Ethics Quote of the Week: Eliot Cohen


“Above all, a president has no business confessing to war-weariness. Sending soldiers to war is a hard business. But President Obama knew he was going to be a war president; if that duty was too trying for him, he should not have run for reelection, because, as he has discovered, he might have to fight new wars and not merely end old ones.

“For a president to confess to war-weariness is to confess weakness.

“It is the business of the commander in chief to inspire, either with tempered optimism or grim determination. He fails in his duty if he tells his subordinates, his people and the world that he is weary of the burden that he assiduously sought. In their dark moments, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who presided over infinitely more consequential and bloodier wars than Barack Obama, were undoubtedly war-weary. Can anyone imagine them proclaiming it to the world? “

—–Eliot Cohen, a teacher at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, concluding a Washington Post op-ed titled (in the paper’s print version), “We have not earned war-weariness.”

If there is a silver lining to the President’s Syrian Ethics Train Wreck, other than convincing those still capable of independent thought that we who saw the weakness of President Obama’s leadership skills were the ones whose eyes were open all along, it is that it has provoked some perceptive writing and debate on the topics of leadership, character, and America’s role in the world. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas)

That's Rep. Stockman on the right, naturally...

That’s Rep. Stockman on the right, naturally…

I told you the rodeo clown mess was an Ethics Train Wreck!

Heck, it seems like everything is an Ethics Train Wreck or getting close to one these days…the NSA, Egypt, San Diego, the New York Yankees, life…

I need a vacation.

Now Texas Republican rep Steve Stockman has come aboard by making the obnoxious, simple-minded and inherently offensive gesture of inviting the unfairly banned clown to perform his classy act at a Texas rodeo. Undignified, unprofessional, cheap, nasty, and stupid…I’m sure I left out some equally accurate descriptors. This is like George Zimmerman in miniature. Is it really so hard to understand that protesting unfair treatment of someone need not, and in some cases should not, be accompanied by affirmative endorsement…and that’s what the invitation by Stockman is. Is he really so dense that he doesn’t realize that? Or is he really such a hyper-partisan, unstatesmanlike boor that he thinks it’s responsible and appropriate for a member of Congress to express his approval of an entertainer who called the President of the U.S. a clown and invited a crowd to cheer at his metaphorical abuse by a bull, some of whom were undoubtedly motivated by bigotry?

I really don’t care. Stockman’s stunt is ethically objectionable on a grand scale, and either he, the House, Republicans, or preferably all three owe President Obama an apology. One would think a Congressman would understand that there are different standards for the high elected officials responsible for our laws and rodeo clowns. But toward the bottom of the ethical and intellectual barrel we call the Republican Party (God, I certainly hope it’s toward the bottom!), this is apparently untrue.

Rep. Stockman is more clown than statesman.


Facts: Washington Post

Graphic: Google+

A Lifetime Ethics Train Wreck: The Ongoing Tragedy Of Patterson and Georgia Inman

Inman twins

I was sent this horrifying story under the heading of “Ethics Train Wreck,” and a better description of it there could not be. It is the tale of the twin teenaged heirs to the massive Doris Duke fortune,Patrick and Georgia Inman, their miserable upbringing and the continuing instability of their lives, soon to be dominated by lawsuits and litigation. The twins have been alternately spoiled, neglected, and abused, and are desperately seeking some direction in their lives before their mega-trust funds kick in—if they can survive that long. Moreover, their existence is almost sure to get worse before it gets better, if it ever does.

Consider, for example, this ominous passage, late in the piece, referring to the plans of their inept mother, Daisha:

The kids need to figure out what comes next for them – how they can start creating a life for themselves, and connect with others. Daisha has devised what she thinks is a terrific idea for an appropriate new set of playmates: She’s working on getting the twins together with Michael Jackson’s kids, with whom she thinks they’d have tons in common. “Wouldn’t that be historic? The Jacksons and the Dukes, two of the most famous names, together?” Daisha asks. Continue reading

Clown Act: The Dumbest Ethics Train Wreck Of All


I had hoped that I wouldn’t have to write about this.

Unfortunately, the saga of the Obama-mocking rodeo clown has, against my fervent hopes, turned into a full-fledged ethics train wreck. The diagnosis was complete once the Missouri chapter of the NAACP decided to disgrace itself, its parent organization’s mission and its supposed dedication to civil rights by calling for a Secret Service investigation into the incident, which Ken White posted on definitively here.

The Horror: someone mocked the President!  And because this President is black, and because his supporters have continually tried to use his pigmentation  (which should have no impact whatsoever on how he is treated, respected and judged, which is to say, like every other President) to shield him from unrestrained criticism, opposition, responsibility, accountability and satire, a crude comedy act in a setting where crude comedy is  the norm (a rodeo is hardly the Algonquin Round Table) has been turned into a full-fledged exercise in chilling political speech by intimidation. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: My “Disrespectful” Comment


There has been an epic thread, over a week long now, I think, on Ampersand’s blog about the Zimmerman trial. It has been very illuminating and valuable for me, because the vast majority of the discussion consists of articulate knee-jerk liberals desperately searching for some way to hold on to the myth that Trayvon Martin was the victim of racial profiling, and that George Zimmerman, a closet racist cold-blooded killer, got away with murder. It is fascinating, if depressing. So many seemingly smart people who just “know” that Zimmerman was really guilty, and that Martin was gunned down because he was wearing a hoodie and carrying Skittles.

One of the outnumbered rational commenters there, a chap calling himself Conrad, responded to a persistent Zimmerman-hater who kept saying that it was “50-50” who started the fatal fight, and that it should disturb anyone that there is, therefore, a 50-50 chance that Zimmerman got away with murder. Conrad pointed out that the evidence, in fact, strongly suggested that Zimmerman did not provoke the physical encounter, and, sure enough, none of the  factual arguments to the contrary were deemed persuasive. I had intervened several times in the discussion (since it was launched in the blog post by Ampersand saying that my assertion that there were no legitimate grounds on which to challenge the jury’s verdict as anything but compelled by the evidence was biased), and this was the final straw.

I wrote, to Conrad:

“Fascinating, isn’t it? So many compassionate, fair, intelligent people tying their brains into knots because they have staked everything on a badly cast George Zimmerman being the epitome of a murderous, conservative, vigilante racist. Oops! He’s not white! Oops! His prom date was black! Oops! He voted for Obama! Oops! He never used a racial slur! Oops! He was jumped by the victim! Oops! He really was injured! Oops! The evidence and all the witnesses support his account! Never mind…you just KNOW he did it.

“This is the real lesson of this endless mess–how confirmation bias makes good people into bigots and persecutors.

“There is another piece of evidence: when police, while interrogating Zimmerman, told him that the entire altercation was caught on a security camera—a lie, to check his reaction–his instant response, according to witnesses, was “Thank God!” Clever guy, that George. Quick thinking!

“But this has never been about evidence. It was about making Obama’s base fear for their lives just in time for the 2012 elections, and increasing racial divisiveness for cynical political gain. At least I hope that was what it was about, because if there wasn’t some tangible reason for it, it is the stupidest self-inflicted wound on society that I can remember.”

I was shortly thereafter shocked to receive Ampersand’s stern reprimand for this comment.

“Jack, please reread the moderation goals for this blog. In particular, this bit: “Debates are conducted in a manner that shows respect even for folks we disagree with.” If you don’t find it possible to disagree with people while treating them with respect, then I’ll ask you to stop leaving comments here. Where would make me unhappy, so I hope it doesn’t come to that. –Amp”

He generously left my entire post up with a strike-through, making it unreadable as well as  hanging a scarlet letter on the content. Nice. Apparently it was all too disrespectful. (In fact, I would judge many of the approved comments in the thread far more directly insulting to specific commenters than mine, which impugned the whole anti-Zimmerman chorus.)

Your Ethics Quiz as we head into the first August weekend:

Was it too disrespectful? Continue reading

Unethical Quote Of The Month (Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman Ethics Train Wreck Division): President Barack Obama

 “I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?”

—-President Barack Obama, in hisunscripted remarks yesterday regarding public reaction to the George Zimmerman acquittal.

"That was fun! Let's do it again!"

“That was fun! Let’s do it again!”

The chorus of Hosannas following President Obama’s latest foray into inappropriate Presidential interference with local law enforcement—a virtual trademark of his leadership—were as predictable as it was wrong. As for the President’s remarks, they were more than wrong: they were reckless, foolish, irresponsible and dangerous.

That race relations is an appropriate topic for a Presidential address is not in question, nor is it to be denied that many of the comments and observations in President Obama’s remarks yesterday were valid, nuanced, perceptive and worth making—at another time, in connection with another case, and certainly not in connection with this case, at this time. That this is true should be obvious, and it should have been especially obvious to President Obama. That he went ahead and made those statements anyway suggests either a stubborn arrogance or sinister motives. Third alternative is stupidity, and the President is not stupid. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “The Kaitlyn Hunt Affair: Upon Further Review…”

And if Kaitlyn Hunt looked like this, would we be having this discussion?

And if Kaitlyn Hunt looked like this, would we be having this discussion?

John Garrison’s incisive Comment of the Day decisively adds Kaitlyn Hunt’s parents to the Kaitlyn Hunt Ethics Train Wreck, which has already enlisted them, the vigilante group Anonymous (itself a self-perpetuating ethics train wreck), the lazy news media, which apparently misreported the essential facts of the case, and the social media as passengers since my first post on the debacle.

Here are his comments on the follow-up post, The Kaitlyn Hunt Affair: Upon Further Review:

“There are a number of things that concern me about this case. First, I do agree that the law is very harsh in Florida. But we never seem to get the actual story from Kaitlyn’s parents. At first, they said that they were 17 when they started dating, and that the parents vindictively waited until Kaitlyn turned 18. That story seems to have changed around the time the police report was released stating that actual ages of the girls. At that time, the family claimed that the police not redacting the address was retaliation against them going to the media, even though it is not remotely unusual for the police not to redact the address of the accused. Continue reading

The Kaitlyn Hunt Affair

Child abuser?

Child abuser?

Once again, the ethical complexities of applying statutory rape and age of consent laws to relationships between non-adults and just barely adults has led to an ethics train wreck. The worst example in recent years has been the epic criminal system abuse of Genarlow Wilson, which if you are unfamiliar with his story and its aftermath, you should catch up here and here. The Kaitlyn Hunt case,however, has potential to be an epic of its own.

It appears that Floridian teen Kaitlyn Hunt was involved in a consensual, same-sex relationship with another girl in her school while both she and her partner were minors. They had started dating at the beginning of the school year, and the relationship had been known to both parents for months. Clearly the parents of the younger girl did not approve, for when Kaitlyn turned 18—the other girl was 15—they filed a criminal complaint with police. Continue reading

Integrity Check For Homeland Security: Profiling At The Boston Marathon Bombing

...unless the government feels like it, in which case it's just fine. Got that?

…unless the government feels like it, in which case it’s just fine. Got that?

Shortly after the bombs went off in Boston, we were told that a “person of interest” was in custody and undergoing questioning. As detailed in a New Yorker piece, the young man who was apprehended and interrogated for five hours became a person of interest for one reason and one reason only: he “looked like a terrorist.” He was a Saudi national with a foreign name, and despite the fact that he was wounded in the blasts and acted no differently from any of the other horrified victims in the crowd, he was detained and his apartment was searched. Ultimately it was determined that he was innocent of wrongdoing, and he was released.

Oops! Never mind! Have a nice day!

Except I was under the impression that this practice, which is racial profiling beyond any question, was something this administration and the Dept. of Homeland Security rejected philosophically and practically. It is wrong, and it doesn’t work—or so those of us who are sick of going through invasive and time-consuming screenings at airports are told when we dare to suggest that there may be a better way than feeling up six-year-old girls and senile old men in wheelchairs. The conduct of agents and law enforcement officials in apprehending the young man for his garb, name and the color of his skin shows either that our government doesn’t really believe what it is telling us about profiling, or that it is willing to discard its human rights principles when the pressure is on. Which is it? I see no third explanation Continue reading

In Connecticut, A Surrogate Mother Triggers An Epic Ethics Train Wreck

Crystal Kelley and...somebody's baby

Crystal Kelley and…somebody’s baby

There is no field of ethics more murky or subject to conflicting interpretations than bioethics, and few issues in bioethics are as confusing as those involving surrogate mothers who decide that they should have some say regarding the fate of the child that grows in their bodies. CNN has reported on the most perplexing such scenario I’ve every encountered, so perplexing that I can’t unravel the ethical rights and wrongs of it.  I wonder if anyone can with confidence. I’ll just summarize the main features and some of the issues raised; you will need to read the whole, stunning story to fully appreciate this train wreck’s sweep and carnage.

I. Crystal Kelley, a single mother who had endured two miscarriages, wanted to help another couple conceive, but mostly wanted the $22,000 fee since she was out of a job. She contracted with a couple seeking their fourth child, and was implanted with two previously frozen embryos. One survived. Ethics issue: Did Kelley tell the parents about her miscarriages?

2. Five months into her pregnancy, tests showed the baby Kelley was carrying had serious medical problems, though the child had a chance at survival. The couple said that they wanted Kelley’s pregnancy terminated because they didn’t want the baby to suffer. Ethics issues: Is that a valid reason to take an unborn child’s life? Was it the real reason? Was the real reason that they were unwilling to pay for and endure all the necessary medical treatmenst, or that they wanted nothing less than a “perfect” baby? Does it matter what the real reason was? Continue reading