Category Archives: Professions

Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 12/12/18: Silent Sam, Nasty Nancy, Tendentious TIME

Happy pre-Christmas panic days!

Once we’re under the two week mark, it’s all anxiety, regrets, list-making, fatigue, nostalgia, and tree needles under the nails. This is what Andy called “the most wonderful time of the year.

1. The theory: political correctness and historical airbrushing is a higher priority than education. The University of North Carolina \Board of Trustees’ approved of a proposal to build erect a $5 million history center that would, among other things, house “Silent Sam,” a statue dedicated to fallen UNC grads who fought for the Confederacy. The statue stood on campus until protesters tore it down in August. Now some faculty members and graduate assistants are threatening to go on a “grade strike,” withholding grades on papers and exams to force the school to abandon “Silent Sam” for all time. They are also trying to encourage students to support their protest.

Wrote the UNC administration in response:

“This afternoon it came to my attention that some instructors have used their roles in the classroom to ask students to take a stand on the strike,” Blouin said in the email, a copy of which Campus Reform obtained. “The University has received student and parent complaints. Such actions have been interpreted as coercion and an exploitation of the teacher-student relationship and in fact are a violation of students’ First Amendment rights as well as federal law….Our students are entitled to receive their grades in a timely manner. It is especially critical for the students preparing to graduate next Sunday, as well as the thousands of students whose scholarships, grants, loans, visa status, school transfers, job opportunities, and military commissions may be imperiled because lack of grades threaten[s] their eligibility,” the provost stated. “The proposed strike exposes the University and individuals who withhold grades to legal claims for the harm they cause to students…“Failure to meet [the faculty and GA’s] responsibilities to their students, including timely submission of final grades, will result in serious consequences.”

Firing, I hope.

2. Boy, that Trump is such an uncivil boor! House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, setting a civility example for us all while describing her meeting with the President on “the wall’: “It’s like a manhood thing for him, as if manhood could ever be associated with him….It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

Nice.

Imagine the howls of indignation if the President described a foreign leader in such terms. Or the mass condemnation from both parties and the news media if any prior President had been insulted that way by a member of Congress.

3. “A person, a group, an idea, or an object that “for better or for worse… has done the most to influence the events of the year.” I would applaud TIME’s choice of journalists as the fading magazine’s “Person of the year” if it had the integrity to point out that this is an example of “the worse.” Indeed, journalists have deliberately warped and sabotaged public debate and discourse, withheld or buried information the public needs to know, divided the nation, defied their profession’s ethical standards, undermined their own institution and with it the health of American democracy, relentlessly worked to destabilize the Trump administration and undo the election, and have engaged in repeated incompetence, bias, dishonesty and conflicts of interest. The harm journalists have done is incalculable, and probably irreversible.

Quipped “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams: “Fake News is TIME’s “Person of the Year.”

Bingo. Continue reading

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The Alexander Acosta-Jeffrey Epstein Scandal

That’s Epstein…a popular guy.

You have to buckle your seat belt and read this story.

The Miami-Herald undoubtedly earned itself a Pulitzer Prize with its detailed and horrifying account of rigged justice involving jet set multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who parlayed money, connections, friends in high places and quite possibly extortion into a lighter-than-light sentence despite overwhelming evidence that over many years he had used his resources to gather “a large, cult-like network of underage girls — with the help of young female recruiters — to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day…The eccentric hedge fund manager, whose friends included former President Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew, was also suspected of trafficking minor girls, often from overseas, for sex parties at his other homes in Manhattan, New Mexico and the Caribbean, FBI and court records show.”

The prosecutor who allowed Epstein to virtually escape accountability for crimes that make such recent cultural villains as Harvey Weinstein appear to be benign in comparison was the Trump Administration’s Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, then the U.S. attorney for Southern Florida.

Nobody’s talking, except the alleged victims, who are now mounting a legal challenge to the fiasco. Epstien’s lawyers, the kind of high-powered, high-priced super-team that only the richest of the rich can summon, included Allan Dershowitz, Roy Black and Ken Starr, among others, can’t discuss their representation under the rules of client confidentiality. So far, Acosta has been silent as well. The evidence that the paper’s investigation has uncovered—and again, don’t rely on this brief post, read the whole story—is persuasive, damning, and for me, someone who works in and with the legal profession, spiritually devastating. This, from the Maimi-Herald’s introduction and conclusion, provides some sense of the magnitude of the scandal: Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up. 11/27/18: Unethical Perry Mason, Icky Science, Race Card-Playing Democrats, Intrusive Bosses And Slanted History

Good morning…

1. They are showing “Perry Mason” reruns again on cable TV. That was the show that made my generation want to be lawyers, under the delusion that a defense attorney could regularly prove a criminal defendant innocent. (Pssst! They are almost all guilty.) The show holds up, but boy, Perry was sleazy. In an episode I watched while I was sick, he had his investigator tell the hapless prosecutor, Hamilton Burger (Ham Burger to his friends) that he had found an incriminating piece of evidence that proved someone other than Perry’s client had committed murder. Ham relied on the information and got the killer to confess once he was faced with the production of the “smoking gun.” But Perry’s investigator hadn’t really found anything.

Having one’s agent lie to the state prosecutor is a serious ethics breach. Perry also caused the DA to tell a falsehood to get the confession, though Burger wasn’t lying, since he believed Perry’s contrivance. Prosecutors are no more allowed to lie than other lawyers, but when they do lie “in the public interest,” they seldom get more than a slap on the wrist from courts and bar ethics committees, if that. Burger didn’t seem very upset that Perry conned him, because the real killer was caught. The ends justifies the means, or did in “Perry Mason.”

2. Ick or ethics? A Chinese scientist claims that he had successfully employed embryonic gene editing to help protect twin baby girls from infection with HIV. We are told that bioethicists in China and elsewhere are reacting with “horror.” Writes the Times,

“Ever since scientists created the powerful gene editing technique Crispr, they have braced apprehensively for the day when it would be used to create a genetically altered human being. Many nations banned such work, fearing it could be misused to alter everything from eye color to I.Q….If human embryos can be routinely edited, many scientists, ethicists and policymakers fear a slippery slope to a future in which babies are genetically engineered for traits — like athletic or intellectual prowess — that have nothing to do with preventing devastating medical conditions.”

As with cloning, my view on this controversy is that a new technology does not become unethical because of how it might be used. That unethical use will be unethical, and that is what needs to be addressed when and if the problem arises. (Airplanes could be used to drop atom bombs!) The fear of “designer babies” also seems to be an example of “ick”—it’s strange and creepy!—being mistaken for unethical. Making stronger, smarter, more talented and healthier human beings is not in itself unethical, even if it is the stuff of science fiction horror novels and Josef Mengele’s dreams. Continue reading

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Ethics Quiz: The Deer On The Ice

“The Wisconis State Journal reports,

“Republican Rep. Adam Jarchow… said he would fire the [Department of Natural Rresouces] warden tomorrow if he could for ‘being complicit in putting firefighters at risk, over a stupid deer.’

‘This is a complete embarrassment and a joke,’ tweeted Jarchow…. The DNR posted a glowing statement about the incident on its website Tuesday. The release praised Warden Jesse Ashton for organizing a team of wardens and local firefighters to rescue the deer [The deer had wandered 500 yards out onto the frozen lake], saying, ‘Those little hooves are no match for slick surfaces!… Teamwork strikes again!'”

You can imagine the calumny being heaped on this monster’s head by animal lovers on social media.

But is he right? (Jarchow is himself a volunteer firefighter.)

Your Ethics Alarms Thanksgiving Weekend Ethics Quiz Of The Day is….

Should firefighters be used to rescue animals in peril?

_______________

Pointer: Ann Althouse

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Thanksgiving Week Launch Ethics Warm-Up, 11/19/18: Turkeys

Good Morning.

1. This is weird. The Florida Supreme Court released a long-awaited decision concerning whether a judge’s Facebook friendship with an attorney should be  grounds for disqualification if the attorney is arguing a case before that judge. The 4-3 opinion holds that:

In some circumstances, the relationship between a judge and a litigant, lawyer, or other person involved in a case will be a basis for disqualification of the judge. Particular friendship relationships may present such circumstances requiring disqualification. But our case law clearly establishes that not every relationship characterized as a friendship provides a basis for disqualification. And there is no reason that Facebook “friendships”—which regularly involve strangers—should be singled out and subjected to a per se rule of disqualification. 

I could not disagree more. A friend request from a judge is inherently coercive, and creates pressure on the lawyer to accept. Who wants to tell a judge that he doesn’t want to be his friend? Other bar associations and courts have held that it is improper for judges and lawyers to “friend” each other if there is any chance that the judge will be presiding over the lawyer’s cases, and that is the wiser rule. My own preference would be for judges to stay off social media entirely, except for close friends and family. They can only get in trouble there.

2. And this is much weirder…Apparently an app, ‘Santa Call New 2018,’ briefly available for download at the Amazon Children’s Store, would place a call to “Santa”when kids pressed the ‘call’ button, and Jolly Saint Nick would reply, “Hello there. Can you hear me, children? In five nights, if you’re free, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”

Amazon is investigating.

Happy Holidays! Continue reading

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Ethics Observations On The CNN/Acosta/Press Pass Ruling

From the Washington Post this morning:

Judge Timothy J. Kelly granted CNN’s motion for a temporary restraining order that will prevent the administration from keeping Acosta off White House grounds. The White House revoked the reporter’s press pass last week after a heated exchange between him and President Trump and a brief altercation with a press aide at a news conference. Acosta, CNN’s chief White House correspondent, is the first reporter with a so-called hard pass to be banned. CNN sued President Trump and other White House officials on Tuesday over the revocation. Kelly’s ruling was the first legal skirmish in that lawsuit. It has the immediate effect of sending Acosta back to the White House, pending further arguments and a possible trial. The litigation is in its early stages, and a trial could be months in the future.

Observations:

  • The ruling is a surprise. For me, it calls to mind once again my favorite Clarence Darrow quote, that “In order for there to be enough liberty, it is necessary that there be too much.” Apparently the judge, as courts have in other First Amendment cases, decided to leave a wide margin of safety around a constitutional right rather than interpret it narrowly, even reasonably narrowly.

I understand and sympathize with that instinct, and perhaps it is the right one.

  • Judge Kelly’s opinion  insisted that there be some basic procedural protections, requiring the White House to state clearly the grounds for revoking the clearance.  The Court did not find an express  violation of the First Amendment and Acosta might still be barred from the White House following appropriate due process.  Kelly said his ruling was “limited” and  temporary until a more detailed explanation and sufficient notice by the White House was established. (Not surprisingly, the White House viewed a tweet as notice enough.)
  • So a vague, traditional but unstated standard of not acting like an entitled jackass during a press conference and debating the President rather than asking questions while refusing to yield the floor is not, absent written standards and procedures, enough to get an unprofessional jerk like Jim Acosta banned. Got it.  It would be nice if previously acknowledged standards of basic respect for the office and the relative roles of the professionals involved were enough to avoid this kind of controversy, but apparently not.

Reflect on this episode the next time CNN or a pundit fusses about President Trump “defying established norms.” Continue reading

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Ethics Observations On The Michael Avenatti Arrest

Welcome to karma, Michael Avenetti!

News item:

“Attorney Michael Avenatti has been placed under arrest on suspicion of felony domestic violence and was booked early Wednesday evening.

Los Angeles Police Department officer Jeff Lee said the domestic violence report was taken on Tuesday in West Los Angeles and the arrest was made Wednesday.
“We can confirm that today LAPD Detectives arrested Michael Avenatti on suspicion of domestic violence. This is an ongoing investigation and we will provide more details as they become available,” the LAPD Twitter account posted Wednesday. In a statement, Avenatti called the allegations “completely bogus.”

…Avenatti posted $50,000 bail and left police custody Wednesday evening. He told reporters waiting outside the station, “I have never struck a woman. I never will strike a woman.”

“I am confident I will be fully exonerated,” he added.

…Avenatti emerged this year as a regular antagonist of President Donald Trump, beginning with his legal representation of Stormy Daniels and his frequent media appearances..he has publicly flirted with a potential bid for the Democratic presidential nomination to challenge Trump in 2020. The alleged domestic violence incident could dash Avenatti’s prospects as a potential insurgent Democratic candidate and clash with the image he has presented of himself as an advocate for women, including Daniels in her clash with Trump and an accuser against recently confirmed Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The Vermont Democratic Party canceled Avenatti’s appearances for Friday and Saturday following his arrest, and it will refund all ticket sales, said Christopher Di Mezzo, the party’s communications director.

This story is like a great, big, ethics piñata that got hit squarely by a stick and spilled ethics candy all over the floor!

Observations:

1. Is it unethical to take pleasure in the misfortune of another, even a grandstanding, publicity-obsessed gasbag who makes me want to burn my bar card? Nah, not when the inspiration for mirth is condign justice. Like Michael Cohen, the shenanigans of Avenatti were signature significance for a phony and a charlatan, and his fall was just a matter of time.

We should always take pleasure in the exposure of such public figures, however it occurs. Continue reading

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