It’s Thanksgiving, And Time For The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide [Updated And With A New Introduction For 2017 ]

 

Last year (to the day) when I posted the Ethics Alarms ethics guide to Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life,” one of the great ethics movies of all time, as this blog’s official welcome to the holiday season, I wrote, “I suspect we need it more in 2016 than usual.”  As it turned out, we need it even more in 2017.

Multiple forces have been hard at work for a full year now, roiling the nation, painting the future as dire and the present as unbearable, trying to divide us and even to encourage discord and conflict during this special time when we are supposed to remember what is most important in life. In case you have been infected, it’s not politics and not partisan agendas, but love, family, community, kindness, and friends. The simple message of Frank Capra’s masterpiece—it has aged far better than his other films, including, and maybe especially, “Mister Smith Goes To Washington”—that no one is a failure who has friends, is vital to recall when so many are rejecting friends because they don’t conform to some ideological talking point. This is madness, and watching and heeding “It’s A Wonderful Life” is a better remedy than Thorazine.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer actually told his Twitter followers this week to bring a chart prepared by a  think tank to attack the Republican tax plan during Thanksgiving dinner. This is part of the effort to politicize everything in our lives, by zealots who value power over humanity, country, and spirituality. They belong with Mr. Potter, not George and Clarence.

I need this movie more in 2017 than usual for other reasons. It has been a year in which I have lost many peers and cherished friends, and listened to too many of the living bemoan the passage of time and looming mortality.  I don’t think like that—a lifetime gift from my brave and fatalist father—but I can’t pretend that the game clock isn’t running out, or not face the fact that I have not sunk anywhere near the baskets I could have and should have. Fortunately, what I wrote in an earlier year introducing this post still resonates…

Everyone’s life does touch many others, and everyone has played a part in the chaotic ordering of random occurrences for good. Think about the children who have been born because you somehow were involved in the chain of events that linked their parents. And if you can’t think of something in your life that has a positive impact on someone–although there has to have been one, and probably many—then do something now. It doesn’t take much; sometimes a smile and a kind word is enough. Remembering the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life” really can make life more wonderful, and not just for you.

Have a terrific Thanksgiving, everyone.

And here we go:

1. “If It’s About Ethics, God Must Be Involved”

The movie begins in heaven, represented by twinkling stars. There is no way around this, as divine intervention is at the core of the fantasy. Heaven and angels were big in Hollywood in the Forties. The framing of the tale seems to advance the anti-ethical idea, central to many religions, that good behavior on earth will be rewarded in the hereafter, bolstering the theory that without God and eternal rewards, doing good is pointless.

Yet in the end, it is an ethics movie, not a religious one. George lives an ethical live, not out of any religious conviction, but because step by step, crisis after crisis, he chooses to place the welfare of others, especially his community and family, above his own needs and desires. No reward is promised to him, and he momentarily forgets why we act ethically, until he is reminded. Living ethically is its own reward.

We are introduced to George Bailey, who, we are told, is in trouble and has prayed for help. One has to wonder about people like George, who resort to prayer as a last resort, but they don’t seem to hold it against him in Heaven. The heavenly authorities assign an Angel 2nd Class, Clarence Oddbody, to handle the case..He is, we learn later, something of a second rate angel as well as a 2nd Class one, so it is interesting that whether or not George is in fact saved will be entrusted to less than Heaven’s best. Some lack of commitment, there— perhaps because George has not been “a praying man.” This will teach him—sub-par service!

2. Extra Credit for Moral Luck

George’s first ethical act is saving his brother, Harry, from drowning, an early exhibition of courage, caring and sacrifice. The sacrifice part is that the childhood episode costs George the hearing in one ear. He doesn’t really deserve extra credit for this, as it was not a conscious trade of his hearing for Harry’s young life, but he gets it anyway, just as soldiers who are wounded in battle receive more admiration and accolades than those who are not. Yet this is only moral luck. A wounded hero is no more heroic than a unwounded one, and may be less competent as well as less lucky.

3.  The Confusing Drug Store Incident

George Bailey’s next ethical act is when he saves the life of another child by not delivering a bottle of pills that had been inadvertently poisoned by his boss, the druggist, Mr. Gower. This is nothing to get too excited over, really—if George had knowingly delivered poisoned pills, he would have been more guilty than the druggist, who was only careless. What do we call someone who intentionally delivers poison that he knows will be mistaken for medication? A murderer, that’s what.  We’re supposed to admire George for not committing murder.

Mr. Gower, at worst, would be guilty of negligent homicide. George saves him from that fate when he saves the child, but if he really wanted to show exemplary ethics, he should have reported the incident to authorities. Mr. Gower is not a trustworthy pharmacist—he was also the beneficiary of moral luck. He poisoned a child’s pills through inattentiveness. If his customers knew that, would they keep getting their drugs from him? Should they? A professional whose errors are potentially deadly must not dare the fates by working when his or her faculties are impaired by illness, sleeplessness or, in Gower’s case, grief and alcohol.

4. The Uncle Billy Problem

As George grows up, we see that he is loyal and respectful to his father. That’s admirable. What is not admirable is that George’s father, who has fiduciary duties as the head of a Building and Loan, has placed his brother Billy in a position of responsibility. As we soon learn, Billy is a souse, a fool and an incompetent. This is a breach of fiscal and business ethics by the elder Bailey, and one that George engages in as well, to his eventual sorrow.

5. George’s Speech

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Finally! The Naked Congressman Principle!

Thoughts: 1) What woman wouldn’t be turned on by THAT? 2) Ew. 3) Weiner’s selfie was better 4) EW!

I’m sure Democrats will be thankful for this. Ultra-conservative Texas Congressman Joe Barton, in his fourth decade in the House, has a nude selfie circulating on the web. As I note above, ew. There are some material distinctions from the Weiner debacle: Joe was separated when he sent them; he wasn’t showing his man-things to cyber-pal he he had never met, and most important of all, he didn’t lie about it, immediately confirming that the selfie was indeed his. which, unfortunately, means that he is also copping to sexting the message “I want u soo bad. Right now.Deep and Hard.”  The details don’t matter, though. Barton has provided the perfect template for the Naked Congressman Principle, which is so similar to the Ethics Alarms Naked Teacher Principle that not much elaboration is required.

The Naked Teacher Principle states that a secondary school teacher or administrator (or other role model for children) who allows pictures of himself or herself to be widely publicized, as on the web, showing the teacher naked or engaging in sexually provocative poses, cannot complain when he or she is dismissed by the school as a result.

A tweak here, a word changed there, and Voila! Naked Congressman Principle! Hence,

A member of the House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate who allows pictures of himself or herself to be widely publicized, as on the web, showing the elected official naked or engaging in sexually provocative poses, cannot complain when he or she is required to vacate his or her high office.

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Thanksgiving Ethics Quiz: The Girl Scouts Anti-Hug Campaign

From the Girls Scouts website:

Holidays and family get-togethers are a time for yummy food, sweet traditions, funny stories, and lots and lots of love. But they could, without you even realizing it, also be a time when your daughter gets the wrong idea about consent and physical affection.

Have you ever insisted, “Uncle just got here—go give him a big hug!” or “Auntie gave you that nice toy, go give her a kiss,” when you were worried your child might not offer affection on her own? If yes, you might want to reconsider the urge to do that in the future.

Think of it this way, telling your child that she owes someone a hug either just because she hasn’t seen this person in a while or because they gave her a gift can set the stage for her questioning whether she “owes” another person any type of physical affection when they’ve bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life….

…Give your girl the space to decide when and how she wants to show affection. Of course, many children may naturally want to hug and kiss family members, friends, and neighbors, and that’s lovely—but if your daughter is reticent, don’t force her. Of course, this doesn’t give her license to be rude! There are many other ways to show appreciation, thankfulness, and love that don’t require physical contact. Saying how much she’s missed someone or thank you with a smile, a high-five, or even an air kiss are all ways she can express herself, and it’s important that she knows she gets to choose which feels most comfortable to her.

Your Ethics Alarms Thanksgiving Ethics Quiz:

Is this responsible advice, or does it go too far?

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Was Charlie Rose’s “Apology” The Worst Of All?

I’m thinking about it.

Harvey Weinstein, you recall, announced that he would devote himself to crushing the NRA. Analysis: Desperate deflection and virtue-signalling.

Kevin Spacey decided to finally announce that he was gay. Analysis: Appeal for support and sympathy from a minority group he had spurned for decades

Bill O’Reilly continues to insist that he never did anything wrong, and that it was all a partisan hit job. Analysis: Deny, deny, deny.

Louis C.K. explained that he misread signals—as if there is any signal from a woman that says, “I want to see a chubby, homely, middles aged guy masturbate nude.” Analysis: Ridiculous and pathetic.

George H.W. Bush sought sympathy—he’s old and in a wheelchair—and anyway, it was all in good fun. Analysis: Generational ignorance

Al Franken gave an apology that said that female accusers should be believed, though he didn’t agree with his female accusers account, and that there was no excuse for his conduct, though he was just joking and jokes sometimes look bad in retrospect. Analysis: Cynical double-talk

One common thread that cannot be missed is that all of these men are assholes. Their words brand them as such. This figures, since only assholes harass women in the workplace, or anywhere else. I think this is why Charlie Rose’s statement angers me so much, specifically when he said,

“I have learned a great deal as a result of these events, and I hope others will too. All of us, including me, are coming to a newer and deeper recognition of the pain caused by conduct in the past, and have come to a profound new respect for women and their lives.”

Don’t drag me into this, Rose, or any of the millions of men who always treat women as equals, respectfully, and fairly, both socially and professionally. I don’t need any “newer and deeper” recognition, you fecal creep, that putting hands on women’s upper thighs uninvited, parading naked, groping butts, making lewd phone calls  to co-workers and making young interns watch sexually explicit films are all unambiguously wrong and intolerable. I didn’t need it 40 years ago, and I don’t now. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/22/17: Uber, Thanksgiving Hate, Accountability, Trump’s Unavoidable Choice, And Ruing The Day That Changed Everything

Good Morning.

…But 54 years ago it seemed like a beautiful morning in Dealey Plaza…

1 “President Kennedy is dead…” I heard those word over my little black transistor radio that I mostly used to listen to Red Sox games. Let’s see how many news stories take note of the historical significance of today: the anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Dallas. It is the date when a disturbed crypto-Communist radical took the fate and future of an entire nation and culture in his hands, and squeezed them to pulp—one of the three or four most unethical acts in U.S. history. As readers here know, I am not a Jack Kennedy admirer. Nonetheless, in “Back to the Future II” terms, it’s impossible to imagine what 2017 America would be like had Lee Harvey Oswald not shot the top of JFK’s head off in 1963, but it’s easy to imagine that we would be better. The assassination created a violent shift in the time/space continuum, and we never got back on track.

2. Bye-Bye Uber, you’re also dead to me. Uber is untrustworthy and unethical, and anyone who trusts the company going forward is a fool as well as an enabler of corporate misconduct. This is signature significance: the company revealed that hackers stole 57 million driver and rider accounts last year, yet Uber withheld that fact from the public until now after paying a $100,000 ransom to the hackers. Ethical, competent, trustworthy companies don’t operate this way.

It wasn’t just the company’s juvenile and piggish former CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick. The company he created inherited his ethical deficits like a lethal gene. Any company is obligated to reveal hacks of personal data to members of the public who might be harmed by them immediately.

If you use Uber after this, you’re an idiot. You’re also sending the message that an epic breach of trust by a corporation will be shrugged off via one or twenty rationalizations, like 19. The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!” or “Everybody makes mistakes!”

Keep sending that message, and pretty soon they’ll be using 1. The Golden Rationalization, or “Everybody does it.”

3. More Tales of the Anti-Trump Deranged: This essay in the virulent Trump-hating CG is meant humorously, but also is serious in its nastiness. Joe Berkowitz’s call to good little resistance members and Hillary bitter-enders to “ruin thanksgiving” as their “civic duty” stands as a self-indictment of the ugly, divisive mindset that so much of the Left has descended into over the past year. In fact, with just a few tweaks, it could have been written by a conservative satirist—if there were such things.

One aspect of Trump’s election turning the U.S. into a “Nation of Assholes” that I did not see coming was progressives and Democrats feeling liberated to go full-asshole themselves. This article shows the phenomenon. In particular, Berkowitz demonstrates how the Left can no longer distinguish between legitimate policy disagreements and what should be a matter of non-partisan consensus. His argument for using Thanksgiving to punish Trump supporting relatives by turning a celebration of faith and family into a table-top Gettysburg goes like this:

They can’t stand idly by while President Deals tramples every other American tradition and yet somehow expect that Thanksgiving will be normal too. [Note: Supporting the elected President is one of those traditions, and a crucial one.]…Here are a few suggestions for how to ruin Thanksgiving, arranged by ascending order of righteous fury:

Don’t show up. For some parents, your absence will speak louder than any sodden arguments over the density of pumpkin pie. If you can’t even look them in the eye, they’ll know you mean business. [Note: Is he joking? I know many families who are eschewing family gatherings for exactly this reason. Yes, I put most of this on the Angry Left and Barack Obama, aided and abetted by late night TV comics and the news media. They have set out to divide the nation by race, gender, age, class and party, seeking to build metaphorical walls where once there were divisions that could be forgotten or ignored during recreation and the shared commonality of citizenship. .]

Show up and be kind of an asshole. No hugs; only stiff, formal handshakes. During the football game, talk about police brutality nonstop. Take any opportunity to emphasize just how much Bruce Springsteen and the entire E Street band loathes Trump….[Note: See?]

Scorched Earth. Not even a handshake; just stare, disgustedly, at their outstretched arms….[Note: Among the  inarguable outrages that the essayist claims justifies such treatment: not supporting an increase in the minimum wage, refusing to uncritically accept climate change propaganda, and the President speaking “almost exclusively in racist dog whistles and ‘locker room talk.'” You know, racist dogwhistles like opposing the tearing down statues of Robert E. Lee,  correctly stating that a white nationalist group has the same rights to assemble and protest as anyone else without being attacked,  or objecting to NFL players inflicting an incoherent protest on their captive audience. ]

I was asked for ethics advice regarding looming political disputes during Thanksgiving, and here it is: It is rude and unkind to raise a topic you know is emotional and painful for people at the table. So don’t do it, just as you wouldn’t (I hope) deliberately raise such topics as Cousin Cecile’s abortion, Jim Jr.’s arrest, or Uncle Ethan’s IRS problems. Continue reading

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Legal, Compliant, And Wrong: A Law Firm Helps Two California Cities Prey On Their Own Citizens

Here’s something to be thankful for: be thankful you don’t live in Indio or Coachella California, where unscrupulous city governments and an enterprising law form conspire to fleece their citizens. It works like this:

Step One:  Indio and Coachella hire a private law firm, Silver & Wright, to prosecute citizens in criminal court for minor property violations of city ordinances. These result in small fines for infractions like not mowing the yard or selling lemonade without a business license.

Step Two: The citizens go to court, plead guilty, and pay the fines,

Step Three: They get a bill in the mail for a huge fee from the law firm that the city hired to prosecuted them. This fee is for the cost of the prosecution. Thus a fine for a couple of hundred dollars explodes into a legal bill of four or five figures.

Step Four: If the citizen objects, the law firm raises the fee demand.

Step Five: If the citizens can’t pay, the law firm threatens to take their homes.

The law firm that runs this brilliant operation is Silver & Wright, and it has been going on for years. The Desert Sun, in an investigative journalism effort, revealed this unholy alliance of municipality and law firm, and now, with public scrutiny, it just might be on its last legs. Thankfully.

The 18 cases examined by The Desert Sun come under the heading of nuisance property abatement, violations of law that are too  inconsequential to involve the county’s real prosecutors, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. Thus Silver & Wright steps in. Contract prosecutions are a profit center for the firm, which explains on its website that it specializes in code enforcement and “cost recovery,” boasting

“Our attorneys have developed unique and cutting edge practices to achieve success for our clients and make nuisance abatement and code enforcement cost neutral or even revenue producing.”

Indio contracted with Silver & Wright in 2014, and Coachella followed in 2015. Within a year of hiring the firm, both city councils created new nuisance property ordinances empowering the cities to seek prosecution fees without getting  approval from a judge. Then Silver & Wright started taking east valley property owners to criminal court. Continue reading

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“Hello. Yes, Once Again, I Want You To Meet Larry. You Remember That He Was A Respected Harvard Law Professor, But The Scourge Of Anti-Trump Mania Has Left Him Silly And Obsessed. Won’t You Help Sufferers Like Larry With A Generous Donation?”

 

The steady deterioration of former Harvard Law professor Lawrence Tribe is truly a cautionary tale. Bias makes you stupid, but Larry had IQ points to spare, once.  Trump Derangement makes you stupid, and this strain of political hostility is far, far worse than the Clinton, Bush and Obama strains. Once Tribe was infected, his intellect was in peril.

Then he became addicted to Twitter. I tell my legal ethics seminar attendees that Twitter lowers a lawyer’s IQ by anywhere from 40-60 points. Once, Larry could have sustained that and still given me a good game of Scrabble. On top of his ossifying liberal bias and the ravages of Trump Derangement, however, Twitter delivered the coup de gras to his gray matter.

We saw the beginning of this in 2016, when he shattered a basic legal ethics tenet–Larry used to teach this stuff–with a mind-blowing tweet. After Trump’s election, Tribe began making silly claims that the President was impeachable,  and took to Twitter to spread batty “resistance” conspiracy theories, while calling a White House aide  “non human.”

Now it seems beyond dispute, sadly, that Lawrence Tribe is in the end throes of Anti Trump Brain Virus infection. Continue reading

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