Monthly Archives: June 2018

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/20/18: Darrow, Damn Technology And Dunkin’ Donuts

Good Morning!

1. Shameless self-promotion Dept. Once again, I am presenting my three-hour Clarence Darrow and modern attorney ethics CLE program for the D.C. Bar, and later this summer, Virginia CLE will be sponsoring the same seminar in Richmond and Northern Virginia. As always, my partner and collaborator in All Things Darrow is esteemed D.C. actor (and American University law school instructor, and, I am proud to say, my friend) Paul Morella, who has been Darrowing since he premiered my one-man show about the great and flawed lawyer in 2000, for The American Century Theater. His website is here. This is Paul…

Paul is a lot taller, thinner and better looking than Darrow, and unlike Clarence, he also bathes regularly. It doesn’t matter. I can’t recommend his show, which he performs for bar associations and legal groups around the country, more highly, and would feel this way even if I hadn’t written it. Of course, any group that wants Continuing Legal Education credits can also book today’s seminar, which has many of Darrow’s greatest courtroom orations, but also legal ethics commentary from me.

2. Ah-HA! NOW I understand why I’m being sued for defamation!  This is in the “This comes as no surprise” category, but it still explains a lot. The Pew Research Center just released a survey that demonstrates that a large proportion of the public can’t distinguish facts from opinions. The main portion of the study  measured the public’s ability to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements. Pew found

“…that a majority of Americans correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set. But this result is only a little better than random guesses. Far fewer Americans got all five correct, and roughly a quarter got most or all wrong. Even more revealing is that certain Americans do far better at parsing through this content than others. Those with high political awareness, those who are very digitally savvy and those who place high levels of trust in the news media are better able than others to accurately identify news-related statements as factual or opinion.”

I challenge that last part. It may well be that those who place high levels of trust in the news media could distinguish between fact and opinion in those  ten statements, but it doesn’t change the fact (now this is my opinion, but I still believe it is demonstrably true) that the news media distorts what it represents as facts based on journalists’ biased opinions. Continue reading

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Transgender Ethics: Connecticut’s PC And Unfair Gender Rules For Athletic Competition

Transgender high school sophomores Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood came in first and second place respectively in the 100-meter race at Connecticutt’s State Open Finals this month. Miller also won the top prize for the 200-meter race. She and Yearwood were born male, but they now identify as females, whatever that means.

Wow, what a coincidence! The only transgender females running, and they finished first and second! What are the odds of that?

“Some parents within Connecticut’s high school track and field circle expressed outrage,”  ABC News notes. Some?

It is astounding to me that any parents or runners—though the students are subject to daily PC brainwashing, so I’m sure that’s a factor—put up with the ridiculous and anti-competitive Connecticut Athletic Conference rules. They generously allow high school athletes to compete based on the gender with which they identify.  Says ABC in another masterpiece of equivocation, “Critics say the rules give male-to-female transgender people a competitive edge over cisgender women — whose biological sex matches their gender identity — because some have higher testosterone levels than non-trans females.”

Oh, critics say that, do they? How about a slight edit: “Male-to-female transgender people have  competitive edge over cisgender women whose biological sex matches their gender identity because some have higher testosterone levels than non-trans females.”

“I think it’s unfair to the girls who work really hard to do well and qualify for Opens and New Englands [competitions],” sophomore sprinter Selina Soule, who finished sixth in the 100-meter State Open Finals, told the Hartford Courant. “These girls, they’re just coming in and beating everyone. I have no problem with them wanting to be a girl.”

That is, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/19/2018: Double Standards And Greed

Time for a Good Morning song!

1. Life on Facebook. A lawyer friend who should know better posted a comment that began, “You wouldn’t think that posting something like ‘Taking children away from their parents and sticking them in cages is wrong’ would be controversial, but in almost every case where one of my friends has said something like this, at least one of his/her friends feels the need to argue about it…” Later he compared the statement “Taking children away from their parents and sticking them in cages is wrong” to “Torturing kittens is wrong.” I told him that as a lawyer, he should be objecting to and explaining the transparent deceit of “Taking children away from their parents and sticking them in cages is wrong”—a half-truth designed to stifle argument, not attacking those who are correctly pointing out the emotionalism and dishonesty of that tactic.

I should count up the number of lawyers whose comments on Facebook on this issue are pure “Think of the children!” with no substantive legal and policy analysis whatsoever. My friend also made the typical suggestion that only Trump voters—you know: morons—would argue with “Taking children away from their parents and sticking them in cages is wrong” as a fair and conclusive verdict on the current policy.

2. Theranos.  Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos, as well as Ramesh Balwani, the company’s former president ( and Holme’s love interest, were indicted yesterday on charges of conspiracy and wire fraud. The Theranos debacle is a classic corporate fraud story on par with Enron, if not as wide-reaching.

I missed it. This is embarrassing for an ethics blog, and for someone who thinks he scours various news sources thoroughly enough to catch the major ethics stories. I blame Donald Trump, but I also blame the various news sources in 2015 that chose to report fake news, trivial news, future news and theoretical news rather than give a major corporate scandal the attention it deserved. If I missed the story, and I’m looking for it, what chance do normal people with sensible occupations have?

The civil fraud charges in the case were filed in March by the Securities and Exchange Commission, though the scandal had broken earlier, when the Wall Street Journal published its 2015 exposé.  Holmes and Balwani allegedly raised millions of dollars using false statements about how well the company’s  blood-testing device worked, while using  a contract with the Department of Defense and a partnership between Theranos and the pharmacy chain Walgreens to con pharmacies, doctors and the public. The apparent scam created a Business of Cards that, at its peak, had more than 800 employees and a paper valuation of $9 billion.

There is a book out about the Theranos scandal by the reporter who broke the story… Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Childhood and children, Citizenship, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Facebook, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture

The Controversy Over Separating Children From Illegal Immigrants At The Border: What’s Going On Here?

The current political controversy over the Trump Administration policy of separating parents from children at the Mexican border when they are apprehended for illegal attempts to cross into the United States involves many ethical issues, and, as usual, conduct and rhetoric that confounds ethical analysis, perhaps intentionally.

With most complex ethics problems, the starting point is to ask, “What’s going on here?” This is especially useful in this case, where the news media, open-borders advocacy groups, and various political faction are intentionally steering the debate, and public comprehension, into box canyons of pure emotion.

So: What’s going on here?

 Despite the fact that its editorial page is cheer-leading the box canyon effort, and its journalists are coloring reports on it with their partisan biases, the New York Times has provided the facts, if you can ignore the static Here is the main one:

“For more than a decade, even as illegal immigration levels fell over all, seasonal spikes in unauthorized border crossings had bedeviled American presidents in both political parties, prompting them to cast about for increasingly aggressive ways to discourage migrants from making the trek…Last month, facing a sharp uptick in illegal border crossings, Mr. Trump ordered a new effort to criminally prosecute anyone who crossed the border unlawfully — with few exceptions for parents traveling with their minor children.”

That’s  “all” that has happened. Illegal immigration is...illegal. The Trump Administration has decided to treat breaking immigration laws like the country is supposed to treat all law-breaking—as the crime that it is. The law-breakers are arrested. When law-breakers are arrested for robbery, murder, rape, fraud, embezzlement…anything, really…they are separated from their children. This is not remarkable, nor are the law enforcement officers typically blamed. If a man takes his child to a burglary and he is arrested, then the child is going to be, to use a phrase I am seeing too much lately, “ripped from his arms.” If he is a citizen with a resident family or not a single parent, and the child is also a citizen or in the country legally, the child will be handed into the care of a relative. If not, then that child may also wind up in the custody of a government facility.

The children are being taken from the parents because children are always taken from parents when parents are arrested for a serious crime. What is unusual, and making this situation vulnerable to emotional manipulation on the level of the gun-control debate  in which “Think of the children!” instantly lobotomizes a large segment of the public and obliterates all ability to process reality, are several factors:

  • Criminals don’t typically take their children with them when they break laws.
  • Illegal immigrants can claim to be legitimate “asylum-seekers,” even though most of them are not.
  • Progressives, Democrats and those who aren’t paying much attention either refuse to acknowledge or don’t realize that entering the country illegally is a crime.
  • The illegal border-crossers are, in many if not all cases, using their children to create exactly this political firestorm. Think of them as the equivalent of human shields.
  • Previous Presidents have been willing to be extorted through this emotional black mail–Think of the children!–to  neglect enforcement of immigration laws. This is, in great part, how the United States ended up with 11-13 million illegal immigrants.
  • It is also how the U.S. ended up with President Trump.

Under President Obama, and presumably Bush as well, children trying to cross the border illegally were also held, just with their parents rather than without them, in a politically motivated exception to usual criminal enforcement practice. Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/18/2018: Moral Luck, Non-Hypocrisy, Hypocrisy, Thomas Jefferson And WKRP

Good morning, Monticello, everyone…

1 The Inspector General’s Report and Tales of Moral Luck:  Stop me if you’ve heard this one: FBI staffer Peter Strzok, working on both the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the Russian collusion investigation, received a text from Lisa Page, Strzok’s co-worker and adulterous lover, that read, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok replied, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”

 September of 2016, the FBI discovered that Clinton’s illicit emails had somehow ended up on the laptop of disgraced former Congressman. Anthony Weiner, who is married to Hillary’s top aide and confidante, Huma Abedin.  Strzok, we learn in Michael Horowitz’s report, was instrumental in  the decision not to pursue the lead, arguing that the Russia investigation was a “higher priority” at the time.”We found this explanation unpersuasive and concerning,” the report concluded. The laptop was available from September 29 until October 27, when “people outside the FBI” finally forced  the FBI to act on the evidence. “The FBI had all the information it needed on September 29 to obtain the search warrant that it did not seek until more than a month later,” the IG report stated. “The FBI’s neglect had potentially far-reaching consequences.”

“Comey told the OIG that, had he known about the laptop in the beginning of October and thought the email review could have been completed before the election, it may have affected his decision to notify Congress,” the IG report says, and also states,

“Under these circumstances, we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over follow up on the [Clinton] investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias.”

Got that? The IG believes that anti-Trump, pro-Hillary bias led Strzok to delay the Weiner laptop investigation, and it may have backfired, helping Trump and hurting Clinton rather than the reverse. But the fact that moral luck took a hand and foiled his intent doesn’t change the fact that this is strong evidence that partisan bias DID infect the Clinton investigation, and probably the Russian inquiry as well. This makes the media’s spin that the IG report dispels accusations of bias even more unconscionable.

That Strzok’s biased and unethical tactics to help Hillary intimately failed spectacularly doesn’t change or mitigate the fact that a prime FBI staff member was intentionally trying yo manipulate the investigation for partisan reasons.

2. The Web thinks you’re an awful person.  A tease from a “sponsored site” in the margins of my NBC Sports baseball feed  says, “Jan Smithers starred in hit sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati.” Try not to smile when you see what she looks like now!” Wait…what’s that’s supposed to mean? Is she a circus clown? No, these and similar come-ons apparently assume that normal people love mocking formerly beautiful young stars when they no longer look young. “Heh, heh..well, Jan Smithers, I guess you’re not so hot now, are you? What kind of person takes pleasure in the physical decay of others just because they were once gorgeous?

Actually, the photo of Jan Smithers did make me smile, because unlike, say, Jane Fonda,

…who at 80 has allowed plastic surgeons to make her look like one of the fragile immortal female ghouls who shatter into pieces at the end of “Death Becomes Her,” Smithers (who is younger than me and a decade and a half younger than Hanoi Jane) has allowed herself to age naturally, and by my admittedly biased lights, is lovely still: Continue reading

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From Ethics Alarms “The Truth Hurts” Files: Target’s Fathers Day Card

Target came under fire for putting out the Father’s Day card above, and apologized, especially for having only a black couple version.

Interesting: what exactly is wrong about the card? It depicts the state of black fatherhood as it is: about 72% of black births are to unmarried couples, while about 32% is the white figure. Is the perceived problem that the card shames African Americans, or that it appears to give couples having children without bothering with marriage a societal pass by celebrating their lack of responsibility? Not being married to a child’s mother vastly increases the likelihood of absentee fathers, and being raised by single mothers is statistically linked to many social pathologies that disproportionately plague black communities.

Maybe Target isn’t the one who should be apologizing. One incensed critic wrote on Twitter, “This is an insult to black fathers and a slap in the face to the African-American community as a whole.” No, that would be true if the card’s implication wasn’t true. It is true. Now what? Getting angry at Target is a deflection.

Of course, the likelihood is that Target wasn’t thinking deeply about this at all. It just thought the “baby daddy” card opened up a new Fathers Day market.

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Family, Gender and Sex, Marketing and Advertising, Race, U.S. Society

Chaos, Kindness, Vivian Landis, and Me

Yesterday I attended the funeral of Vivian Landis, mother of my long-time friend Lise Landis. Vivian was 98 years old when she died, and by all accounts had a wonderful and rewarding life. She also played a big part in mine, by doing what she apparently did routinely: being kind.

Mrs. Landis, along with her late husband Paul, were, by sheer chance, placed in the position of being the Chaos Theory butterfly in the Amazon jungle that causes a momentous chain of events by flapping its wings. They exemplify to me why it is vital for all of us to strive to live using ethical values. We have often no idea what the results will be, but the odds are they will be more good than bad.

In 1972, I had been rejected by all of my choices for law school, though I had been wait-listed at Georgetown. However, it was August, the fall semester was looming, and no word from Washington, D.C. had reached me. Discouraged but resigned, I said the hell with it, and resolved to take a year off, perhaps to craft my thesis on character and the American Presidency into a book. In the meantime, I decided to join my parents and sister on what bid fair to be our last family vacation. Dad had planned one of his typical forced marches, this one through Reno, Sequoia National Park, Yosemite, San Francisco, and Seattle.

I was having a great time, relaxing, enjoying the sights, when a ranger tracked us down on the Yosemite canyon floor. Our next-door neighbors in Arlington Mass. had sent a telegram forwarding a Georgetown telegram to the Marshall homestead: a slot for me had just opened up in the 1975 Class, but to claim it, I had to be at the Law Center to register Monday morning—and it was Sunday. And I was in California.

I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to law school at that point, but my dad was determined that I should take the opportunity. We cut short our Yosemite visit and drove to San Francisco, where I was deposited on a red-eye to Dulles. I had few clothes, and knew nobody in the District of Columbia or anywhere near it. Somehow, I was assured, my family would have a plan for me by the time I arrived. I was to call their hotel in Frisco once I had registered. Continue reading

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