in arguing generalized outcomes (unless they are exercises in ethics, naturally). I can say as much sooth as anyone, based on both anecdotal and empirical evidence; rather, I am talking about a negative value in doing so. [... maybe, if it's up on the tote-board in Vegas.] Such debates just degenerate into … well, what Jack was interpolating into several exchanges: the writers’ biases, and the public’s bigotry (of course, the latter does not exist among EA commenters). Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Comment of the Day, Ethics Heroes, Gender and Sex, Sports, U.S. Society

Ethics Hero: Michael Sam

What NFL team wants to draft Caesar's wife?

What NFL team wants to draft Caesar’s wife?

Michael Sam, an All-American defensive lineman from Missouri and the Associated Press’ SEC Defensive Player of the Year, told ESPN Sunday that he is gay. “I am an openly, proud gay man.” Sam is projected to be a mid-round draft choice for the NFL draft in May. If he is drafted and makes the team, Sam would be the first openly gay active NFL player.

We shall see. Sam’s plan, he said, was to announce his sexual orientation after the draft, which might have been wiser and more practical, though not as ethical. He said that rumors were circulating, so he decided to come out now.

However he arrived at the decision, Sam’s candor is a courageous act, and I assume he will suffer for it. No NFL team has to draft him, and many teams that might have will not, presumably, simply to avoid the distraction of media scrutiny. If they draft him and cut him, will he claim that it was out of bigotry? Will he sue? I think most teams will decide that there are other similarly talented non-gay players available, and let some other team jump into these roiling social change and political waters. Continue reading

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Ethics Heroes: Senate Republicans

crack

Just say “No.”

Sneaking expensive entitlements into long-term national policy is craven, dishonest, and continues the dangerous trend of sloppy, election-driven legislating that has become virtually standard operating practice in recent years. Senate Republicans generated some hope for transparency and the future of honest debate on governing philosophy by using the threat of a filibuster to block yet another extension of the supposedly “short-term” extensions of unemployment benefits.

I’ve written about this recently, so I won’t belabor it, but there was nothing in Democratic rhetoric surrounding the extension to disprove my suspicion, which was  full-blown three years ago, that this is nothing but a strategy for embedding  a permanent government subsidy of unemployment without a national debate regarding the consequences of such a policy. A ‘temporary” benefit is permanent if elected representatives lack the integrity and courage to end it; for an example one need only look to the supposedly short-term “Bush tax cuts,” which a Democratic President and legislature, despite exorbitant rhetoric about how irresponsible they were (and irresponsible they were), extended, and they are in place still. There is not a single Democratic argument in favor of the supposedly temporary extension that would not apply to a policy of paying the unemployed forever. Here are some quotes from “The Hill” yesterday:

  • “We’re one Republican vote away from restoring benefits to 1.7 million Americans.  There is one Republican vote standing in the way of a lifeline to these 1.7 million people.”-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

1.7 million, 1 million, 657,000…when would such benefits not qualify, in Reid’s words, as a “lifeline”? If the answer is never, and it is, why would anyone believe these are intended to be temporary benefits? Isn’t the money just as crucial to an unemployed worker whether he or she has 1.7 million companions in misery, or fewer? Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Ethics Heroes, Government & Politics, U.S. Society

Ethics Hero: Jerry Seinfeld

One wonderful thing about extreme success combined with middle age is that you can, if you have the integrity, speak unpopular truths without caring who objects. Thus it was the Jerry Seinfeld correctly dismissed as irrelevant and misguided the suggestion that seeking racial and gender balance should be an objective in his comedy shows. In response to a question challenging his Web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee“as too white and male, the comedian said:

“People think it’s the census or something, it’s gotta represent the actual pie chart of America. Who cares? Funny is the world that I live in. You’re funny, I’m interested. You’re not funny, I’m not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that, but everyone else is, kind of with their little calculating, “Is this the exact right mix?” To me, it’s anti-comedy.  It’s more about PC nonsense than ‘are you making us laugh or not’.”

Exactly. Not that the race and gender bean counters will let Seinfeld escape with an explanation of such obvious common sense. Here’s Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher playing his full hand of gender, race, guilt and quota cards: Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Ethics Heroes, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Popular Culture, Race, U.S. Society