Category Archives: Leadership

Ethics Observations On The Clown Show In Virginia

What a TEAM!!!

I arrived in Austin, Texas exhausted, still suffering from whatever it is that’s been sapping my energy for the last month, and resigned to staying off the blog until tomorrow, a news day, and with luck a healthier me arrived. Then I learned about the latest ridiculous development in my adopted home state of Virginia. My mind was awash with images of George Washington, Patrick Henry, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe—no, not Woodrow Wilson, he liked blackface—-all doing backflips in their graves. I can’t stand it. I have to write something.

But what? I don’t even know what this mass meltdown of the Virginia Democrats is. And what does it mean? Could it possibly mean that all of our elected officials are secretly absurd, untrustworthy morons? That can’t be it, can it? CAN IT?  Heck, before this, Virginia wasn’t even on my list of top ten ridiculous state governments, then the next think I know, the Governor of Virginia is solemnly explaining how one would go about a post-birth abortion, and then someone finds a weird photo of Governor Northam simultaneously dressed in blackface and in KKK robes, or something, in his mediacl school yearbook, and I didn’t even know medical schools had yearbooks. Maybe only medical schools where they teach post birth abortions? I don’t know. Anyway, suddenly the Governor is apologizing and saying that yes, he was in one of those costumes, then he’s saying that, upon reflection, he would NEVER have dressed like that for a yearbook photo, and he never saw the thing before, BUUUUT he did recall putting  shoe polish on his face that same year to imitate Michael Jackson, but not TOO much, because as we all know, it’s hard to wash off. Which is totally not what Matthew McConaughey promised the whites in the jury when he asked them to make themselves black for a while in that dramatic closing argument in “A Time To Kill,” but I digress. Anyway, Democrats realize that accusing Republicans and conservatives of being racists is the whole ball game for them, so obviously Northam had to go, and his own Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax, who is also conveniently black as well as next in line if Northam quit, made comments suggesting that just maybe a Michael Jackson imitator, even one whose act was 35 years old, might not be exactly what the Old Dominion needs in these fraught times, not that this conclusion had anything to do with the job promotion it would involve for him. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/6/2019: State of the Union Ethics, And More

Hello, Austin!

At least, that’s what I’ll be saying later today, as I arrive in the Texas capital to give my country music ethics seminar, sung by the remarkable Mike Messer, to a group of over a thousand corporate lawyers. It’s certainly better than lying around coughing, which is what I’ve been doing lately.

1. Update: Facebook still won’t accept Ethics Alarms links. This is seriously depressing me. I can’t get Facebook to respond or explain, and so far WordPress hasn’t been any help either. In the past, posts here have attracted tens of thousands of Facebook shares; most got at least a couple. Now there are none. This affects traffic, it affects everything. On one level, I’m tempted just to leave Facebook entirely. It’s not a very pleasant place these days, and the company is despicable. That doesn’t solve the problem though. After all the work and time I have spent trying to develop the blog, watching its readership and circulation go backwards is infuriating. I also don’t know how paranoid I should be about all of this.

2. State of the Union notes. The speech is always political theater, and largely irrelevant unless it is botched or something weird happens, like “You lie!” or Obama attacking the Supreme Court. I find it amazing that so many pundits couldn’t keep their cognitive dissonance in check, and give some semblance of an honest, if grudging, analysis of what one would have to call an excellent performance—and that’s all the SOTU speech is, a performance— by Donald Trump standards, and a wise performance from a Presidential perspective. At a time of near maximum divisiveness, the speech was upbeat, optimistic, and patriotic. You have to really, really hate the man to condemn that speech….and that’s how most of journalists and pundits feel. I especially liked Salon’s “Donald Trump 2019: Same lying racist he was last year.”  CNN’s Van Jones was also self-indicting, saying,  “I saw this as a psychotically incoherent speech with cookies and dog poop. He tries to put together in the same speech these warm, kind things about humanitarianism and caring about children, and at the same time he is demonizing people who are immigrants in a way that was appalling.”  On the other side of the wacko divide, Ann Coulter called the speech “sappy” and was upset because Trump didn’t talk more about the wall. Is there anyone other than Coulter than wants him to talk more about the wall? We need a special confirmation bias clinic for these people. Also: Continue reading

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Never Mind The Blackface: Governor Northam Should Resign Because He Is Cowardly, Untrustworthy, Dishonest And Too Weird For Words

And it is unethical for a governor to be cowardly, untrustworthy, dishonest and too weird for words. Virginia’s governor has embarrassed his state, it’s citizens, and everyone who voted for him. He is a source of humiliation for his party. He cannot lead, or do anything but harm while he remains in office.

You host here at Ethics Alarms is still sick and bed-ridden, but I had to crawl to my office for this. Wow. From the moment he appeared in the most unethical campaign ad I had seen from a Virginia candidate for office, appealing directly to anti-Trump derangement and hate by calling the President of the United States a “maniac,” I knew there was something seriously off about Ralph Northam, and, frankly, about anyone who would vote for him. His recent “oh, this is how you go about aborting a baby who has already been born” comments confirmed that assessment, ” but I was not in favor of forcing him out of office because he had appeared in blackface while a medical student 34 years ago. However, Northam’s conduct and statements since initially apologizing for the photo that surfaced this week are not 35 years old. They reveal the current character of the individual changed with overseeing the government of Virginia. That character is intolerable for any leader, and it was not what the Virginians who voted for Northam—I wasn’t fooled, but you can fool some of the people some of the time—believed they were electing.

In today’s Saturday Night Live-ready press conference, Governor Northam, his poor wife by his side, gave a bravura performance in self-character assassination: Continue reading

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Groundhog Day Ethics Warm-Up: 2/2/2019

Happy Groundhog Day!

1. Gov. Northam ethics Updates  a)There are reports that Virginia’s beleaguered governor will resign tomorrow. b) Then again, maybe not. The Times has this amazing story:

Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, facing intense pressure to resign from fellow Democrats after admitting that he posed for a photo in a racist costume as a medical student more than 30 years ago, was calling state Democrats on Saturday to say he did not think it was him in the picture and that he would not resign… in phone calls on Saturday morning he said he had no recollection of the yearbook image of two men, one in blackface and the other in Ku Klux Klan robes….

In addition to calling state Democratic officials, Mr. Northam has been calling former classmates at Eastern Virginia Medical School in an effort to determine more information about the picture — and to survive a crisis that is threatening his year-old governorship, according to a Democrat familiar with Mr. Northam’s calls.

This Democrat said the governor was determined to prove it was not him in the photograph and was even considering using facial recognition software. The governor, the Democrat said, had wanted to take responsibility on Friday night, which was why he apologized for appearing in the picture without acknowledging which person he was in the image.

Now he has to resign because he has proven that he’s an idiot. He began by admitting that he was definitely one of the two men in the photo and apologizing. If he wasn’t, does that mean that there’s another photo of Northam in a Klan get-up or in blackface? Why would he admit to dressing up in blackface or as a Klansman if he never did so? Was this so routine for him that he wouldn’t remember if he did it or not that particular time? Was he lying when he admitted that he was in the photo–and why would he do that?—-or lying now in a desperate attempt to save his career? Ugh. Show some dignity, man.

c) Conservative bloggers and pundits are enjoying this revolting spectacle way too much. Allahpundit: “Killing babies on the table is one thing, but an old blackface photo is where America draws the line.” Charlie Kirk:

David Bernstein: “The standards on past indiscretions confuse me. If we had had a picture of Ted Kennedy driving a car off a bridge and leaving his passenger to die while he planned a cover up, would he have had to resign?”  And when Planned Parenthood demanded that Northam resign, we got this…

d) Ann Althouse, as I assumed she would, is dubious about the fairness of condemning Northam for an unexplained use of blackface 35 years ago. “Here‘s the Wikipedia list of celebrities who’ve done blackface, ” she writes. ” Would those who want to exile Gov. Northam agree that all of these people should be shunned retrospectively (even the dead ones)? Fred Armisen, Fred Astaire, Dan Aykroyd, Jack Benny, Fanny Brice, George Burns, Johnny Carson, Joan Crawford, Billy Crystal, Robert Downey Jr., Judy Garland, Alec Guinness, Rex Harrison, Jimmy Kimmel, Dean Martin, The Marx Brothers, The Lone Ranger, Carroll O’Connor, Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton, Grace Slick, The Three Stooges, Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley Temple, John Wayne, Gene Wilder.

Of course, as Ann must recognize, all of those individuals, unlike Northam, were or are performers whose use of dark make-up was related to a particular role, skit or musical number. Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz And Comment Of The Day: The Governor’s Yearbook Photo [Corrected]

You know you’re having a bad week as a politician when one scandal knocks a another scandal you’re involved in off the front page. Welcome to Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s world right now, and where he’ll end up in it, nobody knows.

In case you missed it, Northam and abortion-loving Democrats were in the midst of trying to justify his comments earlier in the week accepting the concept of legal infanticide when a medical school yearbook photo turned up on social media, showing the governor-to-be either in black face or wearing Ku Klux Klan garb. Yes, this was another Hader Gotcha: conservatives were looking for dirt under very old rugs.  Northam confirmed that it was indeed him in one of the two costumes (but not which!) and issued the now familiar “this is not who I am now” apology:

“I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now,” Northam said in his statement. “This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment. I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their Governor.”

It was immediately clear that this would not suffice. Northam is a Democrat, after all, and that is the party of race-baiting. Republicans weren’t likely to let Northam talk his way out of this either, not after he won his close 2017 gubernatorial election against Republican Ed Gillespie with the assistance of a jaw-dropping TV ad ad linking Gillespie to  the white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville and showing the GOP candidate trying to run down minority kids in his car.  Although the ad was not a product of his campaign, Northam refused to condemn it, and his campaign reported it as an “in-kind contribution.” The campaign also sent out a mailer tying Guillespie to white nationalists.

What Republicans say about the yearbook photo doesn’t matter, however. Northam’s own party turned on him, with his Democratic predecessor Terry McAulliffe, the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, and the Democrats in Virginia’s state legislature all calling on him to resign.

After all, casually endorsing infanticide is easy to defend to the hard-core Democratic base, but wearing a tasteless costume 38 years ago while a student is unforgivable.

Wait…what?

The instant issue might be moot in a few hours, as the betting is that Northam will resign, but  your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day’s  question will remain:

Should Ralph Northam’s 1984 yearbook photo require him to resign as Virginia Governor?

Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “KABOOM! Biden Takes A Bribe”

Well, yes, he took the 30 pieces of silver, but Judas genuinely supported what the Romans had done, in a spirit of bi-partisanship…

Side-issue: Is it proper to give out a Comment of the Day when it is almost entirely a quote from another source? In this case, I’m doing it, in part because the commenter, Michael, is perfectly capable of writing the same sentiment just as articulately, if not better, and second, because I want his argument on the record, because it is so wrong.

I must admit, I never expected anyone to disagree with the post regarding Joe Biden’s betrayal of his party in exchange for $200,000. Such speaking fees are per se ethically dubious, as the Clinton Foundation experience should have taught us, especially when the speaker is a blathering fool like Joe Biden. I’d pay something to hear Hillary, Bill or Obama speak. But giving Biden six figures for his usual gaffes reminds me of Gerald Ford’s speaking fees after he left the Presidency. Gerald Ford never gave a non-soporific, inciteful speech in his life. He was selling influence, just like the Clintons, and just like Biden. It’s not illegal if you’re not holding office, but it is always unethical.

What Biden did was especially unethical. Both Michael and his authority call what Biden did bi-partisanship. It was not. Bi-partisanship is when partisan elected officials work across the aisle toward legislation and policies that their had-core party base might oppose, in the best interests of the nation and the public. That’s ethical, because an elected official’s duties, which all swear tom are bipartisan. Joe Biden, however, is not an elected official. He is a leader of the Democratic Party. His duty is to the party and the party’s legitimate interests. If he does not support those interests, then he should stop calling himself a Democrat, or at very least abstain from leadership.

Biden’s duty was to try to make sure his party won the House. Losing the House would have been a disaster. For all he knew, that single race might have been the difference between a House majority and a Democratic loss. He could not ethically choose his own interests over the party, and that’s what he did. The endorsement was based on Biden’s personal interests—cancer research, because of his son—and not the party’s. This is a serious conflict of interest. Now, since Joe is a dolt, this might not have occurred to him. Still, based on his personal agenda, he saw fit to harm the prospects of his own party’s candidate. Betrayal, by definition. Frankly (to quote from Miachel’s quoted source), I don’t care whether “most Americans” don’t recognize what’s wrong here. Most Americans, indeed most politicians, don’t comprehend what conflicts of interest are. I do. It’s my job.

Biden’s conduct was unethical, placing his personal agenda above hos party’s, even before we get to the ugly fact that he was paid to do it—by a foundation run by the family of the GOP candidate he was praising. Note that the piece ahead doesn’t mention this little detail at all.  It’s hilarious, really. “This is what we’ve come to: partisans attacking a lifelong public servant because he has the nerve to show active support for a member of another party who played a key role in the passage of legislation that vastly improves efforts to fight a disease that took the life of his child.” Yes, and all he need to work up that “nerve” was a check for $200,000. 

Here is Michael’s Comment of the Day on the post, KABOOM! Biden Takes A Bribe:

My “feeling” (perhaps naive, or perhaps you infer more than I do) are almost captured by this from The Hill:

“Recently, the New York Times breathlessly reported that former Vice President Joe Biden had the temerity to praise a long-serving Republican member of Congress during a speech to a Midwest audience in the run-up to the 2018 election. This member—Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan—went on to win re-election by a relatively narrow margin. And now that Biden is signaling that he may very well run for president in 2020, the partisan knives are out—and it’s members of his own party who are holding them. This sad little vignette exemplifies exactly what is wrong with American politics today.

“Mr. Biden stunned Democrats and elated Republicans by praising Mr. Upton while the lawmaker looked on from the audience,” the Times reports. “Alluding to Mr. Upton’s support for a landmark medical-research law, Mr. Biden called him a champion in the fight against cancer—and ‘one of the finest guys I’ve ever worked with.’” As the Times also notes, Upton had nothing to do with Biden giving the speech, and there is “no evidence Mr. Biden was motivated to praise the lawmaker by anything other than sincere admiration, stemming from Mr. Upton’s role in crafting the 21st Century Cures Act after the death of Mr. Biden’s elder son, Beau, from cancer in 2015.”

This is what we’ve come to: partisans attacking a lifelong public servant because he has the nerve to show active support for a member of another party who played a key role in the passage of legislation that vastly improves efforts to fight a disease that took the life of his child. It’s shameful, self-serving—and frankly bad politics. Most Americans would look at Biden’s praise for Upton for what it is: a genuine expression of humanity, respect, and gratitude. Upton responded in turn: “Being in the audience with my family and hearing Vice President Biden reference our work together was an immense honor…He was warmly received by everyone in attendance who were thrilled to have him there, including myself.”

As Biden spokesman Bill Russo says in response, “Vice President Biden believes to his core that you can disagree politically on a lot and still work together in good faith on issues of common cause—like funding cancer research.” Biden himself responded similarly and with good humor: “I read in New York Times today…that one of my problems is if I ever run for president, I like Republicans,” Biden told the Conference of Mayors. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” He added: “But, you know, from where I come from, I don’t know how you get anything done…unless we start talking to one another again.” Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/18/2019: “The Pussy-Grabber Plays,” And More

1. The Comment Of The Day That Wasn’t. An aspiring troll calling himself “Alan P Siegfried, PharmD” attempted to post a debut comment on “Prophesy Confirmed: SNL And Our Nation Of Assholes,” which concerned Saturday Night Live mocking the war wounds of then candidate, now Congressman Dan Crenshaw as part of a campaign of ad hominem attacks on Republican. I considered making the post a Comment of the Day, as I have in the past with especially amusing rants, but it’s not that funny. I am going to reproduce it here, though, first, to provide another example of the kind of approach that the Comment Policies explicitly warn against. You don’t get leave to comment here by insulting me or condescending to your host, much as I am in thrall to the wisdom of pharmacists. I don’t know how someone can think that it is ethical to enter a house and immediately to start vomiting on the furniture, but commenters who do think that aren’t going to be tolerated. I also thought the attempted comment would be instructive on the question of why the current imbalance between commenters on the Left and Right here or late. Recent progressives have been arriving sneering and spitting; new moderate and conservative oriented readers have been acceptably civil. Why is that, I wonder? Here is the post, and my comments follow intermittently:

How many adults did you see ‘roll with laughter?’

This is called “a bad start.” I wrote that the mockery of Crenshaw by snickering Pete Davidson had the SNL barking progressive seals roaring with laughter, which it did. The first line also was signature significance, apparently suggesting that the vicious disrespect of a wounded veteran was mitigated if the laughter was muted. “Ah!” I say, when a comment begins like this. “An idiot!”

Or is that conjecture from a big city gal who dine went and lost touch with reality??

Wait—I’m a “big city gal”? I don’t even identify as one. Continue reading

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