Category Archives: Ethics Heroes

Ethics Hero: U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley

Usually it is a sign of loyalty and responsibility when a subordinate takes the fall for his or her superior in the best interests of the organization. Not in this instance, however. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley was the victim of another inexcusable example of  White House incompetence, and was designated to take the fall. She refused.

Brava.

White House aides tried to blame Haley for speaking on national television about the administration’s plans to roll out new sanctions against Russia when the President had decided to defer them but never informed her of his course correction.White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, either on his own or according to direction, said in a statement that Haley had suffered “momentary confusion” and gotten “out ahead of the curve.”  Haley didn’t stand for it, and demanded and received an apology. “With all due respect, I don’t get confused,” she said.

Says Politico:

“But the sanctions episode is a stark reminder that this president has little compunction about letting his top staffers and appointees dangle. As the White House scrambled to explain the president’s change of heart on issuing Russia sanctions, Haley became a convenient target for West Wing aides working to smooth a ragged decision making process without blaming the president himself.”

Good. The White House needs such a reminder, and needs to be embarrassed, publicly. This kind of ridiculous sloppiness has plagued the Trump Presidency from the start, and while I doubt that he is capable of learning and reform, covering for his incompetence will just guarantee more and worse.

Before Kudlow tried to make Haley Trump’s scapegoat, the White House spun that while the President signed off on sanctions legislation last week, the announcement was delayed because the Treasury Department did not have the legislation ready.  Oh, it was the Treasury Department’s fault then. Welllllno. The White House sent talking points to spokespersons the day before Haley’s TV appearance. It just forgot to alert the President’s official voice in the international body known as the United Nations. Hey, anyone can make a mistake!

Morons. Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: Justice Neil Gorsuch

The Supreme Court today struck down a law that allowed the government to deport legal immigrants who commit certain kinds of crimes, ruling that the law was unconstitutionally vague. The vote was 5 to 4, with Justice Neil Gorsuch voting with the court’s left-leaning block. The case was Sessions v. Dimaya, first argued in January 2017 before the  eight-member court left vulnerable to deadlocks by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. And a deadlock it was,  4 to 4. The case was reargued last October after Justice Gorsuch’s confirmation again gave the Court a full contingent of nine.

The dispute concerned James Dimaya, a native of the Philippines who became a lawful permanent resident in 1992, when he was 13. In 2007 and 2009, he was convicted of residential burglary. The government sought to deport him under a law that made “aggravated felonies,” which the immigration law defined to include any offense “that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense,” justification for deportation.

In concurring with the majority opinion, authored by Justice Elena Kagan, Justice Gorsuch wrote that the law violated due process requirements by being unconstitutionally vague. “Vague laws,” he wrote, “invite arbitrary power.”

The interest here at Ethics Alarms isn’t whether the decision was right or wrong. It is that Gorsuch decided the case on the law and his view of it, not partisan loyalties, not knee-jerk cant, and not as a cog in a ideological block. In other words, he did what  judges, and especially Supreme Court Justices, are supposed to do, but which the news media, politicians, activists and those who neither understand nor respect the law always assume they don’t do: analyze each case according to the law and the facts, and decide without being influenced by political agendas.

Judge Gorsuch’s vote demonstrates his integrity, and speaks for the integrity of the entire Court and the judicial system. There were countless articles, when Gorsuch was nominated by President Trump, that represented him as an automatic reflex vote for whatever future results conservatives lusted for. This was an insult to Gorsuch, judges, the Court, and the United States.

You can read Gorsuch’s opinion here. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, April 11, 2018: Caesar’s Wife At The EPA, Idiots On The Air, And Dreamers Demanding Discounts [UPDATED]

Good Morning!

1. Forgetting to heed the “Caesar’s wife” Principle. Whatever one may think about EPA head Scott Pruitt’s controversial policy directions as head of the environmental agency, all ought to be able to agree on this: he’s an idiot.

Here is a cultural literacy test: How many Americans under the age of—what, 45? 60? 104?—know what the term “like Caesar’s wife” means? When you have a target painted on your back because you are taking positions that are guaranteed to be anathema to powerful critics, like the news media, you are “like Caesar’s wife.” This should communicate something to you. In 63 BC, Julius Caesar, a man on the rise, was elected to the position of the Pontifex Maximus, the chief priest of the Roman state religion. The next year, his wife Pompeia hosted the festival of the Bona Dea (“Good Goddess”) in which no man was allowed to participate, at Caesar’s official residence. Publius Clodius Pulcher, a  rash young patrician, snuck into the celebration disguised as a woman, allegedly to seduce Pompeia. He was caught, prosecuted ( not for trying to shag Caesar’s wife but for the crime of sacrilege), and ultimately  acquitted. Nevertheless, Caesar divorced Pompeia, saying, “My wife ought not even to be under suspicion.”  Thus was born the saying, once well-known to educated individuals, that “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.”

Either Pruitt doesn’t know the reference, or doesn’t understand it. He has made himself vulnerable and a political liability to the Trump administration by the kind of grubby ethics violations so many of the administration’s recruits from the corporate world have engaged in. (And what does this tell us about that culture?)

David J. Apol, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, sent  a letter this week to Kevin Minoli, the EPA’s  top ethics official,  asking the agency to take “appropriate actions to address any violations.”

Among the issues raised were Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental  of a Capitol Hill condominium from the wife of an energy lobbyist (This may not have been market value, the letter speculates, raising the question of whether it was a gift, aka “bribe.” Ya think? You can’t rent a decent garden tool shed for 50 bucks a night…), Pruitt taking an excessive number government-funded flights home to Oklahoma and back (He’s about the 78th Trump official to be caught doing this kind of thing—do these guys read the newspapers?), and worst of all, reports that agency staff members who raised concerns about these and other actions creating “the appearance of impropriety”  found themselves transferred or demoted.

“The success of our government depends on maintaining the trust of the people we serve,”wrote Apol. “The American public needs to have confidence that ethics violations, as well as the appearance of ethics violations, are investigated and appropriately addressed.”

Why yes! And anyone who holds high government office is supposed to know that. Anyone holding high government office in this administration, which is in the position of the thug sprung from police lock-up on a technicality to which an angry detective says before he strolls out the door, “If you so much as spit on the sidewalk, I’ll be there to pick you up,” should know that especially. When they are gunning for you, you have to be like Caesar’s wife.

The President should fire Pruitt for these flagrant abuses. He won’t, because he literally doesn’t think ethics matter. I wonder if he thinks stupidity and unrestrained arrogance matter… Continue reading

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Ethics Self-Warm-Up, 4/8/2018: An Ethics Alarms Experiment

My gallant crew, Good Morning!

The combination of the 45th Anniversary of the Gilbert & Sullivan performing organization I founded as 1L student at Georgetown and some unusually complex ethics problems tosses to me by some law firm clients have conspired to put me out of action until this afternoon.

I’m opening this post up to commentary on any ethics issue you please. Stay on topic, please, and be civil.

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Ethics Hero: Andrew Sullivan

Once again, Ethics Alarms is honoring Andrew Sullivan for unusual courage in the field of punditry. In this case, the honor is less for what he has written than the fact that he wrote it at all.

His general topic is genetic research, taking off from a recent op-ed appeared in the New York Times by Professor David Reich, a  Harvard geneticist, which broached the virtually taboo topic genetic variations between subpopulations of humans, that is to say, races. On the way through Sullivan’s essay, called “Denying Genetics Isn’t Shutting Down Racism, It’s Fueling It,” Sullivan makes many perceptive observations, like…

“This argument should not be so controversial — every species is subject to these variations — and yet it is. For many on the academic and journalistic left, genetics are deemed largely irrelevant when it comes to humans. Our large brains and the societies we have constructed with them, many argue, swamp almost all genetic influences.

Humans, in this view, are the only species on Earth largely unaffected by recent (or ancient) evolution, the only species where, for example, the natural division of labor between male and female has no salience at all, the only species, in fact, where natural variations are almost entirely social constructions, subject to reinvention. We are, in this worldview, alone on the planet, born as blank slates, to be written on solely by culture. All differences between men and women are a function of this social effect; as are all differences between the races. If, in the aggregate, any differences in outcome between groups emerge, it is entirely because of oppression, patriarchy, white supremacy, etc. And it is a matter of great urgency that we use whatever power we have to combat these inequalities.”

Agreed, and stipulated: the progressive position on this aspect of science is, as in so many other areas, a deliberate refusal to deal with reality in order that ideological goals may proceed.

More from Sullivan later in his piece… Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: The Chicago White Sox

In 1994, Nevest Coleman, 25 and the father of two small  children, had a job he loved as  a groundskeeper at Comiskey Park, where the White Sox play.

That same year,  Coleman was wrongly convicted of rape and murder, and sent to prison. At the end of last year,  following  23 years behind bars,  DNA evidence proved that he had not he had not committed the crime. He was released.

And the White Sox gave him his old job back. As Major League Baseball’s Opening Day looms, Coleman once again is caring for the green field.

How often does that happen, I wonder? Continue reading

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Ethics Hero: John Gunn

John Gunn, the father of a 12-year-old, went to his son’s school to register his objection to his son’s class being allowed to participate in the National Walk-out to Protest Gun Laws That Had Nothing To Do With the Valentine’s Day Massacre in Parkland, Florida. He videoed the exchange with principal Barbara Boggio, and posted the confrontation on the Ventura Unified School District Facebook page.

Gunn (great name, by the way!): “I want to know who authorized these kids to go out and leave the class when I wasn’t even notified about it.”

Boggio: “As our school planned for who and what, we anticipated something…”

Gunn:  “6th graders? 6th graders? When do 6th graders make decisions?…When do 12-year-olds make decisions? You’re an adult, you’re the school, you’re supposed to teach my child. You don’t influence my child in any which way. Democrat, liberal, Republican, whatever it is. I want it out of the school system. So why did my son have to sit in that class — because he didn’t leave — but why wasn’t I notified?”

Boggio: “If the student chose to leave, that’s their choice.”

Gunn: “What do you mean that’s their choice? They’re 6th graders!…If this wasn’t a protest and this wasn’t happening, you would let the kid leave?”  Continue reading

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