Category Archives: Public Service, Philanthropy, Charity

Ethics Hero Emeritus (Independence Day Division): John Dickinson (1732-1808)

Villainous, singing version on the left; heroic, real life version on the right.

Villainous, singing version on the left; heroic, real life version on the right.

It is the American patriot John Dickinson’s curse that the very strength of character that caused him to stand out among the other Founders and that led them to respect him as much or more than any other also made him the black sheep in the inspiring tale of American independence. This led to relative obscurity. Although Dickinson is honored (along with his wife) by Dickinson College, Dickinson School of Law of the Pennsylvania State University, and University of Delaware’s Dickinson Complex, he is largely unknown to most Americans. He would be even less known, had Peter Stone not chosen to make him the villain of his 1969Tony-winning musical “1776,” where he was portrayed as a conservative loyalist who almost single-handedly foils the efforts of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin to declare independence from Great Britain. Whatever that choice’s dramatic virtues, it was unfair to Dickinson in every way.

Raised a Quaker, educated as a lawyer and a farmer by trade, Dickinson began public life in 1760 when he was elected to the Delaware legislature. During the next fifteen years he served both in that body and in the Pennsylvania legislature, a rare dual service made possible because he owned property in both colonies.

When the British Parliament instituted measures in the Colonies to raise revenue and provide for the quartering of British troops, Dickinson was one of the most eloquent and persuasive critics of the Crown, always with the intention of finding a satisfactory negotiated accord that did not involve the threat of armed rebellion. He urged Americans to rely primarily on economic pressure to oppose the hated Stamp Act, and he enlisted the influence of British merchants on the colonists’ behalf. His diplomatic orientation seemed like a prudent antidote to the firebrands calling for revolution in Boston, so the Pennsylvania legislature appointed him to represent that colony at the Stamp Act Congress of 1765. There he advocated the proposition that reconciliation was possible if the King and Parliament would only realize that colonial opposition was in the grand tradition English principles of political liberty. Dickinson set his reasoning to paper in his “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania,” a series of deft essays that brought Dickinson international fame as a man of reason and principle. Continue reading

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Animal Abuse, Law, Ethics…And More Cognitive Dissonance

Gothic pets

Some animal abuse issues are ethics slam dunks, some should be, and some are more complicated than the wo people posture over them seem to think. Here are three examples from the news:

1. Tattooed Kittens?

A law about to be passed in New York, S.6769, will make it illegal for pet owners to inflict tattoos or piercings on their pets except for medical purposes or when a tattoo is used strictly for identification purposes. Violations would carry fines of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

“I believe that if given the choice, animals would decline to having themselves undergo a painful procedure of being either tattooed or pierced,” said New York State Senator Mark Grisanti, a Republican who is supporting the measure introduced by Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Rosentha in 2011.

Ya think? The fact that a law would even be necessary to articulate that tattooing or piercing a pet for the owner’s amusement is horribly wrong and obvious cruelty foretells the approaching apocalypse.  That such a law would take three years to pass also tells us something bad about, oh, New York, politics, partisan warfare, human intelligence…just about everything. The problem, was brought to public attention by the prosecution of this idiot.

2. The Opossum Drop Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: The Sensitive Cop’s Facebook Confession

sensitive cop“If there was any time I despised wearing a police uniform, it was yesterday at the Capitol during the water rally. A girl I know who frequents the Capitol for environmental concerns looked at me and wanted me to participate with her in the event. I told her I have to remain unbiased while on duty at these events. She responded by saying, ‘You’re a person, aren’t you?’ That comment went straight through my heart!”

Thus did Douglas Day, a police officer at the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, confess to Facebook friends his mixed emotions while doing his duty.

For this he was fired.

The day Day wrote his Facebook post, Capitol Police Lt. T.M. Johnson told him  that the post “shows no respect to the department, the uniform or the law enforcement community which he represents.”  About a week later, Sgt. A.E. Lanham Jr. wrote to Day that he “found the entire [Facebook] posting to be extremely offensive and shocking … This is just another episode of many incidents which show his bad attitude and lack of enthusiasm toward police work in general and toward our department in particular.”

Day was thunderstruck. “If they believed there was some sort of a violation I made, then why wasn’t it addressed? They never brought me in and never said anything to me,” Day said. “In 2½ years working there, I had no disciplinary action taken against me at any time. Nothing was ever written up and I received no reprimands.” So much for the “many incidents.” Continue reading

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The Circus, The Animal Lovers, And The Saint’s Excuse

Ringlings_Elephant

Animal rights groups just paid a large price for falling prey to #13 on the Rationalization List, The Saints Excuse, which is described in part thusly..

This rationalization has probably caused more death and human suffering than any other. The words “it’s for a good cause” have been used to justify all sorts of lies, scams and mayhem. It is the downfall of the zealot, the true believer, and the passionate advocate that almost any action that supports “the Cause,’ whether it be liberty, religion, charity, or curing a plague, is seen as being justified by the inherent rightness of the ultimate goal…The Saint’s Excuse  allows charities to strong-arm contributors, and advocacy groups to use lies and innuendo to savage ideological opponents. The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else.

And thus it was that  in 2000 a former Ringling Brothers circus worker filed a lawsuit claiming that the circus’s elephants were abused, just as animal rights groups have long claimed. It was later determined that he had been paid at least $190,000 by the animal rights groups, including the Humane Society, the Fund for Animals and the ASPCA, to back their charges. This is illegal. This is unethical. After a 2009 trial found that the abuse allegations could not be proved, the circus sued for legal fees. The ASPCA paid Ringling Bros. $9.3 million in a settlement in 2012, and now the other groups will have to cough up $16 million. They got what they deserved. Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: NBA Clippers Owner Donald Sterling (And Yes, I Mean It)

When you think about it, the champion in this fight would almost have to be repulsive for a victory to mean anything.

When you think about it, the champion in this fight would almost have to be repulsive for a victory to mean anything.

The other shoe dropped, and however it may be intended, it’s an ethical shoe. Donald Sterling now says that he’ll refuse to pay the 2.5 million dollar fine levied on him by NBA Commissioner Silver and his fellow owners for what he said in his own bedroom.

Good. I was waiting for this, and hoping that would be his course of action. Ironically, a good, compliant, progressive billionaire, and one who was not, unlike Sterling, a repulsive asshole, who was nationally embarrassed as Sterling has been, would crawl quietly into a hole, periodically send out big checks and mea culpas to Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and the NAACP, and in the process, take  big, bloody chunks out of our freedom to think and speak freely, and our personal privacy. Sterling is doing the right thing, although it is going to cause him to be even more vilified by the media and even more assailed as the personification of racism than he has been already—and that has already been disproportionate to his “crime.”

Fighting is also going to be expensive. Never mind. It is revolting to write it, or even think it, but he is fighting for all of us. Continue reading

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All Aboard The Sterling Train Wreck: The Foolish, The Grandstanders, The Dishonest And The Irresponsible

Hypocrites

The question is, which is which?

I’ll let you puzzle it out; I’ll be busy retching:

And now, the latest and deplorable passengers on this distasteful Ethics Train Wreck…

Sen. Harry Reid

Reid saluted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for his “work to swiftly move to stamp out bigotry in its ranks,” as if that had any thing at all to do with what Silver was doing. Reid’s endorsement, however, places a high elected official’s stamp of approval on the proposition that those with unpopular ideas and biases should be punished and have their property taken away from them. Reid said that the league has set a new standard for how professional sports leagues should respond to racism. Of course, Sterling did nothing racist at all, not did he attempt to, or publicly announce such intent. The “new standard” that Reid is applauding is economic penalties for non-conforming beliefs. Finally, Reid attempted to make the absurd parallel to the Washington Redskins’ controversial name: “How long will the NFL continue to do nothing — zero — as one of its teams bears a name that inflicts so much pain on Native Americans?” Reid asked Continue reading

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Clever! But Wrong: “Hoodies For Hobos”

Homeless advertisng

“Team ADD -A-BALL is proud to announce our new outreach program ‘Hoodies for Hobo’s’. All profits from sweatshirt and t-shirt sales go towards outfitting Seattle’s street people with some fresh gear. I will post a pic of every new bum we spruce up. Thanks everyone.”

—-Add-a-Ball owner Brad Johnsen, on his company’s Facebook page.

Yes, Brad, who casually refers to his walking billboards as “bums,” has what he sees as a perfect plan. Profits profits from all  T-shirt and apparel sales at Johnsen’s Seattle arcade will be used to outfit the city’s homeless “with some fresh gear,” all sporting the arcade’s name and logo. Everybody wins! He gets publicity and good will for this—wink, wink—”charity,” the homeless get spiffy new clothes, and he gets really cheap advertising.

So what if he robs the objects of his charity of their dignity, exploits them, and dehumanizes them into the equivalents of car bumpers? Hey, no plan is perfect! To his credit, sort of, Johnsen’s comments don’t exactly leave much room for doubts about his compassion and motives. “If it also encourages people to go play pinball and get drunk—all the better,” he says.

If he was interested in anything other than the cheap publicity…like, say, the welfare of the homeless, Johnsen would hand out clothes without the logo. I’m sure he wouldn’t understand why I say that. Or why paying the “bums’ who choose to wear the ones that advertise his business would be the ethical course, since it would compensate the homeless for their service and give them a sense of self-worth, rather than making them, in effect, unpaid sandwich-board wearers for the privilege of wearing a lousy hoodie.

I wonder how many people see nothing unethical Johnsen’s scheme. I’m a little afraid to find out.

[Addendum (4 PM 4/10/14): I should have mentioned in the original post that Kant would have agreed with me. This is a Categorical Imperative situation, using human beings as a means rather than an end: "Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end."  The fact that the cynical ploy can be represented as a one that aims at clothing the homeless makes the label a little shaky, and I admit that the "Ick Factor" looms large here.]

________________________________

Pointer:  Drudge

Facts: Vocative

 

 

 

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Fundraising Ethics Controversy in Michigan! Naming Buildings After Big University Donors: Ethical or Not?

Enron-Field

I worked in the development (capital fundraising) office of Georgetown University for many years, and am well aware of the sausage-making that goes into attracting big donations. Thus the controversy that recently erupted in Michigan is of interest both for its ethical content and the way it dances around inconvenient truths.

With the college student’s wonderful knack for avoiding the obvious, the student newspaper of Grand Valley (Michigan) State University declared ethics war on what it called “billboards”: buildings and lecture halls named after corporate and individual donors. With naivete and boundless ignorance of the world of philanthropy and non-profit fundraising, the editorial declared (among other things)…

  • “What’s next? Will we turn Lake Huron 133 into the “Amway Lecture Hall?” Will the backs of our chairs have plaques dedicated to the lower-level donors?” COMMENT: For enough money, of course the university would rename the hall. Why should it care what a lecture hall is called, if it can avoid having to raise tuition? As for the backs of seats: did the editors do any research at all? Opera companies, theaters, museaums and other non-profit entities do exactly this. So what?

Continue reading

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Dana Milbank’s Weird and Un-American Concept of Loyalty

blind followers

This happens now and then—I consider posting on a topic, decide, “Nah, I must be the only one who sees it this way,” and then another commentator—one people actually pay attention to—flags exactly the same issue I decided nobody would notice or care about. This time it was James Taranto, one of my favorites, who saw the same disturbing sensibilities that I did in Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank’s bizarre column today.

Titled “Why millennials have abandoned Obama,” the Post’s flakiest liberal accuses young voters of disloyalty to their hero because they don’t want to sacrifice their own autonomy and well-being to help the President’s misbegotten health care bill succeed. It is well-known that a sufficient number of young Americans must sign up for health care insurance—which, for them, is over-priced under the law—to make the rest of the numbers add up. So far, they aren’t doing it. Milbank:

“The administration announced last week that only 1.08 million people ages 18 to 34 had signed up for Obamacare by the end of February, or about 25 percent of total enrollees. If the proportion doesn’t improve significantly, the result likely will be fatal for the Affordable Care Act.”

Milbank then makes the jaw-dropping argument that Obama should take this personally, that it is a betrayal by his troops in his hour of need. After all, Milbank tells us, these were the same voters who elected Obama, seeing him as a transformative candidate. Shouldn’t they be willing to sacrifice now and make their health insurance decisions according what will be best for him?

What??? Of course not! Oh, I have no question that the President thinks this way. It was Obama, after all, whose solution to the depressing unemployment numbers has been to tell business leaders to hire more people, because he said so, and because it would make his policies look more successful. Businesses would be happy to hire more employees, of course, if the stuttering administration didn’t keep changing the rules, laws and assumptions, wasn’t feeding global uncertainty by inept foreign policy, threatening to make energy costs skyrocket, and generally be the least business-friendly government in recent memory. Businesses don’t change their behavior because it helps a President politically, they do it because it will help them make money. The same is true of individuals, young and old. “This will make my life easier and more secure” is a reason to buy health care. “This will help a President I voted for rescue his grand plan that he lied about, managed incompetently and that isn’t working right” is not.

Why does Milbank think it is? Continue reading

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50 Years After Kitty Genovese, Inhumans On A Bus

The title describes the public transit riders who watched this disturbing scene unfold on a Philadelphia bus, and did nothing:

2014 is the 50th anniversary of the infamous Kitty Genovese case, and dueling books on the incident either recount the accepted version that 38 people in an apartment building heard the 28 year-old woman’s screams as she was being stabbed to death but “didn’t want to be involved” and let her die, or adopt the revisionist theory that the apathy of bystanders was unfairly and inaccurately hyped by the news media. The incident on the Philadelphia bus tells me that the revisionists have a burden of proof that will be hard to meet. There was plenty of evidence already, like here, or here, or here, or here, or more recently here, that Kitty Genovese might not fare any better today. Continue reading

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