Category Archives: Leadership

Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/15/2018: Remember The Titanic And The Bay Of Pigs Edition”

I’m always up for a little United Nations bashing, as a good argument can be mounted that an organization that pretends to further the aims of world peace and international cooperation and does so incompetently, fecklessly and corruptly is worse than no such organizations at all. I’m also always up for pointing out that this much maligned President is so much more competent at international politics and foreign affairs than Barack Obama that his domestic foes can only deal with it by double standards and transparent dishonesty.

This is as good a time as any to mention that Ethics Alarms passed the 9000 post landmark this week, and those posts (over less than nine years) have sparked 222, 231 comments so far, at a steadily increasing rate. Say what you will about the blog: it doesn’t lack for content. Or diverse topics: at last count, there were 24, 393 tags. That’s a lot even if you allow for the misspelled ones.

Here is Steve-O-in NJ’s Syria bombing-inspired Comment of the Day on the post, Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/15/2018: Remember The Titanic And The Bay Of Pigs Edition:

The UN has been worthless by design from the get-go. Any institution that gives certain members an absolute veto over any action by that institution isn’t going to get anything done, especially when one of those members, the USSR and now Russia, is going to abuse that privilege. The institution as a whole is completely without a moral compass, and shows zero judgment or even consideration what nations it allows to sit on what committees. It’s a bad joke when Syria is about to sit on a committee concerning chemical weapons and Iran and North Korea can sit on committees regarding human rights. Other than Korea (because the USSR walked out), name one situation where the UN stepped in and took decisive action.

As for criticism of the President for finally taking action [in Syria], I think he actually did a pretty good job of fooling the media and probably others by making it look like he was backing off the immediacy of the attack to do some more coalition building with the allies and to let the USS Truman and its battle group get into position, which they should do in the next couple of days. Of course that led to a lot of talk about how this would just peter out, that Trump wasn’t going to enforce anything just like Obama didn’t and so forth. It turns out the coalition was already ready to go, and the forces in the area were plenty up to the task already. Maybe a dozen aircraft and five ships did the actual firing of weapons, including 30 missiles fired by the cruiser USS Monterey (a big reason to keep the Ticonderoga-class cruisers sailing).

I can understand some of the reactions. It’s just politics as usual, necessary action when your party’s President does something, but reckless or wrong or whatever when the other side’s President does it. There are a few principled peaceful people, who can be ignored, saying any use of force is wrong under any circumstances  and a few folks justifiably gun-shy because of the mess that Iraq became. Continue reading

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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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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/18/2018: The Bad, The Beautiful, And The Stupid

Good morning, everyone…

1. Tales of the King’s Pass. Fox News put out a statement saying that Sean Hannity had its “full support.” We can assume that means no punishment, no sanctions, not even any public regrets, despite the fact, and it is a fact, that the right-wing talk-show host-turned-Trump propagandist went on the air and defended Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, without mentioning the fact that Hannity was Cohen’s client. Thus Fox is announcing, in effect, that undisclosed conflicts of interest are just fine and dandy if your ratings are good enough. This also means that Fox News is admitting that it really doesn’t care about candor, honesty, and objectivity, since it will ignore blatant violations of all three if the profit is sufficient.

In fairness to Fox, Hannity’s blatant biases toward all things Trump are no more egregious than the open Obama bias displayed across the mainstream media’s full spectrum of journalists and pundits; it just stands out more because he has less company. However, this is a specific conflict of interest, with Hannity having undisclosed connections to a newsmaker that could reasonably affect his commentary. The closest parallel would be ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reporting on the Clinton Foundation’s dubious activities without telling viewers that he was a $75,000 donor. ABC didn’t discipline him, either, but at least he made a public apology on the air.

To make the King’s Pass case even stronger, after Politico reported this week that dinnertime news anchor Bret Baier played nine holes of golf with President Trump over the weekend, Fox News acknowledged that Baier was admonished by the president of the network.  I don’t agree with the reprimand at all. The opportunity to spend that kind of time with a President is invaluable, a rare opportunity to acquire insight and access over an extended period of time. The idea, I assume, is that it creates the illusion of chumminess. It’s a dumb illusion. If I were a journalist,  I would play golf with anyone if it allowed me to learn something. If I were president of a network, I’d reprimand a reporter for turning down such an opportunity.

2. The Virtue-Signaling Hall Of Fame. Starbucks is reacting to the PR nightmare arising out of the arrest of two black men for refusing to order anything while waiting for a companion in a Philadelphia Starbucks by a grand gesture: it will close all U.S. stores and corporate offices on the afternoon of May 29 for “employee racial bias training.” I suppose this is good crisis management, though cynical and non-substantive. It also permanently tars as a racist the Starbucks ex-manager, who says she was following a locale-specific company policy in an area that had experienced problems with loitering. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/16/2018: The Integrity Edition

Good Morning!

1. James Comey, Cognitive Dissonance Dunce. The anti-Trump obsessed won’t be able to see it, but rogue ex-FBI director James Comey is doing an immense favor for President Trump and Republicans by single-handedly framing his campaign against the man who, it is increasingly obvious, correctly fired him (as Hillary Clinton would have done even faster) as that of a classic vengeful disgruntled employee and nothing more, or better. Even Time op-ed writer Charles Blow, whose every column since the election has been some paraphrasing of “I hate Donald Trump,” was forced to observe that Comey is an especially dislikable foe (as is Blow himself). The sheer number of loathsome Trump-bashers has a natural Cognitive Dissonance Scale effect that the President’s critics can’t seem to fathom.

Normal, fair-minded people whose natural instinct is to run from the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Ted Lieu, Hillary Clinton, David Hogg, Joy Reid, Bill Maher, James Comey, Robert DeNiro, Alec Baldwin, Stormy Daniels and the rest will find themselves, almost unconsciously, siding with the President rather than this basket of deplorables, because, you see, he is the President, and who wants to be identified with that crew?

In his ABC interview, which successfully marked Comey as Just Another Trump-Deranged Resistance Warrior, he actually said that Trump was “morally unfit” to be President. First of all, it is the electorate, not James Comey, that decides who is morally fit to be President.  Comey’s assessment is no more or less valid than that of anyone else. Second, the statement is ridiculous on its face. If Comey had an interviewer with any knowledge of Presidential character and the history of the office, plus the wit and integrity to expose  an ignorant opinion when one is broadcast coast to coast, he would have been asked..,

Was Thomas Jefferson morally fit to be President? Has Donald Trump kept his wife’s sister as a concubine and slave? Was Andrew Jackson morally fit to be President? Has Donald Trump killed anyone in an illegal duel? Was Grover Cleveland morally fit to be President? Did Donald Trump ever have a woman committed to an institution to silence her about their sexual relationship? Was Woodrow Wilson morally fit to be President? Has Donald Trump endorsed the Klu Klux Klan? Was Franklin Roosevelt morally fit to be President? Has President Trump ordered U.S. citizens into prison camps? Was Richard Nixon morally fit to be President? LBJ? Bill Clinton?

The Presidency is self-defined by its past occupants, and “moral fitness” is not a characteristic that comes to mind when considering what qualities are identified with successful, popular or effective Presidents.

2. Whither the ACLU? Alan Dershowitz has authored a searing attack on the ACLU’s lack of integrity demonstrated by its failing to condemn the Justice Department’s raid on lawyer Michael Cohen’s home and office. He writes in part, Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/15/2018: Remember The Titanic And The Bay Of Pigs Edition.

Good Morning.

This, the annual March-April Ethics Alarms traffic dip, is when writing the blog becomes a job, not a joy. I really have to learn to stop caring about click, follower and share stats. It’s pure ego—well, that and the fact that my wife keeps telling me that I should be spending the time on billable matters, or getting books out to publishers.

1. Ethics Observations on the Syria bombing:

  • I teach in my seminars that often decisions made early in ethical dilemmas cause future ethical decisions to become impossible, because only less-unethical ones remain. U.S. and international   policies regarding Syria  are as good an example of this phenomenon as there is. The United Nations, if it wasn’t worthless, would  have intervened to stop the humanitarian catastrophe early in the Syrian civil war. This isn’t hindsight: plenty of experts were saying so at the time. When it became clear, years ago, that this was a bloodbath tidal wave that was destabilizing the whole region (as well as killing untold numbers of civilians and children), U.S. led pressure should have been brought to bear on Assad. Now there are literally no good choices, nor ethical ones.

The United Nations is worthless, as well as toothless, gutless and principle free. If there was any justification for such an organization, it should be to prevent carnage like we have seen in Syria.

  • The U.S., British and French response to Assad’s use of banned chemical weapons was unavoidable, especially after President Obama had been thoroughly embarrassed and discredited by ignoring his own “red line” statement, and after President Trump had made his own veiled threats that amounted to “red line” pledges of his own.

Democrats were going to mock Trump if he did not have a military response to the latest chemical weapons war crime, and they are now criticizing Trump for following through. In doing so, they only make their own fecklessness, hypocrisy and expediency more obvious, if that were possible.

  • Was Assad emboldened by the President’s comments about how he was preparing to pull the military out of Syria? Who knows? Announcing troop movements in a combat zone before they occur is irresponsible and incompetent.

Obama did it repeatedly. Criticism of Trump’s equivalent conduct is valid.

  • Trolling the news media, the President used the phrase “Mission Accomplished!” after the attacks. Good. There is nothing wrong with the phrase, and the mission was accomplished. The mockery of President Bush for a banner he did not have anything to do with was a dastardly media hit job. Ann Althouse’s theory:

Trump is completely aware of how Bush was punched around for using that phrase in a celebration of a specific mission that in fact was accomplished, and he would like the naysayers to come after him the way they came after Bush, and when they do, he’ll show us all how to handle that kind of anti-military negativity.

  • Conservatives are angry about the bombing, even the ones who mocked Obama for being a weenie when Assad called his “red line” bluff. Alex Jones was actually weeping about the raid on his show . These people really are old-style Fortress America isolationists, and want the United States to abandon its traditional mission of being the world’s champion of the abused and helpless while modelling the ideals of democracy.

The non-interventionists are wrong. The ethical optics of the United States and Great Britain and France punishing a brutal dictator who flouts international law are perfect.

  • From the other side of the aisle, some Democrats are whining about the attack being unconstitutional, so some unscrupulous left-biased journalists are spreading the word. Now, the War Powers Act may be unconstitutional, but as long as it’s in force—and Democrats share responsibility for its continued existence—this is just more double-standard hypocrisy aimed at President Trump. The War Powers Act allows the President to take some military actions based on exigencies, as long as they do not extend into a protracted engagement.

This is why “Mission Accomplished” is an especially appropriate message. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/6/2018: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Gooooood Morning!

1. From the Moral Luck files:

What you just saw is a bald eagle landing on Seattle Mariners starter James Paxton’s shoulder during the National Anthem before yesterday’s Mariners-Twins game.  Here’s a closer look…

The eagle got confused: it is supposed to go to his trainer, in one of the more spectacular Anthem displays that has ever been devised: I’ve seen this performance several times.  After the game, Paxton was asked why he didn’t try to escape. His answer:

“I’m not gonna outrun an eagle, so just thought, we’ll see what happens.”

Heck, he had already endured the horror of Dessa’s incredibly off-key rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” what’s a mere bald eagle attack? Seriously, Paxton’s quote is an ethics guide: Don’t panic, don’t act on emotion, assess the situation, see what happens, and act accordingly. Of course, the fact that this strategy worked out well helps: if the eagle had ripped his eyes out, everyone would be saying Paxton was an idiot not to run.

How I would have loved to see this happen to Colin Kaepernick!

2. How the President gets himself into ethics trouble. I just watched a clip of Trump speaking yesterday about California’s sanctuary cities. “The thing is that these cities are protecting bad people,” he said, with emphasis. Naturally, this will be characterized as racism. It’s not racism, however. The statement is just overly simplistic, and exacerbated in its inflammatory elements by the President’s rudimentary vocabulary, in which the only operable adjectives appear to be great, bad, horrible, wonderful, terrible, sad, and a few more. It is impossible to communicate about complex issues competently and fairly with such meager tools. Illegal immigrants have broken our laws and willfully so. That is not good, but it does not make all of them bad people….though many are. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day, Rebuttal #2: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/4/2018:…A Presidential High Crime…”

This is the second rebuttal to my criticism of the President’s effort to use his influence and power to harm Amazon. I’m very impressed with it, but I have to give a rationalizations alert, for there are several evoked here, including, a few versions of #1, Everybody does it,” #2 A. Sicilian Ethics, or “They had it coming,” #3. Consequentialism, or  “It Worked Out for the Best” #39. The Pioneer’s Lament, or “Why should [He] be the first?,” #45. The Unethical Precedent, or “It’s Not The First Time,” and probably others.

Here is Greg’s Comment of the Day on the #2 in “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/4/2018: Baseball Lies, A Presidential High Crime, And A Judge Makes A Panty Raid”:

There is nothing wrong, much less anything impeachable, about the President making valid, policy-based attacks that target specific companies, even though the attacks may “suppress the companies’ stock values.” Attacks on Standard Oil were justified, even though stockholders in Standard Oil may have suffered. Trump’s comments about Amazon are fair. In any case, there is no reason to think that his remarks were intended to drive down Amazon’s stock price and very little reason to think that they will cause any particular harm to Amazon or its stock.

Trump’s recent tweets have made three points about Amazon, all of which he has made many times before: (1) Amazon benefits from a sales tax loophole that unfairly costs states money and disadvantages brick-and-mortar retailers, (2) Jeff Bezos uses the Washington Post to lobby for the continuation of this advantage and (3) the US Postal Service undercharges Amazon and should negotiate higher rates.

Trump has been making the first two points since at least 2015. He made them repeatedly during his campaign in tweets, in interviews and in speeches. Here’s the earliest reference that I found: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/12/07/donald-trump-called-out-jeff-bezos-on-twitter-then-bezos-called-his-bluff/?utm_term=.8573b4279b6d.

Trump has continued to make both points since he became president. Here’s just one example: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-17/trump-s-bruising-tweet-highlights-amazon-s-lingering-tax-fight. His Treasury Department has been studying the sales tax issue for over a year, http://thehill.com/policy/finance/343972-mnuchin-trump-administration-is-examining-online-sales-tax-issue, and his Justice Department last month filed an amicus brief in South Dakota v. Wayfair, a case currently before the Supreme Court, arguing that the Court should close the sales tax loophole that benefits Amazon and other online retailers.

Trump has been making the third point (about USPS rates) since at least December last year. http://fortune.com/2017/12/29/trump-amazon-post-office.

None of those previous statements and actions by Trump and his administration caused Amazon’s stock price to fall. Trump could not have expected that thisweek’s tweets, repeating exactly the same points that he has made many times before, would have any effect on Amazon’s stock price.

Moreover, Trump’s tweets haven’t made any threats against Amazon and he doesn’t seem to have any intention of taking any unilateral action to hurt Amazon. To the extent that his tweets may have affected Amazon’s stock price, they most likely did that by drawing investors’ attention belatedly to genuine issues regarding Amazon’s business model, in particular the possibilities that the Supreme Court might actually close Amazon’s sales tax loophole and that the USPS might actually negotiate a better deal with Amazon. If his tweets have pointed out concerns that investors previously hadn’t given proper weight, then he has done a valuable service for the markets. If these concerns turn out to be unjustified, then Amazon’s stock price will soon recover and Trump’s tweets will have done no harm. Continue reading

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