Don Everly has died, and that’s the end of the Everly Brothers (Phil died years ago), one of the most influential and perhaps the most harmonious singing group of all time. The unique sympathetic vibrations that only sibling singers seem to be able to achieve is a marvelous metaphor for the ethical benefits of teamwork and trust.
This date also marks the demise of another famous duo: despite worldwide demonstrations in support of their alleged innocence, Italian-born anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed for murder in Massachusetts in 1921 .On April 15, 1920, a paymaster for a shoe company in South Braintree was shot and killed along with his guard. The murderers, who escaped with more than $15,000, were described by witnesses as two “swarthy Italian men.” Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested and charged with the crime. The men carried guns and lied to the police, but neither had a previous criminal record, and they definitely didn’t get a fair trial by modern standards. Prejudice against Italian-Americans was strong, and suspicion of anarchists was stronger. The pair was convicted on July 14, 1921, and sent to the electric chair on August 23.
A TV dramatization of their case, written by Reginald Rose (who authored “Twelve Angry Men”) made a huge impression on me as a child, and sparked the first stirrings of my interest in the law. In 1961, a test of Sacco’s gun using modern forensic techniques proved that it was his gun that killed the guard; he, at least, was guilty, but there was little evidence to implicate Vanzetti in the killing. To make this ethics train wreck complete, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis ignored the evidence of Sacco’s guilt and issued a proclamation exonerating both Sacco and Vanzetti and proclaiming that no stigma should be associated with their names.
Typical of Dukakis.
1. Accountability? What accountability? “Sources”—and I stipulate that un-named “sources” are untrustworthy—tell various news outlets that “President Biden isn’t inclined to fire any senior national security officials over the chaos in Kabul unless the situation drastically deteriorates or there’s significant loss of American life.” That sounds as likely as it is depressing. The reluctance of American Presidents to fire subordinates for gross incompetence has become the norm rather than the exception, and the trend ensures that our government, whoever is the President and whatever party is power, will continue to decline in competence and trustworthiness. Consider President Bush’s refusal to fire any of those responsible for the botched intelligence regarding Iraq’s WMDs, and later Abu Ghraib, or my personal favorite, Barack Obama’s refusal to acknowledge the gross incompetence of Kathleen Sebelius, his Secretary of Health, after her inexcusable reliance on a flawed website to launch the Affordable Care Act.
Dumber still is the qualification “unless the situation drastically deteriorates or there’s significant loss of American life.” Morons. Morons! Whether the situation gets worse or not is pure moral luck; it doesn’t change the utter incompetence of the Afghanistan abandonment. Imagine a babysitter who gives a toddler knives to play with, and a parent whose reaction is, “Well, the kid wasn’t hurt, so there’s no reason to fire her.” That is literally what the reasoning at the White House is…if “sources” are accurate.
2. The inexplicable NCAA ruling on Baylor. Baylor University has seen its athletes engage in multiple rapes and sexual assaults, and its general approach has been to let the attackers get away with it. Earlier this month the NCAA announced the results of a years-long investigation into allegations that “Baylor shielded football student-athletes from the school’s disciplinary processes and did not report allegations of misconduct by football student-athletes.” The investigation ruled the university’s “failings” to be “egregious,” but in keeping with its pattern of ethics rot, the NCAA only punished Baylor mildly, with a tiny fine and four years of probation.
Curmie is blogging again, and I’m going to send you over to his place for a typically astute, well written, typo-free analysis of this fiasco. Curmie generously shares his insights on Ethics Alarms, and I’d like to see his blog get the attention it deserves.
3. From the outrageous hindsight bias files. Nauseatingly, some pundits are saying that the mess in Afghanistan proves the wisdom of Barbara Lee, the House California Democrat who was the only member of Congress to vote against attacking the Taliban in 2001. The word “wisdom” (or “ethics,’ for that matter) and “Rep. Barbara Lee” should never be used in the same sentence except as satire, and her vote regarding Afghanistan proved it. Any nation, but especially a superpower, that allows a nation to engage in a cowardly sneak attack on its citizens without responding with overwhelming force is placing all of its citizens in dire peril. Approximately as many Americans died on 9-11 as were killed by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, but most of the deaths in 1941 were military personnel, making the 2001 ambush, if possible, worse. But Lee doesn’t believe in war, or the use of military power, or, obviously, history, logic, and human nature. It is far from the worst result of Biden’s Folly, but giving an empowered fool like Lee a chance to say “I told you so!” is providing credibility to an incompetent who is certain to abuse it.
4. More suicide ethics and police persecution. Huntsville, Alabama., police officer William Darby, 28, fatally shot Jeffrey Parker, a suicidal man holding a gun to his own head, 11 seconds after entering Parker’s house and telling him to drop the weapon. Darby was sentenced last week to 25 years in prison for murder. Another officer had arrived on the scene first and was trying to talk Parker into putting down his gun. The Huntsville Police Department review board cleared Darby of wrongdoing in May 2018. However, the Madison County District Attorney’s office brought the case to a grand jury anyway, and Darby was indicted for murder.
Dewayne McCarver, the Huntsville police captain and head of the Huntsville Police Department’s training unit, testified during the trial that Darby acted appropriately under the circumstances. Never mind: the jury convicted Darby anyway. Needless to say, I hope, 25 years is a cruelly excessive sentence for a police officer who shoots a man who refused to put down his gun, regardless of where it was pointed. I think this is clearly a result dictated by the anti-police propaganda that has poisoned community relations with law enforcement. It is also one more episode that will, and should, send potential police recruits into another line of work.
5. And now for the GOOD news! Judge Stephanos Bibas ruled in federal court that students at the University of Delaware could proceed with their lawsuit claiming that the school “unjustly enriched itself” during the pandemic by collecting full tuition for what was a less-than-full college experience. The judge found the students’ demand for partial refunds “plausible,” citing the basic contracts principle that “if someone ‘renders performance under the contract, but the contract is then excused because of a ‘change of circumstances,’ he still “has a claim in restitution … as necessary to prevent unjust enrichment.”
Judge Bibas added, “Similarly, the students insist, being on campus is a core part of the educational deal: it is “so basic to the bargain” between students and an in-person university. They may be right.”
They are right. Ethics Alarms has discussed the refusal of colleges and universities to refund tuition fees for what the pandemic turned into a minimized educational experience. Legal or not, the refusal is unethical. Perhaps this ruling will prompt other schools to do the right thing.