Attack Of The Ethics Dunces: No, There Is Nothing Wrong With North Carolina’s State Ethics Commission Ruling On Sex With Lobbyists


Ah, how close I came to writing, “No, you morons…”!

The headline nearly was “Unethical Website of the Month: Addicting Info.” This pathetic site surely deserved it. It’s headline was:

North Carolina Legalizes Call Girls For Politicians

After a few smart-enough-to-know-better-but-apparently-having-an-off-day Facebook friends posted links to this crap with expressions of horror, I checked it out, assuming it was a hoax. Well, it wasn’t a hoax, exactly, just a dishonest, misleading, sensational bit of link bait. That’s not what the story is about.

Equally dumb but not quite as dishonest was the Daily Beast, which headlined its incompetent story...

North Carolina Lobbyists Can Officially Screw Politicians Legally.

What’s wrong with this one? It also has nothing to do with the facts of the story, and if you think about it, is as reasonable a headline as Annie Says The Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow. There is no place anywhere in the United States of America where it is illegal for adults in any occupation to have consensual sexual relations with any other adult regardless of his or her occupation. So, to put it in the crude, also link-baiting terms of the Daily Beast—stay classy, you left wing hacks!-–all of these are also accurate: Continue reading

A Good Reason To Question Chris Christie’s Ethics

Thank you for that completely voluntary and generous contribution to the new ethics center at  my alma mater! You can leave your cell now."

Thank you for that completely voluntary and generous contribution to the new ethics center at my alma mater! You can leave your cell now.”

In a long report published in the Washington Post a week ago, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s conduct as a federal prosecutor was examined, under the headline, “Chris Christie’s long record of pushing boundaries, sparking controversy.” This is euphemistic, to say the least. What the report describes is clear-cut, undeniably unethical practices by Christie. They were arguably legal and technically permitted at the time (though no longer), but never mind: they were unethical, and would quickly set off the ethics alarms of any ethical lawyer or politician. For Christie, they did not.

I’ll focus only on the main practice in question. The Post’s Carol Morello and Carol D. Leonnig write,

“As the top federal prosecutor in New Jersey, Chris Christie struck an unusual deal with Bristol- Myers Squibb. In exchange for not charging the drugmaking giant with securities fraud, Christie’s office would require it to fund a professorship at Seton Hall University’s law school — Christie’s alma mater.The $5 million gift, one component of a larger agreement between the company and prosecutors, was hailed by the school, in South Orange, N.J., as a cornerstone of its new center on business ethics.”

Now there’s irony for you: a center on business ethics funded with an unethical gift from security fraudsters. For the passage above just as easily, and more accurately, might have read: Continue reading

Signature Significance: The Sick Little Girl’s Stolen Puppy


If you ever want to explain the concept of signature significance in ethics—how one act can be sufficient evidence to make a fair and valid judgment about someone’s character—to a friend or colleague, this story should do the trick.

In California, a kind woman named Shawna Hamon heard about a 7-year-old girl with leukemia whose Christmas wish was for Santa to bring her a pug puppy. So Hamon bought a pug puppy, and gave it to a friend who promised to deliver the little dog to the girl in Sacramento in time for the holidays.

The puppy never arrived, however.  The friend decided to keep it for herself. Hamon sent an animal delivery service and an attorney to the woman’s Los Angeles home, but the woman refused to give the dog back. Then Hamon  filed a theft complaint and police got a search warrant to search the home, but found no pug puppy. After searching some other nearby homes, they eventually found the little dog at a neighbor’s  house, where the pug-napper had hidden it.

Hamon now has the dog back, and learned her lesson. She will deliver it herself this time, a bit late, to the sick little girl. The child is currently receiving experimental treatment for leukemia in Philadelphia.

Now, what are the chances that the woman who took the dog, a desperately sick child’s Christmas gift, for herself, and foiled the compassionate act of a friend in the process, was just having a bad day, just made one mistake, really is a fine, upstanding, trustworthy individual and can’t be judged conclusively as an unethical cur (no offense, puppy…) based on this one incident, because a single episode has no statistical and predictive significance?



Pointer: Fark

Facts and graphic: NBC

Strange Tales Of The Ethically Clueless 1%: When A Birthday Gift Is Worse Than No Gift At All

"Oh, thank you, kind sir!"

“Oh, thank you, kind sir!”

The title of Ethics Dunce doesn’t do Fort Wayne Newspapers CEO Mike Christman justice.

In order to “celebrate” his employees’ birthdays, and, of course, recognize his loyal staff’s value, hard work, industry and loyalty, he gives each member of his corporate family a small token of his  appreciation on his or her birthday, and I do mean small token: a $1.25 token that can be used to buy a soda or a snack at a company vending machine.

How condescending, demeaning, disrespectful, insulting and, of course, cheap: the equivalent of a pat on the head. In the Gilded Age, rich men would occasionally drop nickles on the street for the street urchins to pick up. John D. Rockefeller was the most famous practitioner of this form of low-level charity, though he would use dimes. During the Depression, though he was still a billionaire, he switched to nickels. (Nickels in the Great Depression were worth a lot more than $1.25 today.) His beneficiaries were children, however. Continue reading

The Ethics Of Demanding Charity

Joanna Leigh

Joanna Leigh

I can not imagine much more heartbreaking plights than that of Boston Marathon bombing victim Joanna Leigh.

By April 14, 2013, Leigh, 39, had a newly minted doctorate in international development, and a promising career as a consultant. On April 15, she was at the finish line of the marathon, waiting for a friend to cross it, when the second of two bombs exploded ten feet from her. She was shielded from the deadly flying metal by other spectators, but still knocked unconscious. When she awoke, there was chaos around her, people screaming, maimed, covered with blood. She helped some injured find help, and then, dazed, walked home. For various reasons, she did not get herself checked out at a hospital until more than a week had passed.

Gradually, however, the symptoms of her injuries began appearing. Soon, it became obvious that the closed head injuries she suffered in the explosion have caused devastating long-term damage to her brain, and it is doubtful that her life will ever be normal again. Today, she says, she has to sleep most of the day. She cannot work or drive, and is easily disoriented, even getting lost on her own block. She has blurred vision, her hearing is impaired and she cannot avoid the constant ringing in her ears. Concentration has become difficult, and the simplest everyday tasks are overwhelming.   Continue reading

Vote Rugby Marshall For Governor Of Virginia: It’s The Right Thing To Do!

That's Rugby on the right...

That’s Rugby on the right…

Periodically,  the same contentious argument breaks out on Ethics Alarms after I assert my position that voters should support the candidate who is the most honest and trustworthy–the one with the most ethical character—regardless of his or her policy positions. My argument is bolstered when someone like Anthony Weiner—and fortunately there aren’t many candidates like him—  runs for office on the extreme opposite concept, that even demonstrably horrible character and dubious trustworthiness are irrelevant as long as a candidate holds the right policy views. He was just clobbered in his quest for NY mayor, getting just 5% of the vote, every one of them cast by a lunatic, porn star, mental defective or ethics dunce.  I doubt that his wife voted for him. Client #9. Eliot Spitzer, also lost in his race for Controller…and he is like Weiner.

My position is shaken when faced with a fiasco like Virginia governor’s race, where a proven huckster, Terry McAuliffe, is carrying the Democratic banner and Ken Cuccinelli is the Republican choice. (I live in Virginia.) That McAuliffe is corrupt to the core, like his pals, the Clintons, there is no doubt. He is pure Machiavelli, and worse, he is gleeful about it, like his pal Bill, but without the charisma. I learned all I needed to about McAuliffe’s character when I learned that he tried to bribe Ralph Nader to drop out of the 2000 Presidential race, but that was hardly the only evidence. Virginia Democrats disgraced themselves by nominating him. I wrote about his public dissembling here and here; I didn’t even go into his dubious financial dealings andthe strange way —well, if you think cronyism is strange— he got rich investing in Global Crossing—as I said, the sliminess of his character has never been in doubt.

Cuccinelli, however, is worse: he’s just unethical in different ways. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Is It Wrong For A Rescuer To Sue The Victim He Rescued?

"OK, Princess, you'll get my bill for this rescue in five to seven business days."

On March 11, 2009, Mark Kinkaid and David Kelley were riding in Kinkaid’s truck when they saw a detached bumper, headlights and all, lying in the middle of Rt. 23.  Smoke was rising up from the highway embankment,  and the two men concluded that someone was in trouble. The truck stopped, and they got out, hopped a barbed-wire fence, made their way down the steep highway embankment, where they saw a flaming Hummer. Theresa Tanner was trapped inside, screaming for help. They forced their way into the vehicle, pried a door open and pulled Tanner out. She was injured and burned, but after weeks in intensive care, survived.

Now Kinkaid and David Kelley are suing Tanner, claiming that the crash was her fault and that she is liable for the injuries they sustained in rescuing her. They have filed a lawsuit asking for damages of at least $25,000 each. “All I know is that I am not the same man I used to be,” says Kelley, a 39-year-old truck driver and father of five, who says the heavy smoke and fire that day damaged his lungs so that he can’t carry a laundry basket up the three flights of stairs in his home.

The law provides a rationale for such a lawsuit. “The precedent is clear: danger invites rescue … and if you’ve acted recklessly or negligently and someone gets hurt rescuing you, you could be in trouble,” says Stan Darling, a tort law specialist. A well-established principle known as “the Rescue Doctrine” holds that if someone is in peril because of their own negligence or recklessness, an injured rescuer can recover damages if he acted reasonably and can prove that his injuries were caused by the rescue attempt.

That’s the law, however. This is ethics, and your Ethics Quiz today is:

Is it ethical for a rescuer to sue the person he rescued? Continue reading

Unraveling the Ethical Dilemma of the Unappreciated Treasure

“I’m passing this on to you, son. You know how how much I loved old Nibbles.”

As I have mentioned here before, I give ethics advice to inquirers on, when the rare individual can actually find “ethics” among the categories—it’s buried somewhere under “philosophy,” which is doubtlessly why so many of my questions are from students who want me to write their homework essays for them. (I decline, but a lot of experts on the site don’t. A topic for another time…)

Today I received a question on one of those difficult family problems that any of us could face. The writer’s elderly father, with some ceremony, gave his only son one of the father’s most cherished possessions, something that had sentimental value to the father that far exceeded its monetary value, which was considerable. “I recently moved into an apartment,” the writer explained, “and after rent and bills, I only have about $200 a month to live on.” He said he could barely afford food, and had an urgent need for clothes, shoes, and other essentials, so he sold the heirloom for a pretty penny.

Now his father is heartbroken, and his mother is furious, demanding that he get the heirloom back, or else she won’t speak to him again. He wrote that he was depressed, and doesn’t know what to do. Continue reading

Super-Soaker Ethics at Joe Biden’s Party

I don’t think I can do a better or more thorough job than Salon’s Glenn Greenwald at making crystal clear what is so ethically wrong with members of the Washington press corps happily frolicking with Vice President Biden, Rahm Emanuel and other administration Obama officials at Biden-hosted party, so read his column here. Not that what Greenwald says shouldn’t be immediately obvious, especially to the journalists themselves, but it obviously isn’t. I just heard Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter turned Fox flack, laughingly say that she used to share an Amtrak car with Biden when he was a Senator to get inside information, and she didn’t see why accompanying him on a water slide was any different.

Oh, come on. Continue reading