Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/21/19: Planes, Tribe and McCain

Good morning!

I’m pretty groggy after one intense early morning seminar, five delayed flights,  the long trip home from San Diego, and a midnight arrival back in Virginia, but my ethics alarms seem to be functioning…

1. Today’s air travel ethics saga: I travel as light as possible for trips of two nights or fewer, carrying only my stuffed soft briefcase and a garment bag the is almost empty. I will not become part of the selfish flying hoards who lug ridiculous roller-boards onto the plane, slowing the loading process and hogging the limited storage space. (The airlines should charge passengers for bringing the luggage on board, not for checking it. Morons.) The barely filled garment bag (I wear my suit on the plane) always fits somewhere,  and even when they announce that all bags must be checked at the gate because there is no more space in the bins, I have always been allowed to bring my bag on board…until last night. Two rude and officious American gate monitors ordered me to surrender my bag or, they threatened, be forced to take a later flight. (“Hmmm..what does “later flight” mean to American since this flight is late taking off and the other four flights I’ve been booked on this trip were also late?” I queried. They just didn’t listen to what I was saying, and kept reciting the policy that I had to store one bag overhead and another under my seat.

I have always believed that you can’t take bureaucratic bullying passively, so I asked if there was a supervisor I could talk to. There was: a harried middle-aged guy with a bad toupe. He did listen, as I explained that I knew my own travel supplies, and that unless every compartment was filled with cement, I could easily find a place for my bag, because in nearly a hundred flights, I always have. Furthermore, I pointed out that it was unfair to treat me , one of the few passengers who carries minimal baggage as a matter of consideration and ethics, this way when other passengers were abusing the privilege of carry-on luggage. The guy said that he agreed with me, but since he hadn’t seen my confiscated bag, he couldn’t assess whether I was right or his subordinate Gate Nazis were. Having made my stand, I thanked him, and made my way down the jetway.

While I was in line, he caught up to me and handed me my bag. “It hadn’t been checked yet,” he said. “You can try to fit it in the overhead storage.” Translation: “You were right, it was ridiculous to make you check this.” Sure enough, the first open compartment I saw took my bag easily….and be the time I got to may seat mid-aircraft, I counted seven other compartments in which it would have fit easily.

Ethics question: Should I write American to praise the supervisor, who was white and male, or would this expose him to being criticized for over-ruling his two female, one African-American, subordinates in their lock-step, unthinking enforcement of a policy?

2. Appeal to a sadly incompetent authority. I use former Harvard Law School icon Larry Tribe as a guaranteed laugh line in my ethics seminars when I’m discussing the dangers of Twitter.  Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, most lawyers are well aware that the combination of Stage 5 Trump derangement and an addiction social media has reduced this once brilliant lawyer into a babbling fool. In addition to embarrassing himself by revealing client confidences via twitter, Tribe has given unwarranted credibility to self-evidently crazy (and false) anti-Trump conspiracy theories. He claimed on Twitter (depressingly, he has over 400,000 followers) last month  that President Donald Trump and  Saudi Arabian Prince Mohammed bin Salman  had leaked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s affair to the National Enquirer. It has been determined that Bezos’ mistress’s brother was the real source, but Tribe’s tweet was still up as of last night. In another instance, Tribe implied that a Russian plane crash in February 2018 was a cover-up of collusion between Trump and Russia: “Among those killed in the tragic plane crash yesterday: Sergei Millian, a Papadopoulis [sic] friend who had emailed Kushner and is said to be behind one of the most salacious claims in the dossier on Trump’s involvement with Russia. Probably just coincidence. .”

Millian wasn’t on the plane.

Nonetheless, MSNBC has had Tribe on as a guest to assist with the station’s round the clock Trump-bashing five times already in 2019. They introduce him as a renowned legal scholar, and don’t mention that he appears to have lost his mind, and is considered as a sad joke among former colleagues and members of his profession.

This is signature significance for an unethical and untrustworthy news source.

3. More fall-out from McCain’s perfidy. We now know that Senator John McCain was complicit in circulating the discredited Steel memorandum  to media sources and others after the President was elected. He was actively promoting the central thesis of the Democratic Party’s effort to undo the election, which is that Trump had conspired with a foreign power to steal an election. The technical name for this is espionage, though treason accurately captures its spirit. McCain was abetting a coup, simply because he hated Trump—with good reason, but statesmen, professionals and adults are supposed to be able to control their personal grudges. This was horrific, irresponsible, indefensible conduct by McCain.

President Trump, stupidly and typically, couldn’t just let this revelation serve as a res ipsa loquitur, and instead has been tweeting out insults to McCain. One conservative blooger asks, “Can you blame him?” Damn right I can. This, in turn, allows the news media (which, as one wag noted, always loved McCain except for the brief period in which he was running for President against Barack Obama, when journalists described him as mean, out-of-touch, old and unstable…) to make the issue Trump’s disrespect for a dead war hero.

I guess this is why most of the mainstream news media is barely reporting what McCain did.

4.  Open Forum note: what a great job the commentariat did on yesterday’s Open Forum! Thank-you, bravo, and please—give me some time to work through all of the material.



22 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/21/19: Planes, Tribe and McCain

  1. 1. I agree fully. Charge for carryon, free check-in. This would speed up the boarding and deplaning (unboarding?), reducing delayed flights. I’ll admit to gate checking an extra bag to get around charges for checked baggage.

    I’d send a letter focusing on praising the supervisor. His actions made a positive impact. The fact that it stands out silently calls out the other employees’ behavior.

  2. I think the best course of action, if you want to praise the supervisor, is to be general about his actions. Talk about his quick wit, excellent problem solving skills, functionality under pressure. But not mention the two people at the desk. They were following company policy to the best of their understanding. Maybe also write another letter suggesting improvements to their carry on policy. Definitely not in the same letter praising the supervisor. Might detract from the commendation.

  3. I suggest you write to American praising the supervisor for the assistance he gave you and citing him as an asset to their organization – without going into specific detail of “the incident”. The supervisor will get credit for good customer service and it will avoid the possible racial/gender issues. It is settling for half a loaf (as I imagine you’d like to take them to task for the unreasonably strict, and mindless adherence to policy at the same time), but getting the supervisor credit outweighs the too often ignored complaint.

  4. 1. By all means praise him, just finesse it so as not to get anyone in trouble. BTW, have you ever removed a bag that clearly didn’t belong to anyone in your row from the overhead storage bin? A friend of my parents did just that and announced in a loud voice (he was a university professor, so he could fill the aircraft) that whoever this bag belonged to should come and collect it or it would be sitting in the aisle the whole flight.

    2. Lawrence Tribe, like most former “scholars” has been reduced to a gibbering idiot by advanced TDS, and isn’t worth paying attention to. MSNBC got to gibbering idiocy long before he did.

    3. Trump was foolish to tweet back, but the other Never Trumpers who have jumped on this chance to beat him up are also idiots for presuming to scold the president, in the hopes of scoring points with a nonexistent base for next year.

    • Steve,

      You should have seen Anderson Cooper last night. He was simply beside himself. I thought he was going to cry. He could not imagine how Pres. Trump could mock a war hero – A WAR HERO!!!!! Wasn’t Cooper one of those decrying Sen. McCain’s military ventures in the Middle East during the 2012 presidential campaign. Cooper did not seem to mind mocking Sen. McCain then.


    • This does beg the question.

      What Trump said about McCain during the primaries should have sunk his candidacy faster than the Lusitania.

      How did his candidacy survive what should have been the dumbest, most destructive gaffe in the history of election campaigns period?

      • 1. The base HATES McCain, who is a traitor to his constituency and a pathetic blowhard out for a bit of news coverage, and

        2. The alternatives were horrible. The Julie Principal applies

    • BTW, have you ever removed a bag that clearly didn’t belong to anyone in your row from the overhead storage bin?

      Of course not. There’s no rule that says you’re only allowed to put your bag in the bin above your own row. If your bin is full, you can put your bag in whatever bin is convenient for you. And many, many times, I have seen a flight attendant take a bag from somebody whose bin was full and put it into whatever bin had space.

  5. Re: No. 3.

    I agree – Pres. Trump’s make him look petty and infantile, clearly not traits one wants in the person sitting in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Same goes for the mockery he is unleashing KellyAnne Conway’s husband.

    Pres. Trump should be talking about how the Steele dossier was given to Sen. McCain (or one of his staffers) by Sec/Sen/Empress Clinton operatives, who then gave it to a number of others, including Pres. Obama and some in the press. Now, it just looks like Pres. Trump is defiling Sen. McCain’s saintly image as a war monge . . . I mean prisoner of war. Sorry. I forgot that we can’t talk about McCain’s hawkish desires to bomb everyplace and everything into oblivion as a vital component of US foreign policy. Silly me.

    From what I have read, the idea was this: If the dossier came from Steele or those associated with him and/or the Clinton campaign, then it would look like the political hit piece it was; however, if it came from Sen. John McCain, it would have unfettered credibility because McCain was so well respected and loved by (except, as Jack noted, during that time when he challenged Saint Barack). Sen. McCain and his office did exactly what was intended because of Sen. McCain’s great hatred for the-president-elect Trump.


    • Frankly, I’m surprised Kellyanne still has a job.

      Remember the “Parks & Recreation” episode where Leslie Knope, having been recalled, but still in office, realizes that she can say or do anything she wants without consequences because the worst thing that could happen has already happened? She publicly bashes her husband’s employer, causing him to be fired.

      As petty as the President is, he’s shown remarkable restraint in keeping Kellyanne in his administration. Heck, when I was in college and working at McDonald’s, my first husband once came in and gave the front counter staff a hard time. I did not appreciate being lectured by my supervisor about it.

  6. 1. Airline ethics

    Ethics question: Should I write American to praise the supervisor, who was white and male, or would this expose him to being criticized for over-ruling his two female, one African-American, subordinates in their lock-step, unthinking enforcement of a policy?

    This looks like a good place to apply the Golden Rule: If you were the supervisor, what would you want? Also, if you were the flight attendants, what would you want?

    Looks like a conflict there. If I were the supervisor I’d want my good customer skills noted to my superiors. If I were the FA’s, I’d want this incident in the memory hole.

    So that doesn’t help us. So now, we must analyze what is best overall. The supervisor executed his duties flawlessly, and the FA’s obviously need customer relations training. Given that, I’d say that both should be noted to American.

    As to the identity politics ramifications, let the chips fall where they may. If he can’t deal with the ramifications of not doing the easy, unprofessional thing, he should either quit or join the others.

    2. Appeal to authority

    Tribe, I suspect, is (or was) competent in his area of expertise. It seems to me the crazy has become so strong with him, though, that he no longer is.

    Having said that, he’s still an icon, just like, for example, Dan Rather is an icon. We may not like it, but their celebrity and fame give them credibility, albeit no longer deserved.

    CNN is trading on that undeserved credibility. Therefore, I think you’re right about CNN being unethical, although I doubt (given their Trump derangement) that they are capable of identifying their unethical actions as such. Because #resistance.

    3. John McCain

    President Trump, stupidly and typically, couldn’t just let this revelation serve as a res ipsa loquitur, and instead has been tweeting out insults to McCain. One conservative blooger asks, “Can you blame him?” Damn right I can.

    Damn right we all can, and should.

    Look, Trump is a counter-puncher. His entire id is tied up with that, so I get it. But he’s also a grown man of 70+ years of experience, and surely he was once advised that when your opponent was busy getting buried by his own flaws, it was unwise to jump into the grave with him.

    But Trump, with the emotional maturity of an arrested-development 15-year old, can’t do it. He must have his revenge, and right now. To quote Count Rugan from The Princess Bride:

    My. You’ve got an overdeveloped sense of vengeance. It’s going to get you into trouble someday.

  7. 1. I say praise the supervisor for resolving a situation… but don’t complain about the other employees. They may figure out who he overrode anyhow, but you will have done as much as possible to avoid that.

    It sucks that this is the state of affairs in America in 2019, but that’s the choice you got handed.

    2. Tribe has let his Trump Derangement Syndrome trump his various compasses. He is a warning to others at this point in time.

    3. McCain is someone who I am increasingly losing respect for after his death. I have no doubt he served heroically in the Vietnam War as a pilot and POW, and I hate the fact that Trump is unable/unwilling to recognize it.

    At the same time, McCain in his last few years pushed through into law an interrogation policy that is supremely idiotic (limiting techniques to a published manual freely available on or via PDF, and thus easily accessible by our enemies). His treatment of Gina Haspel was dishonorable. Whether some of the enhanced interrogation techniques used against high-ranking terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed crossed the line is a debate where honorable people can disagree – albeit McCain failed to see that possibility on this issue. I will note that I perceived a similar blindness to that possibility on campaign finance reform.

    His “No” vote on Obamacare in 2017 does look like a breach of a promise he made on the campaign trail, and that too, is a huge downgrade. Several people are coming forward saying he was a solid “Yes” – until he voted no.

    On the dossier, I think he was taken advantage of. Whether his illness caused it, I do not know. But i can’t fault him for passing what he felt was an authentic document to appropriate authorities. I can fault him if his aides shopped it to the press with his knowledge.

    His daughter seems inclined to carry on the feud with Trump on his behalf… if that is the case, then she has to expect Trump to counter-punch. I wish it wasn’t happening, but it would require some magnanimity on the part of two people who are too caught up in their feud to show it at this time.

  8. At the risk of drawing fire, John McCain was shot down, in an F-14 Phantom. This was a fate that NUMEROUS other Phantom pilots managed to avoid. He may (or may not) be a war hero, but I’d question his competence as a pilot. I would also point out that being a POW does not necessarily make you a hero. Things that happen to you in a POW camp are largely outside of your control. You can either live through it or not.

  9. President Trump, stupidly and typically, couldn’t just let this revelation serve as a res ipsa loquitur

    The thing can’t speak for itself when the press refuses to report that the thing has happened. As you point out, the mainstream media is even now hardly reporting anything about what McCain did. But without Trump’s latest remarks, the press wouldn’t have reported it at all. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that Trump was smart to make the tweet.

    This is a case where the ethical question turns on the pragmatic one. What is better for Trump and for the cause of overthrowing the Democrats, never-Trump Republicans, and deep-state spies and secret police who launched this attempted coup? Should he remain silent about McCain’s perfidy and allow the mainstream media to go another day without saying a single word about the coup attempt? Or should he denounce McCain, knowing that the press will report the story as, “Trump defames war hero,” but forcing them to say at least a few words about the coup attempt in order to provide context for their Trump-bashing story.

    Trump’s struggle reminds me of a book that I read once about Japan’s home front in World War II. Japanese who were interviewed about the war talked about how they could glimpse the truth despite the constant barrage of government propaganda. According to the newspapers and radio, Japan had won every battle overwhelmingly. But smart Japanese, even though they wanted to believe the media, noticed that the latest supposedly victorious battle had been fought in Iwo Jima, near Japan, not in Guadalcanal, near Australia.

    Likewise, Trump has to hope that, if he prods CNN, etc. hard enough, they will let slip enough stray inconvenient facts that at least a few of their more discerning viewers, who might like to keep believing CNN, will glimpse the reality behind the propaganda. Maybe CNN’s reporting of his tweets will make some viewers notice that CNN has stopped defending the accuracy of the dossier and has fallen back on defending the motives of the people who leaked it.

    Trump’s tweets are the only reliably pro-Trump news source that gets regular coverage by the mainstream media, so they are almost literally the only medium available to him to try to sway public opinion in his favor. Perhaps his latest tweets are a tactical mistake, or perhaps there’s nothing that he can say or do that will change the minds of voters who are being bombarded non-stop by anti-Trump propaganda, but it’s not unethical for him to try.

  10. Good Evening Jack,
    The gate agents deal with 100’s of customers everyday. The rules are the same for everyone, even if they are ridiculous. You can have a roll aboard, and a personal item that will fit under the seat. At some point, the overhead bins become full, necessitating the complimentary gate checking of your bag. If that’s an inconvenience, you may, on some flights, be able to talk the gate agent into checking your bag at the gate, and picking it up at the gate when you deplane, as opposed to getting it at baggage claim.
    Certainly some agents are much better at working with people than others. Their job is to get the aircraft boarded in an expeditious and ordered manner, so that we can depart on time.
    I have seen people stuff one bag within another to meet the rules, and the gate agents let it go.
    Disclaimer: I fly for AA, and when I’m traveling for personal reasons, even I have to follow those rules. Be nice to the gate agents, they can really look out for you if things get fouled up due to maintenance, crew or weather. If I see them pulling out their hair, and there’s time, I check if they need a coffee.
    And yes, the supervisor deserves some recognition for his intelligent flexibility.
    BTW, thanks for flying with us!

    • Yes, but in the quickest way to board was for the gate staff 1) to pay attention, 2) to apply their own common sense. I assume anyone who works those jobs knows what “full” overhead storage compartments look like, and that when I said this floppy soft bag would even fit in most full compartments, they would know I was right. They didn’t listen, they didn’t look at what I was carrying. No, the checking of my bag is never necessary—that’s the point. Applying a rule when it doesn’t apply is never competent, never good service, and never fair. It’s just lazy and obnoxious.

      The “the job is tough” and “we deal with hundreds of customers” doesnn’t cut any ice with me: that’s the job. I hear that to justify rudeness, bad decision-making and incompetence all the time. I expect fast food workers to be polite and to smile. I expect police officers to treat me as a taxpayer and a citizen. I expect “very important people” to treat me as if I’m as good and important as they are, because I am. When I am working as a stage director, late at night in a rehearsal knowing I have to get up early and teach ethics the next morning, I can’t justify mistreating an actor because I’ve had a long day and have a complicated wife. One of the young women gave me the classic sarcastic, perfunctory, “Have good flight, sir” after yanking my bag away. Uh-uh. There’s no excuse for treating any flyer that way. Not the first of the day, and not the last.

  11. #1 – you’re missing your larger mistake. Don’t set foot on United or America Airlines. They’re undeserving of any patronage until they radically change.

    I’ve decided to give United a lifetime boycott in 2004 and have stuck with it since. It wasn’t any specific incident particular. I was on a multi-city trip on United. I strongly believe that polite gets you further so the treatment I received wasn’t a reflection of my bad behavior, but a reflection of a bunch of people who hate their job and take it out on the customer. My flight home ended up being delayed all day and eventually canceled. United wanted to put us in a hotel . This was a classic case that the only place with a problem was Chicago breaking their network. We called our employer’s travel agent help line and they had us on a Frontier flight and home that night. What was striking is that our late booking made us late and the Frontier employees treated us nice as they made sure we made our flight and our connection.

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