Tag Archives: compassion

The Controversy Over Separating Children From Illegal Immigrants At The Border: What’s Going On Here?

The current political controversy over the Trump Administration policy of separating parents from children at the Mexican border when they are apprehended for illegal attempts to cross into the United States involves many ethical issues, and, as usual, conduct and rhetoric that confounds ethical analysis, perhaps intentionally.

With most complex ethics problems, the starting point is to ask, “What’s going on here?” This is especially useful in this case, where the news media, open-borders advocacy groups, and various political faction are intentionally steering the debate, and public comprehension, into box canyons of pure emotion.

So: What’s going on here?

 Despite the fact that its editorial page is cheer-leading the box canyon effort, and its journalists are coloring reports on it with their partisan biases, the New York Times has provided the facts, if you can ignore the static Here is the main one:

“For more than a decade, even as illegal immigration levels fell over all, seasonal spikes in unauthorized border crossings had bedeviled American presidents in both political parties, prompting them to cast about for increasingly aggressive ways to discourage migrants from making the trek…Last month, facing a sharp uptick in illegal border crossings, Mr. Trump ordered a new effort to criminally prosecute anyone who crossed the border unlawfully — with few exceptions for parents traveling with their minor children.”

That’s  “all” that has happened. Illegal immigration is...illegal. The Trump Administration has decided to treat breaking immigration laws like the country is supposed to treat all law-breaking—as the crime that it is. The law-breakers are arrested. When law-breakers are arrested for robbery, murder, rape, fraud, embezzlement…anything, really…they are separated from their children. This is not remarkable, nor are the law enforcement officers typically blamed. If a man takes his child to a burglary and he is arrested, then the child is going to be, to use a phrase I am seeing too much lately, “ripped from his arms.” If he is a citizen with a resident family or not a single parent, and the child is also a citizen or in the country legally, the child will be handed into the care of a relative. If not, then that child may also wind up in the custody of a government facility.

The children are being taken from the parents because children are always taken from parents when parents are arrested for a serious crime. What is unusual, and making this situation vulnerable to emotional manipulation on the level of the gun-control debate  in which “Think of the children!” instantly lobotomizes a large segment of the public and obliterates all ability to process reality, are several factors:

  • Criminals don’t typically take their children with them when they break laws.
  • Illegal immigrants can claim to be legitimate “asylum-seekers,” even though most of them are not.
  • Progressives, Democrats and those who aren’t paying much attention either refuse to acknowledge or don’t realize that entering the country illegally is a crime.
  • The illegal border-crossers are, in many if not all cases, using their children to create exactly this political firestorm. Think of them as the equivalent of human shields.
  • Previous Presidents have been willing to be extorted through this emotional black mail–Think of the children!–to  neglect enforcement of immigration laws. This is, in great part, how the United States ended up with 11-13 million illegal immigrants.
  • It is also how the U.S. ended up with President Trump.

Under President Obama, and presumably Bush as well, children trying to cross the border illegally were also held, just with their parents rather than without them, in a politically motivated exception to usual criminal enforcement practice. Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement

Ethics Review: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

I watched last year’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” twice, just to make sure it was the profound ethics movie I thought it was. It is. None of the reviews described it that way, of course. Here is the New York Times:

“The movie opens on low boil with Mildred behind the wheel of her station wagon near three derelict billboards…she uses the billboards to announce her crusade … a way to get things jumping (the investigators, the tale) and splash some foreboding on an outwardly pacific scene. Much of the story involves the ripples of outrage, confusion and buffoonery that the billboards inspire and that soon envelop almost everyone Mildred knows. Months after her daughter’s death, grief has walled her in; isolating and seemingly impenetrable, it is inscribed in the hardness of her gaze and in her grim new identity as a mother of a dead girl. The billboards turn that grief into a weapon, a means of taking on the law and assorted men — a threatening stranger, a vigilante dentist and an abusive ex (John Hawkes) — who collectively suggest another wall that has closed Mildred in….”

None of which addresses what is remarkable about the film, which is that it shows what causes our ethics alarms not to ring—Frances McDormand as Mildred and Sam Rockwell as Dixon, a racist and vicious deputy, in particular demonstrate  what it is like to be driven by non-ethical considerations of the darkest and most passionate sort—and more important, what causes them to start ringing again. Most reviewers described this as a dark and depressing film. The ethics alarms are mostly off again as the film ends, and that is ominous, but its main ethics message is uplifting in many ways. “Three Billboards” teaches us that even broken, ignorant, alienated human beings have the capacity to access their innate instincts for compassion, justice, forgiveness, selflessness and kindness, and even when our ethical selves seem permanently overcome and decisively defeated, they can burst out again, in control, salvaging what’s best about the species.

There is a moment early in “Three Billboards” that signals that it is not only going to show us what monsters anger and grief can transform us into, but also that what George Washington’s list of 110 Rules called “that little spark of celestial fire called conscience” is remarkably resilient.  A sheriff—the ethics compass of the story, played by Woody Harrelson— visits Mildred after her billboard messages embarrass him and roil the town. She is hard and cold as marble as he tries to explain his failure to find her daughter’s rapist/killer, even after he reminds her that he is dying of cancer. Suddenly the sheriff has a violent  spasm: he coughs up blood on himself and Mildred. And we see her fury evaporate in an instant. The compassionate and caring mother she once was emerges, if only for a few moments. ( McDormand is such a superb actress that she pulls off the sudden transition convincingly and movingly: you believe it, though it is like watching Mr. Hyde turn into Dr. Jekyll in the snap of a finger.) Later, when again her fury has been aroused, we see the same woman firebomb the police station and watch implacably as her nemesis deputy burns. A warning: just because the ethics alarms can ring doesn’t mean they are working well enough.

Sam Rockwell’s character also reveals surprisingly that his ethics spark has not been entirely extinguished, again thanks to a catalyst supplied by the sheriff. This transformation caused considerable  criticism of the film among critics and artists in Hollywood, and some attribute the film’s failure to win the Best Picture Oscar to the fact that a racist is redeemed and revealed to have an ethical core. But except for the sociopaths and psychopaths among us, admittedly a disturbingly large group, we all have that ethical core. We have the ethics alarms too, ready to be re-activated, even if they aren’t in perfect working order. Yes, this is  even true of racists. So much of our current political discourse is driven by the false construct that a single belief or a single lapse of reason marks an individual as irredeemable. Its easier to marginalize and demonize them that way. But it isn’t true.

Indeed Ethics Alarms often declares certain conduct and words as signature significance, proving that an individual is unethical because such actions and thoughts are alien to ethical human beings. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” reminded me that people may be unethical–Mildred and Dixon, the deputy, could never be called ethical, for ethical people don’t set police stations on fire or throw young men out of second story windows, as Dixon does—but that even unethical individuals can find their ethics if you give them a chance.

And if they can find their ethics, so can all of us, and so can society. There is hope.

________________________

Addendum: I cannot leave “Three Billboards” without a salute to one of its most powerful scenes, when Mildred tells a priest why she doesn’t care what he has to say when he comes to her home to admonish her for the messages on the billboards:

Bingo.

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Popular Culture

Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/6/ 2018: “Remember the Alamo” Edition” (#2: “The Option”))

Commenter Zanshin returned to expand on his answer to the hypothetical I offered a Boy Scout troop based on one of my late, lamented professional theater company’s many dilemmas over the years. Here is the situation again…

The Option

Your professional theater company has limited funds, so it offers its actors an option. They may choose a flat fee for their roles, or get a percentage of the show’s profits, if there are any, on top of a much smaller base fee.

The company just completed an extremely profitable production, the biggest hit your theater has ever had. Nine of the show’s ten cast members chose the percentage of profits option, a gamble, because most of the shows lose money. One, the star, who you know could not afford to gamble, took the flat fee for the role. After the accounting for the production is complete, you realize that every member of the cast will make $1000 more than the star, because of the show’s profits.

Question 1: What do you do?

  1. Give him the extra $1000. It’s only fair.
  2. Pay him the flat fee. A deal’s a deal.

Question 2: You remount the production, and the exact same thing happens. The actor chooses the flat fee, the show is again a huge money-maker,,and the rest of the cast will make much more than him because they chose the percentage. Do you give him the extra amount again?

  1. No. Now he’s taking advantage of me.
  2. Yes. Nothing has changed.

You can read the initial responses here, and check the poll results.

And here is Zanshin’s Comment of the Day, on the post Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/6/ 2018: “Remember the Alamo” Edition:

Here are my reflections on this ethical (hypothetical) issue.

Question 1: Some personal background influencing my thinking: In the early years of my career I worked at a small company (about 40 employees). After having worked there for 2 years the owners sold the company, probably for a very good price, because they decided to give every employee about $ 200 for each year that he had worked with the company. Some of my colleagues worked with them for 15 years and more.

For me it would be a nice $ 400 but to my surprise I received $ 1.000 with a handwritten note which stated something like, “We’ll give you $600 extra because we are very pleased with your performance with us. Please do not discuss this with your colleagues.”

Back to the question.

I would go for a third option. First, Pay him the flat fee. A deal’s a deal.

But at the same time, give him in some personalized way, about $500 extra.With personalized I mean, fitting the situation. Why couldn’t he gamble with his reward? For instance, his car is broke, he needs it very bad for whatever reason. Offer to pay a part of the bill, etc.

Question 2: In my opinion the set-up of the first situation (question 1) was already tainted. Just as we expect of journalists that they don’t “interview people who are drunk, drugged, impaired, or not in a mentally or emotionally stable state.” one should also not ask an employee who you know could not afford to gamble to just do that, gamble with his income. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Workplace

Ethics Hero: Ken White Of Popehat

I haven’t featured Ken White lately, in part because Popehat’s posts are sporadic, unlike those of mad bloggers who habitually post multiple essays a day. However, Ken’s most recent post is the epitome of  ethical blogging at its best. It is long, but absolutely worth the time to read. His subject is the internet pile-on against a mentally ill writer named Kenneth Eng, who, Ken points out, was obviously not well, and yet was mercilessly attacked and mocked. Fox News even exploited his illness for some sensational cable moments—shades of Sam Nunberg!  Ken, who has written frankly and courageously about his own battles with clinical depression, takes a hard ethics inventory, finds himself and the internet community lacking, and does a superb job—as usual—of clarifying a difficult issue.  I have had my differences with Ken, but at his best, White is as ethically astute and clear a writer as there is online, with an almost unfailing ability to point us in the right direction.

He writes in part, Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Health and Medicine, Race, U.S. Society

Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/8/2018: Tolstoy And The News,” (Item #4)

Frequent commenter Otto vanished from the wars for many weeks, and then nailed a Comment of the Day on his first day back. Boy I hate that: it’s as if he can register a sharp, thought-provoking analysis at will, like he’s toying with us. This time, his topic was illegal immigration, as he responded to the item about Nancy Pelosi thanking the parents of “Dreamers” for breaking our immigration laws.

Here is Otto’s Comment of the Day on the illegal immigration item in the post, Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/8/2018: Tolstoy And The News :

…The only reason persons would immigrate to the U.S., legally or illegally, is hope for a higher quality of life than they could have in their home countries. Any positive differential between what they would achieve in their home country and what they would achieve in the U.S. with the same output of effort can only be attributed to living off the fat (wealth, capital, productiveness) of the American people (past, present, and possibly future). If their effort would achieve the same results (or better) in their home country, they would not immigrate. It is that simple.

While this is true, I don’t believe we should even consider the economic benefit to the U.S. when determining who should and should not enter the U.S. or become citizens – it sounds too much like using a person as means to our own ends. However, if we do consider economic benefit, Humble Talent is correct that we must include opportunity cost in our calculation. If admitting a farmer from Guatemala as a citizen precludes us from admitting a physician from Germany as a citizen, we must include any differential in productivity (economic benefit) between the two persons as a cost (or benefit) of admitting the farmer.

Of course, the myriad avenues of opportunity cost are not the only costs of illegal immigration. Assuming illegal immigrants purchase food, clothing, housing, and other commodities, their demand for these commodities puts upward pressure on prices that must be paid by all U.S. citizens. Assuming illegal immigrants seek employment, their supply of labor puts downward pressure on wages, a cost suffered by all U.S. citizens. If illegal immigrants seek an education, they contribute to classroom crowding and greater expense of education, which is a cost to all U.S. citizens. If illegal immigrants drive vehicles anywhere, they contribute to wear and tear on infrastructure, a cost to all U.S. citizens. If illegal immigrants receive any type of governmental benefit, it is a cost to U.S. citizens. If illegal immigrants receive any type of pseudo-private benefit (such as reduced rates on utilities), it is a cost to U.S. citizens. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement

Comment Of The Day (And Poll Results!): “Meet The Passionate Ethics Dunce Confronting Public Figures With Their Immigrant Histories…”

I decided that this one was too stupid for the poll…

I want to express my gratitude to veteran Ethics Alarms commenter and previous Commenter of the Year texagg04 for another of his epic contributions, this one following up on my poll asking readers to vote for the worst of 15 commonly used justifications for tolerating illegal immigrants. Rather than choose the worst—“stupidest,” in Tex’s parlance that I approve of in this matter—he ranked them from stupidest to least stupid, after commenting on each and explaining what each signifies.

The Most Stupid in his ranking is also the most sinister and the most important: “Opposing illegal immigration is racist/xenophobic.” The entire pro-illegal immigration movement has adopted the strategy of impugning opponents as racist or xenophobic  to both stifle legitimate debate while demonizing the rule of law and immigration restrictions.

The poll that ended the January 22 Ethics Alarms post about Jennifer Mendelsohn , who thinks that if you had a legal immigrant in your lineage you are a hypocrite to advocate enforcing immigration laws attracted 239 votes, and Ethics Alarms record (multiple choices were allowed). The final results with percentages of votes cast:

“Opposing illegal immigration is racist/xenophobic.” 19.67%

“We stole their country, so it’s really theirs to use as they please.” 12.55%

“We’re a nation of immigrants.” 11.3%

“The words on the Statue of Liberty!” 7.95%

“They do jobs Americans won’t do.” 7.53%

“Think of the children!” 6.69%

“Illegal immigration is an act of love.” 5.44% (tie)

“They just want a better life.”  5.44% (tie)

“They aren’t hurting anybody.” 5.44% (tie)

“Our economy depends on them.” 5.02%

“They aren’t really criminals.”  4.18%

“We’re a compassionate people.” 3.77%

“You would do it too, if you were them.” 2.93%

“It’s a dumb law.”  2.09%

Here is texagg04′ s Comment of the Day on the poll included in Meet The Passionate Ethics Dunce Confronting Public Figures With Their Immigrant Histories As If It Proves Anything: Continue reading

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Compassion! Crime! Betrayal! Law vs. Ethics! Illegal Aliens! Christmas Spirit! The Golden Rule! Five Golden Rings! (Okay, Only Three Rings, And One Was Junk, But Still…) The ‘Awwwww Factor’! Could This Be “The Greatest Ethics Quiz Ever Asked”?

[Special thanks to my friend (and the inventor of The Three Circles) lawyer/legal ethicist John May for alerting Ethics Alarms to this one.]

Sandra Mendez Ortega, a 19-year-old maid, stole three rings worth at least $5,000 from a house she was cleaning in Fairfax City, Virginia. Lisa Copeland, the client of the cleaning service, discovered her engagement and wedding rings were missing from the container where they were usually kept. The two rings were appraised at $5,000 in 1996, and a third less valuable ring was taken along with them. Fairfax City police  interviewed the three women who had cleaned the home, and they all denied seeing the rings, much less stealing them. Ortega, however, subsequently had second thoughts, and confessed to the theft. She told her boss that she had the rings and turned them over to him. He contacted the police,   Mendez Ortega confessed to them as well, saying she returned the rings after learning they were valuable. (Thus she only took them because she thought they weren’t valuable. Okaayyyy…) The police told her to write an apology letter to Copeland, in Spanish, in which she said in part, “Sorry for grabbing the rings. I don’t know what happened. I want you to forgive me.”

(I’m sorry, but I have to break in periodically so my head won’t explode. ” I don’t know what happened?” She knows what happened! She stole the rings because she thought she could get away with it.)

Copeland says she has never seen that letter, and that Mendez Ortega has never apologized to her in person. The maid was charged with felony grand larceny. At the trial, the jury found her guilty. (If she had confessed and was remorseful, why did she plead not guilty?)

But we are told that they felt sympathy for the defendant, who was pregnant with her second child, during the sentencing phase. “The general sentiment was she was a victim, too,” the jury foreman, Jeffery Memmott, told the Washington Post. “Two of the [female jurors] were crying because of how bad they felt.”  Although the  jurors convicted the maid of the felony, they agreed among themselves that it was just a “dumb, youthful mistake.” So they decided that her punishment would be only be her fee for cleaning the house the day of the theft, $60. Then they took up a collection and raised the money to pay the fine, plus and extra $20.

(Yes, she made money on the transaction. Crime pays.) Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Character, Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Law & Law Enforcement, Quizzes, Workplace