From The Dead Ethics Alarms Files: Wait, WHAT? Why Was This Court Decision Even Necessary?

Uri Rafaeli owed $8.41 in unpaid property taxes. That’s eight dollars and change. The amount gradually increased to $285.81 from added interest, penalties and fees. Oakland County in Michigan  confiscated and sold his property for $24,500, thenkept all proceeds above the past due amount.  Meanwhile, Andre Ohanessian owed about $6,000 in unpaid taxes, interest, penalties and fees to the same Oakland County, and the county sold his property for $82,000. It kept all proceeds of that sale too.

Seems fair to me!

Kidding. Actually, that seems so wrong that I don’t understand how any public officials could do such a thing, or argue that it was defensible rather than obvious theft. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled last week that the takings clause in the state constitution prevents counties from selling homes for unpaid tax debts and keeping all surplus proceeds.

Because, you know, it’s wrong. Continue reading

A Brief Note To Commenters…

I am so proud of you all, and Ethics Alarms,  today. The quality of discussion on multiple posts and threads is outstanding, as varied, eloquent and and thoughtful as I have ever seen it. I offer my sincere thanks and appreciation to all participants.

And since I’m here, I might as well note that July 16 is Ethics Ambivalence Day, or perhaps Watch Out For Moral Luck Day. Which of these events that occured on July 16th can be confidently and uncontroversially  designated in retrospect as “good”?

  • In 1790, Congress declared Washington, D.C. the new capital.

The new Congress chose a swampy, humid, muddy and mosquito-infested site on the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia to be the nation’s permanent capital. Brilliant!

  • In 1918, the Romanov family was executed.

This ended a 300-year imperial dynasty,  and sent Russia down the road of Communism.  But they got rid of those damn Czars!

  • In 1935,  the world’s first parking meter was installed.

The world’s first parking meter, known as Park-O-Meter No. 1, was installed on the southeast corner of what was then First Street and Robinson Avenue in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, eventually helping municipalities to balance their budgets nation wide.

  • In 1951, “Catcher in the Rye” was published.

J.D. Salinger’s only full-length novel, about a confused and nihilistic teenager would be taught in high schools for half a century. Why, I will never know.

  • In 1995, Amazon opened for business.

No comment.

  • In 1945, at 5:29:45 a.m., the Manhattan Project resulted in the first atom bomb successfully exploding in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Bad Day Ethics

Here I am, getting the first Ethics Alarms post up after 2:00 am, and feeling guilty. There are about ten important ethics issues and stories to be covered, and I feel I am obligated to get them covered.

But it’s going to be more difficult than usual. We just learned that two members of our household have tested positive for the Wuhan virus. I am sick with some other damn thing, basic flu symptoms plus traveling, intermittent pain in the muscles of my back and legs (no fever, no dry cough, really no Wuhan symptoms at all other than being tired). I also have a sudden backlog of paying consultant work, which takes me twice as long as it should when I’m drugged and run-down, and I am really drugged and run down.

My father and the various cultural and historical models that formed my own values, caused me to place soldiering through these kinds of  obstacles high among my life’s priorities. My dad went though his post-military life walking, hiking, playing with his children and other activities with a roughly reconstructed foot—the result of a W.W. II hand grenade’s carnage—that looked like some kind of demonic potato. He never complained or used it as an excuse to beg out of what he considered his duties; I remember saying to my mother, “It’s amazing that Dad does everything he does with a foot that looks like that. I would think it would hurt him.” She said, “Are you kidding? His foot hurts him terribly all the time.” My father’s attitude was that tough times, seemingly overwhelming challenges  and misfortunes were inevitable and were such intrinsic aspects of life that to overreact to them or allow yourself to be paralyzed in their wake was foolish.  One of his favorite quotes was Joan Howard Maurer’s tale,

“One day as I sat musing, sad and lonely without a friend, a voice came to me from out of the gloom saying, ‘Cheer up. Things could be worse.’ So I cheered up and sure enough—things got worse.”

 

Continue reading

Does An Ethics Alarm Make A Sound If It Rings Where Nobody Can Hear It? The Mystery Of Joe Biden’s VP Search

It is increasingly clear that poor Joe Biden just isn’t processing reality well. As he does everything he can to duck Tara Reade’s allegations, for example, he chose to be interviewed on MSNBC by Al Sharpton. As conservative talk-show host Larry Elder tweeted, “Only in America can a man who achieved fame by knowingly promoting Tawana Brawley’s false accusation of rape, become a Democratic “kingmaker,” get a TV show–and interview a Democrat who claims he’s a victim of a false accusation of rape.”

Well a man can do that; whether it’s smart is something else.

This is definitely not smart: Biden named former Democratic Connecticut Senator Chis Dodd to help steer his selection committee for Biden’s Vice-President, even though Dodd is notorious as the late Ted Kennedy’s drinking and carousing partner, and especially remembered for his cheerful admission that the two over-aged frat boys once collaborated on what Ted called a “waitress sandwiches.”To make Dodd’s assignment even more tone-deaf, Biden is generally assumed to be looking for a female running mate. So to choose the best qualified (not that qualifications are a big deal if you are making twin X-chromosomes the top criteria for selection) person to get Joe to the metaphorical finish line, Joe thinks the right choice is a former Senator who is acknowledged to have been a serial offender in the kinds of woman-abusing conduct that Biden claims he condemns despite being accused of it himself.

Huh. Interesting.

Dodd was…is?…also a  close friend of Harvey Weinstein for about 40 years. That doesn’t seem so surprising when one considers the origin of the “waitress sandwich” quip. From RealClearPolitics:

“The ugly turn of phrase comes courtesy of a profile of Kennedy in Gentlemen’s Quarterly and from the decidedly ungentlemanly behavior by Dodd when he and the Lion of the Senate were on the prowl at a D.C. French restaurant…. It was 1985… The waitress in question declined to comment for the GQ story but said that the account of what happened, which first appeared in the pages of Penthouse, was accurate. Dodd was there with Kennedy and their dates, both blonde and young. It was after midnight. The accompanying women left to use the restroom. The waitress was summoned, and that’s when she was allegedly thrown first onto the table by Kennedy — shattering glass and scattering cutlery – and then onto the lap of Dodd. Kennedy…jumped “on top and begins rubbing his genital area against hers, supporting his weight on the arms of the chair”…An eyewitness, Betty Loh, confirmed the incident….The waitress screamed as it happened. Dishwashers rushed to the room. The Senators allegedly laughed at the scene they caused, then haggled over who would pay the night’s bill…

Of course, that conduct would have caused problems for both Senators if reported in 1985, but the news media, then as now, usually made sure that liberal icons were shielded from accountability in such things, and Kennedy was used to generously paying off his victims. It is still indicative of the kinds of attitudes toward women that men of power from that era, including Kennedy, Dodd, Biden and yes, Donald Trump, subscribed to. How can one explain  Biden, especially with the accusation of Tara Reade hanging over him,  now choosing Dodd to be his trusted agent in the matter of selecting a female V.P., when he has so many other options who do not have a history of sexual assault themselves?

Here are some possible answers, one or more of which could be the case: Continue reading

You Know, Harvard, When You Have To be Embarrassed And Shamed Into Doing What Should Have Been Your Automatic Response Anyway If You Had Any Decency, It’s Too Late To Save Face.

The cat, as they say, is out of the bag. Harvard is arrogant, ethically inert, and avaricious. But we knew that.

Yesterday I noted that Harvard had accepted nearly $9 million from the pandemic relief package. “With a 40 billion dollar dollar endowment, Harvard is better off financially than the U.S. government,” I wrote. “There is no excuse for the school accepting the money. It is getting widely criticized for taking it, and ought to be.”

Harvard’s disingenuous rationalization was unconvincing:

“By federal formula laid out in the CARES Act, Harvard was allocated $8.6 million, with 50% of those funds to be reserved for grants to students. Harvard is actually allocating 100% of the funds to financial assistance for students to meet their urgent needs in the face of this pandemic. Harvard will allocate the funds based on student financial need. This financial assistance will be on top of the significant support the University has already provided to students — including assistance with travel, providing direct aid for living expenses to those with need, and supporting students’ transition to online education.”

My conclusion: “The only issue is that Harvard has plenty of money to do all of this without any hand-outs from the government, and many other institutions need the money more, which is an easy calculation because no institution needs money less than Harvard does.”

Others, including President Trump, chided The Greatest University In The World for its indefensible greed. The school pushed back earlier today with a word-parsing justification that made no sense. It has 40 billion dollars sitting in investments. That’s the end of the debate.

The double talk didn’t work, and by this afternoon, with the backlash growing and the episode becoming a public relations nightmare, the Crimson had capitulated. Trump and the other critics were right. Harvard was wrong. The University announced that it would not apply for or accept  emergency relief, joining Stanford and Princeton. Continue reading

No, The President Isn’t A Dictator, But Given The Opportunity, These Elected Officials Might Be

There are many ironies and contradictions in the various government reactions to the Wuhan virus, some quite yummy, like the municipalities that had banned plastic bags that are now forced to ban the re-usable kind, and demand the use of the plastic once again. Some day, when this is all over, we can sit around and laugh about it all.

This development, however, is not funny: a frightening number of governors, mayors and police officers have demonstrated how much of our democracy is currently entrusted to nascent totalitarians. I know, I know: to protect the public in a unique crisis, extraordinary measures must be taken, and because so many in our democracy don’t really possess the intelligence and sense of social responsibility that the Founders, in their idealistic fervor, decided to pretend they had (much less the common sense of the average meerkat), sometimes those measures must be accompanied by the force of law. However, because it is a democracy and one that begins with wariness of governments infringing on personal liberties, and will end with our governments being supported when they decided those liberties can be ignored on a whim and a hunch, the recent gusto with which elected officials and their police forces have felt justified in crushing those liberties are warnings that responsible citizens must not let go unpunished. I wrote about one example here, regarding Vermont’s governor’s move to stop the big box stores from selling items Maple Syrup big Brother considers “non-essential.” There are more.

Ethics Alarms already covered the father taken away in handcuffs for playing T-ball on on otherwise empty field with his wife and 6-year-old child, but the Philadephia police pulling  people off  buses for not wearing masks, or the aspiring fascist officer  who tried to  chase down single jogger on an empty beach initially escaped my attention. There are so many examples, you see. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day AND Mask Photo Dilemma Update: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/7/2020: Is It Just Me, Or Does Anyone Else Feel Like They Are In A “Twilight Zone” Episode? [Item #1]

It was reported by a non-reliable source that this is the anti-virus mask Rep. Lee put on her dog…

[Okay, bear with me now. This COTD by Steve Witherspoon was actually entered on this post, where the issue at hand was alluded to obliquely in the post, then expanded upon in a comment. But I went into far more detail regarding the issue in today’s Warm-Up, and there was even a poll on the issue, so I’m assigning the comment to that post, not the one that inspired it.]

I officially mark my immediate ethics conflict as solved. The poll results are moot regarding this specific episode but still valid regarding the general problem. So far, about half the voters said I had a duty to post the non-diverse idiot photos even if it did get me called a racist (Easy for them to say!). Fortunately, the option I favored (with three votes out of 24) was made accessible within minutes of the posting. I know have a fully diverse array of dufuses wearing their masks wrong, and hope to have more.

In addition to Rep. Lee, we have Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner:

Congressman Al Green (D-Tx):

And, best of all, taking us out of Houston and also into racially diverse territory, the very white Senate Minority Leader himself, New York Senator Chuck Schumer! (Pointer: Willem Reese):

No photos on Asian-Americans yet, but commenter Zoebrain found one of an Asian nose-breather, Korean cult leader Lee Man Hee: Continue reading

Yeah, “We’re All In This Together,” Except When Officious Fools With A Little Bit Of Power Have Dead Ethics Alarms, As They So Often Do.

 

….that is, if this infuriating story is true, which it might not be.

On an American Airlines flight with just eleven passengers, Yahoo! tells us, the flight attendants made all eleven sit in the last three rows, next to each other, because if they were allowed to spread out, they were told, it would be the equivalent of an upgrade. All eleven had purchased basic economy tickets. An unnamed American employee apparently revealed the episode, which occurred on March 24. That was the same day American started a new policy, specifically directing flight crew to spread out passengers to minimize the threat of Wuhan virus infection.

Now, as reported, this is mind-meltingly stupid. Some elements do need to be considered, however: Continue reading

Ethics Comes In Like A Lion Warm-Up, 3/1/2020: Dead Ethics Alarms In New York, London, And Washington, D.C.

That’s my father’s favorite March!

Mine too.

For some reason there has been a breakdown of civility in the comments lately. This has happened from time to time; something in the air or too many social media rants or something; I don’t really care. You all know where the lines are; you cross them intentionally when you cross them. I appreciate the use of a vulgar word or harsh phrase as much as anyone; “asshole” is particularly tempting, because there is no non-vulgar term that quite captures the essence of its meaning. I also prefer to keep moderation light here, and for the most part, the select commenters who have passed my standards and answered the three questions at the bridge correctly usually make me proud, especially when I see what crawls onto other sites’ comment sections.  The would-be Ethics Alarms participants who send in entries like “Your a Trump-loving fuckface LOL!are all stacked up in the spam vault, and you would not believe how many of those I have to read to maintain the high level of participants here. I do not care to read that kind of gutter residue on the blog itself.

I just trashed a full comment by a regular commenter here, something I have not done in over ten years, and I’m not happy about it. Let’s keep that lapse the anomaly that it is.

1. From the “When ethics alarms don’t ring” file. Pop Quiz! If you were on the staff of a fashion show about to begin at what the New York Times calls “New York’s famed Fashion Institute of Technology”—which I have never heard of—and several of the models appeared backstage preparing to go out looking like this…

…what would you do?

The answer is that no matter how high or low you were on the metaphorical totem pole, you would be obligated to throw a fit, phone the brass, tell everyone in sight that they are out of their minds, and do everything short of calling in a bomb threat to halt what you know without a shadow of a doubt will result in a public relations disaster.

Incredibly, not a single person raised the obvious objection except an African-American model-who refused to don the giant lips and monkey ears. After the predictable uproar, two F.I.T. administrators were suspended, and  the school’s president, Dr. Joyce Brown (who is African-American) issued a public statement admitting that the Feb. 7 show, intended to demonstrate the work of recent graduates of the school’s M.F.A. program, “failed to recognize or anticipate the racist references and cultural insensitivities that were obvious to almost everybody else.”

Wait—if they were obvious to almost everybody else, why were they not obvious to anyone involved in the show? Continue reading

Noonish Ethics Round-Up, 2/19/2020: That Other Day That Will Live In Infamy…

Hi!

1. On this day in 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, empowering the Army to issue orders emptying parts of California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona of immigrants from Japan, who were precluded from U.S. citizenship by law, and nisei, their children, who were U.S. citizens by birth. After the order, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court including future liberal icon William O. Douglas, the Japanese-Americans  were first warehoused at “assembly centers,” which could be racetrack barns or on fairgrounds, then shipped to ten detendtion camps in Western states and Arkansas. Armed guards and barbed wire, plus morning roll call were part of the degrading and punitive experience.

It is fair to say this treatment was substantially rooted in racism, for there was no mass incarceration of U.S. residents with ties to Germany or Italy. Once the U.S. appeared to be on the way to victory along with its Allies in December 1944, the Executive Order was  rescinded. By then the Army was enlisting Japanese American soldiers to fight in Africa and Europe. President Harry Truman told the all Japanese-America 442nd Regimental Combat Team: “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice—and you have won.”

California is now preparing to formally apologize to the families of those interned.State Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) introduced a resolution that will formally apologize for California’s “failure to support and defend the civil rights” of Japanese Americans during that period,” and it is expected to pass today.

It’s naked grandstanding and virtue signaling, of course. The federal government apologized for the unconstitutional imprisonment and granted financial redress to survivors with the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, and the Supreme Court overruled its decision  upholding internment in 2018. Continue reading