Category Archives: Ethics Train Wrecks

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/17/18: Dead Singers, Honorable Magicians, Untrustworthy Ex-Employees, Volunteer Pitchers, And Little Horses

Goooood Morning, Pennsylvania!

(That’s where I going for the next four days, on a rural Pennsylvania ethics CLE speaking tour!)

1. Aretha Franklin Ethics If I can say right now without question that I will never voluntarily listen to an Aretha Franklin record, does that make me a racist? Her death triggers the “recognition but not admiration” impulse I reserve for artists whose skill and importance to the culture I acknowledge and honor, but whose art I never enjoyed and won’t miss. ( Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Barbra Streisand and Joni Mitchell are in the same category for me, restricting the list to pop female singers.) However…

  • It certainly is incompetent for Fox News to mix up Aretha and Patti Labelle, walking right into the “all black folks look the same to them” canard.
  • Since the news media/resistance collective has decreed that anything the President does of says is proof of a depraved soul, we had this yesterday: a White House press pool member for Buzzfeed told another reporter—she didn’t even tweet it!— that the President’s reaction to Franklin’s death was that he”Described her as a person he knew well and who worked for him.” This became more proof that President Trump is a racist: his immediate reaction to the death of a black woman was to think of her as a subordinate.

Will the sane and fair members of the public, which I assume is, if not a majority, a large group, ever turn on such people? A. The statement was hearsay, and not even a quote. B. Franklin did work for him, signing a contract to sing at at a Trump casino. C. What does “knew well” even mean in this context? He didn’t say that he knew her personally, or that they were pals, though who knows? I know her well too: she’s that famous soul singer I couldn’t stand listening to.

2. A spontaneous outburst of integrity...from the unlikely source of professional magician/loudmouth Penn Jillette. Jillette is an asshole, an assessment that I doubt he would dispute himself, but when the vocally-progressive entertainer (aren’t they all?) was asked in a recent Vulture interview to weigh in on Omarosa’s claims about the kind of language Donald Trump used behind closed doors, he responded,

“If Donald Trump had not become president, I would tell you all the stories. But the stakes are now high and I am an unreliable narrator. What I do, as much as anything, is I’m a storyteller. And storytellers are liars. So I can emotionally tell you things that happened racially, sexually, and that showed stupidity and lack of compassion when I was in the room with Donald Trump and I guarantee you that I will get details wrong. I would not feel comfortable talking about what I felt I saw in that room….

I will tell you things, but I will very conscientiously not give you quotations because I believe that would be morally wrong. I’m not trying to protect myself. This really is a moral thing.”

Good for Penn. He’s also a very creative and entertaining magician, as is his mute sidekick, Teller. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Round-Up, 8/15/2018: Rationalizations, Corruption And Mass Impeachment [UPDATED]

Mornin’, all!

1. “That Dog” Ethics. I can think of more accurate and meaner names for Omarosa than “that dog,” but then my vocabulary is larger and more versatile than the President’s…but then, whose isn’t?  I have never heard of “dog” being identified as a racist term—because it isn’t one—though it is a sexist term, often used to denote an unattractive female. Nonetheless, this is presidential language, indeed gutter, low-life language that demeans a President, his office, and the nation he leads when it issues from the White House.

Among the rationalizations that suggest themselves are 1A.  “We can’t stop it” (apparently not, and neither can John Kelly), 2. A. “She had it coming” (nobody short of a traitor or a criminal deserves to be attacked by the President of the United States using such language), 7. “She started it” (which is excusable if you are in kindergarten), 8A. “This can’t make things any worse” (oh, sure it can), 22. “He’s said worse” (true) and many others: I don’t have the energy to go through the whole list.

Of all the dumb, incompetent, self-inflicted impediments to doing the job he was elected to do, the Omarosa fiasco might be the worst and most unforgivable. I’m not sure: I’d have to go through that list, and not only do I not have the energy, I think I’d rather rip my eyelids off.

2. I’m sure glad the new Pope fixed all of this. This story would normally fall into the category of being so obviously unethical that it isn’t worth writing about. Moreover, Ethics Alarms had referenced the Catholic sexual predator scandals in many ways, on many occasions. What distinguishes the latest chapter in this ongoing horror is that the latest revelations are coming after all of the lawsuits, damages, mea culpas and promises of reform, and they did not come from the Church. This means that the cover-up was and is ongoing. It means that even with the thousands of children who were raped and abused that we know about, there were many more. It also means, in all likelihood, that the abuse is continuing. Continue reading

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Afternoon Ethics Pick-Me-Up, 8/14/2018: Fools, Knaves And Hypocrites

Good afternoon!

1. Unethical tweet of the week, right wing nut division: Jerry Falwell Jr, who heads Liberty University. The acorn that didn’t fall far from the tree tweeted:

Are there any grownups w/ integrity left in the DOJ? When I was a kid, I watched Repubs join Dems to force Nixon out. Now Dems won’t join Repubs to lock up Comey, Lynch, Ohr, Rosenstein, Strzok, , & maybe even despite damning evidence!

Here’s an ethics tip for college age students and their parents: if the leader of a school has this tenuous a grip on basic Constitutional law, pay tuition to some place, any place, else.

2. Then we have the left-wing Pro Publica, which is trying to fuel the desperate Democratic efforts to find dirt on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and thus issued this…

3.  Which political party is more deranged today? Well, an  Ipsos public opinion survey claims that 43 % of self-identified Republicans agreed that “the President should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.”  Only 36% of surveyed Republicans disagreed with giving a President the power to shut down news outlets like CNN and The Washington Post.

First of all, this primarily raises legitimate concerns regarding the educational level and intelligence quotient of Americans.  99% of those polled could advocate repealing the First Amendment, just as a majority could proclaim its belief that the national language ought to be Finnish. It’s not happening. Professor Turley’s take-away is that “Trump has truly and irrecoverably changed the party and much of the country . . . and, in this case, not for the better.” Baloney. The fact that journalists have exposed themselves as being partisan operatives uninterested in conveying facts to the public in a fair and unbiased manner has changed the public perception of the value of the news media, and not for the better. Whether the change is “irrecoverable” depends on whether American journalism sees the dangerous error of its path over the past several decades, and becomes trustworthy again. Continue reading

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Sunday Ethics Reflections, 8/12/2018: Division And Divisiveness

What time is it? I’ve lost track…

1. Keep being intentionally divisive, and eventually you’ll get division…I trace the irresponsible efforts to divide the nation and unravel the bonds of society to the 2000 election, and the false partisan claims that Bush’s was a “stolen Presidency.” Divisive rhetoric became an 8-year strategy of the Obama Administration, with blacks, Hispanics, illegal immigrants, Muslims, LGTB citizens and women being accorded special status as victims and groups in need of special consideration, while whites, men, straight citizens, wealthy citizens, Christians, and, naturally, conservatives and Republicans were consistently demonized and marginalized.  Critics of the first black President were racists, critics of illegal immigration were xenophobes, critics of Hillary Clinton were sexist, and opponents of gay marriage were bigots. The resentment over this long-term and cynical strategy bore misshapen fruit in the election of Donald Trump, and now, says a Zogby Analytics survey, 39 percent of the country support states breaking away from the national government and country, with 42% of Democrats, who have continued to escalate the divisiveness by refusing to accept the election of President Trump as  legitimate, leading the way.

This was where we were headed in 2000, and those who have been reading the Ethics Scoreboard and Ethics Alarms since then know I said so as forcibly as I knew how. Now we are at a point where one party’s leaders are calling for members of the opposing party’s administration to be harassed in public, an attitude that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

In the latest example , Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Houston last week and dines at two Mexican restaurants. The general manager of one of them posted on Facebook,  “We had the honor to serve Mr. Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the United States. Thank you for allowing us to serve you.” The post attracted such an angry reaction that it had to be taken down. [Pointer: Neil Dorr]

2.  Of course! Why else would anyone not love Nancy Pelosi? The news media and its various pundits is deeply complicit in the unraveling of the bonds holding American together, as exemplified by the Washington Post’s jaw-dropping column claiming that Republican opposition to Democratic House leader Pelosi is entirely based on misogyny and sexism—you know, the same reasons I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. Paul Waldman wrote,

“Can we stop treating this lie seriously once and for all? We all know what’s really going on. The Republican attack on Pelosi is about conservative identity politics, full stop. It’s partly the same kind of ugly misogyny that has driven conservatives for years, and that comes out whenever the prospect of a woman wielding genuine power rears its head. Women who display ambition are judged harshly, particularly by conservatives; it’s no accident that Bernie Sanders, whose policy ideas are much more opposed to conservatism than Pelosi’s, inspires nothing like the venomous loathing on the right that Pelosi and Hillary Clinton do.”

Oddly, I have found many reasons despite her gender to regard Nancy Pelosi as an unethical menace, and I haven’t come close to covering all of them. Continue reading

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Ethics Dunces: The San Francisco Giants

To be fair, how was anyone to know that Barry Bonds was cheating?

We knew this was coming.

The San Francisco Giants will retire Barry Bonds’ number 25 in a ceremony before tomorrow’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bonds will become the 12th Giants player to have his number retired, following Bill Terry (3), Mell Ott (4), Carl Hubbell (11), Monte Irvin (20), Orlando Cepeda (30), Juan Marichal (27), Willie Mays (24), Willie McCovey (44) and Gaylord Perry (36). Christy Mathewson and John McGraw are regarded as having their numbers retired, but they played before uniforms had numbers.

None of the other eleven, before Bonds, cheated to reach the heights they achieved in the game, nor did any of the others corrupt the sport, its players, its statistics and records. The Giants knew Bonds was illicitly and illegally using steroids, of course, as did most Giants fans, but they were perfectly happy to enable his conduct and accept his lies because his drug-enhanced talent, which was already formidable, won games. It would have been, one theory goes, hypocritical for the Giants not to honor Bonds. After all, they were complicit and supportive as he amassed Hall of Fame numbers while using methods that disqualified him for the Hall of Fame, if not the San Francisco team.

The retired number, like Bonds’ entire selfish, corrosive, despicable career will now stand for the propositions that the ends justify the means, and the cheating works. That was what Barry was always counting on, and he pulled it off. Now a San Francisco institution is officially endorsing Bonds’ values.

Nice.

No wonder that city’s culture is so screwed up.

You can read the voluminous Ethics Alarms commentary on Bonds, who when I compile the long-promised list of Worst Ethics Corrupters will be a prominent member (right below Bill Clinton) , here.

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Saturday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/28/18: Expired Ethics, Sleeping Fact-Checkers, Ghosts, The Dumbest Ethics Train Wreck Of Them All…

It’s a beautiful morning!

1. When “Everybody Does it” isn’t just a rationalization. I was asked by a law firm to render an opinion as to whether particular conduct was a violation of the legal ethics rules.  A legal ethics opinion—bar associations issue these periodically to cover gray areas– in the jurisdiction said that it was, but the opinion was over 20 years old. The reasoning given in the opinion for declaring the conduct unethical was that the practice was “new to the jurisdiction” and might mislead or confuse the public.

Today, however, my research showed, the conduct is commonplace in that jurisdiction. Many, many law firms engage in it. What was new two decades ago is new no longer, and the reasoning for the opinion’s conclusion was based on conditions that no longer exist. Moreover, no firm has been punished for the conduct, and won’t be.

The firm was concerned that the legal ethics opinion had not been over-ruled or withdrawn. I said that it didn’t have to be. “Everyone” was engaged in the conduct it forbade, the bar had allowed “everyone” to do it, and if an issue was raised now, I am 100% certain that the old opinion would be withdrawn as no longer reasonable or germane.

2. One more human feature that makes ethics harder: the ability to simultaneously hold two contradictory and mutually exclusive beliefs.

I was watching one of the apparently inexhaustible supply of cable shows about haunting and paranormal investigations with my wife. This one climaxed in a session with a Ouija board, and the love of my life uttered, within seconds of each other, these two statements:

  • “It’s amazing how many otherwise intelligent people really believe in ghosts and demons.”
  • “Ouija boards! I wouldn’t allow one of those things in the house. I’m not taking any chances.

I have heard many other friends and acquaintances endorse both of these positions as well.

3. It is the study of how one discerns the truth, after all. Who needs it? They no longer teach ethics in our education system, and now apparently philosophy is on the way out. Claremont Graduate University in California will be closing the PhD program in philosophy and terminating two tenured faculty. Apparently the move was dictated by budget and “market considerations.” The Claremont colleges in Southern California are a distinguished and growing batch consisting of Pomona, Scripps, Harvey Mudd, Claremont-McKenna, and Pitzer. They still have a philosophy faculty, but I wonder for how long.

I was tempted to check the curriculum of these schools to see what kinds of courses were deemed worthy of support while a graduate degree in philosophy was not, but I decided that it would make my head explode. Continue reading

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And The Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck Rolls On: CBS And Les Moonves

I’ll say this: he’s better looking than Harvey…

 

Ronan Farrow has struck again.

In a new investigative reporting piece, the journalist who revealed that New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was a sexual abuser and who also added to the documentation of Harvey Weinstein’s horrific workplace conduct, revealed in his latest investigative article in The New Yorker that clear sexual harassment was alleged by six women in the entertainment business against Les Moonves, and that, as usual, his fish, CBS, and especially CBS News, had rotted from the head down.

Moonves is as long-established, respected and powerful a figure as there is in the media. He became the president of CBS Entertainment in 1995 and the chief executive of the company in 2006, and is paid $69.3 million a year.

You can close your eyes now and imagine everything that follows from here—it will just be a summer re-run of the Fox News debacle that eventually toppled Roger Ailes. We will need a pool to determine who will play the role of Bill O’Reilly, unless Charlie Rose qualifies. The account of actress Illeana Douglas—you know her face if not her name: she played the woman raped and mutilated by Robert DeNiro in “Cape Fear” and appears in several other Martin Scorcese films–is particularly disturbing, if familiar-sounding.

She describes Moonves grabbing her and violently kissing her during a business meeting in 1997. “What it feels like to have someone hold you down—you can’t breathe, you can’t move,” she said. “The physicality of it was horrendous.”  She made a joke and fled, she says, and soon after the episode Moonves fired Douglas from the CBS sitcom she had been cast in and told her that she would  “never work at this network again.” Continue reading

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