Category Archives: Ethics Scoreboard classics

Incompetence Personified: Six Years, And He Still Doesn’t Understand His Job.

No change. Amazing.

No change. Amazing.

The flat learning curve reared its ugly head again in President Obama’s post-shellacking press conference. I did not expect him to admit that the election results were a direct repudiation of his leadership, management and policies, because the man is a narcissist, and he can’t process such information. I expected him to spin the defeat as insignificant from a public will perspective, and he did, noting that only a third of the electorate bothered to vote. That is, of course, the 30% that has been paying attention.

But I was genuinely surprised that he still, still, after all this time, displayed a complete lack of comprehension of what Presidential leadership involves and has always involved since the beginning of the position two centuries ago. Persuasion. Compromise. Trading. Negotiation. Repeatedly, Obama kept saying that he was sure that he and Republicans would find “common ground.”  When they did, he said, things would get done. He made it clear, however, that if he didn’t agree that a policy measure was in the best interests of the country or wouldn’t work, he would block it.

This is madness. It may sound reasonable to civicly ignorant casual observers of the government, as is most of the President’s supporters, but that characterization of how laws get made and a system of checks and balances works would produce a D in any political science course in any junior college in America. The President is obviously intelligent. I presume he’s read about the Presidency….I don’t know, maybe he hasn’t. Is it possible that he doesn’t know that every President made deals with hostile legislators that resulted in laws that President detested, in exchange for moving along policies that were worth the sacrifice? How can he not comprehend this, after six years? The man is President of the United States, and after six years, he still thinks the job is about giving orders and making decrees. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Leadership

Ethics Quiz: “God Bless America”

To take this quiz, you have to go to Netflix and watch “God Bless America,” a 2011 black comedy, written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwaite,  that is a strange hybrid of “Network,” “Falling Down” and “Harold and Maude.” Unless, of course, yo9u have already seen it. (For a hint regarding its content and thrust, check the tags, as well as the clip above.)

And your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz question is...

Is this an ethical movie?

You might also want to read this related post, from The Ethics Scoreboard in 2004.

Enjoy!

Or not…

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Popular Culture, Quizzes

Moonwalk Ethics: One Small Word

Neil-Armstrong-on-the-Moon-in-1969July 20 will be the 45th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon, a day of achievement, hope and pride for Americans that seems very long ago and far away in the bleak cynicism of 2014. As I was pondering how to note the landmark in an ethics context, I remembered a section of a post on the Ethics Scoreboard that dealt with the controversy surrounding Armstrong’s famous quote upon placing his foot on the moon’s surface. Here it is, my earliest foray into what has become a frequent theme on Ethics Alarms, “print the legend”  ethics:

“When the legend becomes truth, print the legend.”

This cynical endorsement of our culture’s preference for soothing fantasy over harsh historical truth was the intentionally disturbing message of John Ford’s film, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.” But rejecting Ford’s grizzled old newspaper editor’s warped ethic does not justify the equally objectionable modern practice of using spurious logic to substitute one dubious historical account for another. Even more ethically suspect is the common practice of replacing an accepted, well-supported version of an historical event with a “new improved” version that exists less because of its accuracy than because of its advocates’ biases….

An Australian computer programmer says he has discovered that Neil Armstrong’s first words after he stepped onto the moon in 1969, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” were misquoted by NASA, misheard by millions of listeners around the world, and printed incorrectly in the history books. For decades, wags have criticized Armstrong for botching his iconic moment, since “man” and “mankind” mean the same thing, so the literal meaning of his famous words would be “One small step for man, one giant leap for man.” Armstrong has sometimes grudgingly acknowledged his gaffe and at other times maintained that he thought he included the elusive “a.” He hasn’t fought the consensus verdict very vigorously, as represented by NASA’a transcript:

109:24:48 Armstrong: That’s one small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind. (Long Pause)… Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Scoreboard classics, History, Journalism & Media, Quotes

Betrayal: Robert Gates Gets Even

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When General George Marshall, World War Two military leader, former Secretary of State, and architect of the Marshall plan, was offered a million dollars to write his memoirs in the 1950s, he demurred, saying that there was no way he could write a truthful memoir without undermining people still at work in the government and military.

And then there was David Stockman…Paul O’Neill

…and Robert Gates.

Bottom line: these people betray their colleagues for money, and often, as is Robert Gates’s case, out of spite. Former Defense Secretary Gates, like the others, was given an opportunity to serve his country in a high executive branch position. He was privy to policy discussions and the inner workings of the administration. He was trusted. To reveal details of his tenure while the administration he worked for is still in office, done in a way designed to provoke criticism and embarrass his former associates and boss, is the height of disloyalty, and a breach of implicit confidentiality.

The honorable and ethical way to write such a book would be to wait until it could not actively interfere with the work of the Executive Branch. The people may have a right to know, but they do not have a right to know everything immediately. People in high policy-making positions must be able to be themselves, express opinions, and have productive meetings with the confidence that those they work with are not collecting notes for a future Book-of-the-Month sellout. Books like Gates’s undermine that trust, make it more difficult to get candid and controversial opinions and ideas into the decision-making process, and ultimately hurt all of us. The former  Secretary and those who appreciate the additional ammunition for administration-bashing can assemble a lot of rationalizations for the  book, but they all boil down to “Everybody Does It,” the most threadbare and cowardly rationalization of all.

The ethical thing would have been for Gates to write the book in a few years, or not to write it at all. The ethical conduct for the reading public is to discourage betrayals, no matter who is the one betrayed, by sending such books to the remainders bin.

I suppose I should mention that except for the substitution of Robert Gates’ name for that of Paul O’Neill, and replacing “Treasury” with “Defense,” every word above was written in 2004, when I condemned the sell-out of fired Bush Treasury Secretary O’Neill, who had just provided the information used in a Bush-bashing tell-all called “The Price of Loyalty: The Education of Paul O’Neill.” (Yes, the old Ethics Scoreboard is coming in handy today.) Every word applies with equal force to the new memoir by Gates, who was President Obama’s Secretary of Defense and whose current tell-all attack has set Washington buzzing, except that Gates’s conduct is ethically far worse. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Professions, War and the Military

Michael De Beyer, Like Don Bedwell, An Exemplary Ethics Hero To Inspire Us

Mathis and hero

Writing about my favorite Ethics Hero of all time, Don Bedwell, in 2005, I began, “There are special and rare people whose ethical instincts are so pure and keen that they can make the rest of us feel inadequate.” Like Don Bedwell, Micheal De Beyer is such an individual.

Brittany Mathis, 19, works for De Beyer at his  Kaiserhof Restaurant and Biergarten in Montgomery, Texas, . Her mom and older sister work at the restaurant as well, so she would describe her boss as a family friend. In December, Brittany learned that she has a 1.5 inch brain tumor  She can’t afford to find out whether the tumor is benign or malignant, but her father died from a similar tumor years ago, so her situation is dire. She doesn’t have health insurance.

De Beyer has decided to sell his restaurant, which he opened more than 15 years ago and has an estimated worth of $2 million, to pay for whatever medical treatments are necessary to save Brittany’s life. “I’m not able to just sit by and let it happen,” De Beyer told a local paper. “I couldn’t live with myself; I would never be happy just earning money from my restaurant knowing that she needs help.” Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Heroes, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Health and Medicine, Love, U.S. Society, Workplace

Better Never Than Late: Steve Bartman’s False Exoneration

ALCS - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox - Game TwoMy mind is much on the baseball play-offs today, an unavoidable hangover from last night’s amazing and exhilerating Red Sox-Tigers game, in which Boston went from hitless, five runs down and doomed in the 6th inning to miraculously victorious in the 9th thanks to a storybook grand slam by David Ortiz (you can see the immortal end result of that mighty blow in the photo to the left). It is 10 years to the day from when another remarkable play-off game occurred, infamous in Chicago, in which a fly ball foul that wasn’t caught by Cubs outfielder Moises Alou led to a furious rally by the Florida Marlins that resulted in the hapless Cubs being denied a trip to the World Series—the team’s first since 1935— that their fans thought was in the bag. The reason Alou missed the ball, or so the legend goes, was that a clueless Cubs fan wearing earphones reached out and deflected the ball. That fan, Steve Bartman, was awarded instant villain status. It was accompanied by media attacks and death threats, and poor Bartman left the city and may well have joined the witness protection program or jumped into a volcano. Nobody has heard from him in many years.

There is an ethics lesson in what happened to Bartman: one is never truly a bystander, and you have a duty to pay attention to your surroundings and to be ready to act. If you are present, you can make a difference, and might be needed, even it it is only to get out of the way. Call it the Duty of Life Competence.

The following post, however, is not about Bartman as much as it what happened to him, and how someone who could have come to his aid waited five years—too long—to do it. It was first posted on The Ethics Scoreboard in 2008:

Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Scoreboard classics, Humor and Satire, Sports

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Washington Post Columnist Michael Gerson

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“Most theorists of self-government have maintained that certain modest virtues are necessary to democracy and free markets: deferred gratification, diligence, a prudent concern for the future. There is an ongoing American debate about the degree to which government can or should promote such virtues. But here is an extraordinary case of government actively undermining the moral underpinnings of market capitalism for its own benefit. It holds out the promise of sudden wealth without work or productive investment, engaging in a purposeful and profitable deception. A corrupting fantasy becomes a revenue stream, dependent on persuading new generations to embrace it. Perhaps we have given up on government as a source of moral improvement. Does this mean we must accept a government that profits by undermining public virtues? Nearly 20 years ago, William Galston and David Wasserman wrote, “While history indicates that gambling is too ubiquitous to suppress, moral considerations suggest that it is too harmful to encourage. The most appropriate state stance toward gambling is not encouragement, but rather containment.”’

——- Washington Post op-ed columnist Michael Gerson, on the implications of a new report by the Institute For American Values titled, “Why Casinos Matter.” Continue reading

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