Ethics Dunces: South Carolina Democrats, Voters and News Media

Mystery man Alvin Greene upset a respectable, accomplished and well-known opponent in the Democratic primary that decided who would try to unseat South Carolina G.O.P. Senator Jim DeMint in November. Even before the vote, it was widely reported that Greene was unemployed, with no political experience. After the vote and the stunning results, it came to light that in 2009, the victorious Democratic Senatorial nominee asked a young college girl to look at some pornography he had downloaded, leading to an obscenity charge that is still pending. Embarrassed, chagrined and confused by the fact that their standard-bearer appears to be a goof or worse, Democrats are accusing everyone in sight, especially Greene and Republicans, convinced that there must have been a plot, a scam, anything to explain what happened without focusing blame where it belongs: on the Democratic candidates who couldn’t defeat Greene, and the South Carolina voters who elected him. Continue reading

Mayor Bloomberg’s Off-shore Tax Havens: Legal, and Wrong

It has been revealed that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s family foundation makes extensive use of off-shore tax havens and hedge funds in the Cayman Islands, avoiding U.S. taxes that other major foundations choose to pay. You know the Cayman Islands: that’s where the criminal law firm in John Grisham’s novel The Firm helped its Mafia clients hide their income. I’m not suggesting that Bloomberg is ripe for a takedown by Tom Cruise. I am suggesting that it looks terrible, and leaders have a duty to avoid looking terrible. Continue reading

Citizenship, Ignorance, and The Star Spangled Banner

Neatly balancing the high school that refuses to allow “Ave Maria” to be played by the school band because its unheard lyrics might offend litigious atheists in the student body, we have the indignant students at Goshen College, who are angry at their school for finally permitting “The Star Spangled Banner” to be played at sporting events. Goshen is a Mennonite institution, and the Mennonites are pacifists. Somewhere the school got the idea that the National Anthem glorifies war, and on that basis some of its students are up in arms—well, not really, since they object to that sort of thing. But they have a Facebook page, which aims to organize a protest.

When the bicentennial of the War of 1812 comes around in two years,  maybe the defiantly ignorant in this country will begin filling in that huge gap in its consciousness. Many media articles covered the National Anthem flap at Goshen and quoted students like Marlys Weaver, 22, a senior from Goshen and editor of the college newspaper. “I am not in favor of the college’s decision to play the anthem,” she  said.  “Images of war run throughout all the verses of the anthem, and Mennonites, as pacifists, work with active and involved non-violent options.” None of the articles that I could find bothered to note that the “The Star-Spangled Banner” does not glorify war. Indeed, criticizing the Anthem for “images of war” shows a shocking deficit in American history and perspective, and the failure of our news media to help the public be informed citizens on this point is a breach of its duties as well. Continue reading

The Citizens United Opinion and the Post’s Unethical Poll

Is the Washington Post story on  the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court opinion and the public’s reaction to it  dishonest, sinister, or just incompetent? I’m not sure, but I am sure of this: it is a classic example of why polls are a terrible way to guide national policy and lawmaking. The Post article begins…

“Americans of both parties overwhelmingly oppose a Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations and unions to spend as much as they want on political campaigns, and most favor new limits on such spending, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.”

The statement is false and misleading. Whatever the merits or deficiencies of the Citizens decision may be, the vast majority of the American public has no idea what the Supreme Court ruling was, or why it was made. Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week

“Passivity cloaked in tolerance results in nothing being done.”

—-National Public Radio Correspondent Megan Williams, reporting on how Italians are apathetic regarding the ugly graffiti marring virtually every public building, including churches, in Rome.

Tolerance as a virtue receives too much unqualified praise.. Often what passes for tolerance is really ethical negligence and laziness, or, as in Rome, apathy. Some things do not deserve toleration, and tolerating what should be intolerable is no virtue at all.