Unethical Quote of the Week: Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz

“Passionate, organized hatred is the element missing in all that we do to try to change the world. Now is the time to spread hate, hatred for the rich.”

—-Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, a retired professor from Cal State East Bay, addressing a rally this weekend of the Occupy Oakland  group, which fought police in a pitched battle that ended with 400 arrests.

I said that the Occupy movement would end badly, and it is, not that it should have taken advanced psi-powers to divine that a protest based on ignorance, envy and anarchy with no practical and constructive proposals to offer would eventually end in violence, anger and ugliness. Hate is what it has come down to now, and the party and supporters of the President who came to office promising hope are now pinning their hopes on a sad movement fueled by hate. To say that the protests are also unethical is to flog the obvious. They have cost communities millions of dollars that will be made up in cut services; they have soiled parks and public places, they have provided a meeting place for thugs, vagrants, criminals, and worse ( an Occupier was arrested over the weekend for strangling his parents), and they have embodied a cultural rejection of personal responsibility.

Not to mention an escape from reality.“The fact that everyone now talks about the 99 percent, the 1 percent – that shows Occupy’s won,”  Carter Lavin, 23, of Oakland told the press. “The debate was about debt, not jobs. Now it’s about jobs.”

Sure, Carter. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Hair, Rules, School, and the Cancer Survivor

"I think this has gone far enough, son."

I’m really not picking on the schools, though I’m sure it looks that way. There have just been a wave of strange controversies lately in the halls of academe….like the travails of  J.T. Gaskins, 17, who is fighting with his charter school near Flint, Michigan.

J.T. is a model student; in fact, he was honored on his high school’s “Wall of Fame” for perfect behavior. But he’s doing his school work from home these days after being suspended by the school governing board of Madison Academy in Burton, Michigan. The reason:  the length of his hair. J.T. is a leukemia survivor, and he decided over the holidays to grow out his hair, cut it all off and give it to a non-profit group called Locks of Love, which donates hairpieces to kids undergoing cancer treatments. He was inspired to get growing after learning that the sister of a family friend had cancer.

Gaskins’ long hair is violating school policy, however, and he was told to cut it, or go home. So home he went. “I fought cancer my entire life. I’m going to keep fighting this,” he said. “I’m not going to not give back just because my school says no.” Continue reading

The Tragedy of the Poles

This week Gallup announced that the United States public is historically polarized in its ideological views. This is tragic news for the United States, and anyone who wants to know why merely needs to understand the significance of recent emissions from the Stygian depths of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

Today is the Florida primary, and if rationality reigned supreme, Newt Gingrich would receive as many votes as the write-in total for Pee Wee Herman. Once he was unable to thrill the easily thrillable by making grandstanding declarations against the bias of the media—the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel—Newt, as always, revealed himself as temperamentally, ethically and rationally unqualified to lead the nation, or, quite probably, a plumbing crew. He made irresponsibly grandiose proposals, like colonizing the moon at a time when the nation can’t afford PBS. He attacked President Obama while simultaneously using Obama’s class warfare tactics to denigrate his fellow millionaire, Mitt Romney. Once a pious advocate of Ronald Reagan’s “11th Commandment” that Republicans should not attack each other, he called Romney a liar, a liberal (which, of course, is much worse than a liar at the Right Pole). He heralded an obscure out-of-date robo-poll as showing that he was running neck-and-neck with the former Massachusetts governor in Florida, when he knows that he has lost ground in the race, as every legitimate poll now shows. He made dark hints that Romney—pssst! He’s a Mormon! Be afraid!—-was biased against “our religions.” He threatened, claiming that he would reject any debate with President Obama that had a moderator from the evil, biased media, an especially ridiculous pledge since the main argument ( facile myth, by the by)  for Newt’s candidacy has been that he would thrive in Presidential debates. And, of course, he whined, claiming that his precipitous fall was the fault of liars, the press, the establishment—anybody but Newt. If there is an ethical value he hasn’t breached lately—let’s see: responsibility, accountability, respect, fairness, prudence, honesty, caring, kindness, process, integrity, loyalty—just wait a while.

In short, Gingrich has behaved as he has always behaved under stress, as the mean-spirited, irresponsible, Machiavellian, untrustworthy, self-centered and destructive man that he is. He was waving a huge phosphorous orange flag reading, “I have no business being President!” for all to see. Thanks, Newt!

But a mind-boggling number of ideologues on the right can’t see it. They refuse to see it, because when you are stuck at an ideological pole, reality no longer matters. What matters is that Gingrich is a conservative, closer to their pole than the ideologically flexible Romney, and any references to Newt’s character are “the politics of personal destruction, ” because, you see, character is irrelevant at the poles. How could it not be? After all, the other pole has people of good character, and they are still wrong. “Annoy a liberal, ” Sarah Palin said on Fox. “Vote for Newt!” Yes, that’s a good reason to vote for presidential candidate—to annoy people you don’t like.

When you occupy an ideological pole, you become incapable of open-mindedness, reason, self-improvement or change. You can’t learn, you can’t absorb new data objectively. Everything is automatically squeezed and distorted to fit a pre-determined construct, or is ignored entirely. Lock-step masquerades as integrity. Reason, consideration, compromise, practicality, prudence—not to mention respect, civility, fairness, honesty and kindness—become impossible. The pole is everything. And lest anyone think that by using Newt-blindness as an example, I am rating one pole as superior to the other, I am not. Watch MSNBC for about five minutes to see what I mean.

Rush Limbaugh has a rant that he trots out regularly about the uselessness of moderates. It is a deceitful rant, because he is evoking images of moderates as people who refuse to fully engage in difficult issues, and whose answer to ever problem is “it depends,” meaning, in most cases, “it depends which opinion I heard last.” He is right that such people are useless in a democracy, except to be manipulated by those with more energy, passion, credentials, visibility, fame or certitude. Those are not really moderates, however, but just pliantly ignorant. They have no idea how to examine an issue, so they don’t—in their case, “open mind” means “empty mind.” True moderates, however, are those fair and rational enough to know that there are no ideological templates that work equally well with every problem. They may generally agree with more conservative or liberal positions, but they know that complex problems involve complex solutions, and artificial rules about what must or must never be done just makes some problems unsolvable. They know that people of differing philosophies and points of view are enlightening, not stupid; essential, not evil. The poles, on the other hand, are great places for the empty minds to hang out..,..there, or at Occupy D.C. The poles provide substitutes for thought. They make it easy. Conservative–GOOD! Liberal—BAD!

Or vice-versa.

Polarization is the antithesis of ethics. It divides populations into warring camps whose objective is to win, not to do good, because the poles preclude objective analysis of what good is. Ethics, on the other hand, presupposes that we are all on the same team, and that doing the right thing requires cooperation, not combat.

The nation desperately needs a transformative leader who rejects the poles…as Peter Wehner describes him in Commentary, a leader who  would “turn the page” on the “old politics” of division and anger; who would call for an end of  a politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” Such a leader would pledge to help the country “rediscover our bonds to each other”  and to “get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.” He would “cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past.” We need leader who will proclaim an approach to discourse that is alien to the poles, who will say, and mean it, “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.”

A man claimed to be that leader; his name was Barack Obama.  He told us that the nation had “chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord”by electing him.  In his inaugural address, he declared “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

And then, without the leadership skills to deliver on his soaring promises and unable to handle the intractable opposition of one pole, he retreated to the other.

But there are no ethics at the poles.

Only doctrine, intolerance, arrogance, hate, blindness…

…and failure.

Freddie Mac’s Conflict of Interest and the Betrayal Of The American Homeowner

Possible, but expensive.

Though the political implications of this disturbing story, which broke today on NPR, are wide-ranging, this isn’t a political blog.  I will avoid the temptation  to wade into them. That’s fine: the ethical implications are bad enough.

Freddie Mac, the taxpayer-owned mortgage giant, has been doing a Goldman Sachs, betting against the very homeowners it is pledged to serve by making multi-billion-dollar investments that will profit Freddie Mac only if homeowners can’t get out of  expensive mortgages with interest rates well above current rates. Of course, Freddie Mac’s job is supposedly to do the opposite…to help homeowners find cheaper, fairer mortgages. And we were told, by the Obama Administration, that this what it was working to do.

This is called a conflict of interest. And since Freddie Mac, along with its cousin Fannie Mae, is owned by U.S. taxpayers, this is also a massive breach of trust by the Federal government. Freddie and Fannie were bailed out in 2008. The companies insure most home loans in the United States, making banks able to lend at lower risk, and the companies’ rules determine whether homeowners can get refinanced and on what terms. Now we know that Freddie Mac, at least, profits when they fail.  Continue reading

Faculty Advisor? Principal?? Supervision??? Oversight???? HELLO?????

Joey knows just how you feel, Kenny. Except that he, unlike you, isn't real.

Eighteen-year-old Kenneth “Kenny” Clements, a graduate of Miami’s Ronald W. Reagan/Doral Senior High School, has filed suit against the school district because in February of 2011, when he was a senior, the Reagan Advocate published a story entitled “Teens Stay Quiet About STD’s”. The school paper’s front page story featured a photograph of Kenny with an “x” over his mouth, signifying that he was hiding his disease.

But Kenny didn’t have any sexually transmitted diseases, and he didn’t give his permission to have his photo used to suggest he did. After the article appeared, he says, his fellow students called him “STD Boy.”

This was obviously a cruel, unfair and irresponsible act by the students running the paper, but look at how irresponsibly professional journalists behave when they are drunk with the power of the press. This is why school newspapers must have diligent and competent supervision by adults, to prevent these kinds of things from happening….as they inevitably will without a cool head and an experienced hand at the rudder. Continue reading

Incomprehensible Nevada Justice For A Sexual Predator

Pop quiz: Can you guess the sentence for this criminal?

Hey! Let's show some compassion for these sexual predators, people!

Bethyl Shepherd, a 35-year old high school teacher,was

  • convicted of having various forms of sexual relations with seven of her male students. In addition…
  • The boys ranged were as young as 15.

She got 60 days in jail, with the rest suspended.

I detect in the country a progressive deterioration of rational attitudes toward official punishment, and this case is an unnerving example. The news story makes it clear that everyone, including prosecutors and the parents of the boys, wanted leniency for Shepherd, and no jail time. The judge rejected their misguided pleas, but just barely.

Why so little punishment? Well, this is Nevada, where the attitude toward dubious sexual relationships is uniquely tolerant. Nevertheless, Shepherd is a sexual predator who exploited the trust of students and their parents for her own sexual gratification. This was not one foolish teacher-student crush, as in other cases that have sent teachers like Mary Kay Le Tourneau into prison for long periods. It appears that much of the sympathy for Shepherd stemmed from defense testimony that she was bi-polar and that this affected her judgment (let’s see how far Jerry Sandusky gets with that strategy) and the fact that her life has spun out of control as a result of her arrest, as she has lost her job, her career, her husband, her children, and has had to sell her car. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: The Washington Post

"I am wearing this bag for the benefit of my former employer while I rip him to shreds."

“A person involved in Paul’s businesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid criticizing a former employer, said Paul and his associates decided in the late 1980s to try to increase sales by making the newsletters more provocative. They discussed adding controversial material, including racial statements, to help the business, the person said.”

The Washington Post, in a story by Jerry Markon and Alice Crites (“Paul pursued strategy of publishing controversial newsletters, associates say”) that contradicted Rep. Ron Paul’s denials that he was aware of or endorsed racially offensive content in newsletters published under his name during the 1990s.

The inherent dishonesty of the anonymous source of the Post’s story apparently didn’t register on the paper’s reporters or editors. It wasn’t that the source wanted anonymity to avoid criticizing Paul; he, she or it wanted anonymity to avoid accountability for the information being revealed in order to attack Paul.

How credible is a source whose anonymity is justified by an obvious lie? Not very, but apparently credible enough for the Washington Post to base a 1700 word story on anonymous allegations, essentially branding Paul as a liar without giving its readers any basis on which to assess the motives or credibility of the accuser.

[Ethics Alarms thanks James Taranto for the point.]

Dwarf Tossing Is Back. So What?

The traditional "throwing out the first dwarf" ceremony....

Dwarf tossing, a bar sport or spectacle or satire or something, was briefly in the news early last decade. Helmeted and padded little people were used as discuses or bowling balls by large, burly, often intoxicated men. It was weird; it could arguably be funny. Advocates for the unusually small got the activity banned in Florida and New York, and in Canada, while bills to ban it failed, public opinion opposing the games pretty much made dwarf tossing obsolete, like making fun of Paris Hilton.

Now comes the news that a strip joint in Ontario is reviving the sport, and  has scheduled a competition. Critics are horrified and outraged, because, well, they are horrified and outraged. Dwarf tossing, they say, is unethical.

Why? Continue reading

Easy Question With A Sad Answer: If The New York Times Is The Nation’s Most Respected Newspaper, What Does The Patrick Witt Story Say About The State of American Journalism?

Patrick Witt, rapist. Well, accused rapist. OK, he was accused of something that might have been rape.All right, all right, we can't say what he is accused of or did, but he must be a bad guy, or we wouldn't be publishing this story about what some people say he did. Because the public has a right to know. Thank god for Freedom of the Press!

The jaw-dropping Patrick Witt story in Friday’s New York Times was heavy on my mind when I wrote yesterday’s post about the collapse of the news media’s ethical standards. I decided that it needed its own spotlight. When I read the piece about Yale’s former quarterback, what kept going through my mind was, “What does the Times think it’s doing?” I still can’t figure it out.

Reporter Richard Perez-Pena uses an anonymous complaint of sexual assault levied against Witt as justification for raising questions about a young man’s integrity and character and to undermine his reputation with innuendo, speculation and rumor. The article would be outrageous if it was written about a public figure. Publishing such a cruel and unfair attack on a relatively obscure student athlete defies all reason. Obviously, it is also bottom of the barrel journalism…from America’s premier newspaper. Continue reading

Let’s Be Clear: Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal Is A Disgrace, And He Must Resign

We're praying for you, Mike---to get the Hell out.

Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal is refusing to resign his post in the wake of an uproar of his own making. In December, the legislator sent an email to his fellow Republicans asking them to pray Psalm 109,  an unusual and mean-spirited psalm that calls for the death of a leader. The Psalm says, in lines 7-12:

When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin.
    Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
    Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
    Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.
    Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labor.
    Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favor his fatherless children.’ Continue reading