The “Your Right To Engage in Ignorant and Dangerous Speech Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t Unethical For Me To Help It Be As Loud As Possible” Dept.: ABC Full Circle and WordPress

Defending free speech doesn't mean you have to put dangerous speech where it will do the most 100 feet tall in Times Square.

As the New Year dawns, we see two companies in the communications business, and two situations raising the question, is it ethical or unethical to allow someone to use your product or service to broadcast harmful speech?

They took different paths, and both are being criticized. One company is ethical, the other is not.

The ethical company is WordPress.

A few days ago it took down one of its sites, Bare Naked Islam, after The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) complained that the site promoted violence against Muslims, which it surely did. When Muslims placed comments on the site, Bare Naked Islam published the IP and e-mail addresses of the commenters and suggested reprisals. Nonetheless, because it was CAIR’s complaint that triggered the removal, WordPress was criticized mightily in the conservative blogosphere for doing a Comedy Central—censoring legitimate free speech out of fear of Muslim violence. There is a very large distinction, however, between abandoning free speech in response to threats, as Comedy Central did in the infamous “South Park” incident, and responding responsibly to a legitimate complaint. Continue reading

Philidelphia’s Conflicted, Shameless, Greedy—But Law-Abiding!— City Council

In the City of Brotherly Love, why shouldn't the City Council show a little love to itself--and its members' bank accounts?

Philadelphia, a city that like all cities these days is reeling under budget deficits, contemplating harsh cuts in city services and programs and raising taxes, is receiving a cruel lesson in the limits of public-mindedness by elected officials when the price is right.

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Marian Tasco retired yesterday, collected $478,057 in pension payments, and then plans to return to work after she is sworn-in on Monday to serve her seventh term. Register of Wills Ronald Donatucci retired Dec. 23 and will also return to work on Monday. He collected $366,797.

Why are they doing this? Because they can. Because it’s a lot of money. Because nobody can stop them. In Tasco’s case, because her irresponsible, disengaged, foolish constituency voted her into office despite ample warning that this is what she had planned. Continue reading

A Frightening Figure, Setting Off Ethics Alarms

We don't even know how to play Russian Roulette responsibly.

On Friday, the day before Christmas Eve when much of America was thinking about sugar plums,  lay-away plans, and protesting Christmas pageants, the Federal Accounting Office released its analysis of  the net present value of the nation’s Social Security and Medicare obligations, “net present value” being  the total funds that would have to be set aside today to pay the costs of these programs in the future. Seldom do figures so clearly indict the unethical practices and statements of so many.

In fiscal 2011, the cost of the catching up on the required funding of Medicare and Social Security rose from $30.9 trillion to $33.8 trillion. That $2.9 trillion increase should be regarded as adding to the $1.3 trillion cash deficit for fiscal 2011, making a $4.2 trillion deficit—and this coming in a year in which the rising national debt was supposedly recognized, at last, as a threat to America’s stability, prosperity, and welfare. The costs of Social Security and Medicare are rising at a frightening rate, nearly doubling in the last decade, with little or nothing being done to address the problem. And there is good reason to believe that the Medicare estimates are based on unrealistic assumptions. The GAO report also includes an alternate, less rosy scenario (or perhaps “more putrid” is a better phrase) in which the projected Social Security-Medicare debt is more than $46 trillion. How serious is that? Well, the combined value of the equity in U.S. homes and the value of all publicly-traded companies is less than 20 trillion dollars.

What do these figures tell us about the ethics of the various players on the national scene? Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Patrick Lott

Patrick Lott, hard working role model

“I have always given my best and tried to be a great role model. No one is perfect. Thanks for the memories.”

—-Patrick Lott, Assistant principal at Bernardsville Middle School in Somerville, New Jersey, in a cryptic Facebook post earlier this month that was explained, sort of, when he was arrested for allegedly using a hidden camera to videotape boys in the Immaculata High School showers for a period of nearly three years.

I say “allegedly” because people get mad at me when I don’t, and because he hasn’t been tried and convicted yet. On the other hand, videos of nude teenagers showering were found in his home. Maybe they flew in the window.

“Nobody’s perfect” is one of the great and infuriating rationalizations used by scoundrels and their apologists,  and goes hand in hand with all the other clichés designed to discourage people from making the kind of ethical judgments that keep societal standards sturdy, ethical, and clear. It is right up there with “It’s not the worst thing” and “Judge not, lest ye not be judged” as bumper sticker dodges that set my teeth on edge, but “Nobody’s perfect” may be the most outrageous of all….at least when employed by someone like Lott.

There is a pretty big chasm between “perfect” and taking secret videos of naked kids when you are a trusted school administrator. This guy couldn’t see “perfect” with the Hubble telescope. And he says he’s always given his best—-this was his best? I shudder to think about what Lott would have done if he wasn’t trying so hard. He tried to be a great role model? For who…Penn State assistant coaches?

Lott’s statement is an outrageous plea for sympathy for all the wrong reasons. His best would have been to seek help of find another line of work when he realized he couldn’t control his desire to watch naked young boys. Trying to be a great role model begins with not breaking the law. And  one who behaves outrageously should not insult the rest of humanity by trying to suggest that we’re really not so different. Oh yes we are.

This is Lott’s disgrace, Lott’s shame, and Lott’s crime. The very least he should be able to do is accept responsibility, and not try to minimize his misconduct or suggest that it’s not all that different from overeating or going 45 in a 35 mph zone.

Vote For The 2011 Curmie…and Education’s Shame!

Help Rick choose the most embarrassing educator of 2011

This is clearly Rick Jones Day. First he scores the Comment of the Day, and then I discover that over at his blog, Curmudgeon Central, he is holding a reader poll for the Curmie, his award that will go to the educator who most embarrassed the profession in 2011.

Among his list are several miscreants who were topics of Ethics Alarms posts, some warranting more than one. What is remarkable and depressing is how many of Rick’s nominees never were noted here for their unethical conduct, and also how many of the cases featured by Ethics Alarms didn’t make the cut for the Curmie finals. This is because the education profession had a truly wretched year. As I prepare the year end Ethics Alarms Best and Worst, there is really a chance that education may nose out the perennial winner in the “Least Ethical Profession” category, journalism. I wouldn’t believe any profession could sink that low

You can vote at Rick’s site, and follow the links to his commentary on the nominees. Here are Rick’s nominees (the following text is his): Continue reading

Spin, Rationalizations and Denial From the Ron Paul Faithful: An Ethics Lesson

What does Fred Astaire in blackface have to do with Ron Paul? Not much.

There are a lot of reasons to regard Rep. Ron Paul, currently facing what should be his last hurrah in the idiosyncratic Iowa Caucuses, as the model for politics and leadership as we wish it could be. He says what he means. He doesn’t pander. He isn’t afraid of uncomfortable truths. He has integrity. This explains why the supporters of the one true libertarian in the U.S. Congress seem ready to fight to the end to preserve his presidential candidacy, though its long-term prospects are about the same as those of Frosty being elected President of Hell. They are, as a result, providing the rest of us with a textbook example of how loyalty and dedication can spawn intellectual dishonesty, cause otherwise good and intelligent people to substitute rationalizations for reason, and lead to corruption. How did all those idealistic young lawyers end up in jail supporting the plots of Richard Nixon?  Why did otherwise honest and ethical Democrats, elected officials and feminists twist their principles into pretzels to defend Bill Clinton’s using White House staff as a personal dating bar and lying about it under oath?  This is how. When you believe that a leader is good, then affirmative proof of flaws that disqualify him for leadership must be justified and explained away. It often isn’t even a conscious decision: this is cognitive dissonance at its strongest. The results, however, are the same as intentional deception.

Over at The Daily Caller, Wesley Messamore, who is Editor in Chief of the, has registered an impassioned and angry defense against Paul critics who, like me, regard the content of his newsletters from the Eighties and Nineties an automatic disqualification for Paul as a presidential nominee. I don’t mean to pick on Messamore: his arguments are typical of Paul defenders; he’s no worse than the rest. His article, however, neatly covers all the unethical tactics Paul’s followers have had to embrace to convince themselves that their hero hasn’t failed the leadership test.

Here they are: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Quiz: The Case of the Fake But Accurate Social Security Card”

My ethics conundrum regarding the fake but accurate Social Security card solution—the Dan Rather approach, if you will— continued to garner a wide range of responses. Rick, as usual, has delivered one of the most thoughtful and provocative, and it is a worthy Comment of the Day.

Here is his comment on “Ethics Quiz: The Case of the Fake But Accurate Social Security Card”:

It strikes me that sometimes—not always, but sometimes—ethics is on a continuum. There’s the truly ethical, the not unethical, and the unethical, with many finer distinctions to be made.

I don’t running screaming into the night at the idea of faking a card, under the circumstances. Still, the truly ethical thing to do in this situation is to tell the prospective employer the truth. And the availability of all those other possible means of identification is indeed relevant. Provide one of the non-Social Security card alternatives and whatever other documentation is available. Importantly, if the employer, for whatever reason, is unwilling to accept this legally sufficient documentation, you don’t want to work for this person, no matter how much you need a job. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Libertarian Andrew Cohen

The ethical virtue at issue is integrity.

On the other hand, some times you just have to say, "oh, the hell with it" and stomp on the damn snake...

Those who oppose abortion as the taking of innocent human life may not, consistent with integrity (forget about logic) also say that abortion is a personal choice. Those who oppose capital punishment as a matter of principle (rather than as a problem of fair application) may not, consistent with integrity, announce that of course they would make exceptions in the cases of Hitler, Bin Laden, and Ted Bundy. A pacifist who won’t explain why the U.S. shouldn’t have fought World War II isn’t a pacifist at all, but a poseur.

Now Andrew Cohen, a self-declared libertarian blogger, has written a defense of the state determining whether or not potential parents may have children.  He writes: Continue reading

The Drunk, the Bar and the Missing ID

I’ve been considering starting a continuing category for unethical law suits, but what interests me about this story is that it coincides with a sudden flurry of new comments on the Shannon Stone post. That concerned the man who fell to his death at a Texas Rangers game last summer after lunging to catch a foul ball for his son. My post argued that when someone does something unequivocally reckless and foolish that leads to his injury and death,  it may be legally advantageous to sue third parties for not anticipating the situation and providing prophylactic safety measures, but is unethical to do so.

It was not one of my more popular posts.

This story, from South Carolina, raises a similar issue. Paraplegic Chelsea Hess is suing Jock’s Sports Grill  because the bartender failed to check her ID and didn’t determine whether she was already intoxicated when, at the age of 20 (in 2009), she drank, drove, and crashed her car, causing her current condition. Hess is also suing the state Department of Transportation, saying the agency failed to properly maintain the shoulder of the road where her car crashed. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Julio Diaz

[This story, from National Public Radio’s Storycorps, is three years old. But an Ethics Hero is an Ethics Hero whether Ethics Alarms recognizes him or not, and this is a Dickensian tale if there ever was one, about a man whose ethical instinct are so impeccable that they make me feel terribly inadequate. Ethics Alarms reader and commenter Tim LeVier brought it to my attention….thanks, Tim, once again.]

In February of 2008, 31-year-old social worker Julio Diaz, as he often does,  ended his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early so he could have dinner  at his favorite diner. Diaz was walking toward the subway stairs when a teenage boy with a knife stopped him and demanded his wallet.

“Here you go,” said Diaz.  As the teen walked away, Diaz added, on an impulse, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.” The mugger was stunned. “He asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?'” Diaz’s reply: “Listen, if you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars,  you must really need the money. I was going to get dinner and if you want to join me,  you’re more than welcome.” Continue reading