Incompetent Elected Official of the Month: Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.)

Worse than Joe "You Lie!" Wilson; worse than Allan "The Republicans want you to die!" Grayson. Will anyone say so?

Many Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have specifically stated in the past that they have no interest in budget-balancing issues, and that their primary and over-riding objective is to keep government money flowing to their neediest constituents. That’s a narrow and irresponsible position, but defensible if your view of the duty of elected representatives is that they are only advocates for the voters who elect them, and not bound by any obligation to national welfare  as a whole. Even if one accepts this approach (shared by many in the Tea Party), it does not excuse executing that advocacy by stirring up race hatred with diatribes attributing monstrous and unjustified motivations to political adversaries.

In other words, it doesn’t excuse slanderous comments like these about the Tea Party and its adherents, issuing like flaming vomit from the uncivil mouth of Rep. Andre Carson:

“This is the effort that we are seeing of Jim Crow. Some of these folks in Congress right now would love to see us as second class citizens. Some of them in Congress right now with this Tea Party movement would love to see you and me… hanging on a tree. Some of them right now in Congress right now are comfortable with where we were fifty or sixty years ago. But it’s a new day with a black president and a Congressional Black Caucus.”

Continue reading

More Quotation Ethics: The Martin Luther King Memorial Strikes Again…But It’s Maya Angelou’s Fault

Who said that quote inscribed on the MLK monument? Not Rev. King! Maybe that guy in the hat...

When I saw the Martin Luther King quote engraved on the north face of his monument at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, my immediate thought was: “A little full of ourselves there, are we, Marty?”

It reads: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”

Personally, I’ve always hated drum majors—prancing, flashy show-offs with big hats. I never thought of Martin Luther King as a drum major, or as someone prone to self-glorifying descriptions. I was relieved, therefore, to learn that what he really said was this, in a sermon two months before his death, speculating on what his eulogy might sound like:

“If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

Ahh! Now that’s the Rev. Martin Luther King I remember! Unfortunately, it’s not the one future generations of America will know, because a false quote, mischaracterizing his meaning and his character, is immortalized in stone on the National Mall. Continue reading

Unethical Web Headline of the Month: The Huffington Post

This photo has almost nothing to do with the subject of this story.

It wasn’t only HuffPo, to be fair. Every single news website that covered the story used the same misleading, sensational idea in its headline, but The Huffington Post’s version was the worst:

Anthony Stewart, 15-Year-Old From Syracuse, N.Y., Jailed For 7-Cent Robbery

Awww..poor Anthony! And what a mean judge! What did the mischievous tyke do, steal the change from the little bowl by the cash register at the Subway sandwich shop? Knock over a lemonade stand? No, actually, he did this: (From the CBS New website):

“Anthony Stewart was found guilty of first-degree robbery earlier this month for beating and kicking a 73-year-old man and robbing him of seven cents. Prosecutors say the victim was on his way to a store last December when the two teenagers ran up from behind, knocked him into a snow bank, then kicked and punched him. The two teens had handguns, which Stewart later admitted were BB guns, prosecutors said.”

Even though both the victim and Stewart’s partner in crime identified him, Anthony Stewart, unlike his accomplice, refused to plead guilty and insisted on a jury trial. He lost his gamble, and the judge, as judges are wont to do, penalized him for not admitting his guilt. The victim’s other attacker had been sentenced as a youthful offender, meaning the he will have his record sealed and won’t be labeled a felon, though he still will spend up to four years in a state juvenile facility. Stewart, however, didn’t get the youthful offender break, and will come out of prison two to six  years from now with a felony conviction on his permanent record.

“If you admitted like a man, then I would have sentenced you exactly as I did Mr. Ninham,” the judge told Stewart. “But you still denied committing a crime, despite a mountain of evidence.”

Let’s get this straight: the seven cents had nothing to do with the sentence, other than the fact that it changed the crime from a criminal assault to a robbery. I don’t know why these two dummies bothered to steal seven lousy cents, when they found that this was all the old man was carrying. Still, it established that they would have stolen whatever he had, whether it was 7 cents or  $7,000 dollars. Two teenagers, armed with weapons, beat a man and robbed him. It was a brutal attack, and the fact that they only got 7 cents out of it is moral luck and cosmic irony, but it doesn’t, and shouldn’t, make the criminals any more sympathetic.

So why did the Huffington Post (and CBS, and the New York Daily News, and Yahoo, and Newser, and Fox…) use a headline that made it sound like the American Justice system was doing its Kafka imitation, and a photo of the young African-American teen calculated to tug on our heartstrings and make Al Sharpton go bananas?

Because they lie, that’s why. Because they don’t care that lots of people just read their dishonest headlines and never finish the story, and then tell their family and friends about the insane judge who is ruining a boy’s life because he took 7 cents. Because all they care about is web traffic, and the journalistic ideals of factual and objective reporting are so dead, they wouldn’t even make it as zombies.

Even with the facts of the attack revealed (in the HuffPo article, seven paragraphs from the lead), an astounding number of commenters on the various sites took their cues from the headlines, and expressed horror and outrage. It was a white judge—racism must have been behind the sentence! The boy just made a mistake, and what harm did he do—after all, he only took 7 cents! Why should Anthony be penalized for making the system prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?

Fools all…but fools nourished by unscrupulous media like the Huffington Post. Anthony deserves every second of his sentence, and the felony record too. He participated in a violent and armed attack on an elderly man, and if he wanted mercy from the judge, he should have admitted his guilt. That’s the system.

Anthony’s asinine lawyer, who either gave him awful advice or failed miserably by not talking him out of pleading not guilty, fatuously told the judge,  “For 7 cents, now you’re making someone a felon for the rest of his life.”

No, he made himself a felon for the rest of his life, and it wasn’t “for seven cents.”

But don’t worry!  Anthony will be OK. I’m sure the Huffington Post will have a job for him.

Trust Isn’t a Game


Shawn Bomgardner, an MBA student at Seattle University, has sued the school and the training firm Teams and Leaders Inc. for making him participate in a required leadership class that included various “trust exercises.” In one of them, he was told to submit to a “trust-fall” from bleachers into the arms of his classmates.

They didn’t catch him. He hit his head on the ground, hard, and now has permanent brain damage.

The injuries forced Shawn to drop out of school and quit his job as an auditor for Costco.  Bomgardner’s wife has had to take time off work to “undertake additional responsibilities as a result of Shawn’s continued deficits, persistent depressive symptoms and diminished cognitive functioning,” the law suit says, adding that  “Shawn’s injuries have caused loss of enjoyment of life and have impacted his relationship with Becky and his daughter. While Shawn’s symptoms have improved over time, he continues to experience the effects of his injuries,” according to the complaint.”

Maybe this tragedy will have one good result: stopping idiotic seminar and retreat trust exercises, especially the “trust-fall.”

Trust isn’t a game. Trust is earned. That’s all there is to it. Putting one’s health and welfare into the hands, literally, of someone you barely know and who is not trained or certified to do what an exercise requires is madness, and any organization that suggests, forces or requires such symbolic but meaningless nonsense should be run right out of business.

It is true: trust is an absolute necessity for any functioning and healthy society, organization or team. Trust, however, cannot exist in a vacuum. It must be supported by experience, competence, dedication, mutual caring, loyalty and good will.

As someone who has refused to partake in trust exercises more than once, I feel terrible about what happened to Shawn Bomgardner. He was the victim of charlatans who taught that something as vital and complex as trust could be taught with stunts and parlor tricks.

Richard Cohen, National Interests, and the Ethical Duties of the US to the World

There used to be no columnist who infuriated me more consistently than Richard Cohen. Those were the hazy, golden days before I discovered E.J. Dionne, Paul Krugman and Harold Mayerson, however, whose rigid ideology virtually precludes objective analysis. Cohen isn’t biased, he’s just wrong more often than not. But he is also capable of bursts of moral and ethical clarity. Today was an example, as he took on the isolationist voices on the left and the right that make up a large component, if not the majority, of our elected leadership today.

Cohen begins by recounting a section from  Erik Larson ‘s book,“In the Garden of the Beasts,” about how the American foreign policy establishment in the Thirties resisted efforts by William Dodd, then ambassador to Germany, to protest the Hitler government’s increasing persecution of Jews. Humanity, and the U.S., paid a steep price for its inward-turning perspective after World War I, as we abdicated our traditional role as defender of liberty, freedom, democracy and human rights on the world stage. Continue reading

Historical Theft at the King Memorial

Rev. Theodore Parker

The new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is not just the King-in-Carbonite monolith that has caused so much controversy. There is much more to the National Mall’s latest addition, including inscriptions in marble of quotes from the martyred civil rights leader’s writings and speeches. There are more than a dozen examples of his oratory, a quotation from King’s 1963 “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” and an excerpt from King’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1964.

Among them, this:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

But Rev. King didn’t say it. Theodore Parker, an influential and eloquent Boston minister and abolitionist, did. King never pretended otherwise; it was one of his favorite quotes, and he used it often, but he usually credited its originator. Continue reading

Unethical Plaintiffs in the Case Of the Shortened Penis

Ronnie had it easy in "King's Row"---he just woke up missing his legs.

A Kentucky truck-driver, 64-year-old Phillip Seaton, went into surgery to remove his inflamed foreskin in what began as a simple circumcision.  Dr. John Patterson, the surgeon, began the procedure and saw that Seaton’s penis was riddled with cancer. He amputated more than just the foreskin, and Seaton awoke one full inch shorter than when he arrived. And Extenz wasn’t going to help.

He and his short-changed wife sued Patterson for malpractice, arguing that he had been mutilated and unmanned without his consent, and that Patterson should have performed only the circumcision, sewn him up, and consulted with the truck-driver and his wife regarding their options.

Clever law suit. We can’t blame the lawyer who took it on: a sawed-off penis is a good bet to get jury sympathy. All that is required for a lawsuit to be ethical from a lawyer’s perspective is for there to be a good-faith and reasonable belief that the suit could prevail under the law. This one could have. Generally it’s a good idea, and only polite, to ask before cutting off a piece of someone’s penis. I know it’s the rule in our house. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Rep. Michele Bachmann

I think Hurricane Irene was sent by God to help the Red Sox. Hear me out! It makes mores sense than Michele's theory!

“I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.”

—-Rep. Michele Bachmann, GOP presidential hopeful and shameless demagogue, joining the discredited ranks of Pat Robertson, Glenn Beck and others to assert that weather conditions constitute proof that God agrees with her.

You can read my views on this arrogant, manipulative species of idiocy here, here and here.  I’ve written about it too much, and as an American living in the 21st Century, I’m embarrassed that I should have to write about it at all. Continue reading

5 Things PETA Doesn’t Understand About Ethics

Stay classy, PETA.

PETA—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals— has announced that it is starting a porn website to attract attention to the plight of animals. Over on his Business Ethics Blog, Chris McDonald asks whether this means that PETA has “jumped the shark.” More so than offering Octomom money to put a billboard on her lawn advocating spaying pets so they won’t have litters like hers? More so than complaining that Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog of Groundhog Day fame, should be replaced by a robot? I don’t think so. Besides, jumping a shark would be cruel to the shark.

The tunnel-visioned organization, well on its way to becoming a joke to the detriment of its abused animal constituency, has registered the domain name and plans to launch a pornography website in December that “draws attention to the plight of animals.” How will it do that, you ask? By using images of naked women performing  sex acts on men to attract viewers, and then making the audience observe graphic videos of animal abuse for the privilege of watching the graphic sex. “We try to use absolutely every outlet to stick up for animals,” says PETA spokesperson Lindsay Rajt, who adds that the organization wouldn’t use its “flashier tactics if we didn’t know they worked.”

Let’s put that right at the top of this list, entitled “5 Things PETA Doesn’t Understand About Ethics.” Continue reading

George Washington’s Vision of Religious Freedom

George Washington continues to be a source of wonder, wisdom, and ethical clarity.

Every year in August, Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island hosts a reading of President George Washington’s 1790 letter to “the Hebrew congregation in Newport, Rhode Island.” Before this month, I was unaware of either the celebration or the letter, I am ashamed to say. In it, the first President laid out clearly the ideals of religious freedom to be embraced by our fledgling nation, to a group that had reason to do doubt whether they would be welcome to worship as they pleased.

For generations, the Hebrew community that ultimately  settled in Newport had been fleeing religious persecution. The same year Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World, in 1492, Spain enacted a policy forcing Jews to convert to Christianity or leave the country. Thousands sought refuge in the Netherlands, the Caribbean Islands and South America, only to be pursued by the Spanish Inquisition. Continue reading