The Colin Powell Ethics Problem


The ethics news today begins with the death of Colin Powell, who died this morning, according to his family. He deserves the accolades for his service and leadership skills, but in the Ethics Alarms annals, he ranks as an ethics disappointment.

As the obituaries will certainly mention, Powell, the U.S.’s first African American national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of state, would have also been its first black President if he had been willing to run. Shades of Eisenhower, he was courted as a Presidential candidate by both Republicans and Democrats before deciding in 1995 that the challenge would take him away from his family, and acceding to his wife’s objections and fears (she was reportedly afraid he would be assassinated). Thus instead of the bi-partisan, unifying figure of Colin Powell, we got Bush, and then the hollow, racially divisive Barack Obama. And here we are.

Yes, I lay much of what has happened to the nation in the 21st Century at Powell’s feet. The majority of our Presidents sacrificed greatly to seek and accept the office; I do not forgive Powell for passing the buck when he was in a unique position to unify the nation and particularly the races at a turning point in our history. He was called: it is as simple as that. As a good citizen and soldier, when you are called, you have an ethical obligation to answer. Powell did not meet that obligation. America is much the worse for it.

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“Insurrection” Hysteria Appears To Be The Democrats’ Sole Strategy For Holding Power, And The Media Is Enabling It. Of Course, This is Unethical….And Ominous [Corrected]

Insurrection committee

Glenn Greenwald’s latest newsletter from substack was nicely timed today. I was genuinely puzzled to see the front page of the Sunday Times left on my lawn this morning dominated by a 50 square inch photo, a scare headline and an article about the January 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol. The episode occurred 9 months ago. This was neither news or history. What’s going on here? [Notice of Correction: the original version had the date and time passed wrong. Stupid mistake.]

Then Greenwald’s piece arrived. “When a population is placed in a state of sufficiently grave fear and anger regarding a perceived threat, concerns about the constitutionality, legality and morality of measures adopted in the name of punishing the enemy typically disappear,” he wrote. “The first priority, indeed the sole priority, is to crush the threat. Questions about the legality of actions ostensibly undertaken against the guilty parties are brushed aside as trivial annoyances at best, or, worse, castigated as efforts to sympathize with and protect those responsible for the danger. When a population is subsumed with pulsating fear and rage, there is little patience for seemingly abstract quibbles about legality or ethics. The craving for punishment, for vengeance, for protection, is visceral and thus easily drowns out cerebral or rational impediments to satiating those primal impulses.”

I have never been able to understand how anyone could accept the obvious exaggeration of the extent, intent, and import of the riot. I really can’t: it amazes me. This was 300, more or less, irresponsible, mostly middle-aged fools, behaving like the Chicago peaceniks at the 1968 Democratic National Convention but with less coherence. Their riot paled in all respects to the Black Lives Matter rioting across the U.S.: less damage was done, far, far fewer people were injured, and the only individual killed was a rioter. Although the post-George Floyd riots shut down businesses and government functions for weeks, the process of certifying the 2020 election results, allegedly the action that the Capitol protesters wanted to halt, weren’t even delayed a day. The claim that these unhappy Trump loyalist idiots were trying to take over the government with bear spray and funny hats was and is nonsense, and transparently so. Yet Greenwald writes,

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Introducing “Introducing Selma Blair”

Selma Blair

Ethics Alarms spends a lot of time and criticism on celebrities and the celebrity culture, so when one finds a way to use fame, even as it is fleeting, constructively attention must be paid. Meet Selma Blair, an always appealing actress previously known for her supporting roles over the past two decades. Blair was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder multiple sclerosis, which attacks the central nervous system, in August of 2018. She revealed her illness with an Instagram post in October of that year; this in itself was unusual, for revealing an incurable and progressive disease is usually career suicide. Most Hollywood actors hide maladies from bi-polar depression and alcoholism to cancer for as long as they can.

Not Blair. As a former impish ingenue now in her forties, her career was already on the wain, and she felt that publicizing her struggles could help the many people who not only suffer from MS but other chronic diseases. Blair continued to track the course of her illness on Instagram. She attended Hollywood events with a jeweled cane. She did not avoid interview, allowing the public to witness her periodic difficulties speaking and impaired movement. “She was in turn glamorous and clumsy, funny and mournful,” writes Teo Bugby in the Times. (Ethics Alarms saluted her courage here.)

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The Saturday Evening Ethics Post, 10/16/2021: The Complaints Edition

Halloween post

Is there some woke reason I have missed that explains why virtually all Halloween lawn decorations in my Northern Virginia neighborhood consist of gravestones, skulls, skeletons and spiders? Or are people suddenly suffering from an appalling lack of imagination? No witches, no black cats, no devils, no vampires, no wolfmen. I made the rounds today with Spuds, and saw no ghosts at all, except in front of one house with a large American flag flying. Obviously, the “ghost” is really a reference to the Klan, and anyone who flies Old Glory is likely to be a racist. Or am I just imagining it all?

1. Customer service ethics: I am going to war with CVS. It was August 28 when I first complained to CVS about my appalling treatment at the local store. At the time when I wrote the post, I was awaiting a promised call (24-48 hours) from a “group leader” regarding my incident report. The call never came. I called two days later to register a second complaint about the failure of CVS to follow through as promised on my first complaint. This time, I got profuse apologies, a new incident number for future reference, and a second assurance that I would be receiving a call, also in 24 to 48 hours. That call also never came.

In mid-September, I called the complaint line a third time, to add my third complaint to the previous two, this one about being jerked around and lied to in the last call. I was told that there was a video of my encounter, that it would be reviewed, and that a named executive would contact me “in a week to 10 days.”

Guess what happened. Oh, come on, guess.

There was no contact. Thus it was that yesterday, on October 15, that I called CVS Customer Relations to register complaint #4. I recounted the incident and the previous calls, as well as their apparently lack of sincerity. “It seems clear to me that the CVS policy is to delay, obfuscate, and draw out the process, assuming that dissatisfied and abused customers will give up and drop their complaints. I’m sure that works with most people, but it won’t work with me. I am prepared to pursue this until I see a fair and appropriate response, ” I said. This agent, like the others, assured me that CVS wasn’t like that, but that since she wasn’t a member of “the leadership group,” she wasn’t sure what she could do to ensure action. “Let me transfer you to someone higher up who can help,” she said. Then she transferred me. “Hello?” a loud voice said when the call was picked up. “Yes, hi,” I said. “Is this CVS?” “CVS? Fuck no!” the charming woman shouted, and hung up.

So I made my fifth call to submit my 5th complaint. That nice agent said she would transfer me to her manager. “It’s hard with everyone working at home,” she added. The manager never answered the phone. After profuse apologies, the agent suggested that I call back next week.

2. On the plus side, more people will read my article there than ever see what I write here...A website with millions of views (it claims) stole a copyrighted article I wrote for my now-defunct theater company, published it almost word for word, and included no attribution or credit while representing the piece as original. How many wars is it wise to fight simultaneously?

I better ask George W. Bush.

3. Trump Derangement as a campaign strategy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before. In Virginia, where Clinton bag man Terry McAuliffe is trying to get elected governor again and running scared. Democrats are featuring a TV ad that says nothing about Terry and virtually nothing about his GOP opponent, Glenn Youngkin, except that Donald Trump endorsed him and Youngkin said he was honored. This isn’t even ad hominem negative campaigning. It’s an implied ad hominem attack against someone who isn’t running but who has stated that he supports a candidate, with the implication that politely accepting an endorsement is proof of fealty, or alliance, or affection, or something. As with the successful 2020 strategy of running an obviously unfit Presidential candidate with an obviously unqualified running mate on the assumption that sufficient numbers of voters will decide on who they want as their leaders based solely on raw, blinding hatred of the alternative, Virginia Democrats are similarly courting hate to compensate for their blatantly unethical candidate for governor, who slipped up and admitted that he doesn’t want parents sticking their noses into the progressive indoctrination of their children.

This is no way to run a democracy.

Ethics Dunce: Secretary Of Transportation (And Proud Dad!) Pete Buttigieg [Updated]


When I wrote in September about Boston Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo abusing his paternal leave privileges to abandon his team at a crucial time in its battle to make 2021 the play-offs, I expected a lot of heated criticism (I didn’t, though I did get a provocative counter argument that became a Comment of the Day.) I wrote in part,

The Boston Red Sox recently completed a disastrous collapse that dropped them from first place in the American League East to third. As they went into battle with the two teams now ahead of them, their hottest hitter, Alex Verdugo, vanished on a four game paternity leave. Shortly thereafter, another hot hitter, Hunter Renfroe, was lost for five days on bereavement leave after his father died of cancer. T’was not always thus: in the days before the Players’ Union bargained to add such mid-season leave as a new benefit, if a player’s wife was in labor or a loved one died, it was at the team’s discretion whether he would be permitted to leave the team. OK, I can appreciate the need for the benefit, but both players abused the right. These guys both earn millions of dollars a year. They both routinely talk about the team’s quest to win the World Series, yet when their team really needed them, they absented themselves for many days because they could. That’s a betrayal of the team, team mates, and fans.

By the force of pure moral luck, Verdugo’s indulgence did no damage in the end: the Sox made the play-offs and have prospered (so far, though they lost last night), in great part because of Verdugo’s clutch hitting upon his return. That doesn’t change my ethics verdict on his dereliction of duty however (which the player reminds me of every time he gets a hit now, because Verdugo makes a baby-rocking gesture to his team mates in the dugout.) Compared to the Biden administration’s Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, however, Alex Verdugo is a model of dedication and responsibility.

Buttigieg and his husband Chasten adopted infant twins named Penelope and Joseph in August. The little bundles of joy arrived as product shortages and the supply chain problems had made themselves evident, a developing crisis that is worsening, and one that threatens the economy as well as businesses, jobs and the welfare of millions of Americans. It is also a situation squarely within the jurisdiction of the Transportation Department. Not since the airplane-executed terror attacks of September 11, 2001 has that agency had such a crucial task before it, nor have more Americans needed the performance of DOT to be diligent, timely, and effective.

Never mind! The Secretary of Transportation decided that this was still an appropriate time to take advantage of the Biden administration’s “family friendly” policies, and took two full months of paid leave while the supply chain problems multiplied and expanded. He wasn’t even online with his department during most of that time.

I apologize, Alex! Compared to Paternal Pete, you’re a self-sacrificing hero. I wish you were Secretary of Transportation.

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Friday Ethics Creature Features, 10/15/21: Florida’s Felons, Embarrassed Dogs, Huckster Huckabee


On October 15, 1946, Hermann Göring cheated the hangman, as they say, killing himself in his cell by swallowing a cyanide tablet he had hidden from his guards. Göring was Hitler’s designated successor, as well as commander in chief of the Luftwaffe, and president of the Reichstag. As the man directly responsible for purging of German Jews from the economy following the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938 and initiating the “Aryanization” policy that confiscated Jewish property and businesses, he certainly was as deserving as any of the death sentence he received after being tried at Nuremberg for “crimes against humanity.” (He was also a very strange man, as this astounding tale about his relationship with his brother, who rescued Jews from the death camps, makes clear.)

I understand the ritual significance of the state killing a condemned prisoner, but I have never regarded “cheating the hangman” to be anything to lose much sleep about. Such people were determined to be unworthy of life in a civilized society, and they decided to carry out the sentence themselves. Thanks! The ethics of life-without-parole prisoners and the outrageously guilty (like Jeffrey Epstein) similarly shuffling off their mortal coils without permission is a tougher one, and some day I might ponder it sufficiently to write a coherent post. All I can say now is that when I hear of such an incident, or even when some particularly horrible murderer is killed by a fellow prisoner (as in the cases of Dickie Loeb and Jeffrey Dahmer), I’m not outraged, offended, or troubled by his fate.

1 A quickie ethics quiz was posed today on the Friday Open Forum, and I can’t resist commenting here. Esteemed commenter Willem Reese sparked a lively set of responses when he asked, “It’s clever, but is it ethical to do this with your dog?” regarding this photo:

Skeleton dog

My verdict? No, it’s not unethical, assuming the dog wasn’t in pain and wasn’t made uncomfortable. Dogs are not concerned with dignity in human terms, so “embarrassing” it is not a legitimate complaint. Nor is it signature significance for an unethical dog owner, because dog owners do these kind of things who love their animal companions beyond all imagining. However, I view doing such a makeover to a dog as a possible indication, rebuttable of course, that the human responsible does not have sufficient regard for living things. Dogs are not props, and an owner who makes a dog look like that is treating it as a prop. I feel the same way about parents who dress up babies, because this…

Baby costume

…too easily metastasizes into this...

Ralphie bunny

and worse, THIS:


But I digress. My answer to Willem’s question would be one that I often put in my legal ethics seminar multiple choice answers: “It may not be unethical, but I wouldn’t do it.”

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Trans Activist Ethics Train Wreck Update: The Dave Chappelle “Hate Speech” Hypocrisy

From the New York Times front page today:

“Netflix…the tech company that revolutionized Hollywood, is now in an uproar as employees challenge the executives responsible for its success and accuse the streaming service of facilitating the spread of hate speech and perhaps inciting violence.”


1. It’s time—way past time, in fact—to emphatically define what “hate speech” is. First of all, hate speech, whatever it is, is 100% protected speech. It is Constitutional, First Amendment, lawful, beyond all argument speech. Second, I use “whatever it is” because the phase is deliberately vague and subjective so those seeking to censor discourse, advocacy, non-conforming points of view, satire and insults can place the expression of ideas by someone else into a category that suggests malign agency and intent.Then, those crying “hate speech” can advocate silencing whatever it was they are labeling.

We’re on to them, or should be by now. Calling something “hate speech” is like the Southern Poverty Law Center’s dishonest “hate group” label. It’s a cheat.

2. Hate is not a good thing in human relations (there are exceptions), but it is legal and, like all emotions, not unethical. Acting on the hate may be unethical, but not hate itself.

3. I have watched “The Closer,”Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special now under fire, twice. There is nothing hateful in it, unless one thinks that all mockery, satire and jokes with an edge are hate.

I don’t think “The Closer” is very good, especially by Chappelle’s standards. It’s not especially funny, for instance. It’s also not very smart, and Chappelle, if nothing else, is smart and usually shows it. It’s not smart because the controversy over how society should regard transgender individuals is interesting, perhaps difficult, raises interesting ethical and practical issues, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s just not as important as the attention paid to it makes it seem. This is a tiny minority: yes, these issues are important to them. But Chappelle’s show is like a deliberate employment of the Streisand Effect: he’s obviously annoyed about having to deal with trans issues, so he spends a whole, high-profile special complaining, explaining, and riffing regarding it. Since he’s a comedian, this could be justified if he mined it for comedy gold, but he doesn’t.

If he isn’t going to be funny, then he has to be profound, or he’s wasting our time. Not only is the thing not profound, it’s barely coherent. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: stand-up is a high wire act, and the best comics sometimes fall hard. But the contrived controversy over “The Closer” is giving the performance more significance than it deserves, and allowing Chappelle to accept accolades for a performance that was really subpar.

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Katie Couric Thinks This Revelation In Her New Book Makes Her Look Good. In Fact It Makes Journalists Look Ignorant, Untrustworthy And Biased, Which Most Of Them Are

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Advance copy from Katie Couric’s soon-to-be-released memoir “Going There” reveals her to be an unethical human being: manipulative, vindictive, mean and disloyal. A section of the book, however, that she doubtless thinks will endear her to readers and her colleagues really shows how unethical the “profession’ of being a mainstream news media has become.

Couric writes that she edited out part of the 2016 interview with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in which the liberal icon said that football players who were kneeling during the National Anthem were showing “contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life … which they probably could not have lived in the places they came from….And that’s why education is important.” Couric says that she wanted to protect Ginsburg, then 83, who was “elderly and probably didn’t fully understand the question.”

In the portion of the interview that did air, Ginsburg said: “I think it is really dumb of them. Would I arrest them for doing it? No. I think it is dumb and disrespectful. I would have the same answer if you asked me about flag burning. I think it is a terrible thing to do. But I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act. But it is dangerous to arrest people for conduct that doesn’t jeopardize the health or well-being of other people. It is a symbol they are engaged in….If they want to be stupid, there is no law that should prevent that. If they want to be arrogant, there is no law that prevents them from that. What I would do is strongly take issue with the point of view that they are expressing when they do that.”

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Ray Fosse And A Lesson In How Ethics Evolve

People who don’t read the baseball-related posts here miss the point: sports in general and baseball in particular create ethical problems that clarify ethics in all fields. The story of former catcher and broadcaster Ray Fosse is a prime example.

Fosse, was an All-Star catcher, a multiple Gold Glove-winner, a two-time World Series champ, and a long-time broadcaster who died yesterday, of cancer at the age of 74. His claim on immortality is the famous play above, which ended the 1970 All-Star Game, back when baseball’s “Mid-Season Classic” was more than just a chummy parade of stars playing baseball with the intensity of an office picnic softball game.

In 1970, Fosse was in his first full big league season with the Cleveland Indians, and signaled that he could be one of the all-time greats at his position. He won a Gold Glove, received some MVP votes, and had a 23-game hitting streak from early June into early July (That’s a lot. especially for a catcher). Fosse made the All-Star team that year and had his rendezvous with destiny when, in the bottom of 12th inning of a tense, tie game, the Reds’ Pete Rose, famous for his hustle and trying to score the winning run from second base, was beaten by the throw home but smashed into Fosse at home plate, causing the catcher to drop the ball and winning the game for the National league. It was a thrilling play, one of the most memorable in the nearly 90 years history of the exhibition, but Rose separated and fractured Fosse’s shoulder. Fosse continued to play for the rest of the 1970 season but because doctors didn’t discover the injuries until the following season his body never healed properly. Fosse would suffer lingering effects from play for the rest of his life. He also was never as good a player again.

Rose was unapologetic, and most conceded that his tactic was a clean play. Fosse was blocking the plate, and the only way Rose could score was to reach home while making him drop the ball. The controversy was over whether it was ethical for Rose to risk injuring another player in an exhibition game. Had Rose epitomized a sporting ideal by playing hard to win—after all, he could have been hurt too—or had he engaged in poor sportsmanship?

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