Ethics Carnage in Wisconsin: The Ethics Grades So Far

The battleground

The story to date: Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker announced a budget-repair measure to address  looming budget deficits (in a state with a balanced budget mandate in its constitution) by requiring state employees to contribute a larger proportion of their pensions and health care plans, and  restricting their long-standing  collective bargaining rights. Wisconsin’s deficit is projected at $30 million for the remainder of the 2011, with a shortfall of $1.5 billion projected for next year. In response to Walker’s announcement and the near certainty of his plan being passed by the Republican dominated state legislature, 14 Democratic legislators fled the state to prevent a quorum and block a vote, teachers left their classes to protest in Madison, where they were joined by thousands of pro-union protesters, many of whom were organized and bused in by Organizing for America, a White House operated political group.

Let’s try to separate the ethics wheat from the chaff—amazingly, there is actually some wheat–and get an early line on the heroes, dunces, villains, and the rest as the Wisconsin budget battle threatens to become a full-fledged Ethics Train Wreck. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: Rush Limbaugh and the Spinners

No, Rush Limbaugh and the Spinners isn’t a new singing group. It is a chorus, however, of graceless, cynical or malicious commentators who are determined to re-cast the President’s well-chosen, non-partisan and healing words in Tucson into something they can use as ammunition in exactly the kind of destructive wars of rhetoric that Obama properly condemned. Continue reading

Ethics Call To Arms: Fight the “Fuck You!” Culture

“Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.”

This was the very first edict in the list of civility rules memorized by George Washington as a child, rules that shaped his character and significantly influenced not only his life and career but the fate of America. Like most of Washington’s 11o rules, the first has universal and timeless validity, pointing all of us and our culture toward a society based on mutual respect, caring, empathy, and fairness.

Recently, however, there has been a powerful cultural movement away from George’s rules and the culture of civility that they represent. Rudeness has always been with us, of course, and public decorum has been in steady decline since the Beatniks of the Fifties, to the point where it is unremarkable to see church-goers in flip-flops and airplane passengers in tank-tops. Something else is going on, however. Like the colored dots of paint in a George Seurat painting, isolated incidents and clues have begun to converge into a picture, and it is not one of a pleasant day in the park. I believe we are seeing a dangerous shift away from civility as a cultural value, which means that we are seeing a cultural rejection of ethics. The past two weeks have presented damning evidence that this true. Continue reading

Ethics Rant: “Medal of Honor”, Rev. Jones, and Imam Rauf

Almost everything has been reminding me of the “Ground Zero Mosque” lately. It is driving me crazy, perhaps because the rhetoric of the pro-Cordoba House “You’re a bigot if you don’t think this is the best idea since Disney World”  crowd is increasingly unfair and absurd, and getting worse by the minute. Or perhaps it is that the inconsistent reasoning and blindness to embarrassing analogies exhibited by just about everyone who comments on this issue has reached the detonation point. Continue reading

Summer Rerun: “Ending the Bi-Partisan Effort to Destroy Trust in America”

[TV is full of reruns these days, and sometimes I am grateful for them, for it gives me a chance to see episodes of favorite shows I had missed for some reason or another. Back in early March, I posted the following essay about the origins of America’s current crisis of trust in our government, and how it might be cured by our elected leaders. Since then, the crisis has deepened, and as I was doing some routine site maintenance, I reread the post. It is still very timely (unfortunately), and since far fewer people were visiting Ethics Alarms in March, I decided to re-post it today, with just a few minor edits. I promise not to make this a habit. Still, trust is the reason why ethics is so important in America: if there is a single post of the more than 700 I have written here since October 2009  that I would like people to read, this is it.] Continue reading

Essay: Ending the Bi-Partisan Effort to Destroy Trust in America

Both the Pentagon shooter and the Texas I.R.S. attacker were motivated by a virulent distrust of the U.S. government, the distrust mutating into desperation and violence with the assistance of personal problems and emotional instability. We would be foolish, however, to dismiss the two as mere “wingnuts,” the current term of choice to describe political extremists who have gone around the bend. They are a vivid warning of America’s future, for the media, partisan commentators, the two political parties and our elected officials are doing their worst to convert all of us into wingnuts, and the results could be even more disastrous than the fanciful horrors the Left and the Right tell us that the other has planned for us. Continue reading

Ed Schultz Shows How to Be Wildly Unethical in Fifty Words Or Less

The pattern is distressingly clear now. Fox News finds an arrogant, doctrinaire talking head on the Right, Bill O’Reilly, and soon its Left-tilted rival, MSNBC, has recruited an even more arrogant, doctrinaire talking head on that side of the spectrum, the assaultive Keith Olbermann. O’Reilly uncivilly calls those he disagrees with “pin-heads,” while Olberman calls them “the Worst Person in the World.” This motivates Fox to find a commentator on the Right who makes O’Reilly seem modest and measured, Glenn Beck. This, naturally, pushed MSNBC to look under every rock to find a liberal host who can out-Beck Beck.

The bad news: they succeeded, and found Ed Schultz, who is louder, cruder, more uncivil and less fair than any of the above-mentioned blowhards. The worse news: if you out Beck Beck, no responsible station should put you on the air. Continue reading