Ethics Observations On The Selma Celebration “Gotcha’s!”

Selma redux

1. The big controversy as of this morning involved the New York Times front page photo, which managed to be cropped exactly at the point where former President Bush could have been seen. Given the Times’ proclivities, conservative blogs and Fox News presumed the snub was intentional. If it had been intentional, that would have indeed been disrespectful and unethical photojournalism. The Times explanation, however, seems reasonable. It tells us something, though, that nobody at the Times saw this coming. I think it’s incompetence born of bias. “Where’s Bush?” “He was too far down the line, so the photo looks lousy if he’s included.” “Damn. Well, put a note in explaining that.” Bias makes us stupid, and the fact that no Times editor had this conversation is, in fact, stupid.

2. If the NAACP was setting the place cards, and I assume they were, then Bush should have been second row center, and not an MSNBC demagogue and race-hustler who owes the U.S. back taxes. Talk about biased and stupid. The NAACP claims it wants to be a unifying force in the country, but it doesn’t. It promotes divisiveness,and intentionally. It’s good for business.

3. A graceful, fair, respectful and competent President of the United States would have insisted that his immediate predecessor be in a position of prominence, as part of the message that this event was an important part of the history of America and all Americans. It would have been the right thing to do. Bush would have done the same for him. But we do not have a graceful, fair, respectful and competent President. We have an arrogant, petty, self-absorbed and divisive one.

4. …who can, on occasion, rise to give an excellent speech, which he did. Continue reading

The Sixth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2014

abstract door grand jury room

The Ethics Alarms Awards for the Best in Ethics 2014—sorry for the tardiness— are about 30% of the length of the Worst. Does this mean that the nation and the culture, not to mention the world, are doomed?

Not necessarily. I am well aware that most of the country is ethical, substantially fair and honest, diligent, and embodies ethical values in their every day dealings with you and me, and the world. We primarily hear, and to some extent, take note of, the corrupt, the irresponsible, the manipulative, the untrustworthy and the foolish. The Best Ethics list is smaller in part because only exemplary ethics gets publicity. I also should note that calling attention to unethical conduct and discussing it often does more to advance the mission of Ethics Alarms than confirming that right is right, though I sure wish there was more exemplary ethics to celebrate. Maybe the dearth of award winners here is my fault, and the result of my biases.

Boy, I hope so.

Here are the 2014 Ethics Alarms Awards for the Best in Ethics:

Most Important Ethical Act of the Year:

The Ferguson grand jury resisted public and media pressure to deliver a verdict of no indictment against police officer Darren Wilson, upholding the integrity of the justice system despite the injection of emotion, politics and race into a tragic incident where none of these belonged. Though the available evidence could never have supported a guilty verdict, it would have been easy and popular for the grand jury to make Wilson stand trial anyway, just as George Zimmerman did. Their reward has been to be attacked as fools and racists, but they did the right thing, when the wrong thing must have seemed very attractive.

Outstanding Ethical Leadership

The New York Yankees. (Bear with me now.) The Yankees are the most famous team in professional sports in the biggest sports market in the world. They make money without even trying. Yet when the team had a bad year and missed the play-offs in 2013, it committed nearly a billion dollars to re-building the team, a move that only makes sense in the quest to win games, not to maximize profit. Thus they prominently chose loyalty, mission and sportsmanship over greed. (The Yankees still missed the play-offs in 2014, too.) Then all year long the team placed a spotlight on Derek Jeter, their retiring hero, whose career and character single-handedly refutes the cynicism of sports critics fed up with the lack of character displayed by the Armstrongs, the Rices, the ARods, the Belichicks, the Winstons, the Paternos, and so many, many others. Finally, when two New York City police officers were assassinated after Al Sharpton, and the “Hands Up!” protestors, with the city’s own mayor’s support, had vilified the profession as violent, racist and untrustworthy, who will pay for the fallen officers’ children to go to college? The New York Yankees’ Silver Shield Foundation.  Add charity, compassion, civic duty and gratitude to the list of ethics values the New Your baseball club modeled for us. I know it seems odd and even trivial to follow up last year’s winner in this category—the Pope— with a sports franchise, but to paraphrase Babe Ruth’s famous rejoinder when the Yankees balked at his salary demands in 1930, saying he wanted to be paid more than then-President Herbert Hoover (“I had a better year that Hoover!”), the Yankees has a better year than the Pope.

Outstanding Sportsmanship

Jose Altuve, Houston Astros secondbaseman and American League batting champ….the right way. He began the final day of the 2014 season hitting .340, three points ahead of the Tigers’ Victor Martinez. If Altuve didn’t play in Houston’s meaningless last game, Martinez would have to go 3-for-3 to pass him, giving the DH a narrow .3407 average compared with Altuve’s .3399. By playing, Altuve risked lowering his average, providing Martinez with a better chance of winning the batting championship. Many players in the past have sat out their final game or games to “back in” to the prize, rather than give the fans a chance to watch a head to head battle injecting some much-needed drama into the expiring season.  Altuve, however, gave Martinez his shot. He played the whole game, had two hits in his four at-bats, and won the American League batting title on the field, not on the bench, as Martinez went hitless. The conduct, simple as it was, embodied fairness, integrity, courage, respect for an opponent, and most of all, respect for the game.

Best Apology

JESSICA_URBINA

 The Level #1 apology, according to the Ethics Alarms Apology scale, issued by Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep in San Francisco.The school had cruelly and needless embarrassed graduating senior Jessica Urbina (above), rejecting her inclusion in the yearbook because she chose to be photographed in a tuxedo rather than a dress, as the school’s dress code, which had not been previously made clear, demanded. I wrote…

“The rule is sexist, archaic, unthinking, prejudicial, arbitrary, cruel and wrong. The best way to change a rule that is sexist, archaic, unthinking, prejudicial, arbitrary, cruel and wrong is to break it, and see if those in charge have the sense and compassion to do the right thing. The administrators of Sacred Heart Cathedral High School flunked. I doubt that Jessica was even trying to provoke a confrontation: like any normal student, she wanted her image in the most important piece of memorabilia of her high school years to accurately portray her as she was, not as some alien ideal dictated by the Catholic Church. There was nothing to be achieved by banning the photo.”

The school reversed itself with grace and compassion. The apology is long, but a more humble or complete one would be unachievable. It achieved an ethical end to an ugly episode. You can read it here. Runner up: Writer Henry Rollins lovely and wrenching apology for his initial reaction to Robin Williams’ suicide.

Hero of the Year

Michael DeBeyer.  De Beyer has decided to sell his restaurant, which he opened more than 15 years ago and is worth an estimated  $2 million, to pay for whatever medical treatments are necessary to save the life of Brittany Mathis, 19. Brittany works for De Beyer at his Kaiserhof Restaurant and Biergarten in Montgomery, Texas, and  learned, in December 2013, that she has a 1.5 inch brain tumor.  She couldn’t afford the operation to find out whether the tumor was benign or malignant, and didn’t have health insurance. “I couldn’t live with myself; I would never be happy just earning money from my restaurant knowing that she needs help,” Michael told local reporters.

That’s what makes ethics heroes; really, really loud ethics alarms, combined with courage and caring.

Parent of the Year

NBA Star Kevin Durant’s Mom.

Most Ethical Celebrity

Matthew McConaughey. In a field notably sparse on exemplary ethics by celebrities, the 2013 Oscar winner for Best Actor stands out for a speech that was inspirational, thoughtful, and rife with ethics wisdom. It is worth recalling. Here it is:

Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to the Academy for this—all 6,000 members. Thank you to the other nominees. All these performances were impeccable in my opinion. I didn’t see a false note anywhere. I want to thank Jean-Marc Vallée, our director. Want to thank Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, who I worked with daily.

There’s a few things, about three things to my account that I need each day. One of them is something to look up to, another is something to look forward to, and another is someone to chase. Now, first off, I want to thank God. ‘Cause that’s who I look up to. He has graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human hand. He has shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late Charlie Laughton, who said, “When you’ve got God, you got a friend. And that friend is you.”

To my family, that who and what I look forward to. To my father who, I know he’s up there right now with a big pot of gumbo. He’s got a lemon meringue pie over there. He’s probably in his underwear. And he’s got a cold can of Miller Lite and he’s dancing right now. To you, Dad, you taught me what it means to be a man. To my mother who’s here tonight, who taught me and my two older brothers… demanded that we respect ourselves. And what we in turn learned was that we were then better able to respect others. Thank you for that, Mama. To my wife, Camila, and my kids Levi, Vida and Mr. Stone, the courage and significance you give me every day I go out the door is unparalleled. You are the four people in my life that I want to make the most proud of me. Thank you.

And to my hero. That’s who I chase. Now when I was 15 years old, I had a very important person in my life come to me and say “who’s your hero?” And I said, “I don’t know, I gotta think about that. Give me a couple of weeks.” I come back two weeks later, this person comes up and says “who’s your hero?” I said, “I thought about it. You know who it is? It’s me in 10 years.” So I turned 25. Ten years later, that same person comes to me and says, “So, are you a hero?” And I was like, “not even close. No, no, no.” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because my hero’s me at 35.” So you see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero’s always 10 years away. I’m never gonna be my hero. I’m not gonna attain that. I know I’m not, and that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.

So, to any of us, whatever those things are, whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to, and whoever it is we’re chasing, to that I say, “Amen.” To that I say, “Alright, alright, alright.” To that I say “just keep living.” Thank you.

Most Principled Politician

Thomas Menino

The late Thomas Menino, Boston’s beloved Democratic mayor for two decades (the longest in tenure in the city’s history), who retired last January and  died of cancer nine months later. Somehow I missed giving him the ethics send-off he deserved. Amazingly, he was the first Italian-American mayor in Boston’s history: the job has always been won by the city’s Irish machine. While mayors around the nation were embroiled in scandals and embarrassments, Menino undeniably improved the city, led it admirably in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, and left office with the admiration of conservatives as well as liberals despite being an aggressive agent of progressive policies.  His passion caused him to make some ethical missteps, such as joining other liberal mayors in telling Chick-Fil-A that it “wasn’t welcome” in Boston because of its owner’s anti-gay marriage sentiments. He joined Michael Bloomberg in creating Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and must share responsibility for some of the dubious tactics and misrepresentations of that organization. He also had a scandal or two involving political favors, but in 20 years, by my count, he had fewer than most Boston mayors had every year. In 2012, polls found that he had an approval rating over 80%, and left his position more popular than he entered it.  Boston is liberal, but it isn’t that liberal.

Most Ethical Company

Don’t ever let me do that again.

I just reviewed over a hundred posts about businesses and corporations from last year, and not one of them celebrated ethical conduct. The closest was, believe it or not, the Washington Redskins, for having the guts, orneriness and principles to stand against the forces of censorship and political correctness to refuse to change the name of their team and organization. It has been targeted as a symbolic scalp that race-baiters, grievance-hucksters and progressive bullies are determined to have hanging from their belts; the opponents of the team have recruited the U.S. government, and the pressure is tremendous. It would be so easy to change the name now, when support for the perpetually rotten team is at low ebb in Washington, D.C., but the principle is worth the battle. However, my gag reflex will not allow me to give this award to an NFL team, since by definition it must be engaged in so much else that is wrong.

So for a second straight year I’m going to send you to Ethisphere’s list of the most ethical companies in the world. Their criteria isn’t mine, but there’s got to be a genuinely ethical company of two on there somewhere. Let me know if you find it. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Jon Stewart

Meanwhile, Lincoln pretty much just lay around after he was President...

Meanwhile, Lincoln pretty much just lay around after he was President…

Face the Nation had George W. Bush on today as its primary guest,  so the show’s lead in, CBS This Morning, asked its guest, “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, what question he would ask the man who preceded President Obama in the Oval Office.  Stewart’s smirking reply,

“ ‘Tell me about umber and how it helps you in painting cats.’ Jimmy Carter’s like 108? He’s out in Africa pulling guinea worms out of children’s feet, trying to cure them. Bush is at home. ‘Bring me my fruit bowl. Doin’ a still life!”

The technical term for this is, I believe,“being a dick.” Yes, it’s vulgar, but the usual terms don’t quite do Stewart’s gratuitous and unfair nastiness justice in trhis instance.

I recognize that Stewart, who eschewed a flood of well-deserved Democrat jokes over the past five days because he could not get around his massive anti-Republican biases, is in mourning over the GOP electoral avalanche that turned the nation red at all levels of government in all regions. Poor baby. Nonetheless, mocking one President of the United States for his activities in retirement because they do not measure up, in Stewart’s value system, to what Presidents are supposed to do is evidence of a stunning lack of grace, decency,proportion, self-awareness and common sense. Continue reading

When U.S. Officials Channel Orwell, U.S. Citizens Have An Ethical Obligation To Object Loudly

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I recognize that President Obama and his entire administration feel they are hostage to an infantile, irresponsible, pacifist  “base” that cringes at the concept of the kind of combat that might occasionally be necessary to preserve our liberty and keep the evil in the world at bay. (I also recognize that the Paul faction in the Republican Party is similarly addled.) That our leaders cater to such confusion is regrettable, indeed, frightening, since it means that they value the welfare of the nation and the world less than the objective of keeping their most naive and ignorant supporters happy. (The alternative, that they feel the same way as this historically unschooled mass is too horrible to contemplate, and I just refuse to believe it.) But when kowtowing to the delusion causes our leaders to embrace Orwellian language designed to declare the opposite of truth in pursuit of political advantage, even those cheered by the fantasy have an obligation, as citizens and as responsible human beings with brains, to protest.

Secretary of State John Kerry just denied that dropping bombs on a state constitutes warfare. WAR IS PEACE, you see. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Month: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi

“I don’t think this is our responsibility, but I do think we were irresponsible going into Iraq for a variety of other reasons.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, attempting to absolve her party’s government from responsibility and accountability for the catastrophe in Iraq.

It's all HIS fault, when you get right down to it...

It’s all HIS fault, when you get right down to it…

Nancy Pelosi, like her counterpart in the Senate, Harry Reid, is an ethics corrupter of the vilest sort. The problem isn’t her party, ideology, policy positions or political objectives. What makes her an ethics corrupter is that from a place of high esteem, status and presumed trustworthiness, she constantly engages in unapologetic unethical conduct, encourages unethical reasoning and violates ethical values, all as if they are the right thing to do.

This statement is typically despicable. In saying this, she is denying the long-accepted duties of government, the successive acceptance of responsibility that is essential to the continuity of a democratically elected state, and the essence of leadership, thus misinforming the public and making them less civically competent, if that is possible.

When a future administration allows the economy to collapse because it also refuses to make the hard and responsible choices necessary to keep the nation’s debt from suffocating us but there is no more can to kick down the road, its leaders won’t be able to ethically blame Barack Obama or his predecessors. When you accept the role of leader, all problems, crises, and conditions in the nation become your responsibility, because you accepted the job. Failure is yours, not those who contributed to the conditions, seeded the crises or failed to solve the problems before, just as success is yours. Every competent, honorable, honest and fair leader understands and accepts this. President Obama and Nancy Pelosi, among others, do not. Obama always claims the successes (I’m sure there must be one or two) are his alone, and the failures are not his fault, but the fault of others. Continue reading

The Fifth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2013

Ethics Story 2013

I decided to start with the Best in Ethics this year, in contrast to other years, on the theory that it would get things off to a positive start in 2014. What it did, instead, was make me realize how negative Ethics Alarms was in 2013. Either there wasn’t much positive going on in ethics, or I wasn’t seeing it. My thanks to those of you who send me nominations for Ethics Heroes (and other stories); even when I don’t write about them, they are valuable. Please keep them coming. In the meantime, I pledge to try to keep the jaundice out of my eye in 2014. Things just can’t be as dire as they seemed last year.

Could they?

Here are the 2013 Ethics Alarms Awards for the Best in Ethics:

Most Important Ethical Act of the Year:

The U.S. Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, paving the way for the universal legalization of gay marriage. Yes, it was a legal decision, but it was also based, as all such culturally important decisions are, on a societal recognition that what was once thought to be wrong and immoral was, in fact, not. This is ethics, an ongoing process of enlightenment and wisdom about what is right and wrong, and the U.S. Supreme Court did its part. Continue reading

Conservative Talk Radio Double-Reverse Hypocrisy: Laura Ingraham

Laura Ingraham, for my money, is the most civil and entertaining of the far right talk show hosts. She does not engage in off-the wall rants, like fellow lawyer Mark Levin, she does not intentionally provoke the Left with politically-incorrect eye-pokes, like Rush Limbaugh (though he is awfully good at this, and sometimes very funny), and her passion for dignity and decorum in the culture is admirable, though Laura’s sense of what is smut and “poison” seems to have been formed while watching re-runs of “Father Knows Best.” Today, however, she hit the hypocrisy jack-pot while complaining about Jimmy Kimmel’s low-life performance as the MC at the White House correspondents’ dinner, and the unseemly tenor of the annual event generally. To be fair, she was absolutely right about a great deal:

  • The event is a national and international embarrassment. When it was a private affair allowing the White House to show appreciation for the hardy crew of journalists that dogs its occupant’s every move, allowing the President to josh with the reporters and let his hair down if he had any, an argument could be made that the event was harmless at worst, and beneficial at best. Now that the dinner is broadcast on cable TV, however, it has become increasingly cringe-worthy, as the Chief Executive is required to play stand-up comic next to the likes of Kimmel, diminishing his stature and making foreign cultures even more contemptuous of the U.S. than they already are. It should be held privately, or not at all.
  • The President should not be subjected to a performance that includes vulgarity and crudeness. Kimmel was both vulgar and crude, as he always is—don’t blame him, blame the fools who hired him. The President should not sacrifice respect and dignity to appear “cool.” Then again, this President does not comprehend Presidential leadership, and apparently never will. I am not a Reagan worshiper, but Ronnie would have been livid at an entertainer who resorted to such words as “asshole” in his presence. JFK would have made heads roll, and Ike would have had to restrain himself from having Kimmel shot.
  • For the President to be seen and heard joking about life and death issues, policies and episodes is offensive. He is the one American who has to be perceived as taking these matters seriously…always.

The last is where Laura hit an iceberg. She played an audio clip of a White House spokesperson earlier this year declaring how serious the recent Secret Service scandal was (You remember, don’t you? South American hookers and all that?) being taken on Pennsylvania Avenue, and they played Obama’s scripted joke from the dinner making light of the episode. She then segued into the hypocrisy of the mainstream media, which happily gives this President, whom they all voted for, carte blanche to make such irreverent gags, but who attacked President Bush for his “searching for the weapons of mass destruction” video routine at one of his White House dinners. Good one Laura…wait, what? You didn’t criticize President Bush’s routine then. You’re being more of a hypocrite than they are. Not only are you applying a double standard to the Presidency according to who’s in the office, you’re criticizing journalists for applying the exact same double standard you are!

And here’s strike three on Ingraham: Bush’s joke was inexcusable, Obama’s was just a mistake. The WMD fiasco got the U.S. into war and led to the deaths of thousand of soldiers and civilians, American and Iraqi. There is no comparison to President Obama’s quipping about the Secret Service episode.

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Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

Robert Samuelson’s Brilliant, Ethical, Hopeless Proposal

Great idea, Robert. Too bad it requires courage and honesty.

I don’t generally regurgitate other writers’ essays, but in this case I am making an exception. Robert Samuelson, rare among op-ed columnists in that he is a truth-teller without party bias, has a column today that proposes a joint act of integrity and heroism by Barack Obama’s immediate predecessors. His idea, if implemented, could have a major impact on breaking the impasse in Congress that threatens the nation’s future. It could be accomplished without bureaucratic red tape, and is profoundly responsible and ethical. And it would burnish the legacies of two former presidents who could use some burnishing.

Will it happen? Never. That’s the disturbing part. Continue reading

White House Mendacity on Libya

The White House says this isn't "hostilities." Right.

I detest it when Presidents and their administration play self-evident language games to assert intellectually dishonest positions, whether it is Bill Clinton’s minions claiming blow-jobs aren’t “sex with that woman,” or Dick Cheney arguing that torturing prisoners by water-boarding technically isn’t torture.  Such deceit and mendacity by the representative of the Chief Executive or the President himself vastly increases public cynicism about our government and diminishes our democracy’s most precious and endangered asset, trust.

The Obama administration, despite its leader’s stirring words in the 2008 campaign, has already shown itself capable of outrageous misrepresentations, as when it reported “jobs saved” by the stimulus package using fictional Congressional districts and counting single jobs as multiple jobs “saved.” So we shouldn’t be surprise, only nauseated, when it tells Congress, as it did this week, that U.S. participation in the Libyan uprising doesn’t fall under War Powers Resolution. Continue reading

Unethical Website of the Month: Facebook Event—“If Boehner shuts down the government I am taking my trash to his house”

Hypothesis: If you can't persuade your adversary he is wrong, dump this on his lawn.

Two guys who shouldn’t be allowed out of the house, or near a laptop, without adult supervision have launched an unethical Facebook event, entitled “If Boehner shuts down the government I am taking my trash to his house.” See, if the federal government shuts down, one of the District’s services that will stop is trash pickup. Clever boys.

The organizers of the event are Jonah Goodman, who is listed in the Democratic National Committee network and Nolan Treadway, the political and logistics director for the liberal group Netroots Nation, lead off their “event” announcement saying that… Continue reading