PETA Flunks the Duty of Respectability

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have an important mission. It also is a very difficult mission, because most people try to think about cruelty to animals as little as possible. We like our veal and chicken dishes; we like our pets; we want to find cures for dread diseases, and that may require animal testing. The facts about what animals experience, feel and think are not comforting to these wants and needs, so an organization dedicated to changing our attitudes toward the non-human inhabitants of Earth has to be careful, nuanced, articulate, and most of all, respectable.The duty of respectability comes with accepting such an important mission. We do not trust those we do not respect. If PETA doesn’t command respect, its mission, and the innocent and vulnerable animals it seeks to protect, are at risk. Continue reading

State of the Union Ethics Alarms

President Obama’s State of the Union message didn’t quite set off accusations of mendacity on the scale of President Bush’s yellow cake uranium comment in 2003, and Rep. Joe Wilson didn’t yell out “You lie!” (thanks for that, Joe), but the President did make some assertions that, if not intentionally inaccurate, were recklessly misleading. The most striking one was contained in the President’s attack on the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission He said:

“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”

This prompted Justice Joseph Alito, sitting with his colleagues, to say quietly, to himself or to Justice Sotomayor who was next to him, “Not true, not true.” And he was right: much of the statement wasn’t accurate. (Was Alito’s mouthed protest any sort of civility breach? No. Obama couldn’t see it; it is possible nobody heard it at all. Justice Alito was not mouthing the words for lip-readers in the television audience. No ethics foul. However, Alito may want to practice his poker face in the future.  Next time, he won’t be so surprised: for a President to directly criticize the Supreme Court in his address is almost as rare as a Congressman shouting “You lie!”) Continue reading

James Cameron, Poul Anderson, and Posterity’s Loss

James Cameron, whose ground-breaking film “Avatar” will soon be the top-grossing movie of all time, is currently being bashed in some of the more obscure corners of the blogosphere for plagiarism. This time the criticism is not based on his blatant borrowing from Russian science fiction, but for his lifting of ideas from an American master of the genre, Poul Anderson. Anderson wrote a novella in 1957 entitled “Call Me Joe” that chronicled the adventures of a paraplegic who becomes telepathically merged with a manufactured alien life form created to explore a planet. He is exhilarated by the sensations and power of his artificially-created body, and eventually is seduced into abandoning his humanity completely to become a significant figure in the development of a new civilization. Along the way, he battles vicious alien creatures. Sound familiar? Yes, these are major components of “Avatar” as well. Continue reading

Ethics, Irony, and James O’Keefe

James O’Keefe, the young freelance conservative operative who exposed the systemic corruption in ACORN by posing as a pimp in need of tax advice for a hidden videocam, was one of four men arrested yesterday for trying to tamper with Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office phones. It appears that he was attempting to pull off another sting operation, with O’Keefe’s compatriots posing as telephone workers. Continue reading

Agent Scott Boras’s Conflicts Surface Again

Last year, almost to the day, I posted an article on “The Hardball Times” site arguing that baseball super-agent Scott Boras, an attorney, frequently has client conflicts of interest that violate the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct. You can read it here. Now the issue has surfaced again, in relation to the problems Boras has had finding a satisfactory contract for Johnny Damon, a left-fielder, while he also represents other left-fielders competing with Damon for the same job.

I believe he has serious conflicts of interest as both an agent and as a lawyer. The two articles lay it all out; maybe my small cry in the wilderness is beginning to have some effect.

Stay tuned.

Super Sunday Ethics: Tim Tebow’s Pro-Life Superbowl Ad

N.F.L. quarterback Tim Tebow is in the middle of a fierce culture wars controvesy because he agreed to let his life story be the centerpiece of a Super Bowl ad created by Focus on the Family, the evangelical group founded by James Dobson. has bought air time during the Super Bowl. The ad features Tebow and his mother relating how she rejected the advice of doctors when urged her to have an abortion. She had the baby, and he grew up to be a football star. A touchdown for the anti-abortion team.

Some women’s groups, including the National Organization for Women, are petitioning  CBS not to air the ad during next month’s Super Bowl, always one of the most-watched television events of the year. Continue reading

Ethics and Valleywag’s Apple Tablet Scavenger Hunt

Today is the day Apple will unveil its long-awaited tablet device, destined to be the most culture-altering advancement since, well, the Segway or something. Apple’s excited about it, anyway, and as is usual for that company, it has fiercely guarded against premature leaks regarding its newest innovation. In the process, it threatened to sue the proudly sleazy website “Gawker,” which had one of its misbegotten offspring, the Silicon Valley gossip site “Valleywag,” announce the “Apple Tablet Scavenger Hunt,” which dangled cash prizes for anyone who would uncover and leak tablet information to the website before January 27. Saying said it had “had enough of trying to follow all the speculation,” Valleywag published a bounty list describing what it would pay for and how much, ranging from $10,000 for photos to $100,000 for anyone who could put the tablet in its editors hands.

Apple’s lawyers responded with a cease and desist letter, saying that the scavenger hunt scheme violated trade-secret law and induced others to breach their confidentiality agreements with the company. Naturally, Gawker cried “First Amendment!”

It appears that the lawsuit won’t go forward, since the tablet announcement date is here; a pity, because a lawsuit couldn’t happen to a more deserving operation, and because a court decision would have clarified an interesting issue. We all know the media happily acts as information-launderers, accepting documents and secrets from lawyers, government officials and corporate whistleblowers who could be fired, disciplined, sued or prosecuted for leaking them, and publishing the illicitly acquired information with self-righteous pride, not to mention confidence, since the Constitution says the press can print anything. The issue is this: if the media can publish such leaks, can it also induce them directly with cash? Continue reading

Ethics Conundrum: Poll Finds Fox News Most Trusted!

A new poll released today says that Fox News is the most trusted television news network in the country.

What?? Fox? The network with the tongue-in-cheek “fair and balanced” motto? The network of Glenn Beck?  The network the Obama Administration says it considers “the communications wing of the Republican party”?  How could this possibly be? Yet a Public Policy Polling nationwide survey of 1,151 registered voters Jan. 18-19 found that 49 percent of Americans trusted Fox News, which was 10 percentage points more than any other network.

I think there are several reasons for this result. Continue reading

Easy Call: Prof. Yoo’s Secret Class

Prof. John Yoo of the University of California at Berkeley’s Boalt Hall  School of Law can’t do anything these days without attracting controversy, whether it be writing a book or appearing on The Daily Show. Yoo, you may recall, is the former Bush administration lawyer responsible for writing key legal advisory opinions justifying the use of waterboarding and other extreme measures to interrogate captured terrorists and suspects of terrorist activity. Since joining the law school faculty, he has been more or less continuously attacked by students, critics and protesters who believe that the memos he authored compel his dismissal, disbarment, prosecution as a war criminal, or worse.

Now Berkeley is being criticized for allowing Yoo to hold his spring semester Constitutional Law class in a secret location known only to class members. Anti-Yoo protesters demand to be permitted to disrupt his class in the name of free speech and campus discourse. Yoo, in his typically provocative fashion, says they are welcome to attend his class once they get admitted to the law school and pay their tuition. Continue reading