Ethics Quote Of The Day: “Reston Now”

“Unethical, sketchy, and uncomfortable behavior among Herndon officials are some of the main reasons behind the push to strengthen the code. The councilmembers shared stories of unnamed former town officials who publicly berated staff, grabbed a staffer in a sexual manner, and solicited jobs from other elected officials in the performance of their official duties.”

—From “Town of Herndon Grapples with How to Revamp Ethics Code,” an article in Reston Today, describing the classic and unresolvable problem with Ethics Codes.

Herndon, Virginia, isn’t too far from where I live.

The problem the article encompasses is as old as the hills. Simply passing laws, or regulations, or rules prohibiting wrongful conduct doesn’t do anything to make the people subject to these laws, regulations and rules better human beings. It simply tells them that there are specific consequences to their bad conduct. Maybe that will discourage them, and maybe it won’t. After all, they have to be caught first.

The conduct described in the quote is unethical, and anyone with functioning ethics alarms knows its unethical. Abusing subordinates? Sexual assault and harassment? Using official duties to barter for career advancement? If an official knows this conduct and others equally blatant are wrong, then they don’t need a code. If they don’t know they are wrong, no code is going to help them, and individuals that ethically clueless shouldn’t be government officials.

That doesn’t mean that codes of conduct aren’t essential tools of creating an ethical culture in a local government or tree house clubs. They are, but they are just a starting point, putting in place external standards that have to be internalized, which is to say that they are then used to fix the settings on everyone’s ethics alarms in that culture. By themselves, codes do nothing, and they may even cause more misconduct. Unethical people who are also smart love the Compliance Dodge, from the Rationalizations List: Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 3/2/2019: Road Trip Epiphanies…And The Washington Post’s “Note” On The Covington Fiasco

Hi, everybody! It’s good to be back home!

I was torn whether to mention in this morning’s post that I would be Northern Virginia-bound from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area (Washington County) for most of the day. Who knows what banned and lurking commenters would seize on that intelligence to raid the forum here while I was unable to moderate, as occurred yesterday?

1. I wonder if most lawyers have the same reaction… The Pennsylvania lawyers I spoke to all seemed to share the same impression of the Michael Cohen testimony that I had. Why would anyone believe someone like that? What is the point of Congressional testimony by a convicted liar and disbarred attorney? No one disagreed that Cohen couldn’t be a witness in any proceeding, not would his testimony be admissible. How could anyone see this as anything but a transparent and  base effort by Democrats in Congress to try to smear the President with ad hominem slurs and unprovable allegations by someone obviously trying to somehow improve his own, self-made, miserable position? The lawyers are also concerned Congress is weakening the crucial attorney client privilege by encouraging a witness to breach it.

2. Ethics Corrupter: Nancy Pelosi. How dare the speaker of the House insult the President before the public by saying, “Do the country a favor, don’t run in 2020?” The democratic Congress continues to lead the effort to strip the President and his office of all the respect and basic deference they both must have for the government to function. Her snide condescension is unprofessional and nauseating….as well as bizarre, coming after the Trump-led economy just had its best month of growth in a decades—just as he promised it would. Given the state of her own party right now, a plea of “Do Democrats a favor, don’t run in 2020” would be more logical.

3. Engineering ethics. My GM rental car was keyless. It’s cool and all, but why? Congress is trying to pass new safety regulations because keyless cars are killing people. Drivers leave them running without realizing it, and sometimes poison themselves or other with carbon monoxide. They also may be easier to steal.

What, exactly, is the problem that keyless ignition was needed to solve? The “improvement” adds to the cost of cars, and appears to be a classic example of fixing something that ain’t broke, just Americans like gadgets. I have attacked the “if it saves one life” idiocy of the anti-gun lobby, but that’s because guns have very valid uses. If a completely gratuitous change in engineering and technology kills anyone without conferring some counter-balancing advantage, then that change is irresponsible and reckless.

4. Not good enough—not even close. The Washington Post, which is being sued by lawyers for 16-year-old Nicholas Sandmann for its role in focusing partisan hate on a student who had in fact done nothing wrong, issued an “Editor’s Note” on the episode late yesterday. Here it is in its entirety: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/29/2018: Codes, Cars, Carter And The Caravan

Boy, this really IS a good morning!

(The warm-up may rely a bit more on links and quotes than usual…as Bob Cratchit tells Scrooge, “I was making rather merry yesterday.”)

1. Breaking News: Jimmy Carter is right! Former President Jimmy Carter, now 94, has injected himself into the Georgia governor’s race by asking Republican candidate Brian Kemp to resign as secretary of state. Carter’s argument is that there is an appearance of impropriety in his being officially responsible for an election in which he is a candidate, and that his resignation is essential  to preserve public confidence in the outcome of Kemp’s race against Democrat Stacey Abrams. Carter’s made the request in an Oct. 22 letter .

“One of the key requirements for a fair and trusted process is that there be a nonbiased supervision of the electoral process,” Carter wrote, explaining that stepping aside “would be a sign that you recognize the importance of this key democratic principle and want to ensure the confidence of our citizens in the outcome.”

When he’s right, he’s right. Kemp should resign, and his lamer than lame rationalization for not doing so, that it isn’t really he who supervises the election but his staff, would be sufficient reason not to vote for him in the gubernatorial election.

2. Ethics Dunce: Red Sox owner John Henry. You would think the progressive owner of the Boston Globe could restrain himself from blatant virtue-signaling while his team was celebrating its historic season and World Series victory, but no. Henry saluted his team for being “diverse” in his post-game remarks. Nobody sane cares how diverse, whatever that means (Where were the women, John? Where were the Asians? The differently-abled? Muslims? LGBT representatives?), a pro sports team is as long as it wins, and if it doesn’t win, its check-offs on an EEOC form won’t make it any better or its losing more palatable. The 2018 Red Sox were assembled according to the skills and talents of its personnel, with race and ethnicity a non-factor. What mattered is that the team’s manager (he’s Puerto Rican, and I don’t care) proved himself a natural leader who created a selfless, courageous, professional culture on his team, none of whom mentioned race, religion or creed all season, and properly so.

The compulsion to spurt progressive cant at every opportunity is pathological. Continue reading

This Just In: Journalism Ethics Is Still Dead…

An ad currently running on the New York Times website:

Drone footage that shows Greenland melting away. Long narratives about the plight of climate refugees, from Louisiana to Bolivia and beyond. A series on the California drought. Color-coded maps that show how hot it could be in 2060.

The New York Times is a leader in covering climate change. Now The Times is ramping up its coverage to make the most important story in the world even more relevant, urgent and accessible to a huge audience around the globe. We are looking for an editor to lead this dynamic new group. We want someone with an entrepreneurial streak who is obsessed with finding new ways to connect with readers and new ways to tell this vital story.

The coverage should encompass: the science of climate change; the politics of climate debates; the technological race to find solutions; the economic consequences of climate change; and profiles of fascinating characters enmeshed in the issues. The coverage should include journalism in a variety of formats: video, photography, newsletters, features, podcasts, conferences and more. The unit should make strategic decisions about which forms are top priorities and which are not.

The climate editor will collaborate with many others throughout the newsroom, but will operate apart from the current department structure, with no print obligations. (The Times is also searching for editors to lead similar teams exploring education and gender.)

This is, of course, smoking gun evidence of a political agenda, bias, and the intent of the Times to warp policy and public opinion according to what it has already determined is “the most important story in the world.”  Continue reading

Dear Guy In My Legal Ethics Seminar: No, Gene Autry Was NOT A Pornographer, And Shame On You

ORG XMIT: NY21 Singing cowboy star Gene Autry is shown in an undated file photo. Autry, who parlayed a $5 mail order guitar into a career as Hollywood's first singing cowboy, died Friday, Oct. 2, 1998. He was 91. His death came less than three months after the death of his great rival, Roy Rogers.

In a legal ethics seminar last week, I was talking about ethics codes and referenced Gene Autry’s version of The Cowboy Code as an example of how most ethics codes could be easily adapted to other professions. I noted that Gene had an amazing career for such an unimpressive looking and sounding performer, with five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the only individual with that many. (Live performance, radio, TV, movies, and recordings).

“He was also a big producer of pornography!” an elderly lawyer in the front row piped up.

“What?” I said. “Gene Autry? Where did you hear that?”

“Oh, it’s true,” he insisted. “Made him a lot of money. He covered it up pretty well, but the truth came out.”

“Well, I’ll check on that. If true, it’s disillusioning. Thanks.”

But it was not true. I have a lot of material–Gene was active in both show business and Westerns, as well as baseball, so his career was and is very interesting to me—and I searched it and the web for any hint of a pornography reference. I can’t even find a web hoax alleging it.

Not only did that unsolicited bit of false biographical information undermine the point I was making about ethics codes, it spread false information about, by every account, a very nice man and an idol to millions. Now almost a hundred people have it in their heads that the guy singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” and “Back in the Saddle Again” left the studio and filmed orgies.

I don’t know who the guy was that did that to Gene, but it was an irresponsible, reckless thing to do. You can’t make a statement like that in public and smear a great man’s reputation unless you are absolutely certain of your facts.  Obviously he wasn’t sure of them, because they are complete fiction. It’s the kind of thing Donald Trump would say.

Here’s Gene:

Jessica Rabbit Ethics

From Left: Jessica, Pixie Before, Pixie After

                          From Left: Jessica, Pixie Before, Pixie After

Who could have predicted, when “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” opened in theaters, that one of its greatest legacies would be a continuing obsession of young women to emulate her exaggerated, uh, features? Yet here is another example—and there have been quite a few—of a woman mutilating herself in pursuit of looking like the sexy Toon.  Model Pixee Fox—I’m sure that’s her real name—wore a waist-training corset for 24 hours a day and spent $120,000 on various cosmetic procedures including a recent operation to have six of her ribs removed in order to achieve Jessica’s apparent 48-14-40 figure.

“I’ve always been inspired by cartoons and Disney movies, all the curves and tiny waists,” Fox told reporters. “People often, they come up to me and say, ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but you look like a cartoon.’ For me that’s a compliment. My inspiration started with Tinkerbell, but with my transformation, I’ve been starting to look like Jessica Rabbit.”

If you say so, Pixee!  Pixee is ill, it’s fair to say, so the ethical issues fall on the shoulders of  Dr. Barry Eppley, the Indiana surgeon who admits handling Fox’s surgery and also defends it.

I covered this the last time Ethics Alarms covered a wannabe Mrs. Rabbit (Jessica is a human Toon married to a member Leporidae Family). In that case, the happy aspiring Toon looked like this when all was done…

Lips Continue reading

The VW Scandal: Huge Consequences, Simple Ethics Lessons, Ominous Implications

VOLKWAGEN

In case you were too distracted by the Pope, you probably noticed that Volkswagen has been caught red-handed in a massive scandal involving cheating on the emissions testing of 11 million diesel-powered cars sold in recent years. The costs to the company may be as much as eighteen billion dollars in the US alone. This is by far the biggest of the many automotive scandals—the fiery Pinto, GM’s deadly ignition switches, Toyota’s self-accelerating cars or Ford-Firestone’s exploding tires—in scope, if not in public policy impact.

Diesel is more popular in Europe than in America, in large part because of environmental testing standards. Gasoline engines emit more carbon dioxide, diesel engines, which are more efficient fuel-wise, emit far more nitrogen oxides (NOx) than gasoline engines. Since the introduction of the US Clean Air Act of 1970, NOx emissions are subjected to more stringent controls than CO₂ emissions here, while across the pond, CO₂ is more tightly controlled than NOx. Thus diesel automobiles make up one third of the passenger vehicle fleet in Europe, but are a relative rarity in the U.S. The sales of diesel cars has been on the rise in recent years, however. Now we know why.

Volkswagen, which manufactures many of the beasts, devised and installed a code functioning as a “defeat device” to sense when one of its diesel vehicles was being tested for nitrogen oxide emissions. test. Once a test was detected, the software would reduce torque and NOx emissions, while under normal conditions, that is, when the vehicle was not being tested for emissions, the car would be guided by a separate program that would increase acceleration, torque, and fuel economy.

Clever! Also unethical and, obviously, illegal. Continue reading