Comment of the Day (2): “Ethics Hero: Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins”

jag

The celebration here of Dallas DA Craig Watkins’ installment of an open file policy to ensure that crucial evidence that might exonerate a criminal defendant doesn’t get “inadvertently” left out of the material shared with defense counsel prompted this comment from one of the Ethics Alarms resident Marine vet, THE Bill:

“I’ve always wondered why the civilian courts haven’t adopted the military practice of having both the prosecutor and the defense council in the same office under the same command as they do in JAG. It would seem that this would eliminate the US versus THEM mindset.”

I responded…

“It’s because of loyalty and trust, Bill. The adversarial relationship and the appearance of such assures the accused that the two lawyers aren’t colluding against the defendant, and attorney-client confidentiality is surely at risk if there is not physical distance. That’s why in law firms a lawyer with a client who might be adverse to another lawyer’s client in the same firm has to be screened from substantive contact with the other lawyer.”

(I will note here that the last section about screening is an over-simplification of a very complex and confusing issue, as when and if screening is permitted varies state to state, and in many cases still isn’t enough to deal with an unwaivable conflict of interest.)

texagg04 then added the following discussion of the cultural differences between the military and civilian America, and how this informs the differences between the ways the respective systems deal with criminal prosecutions.

This is an appropriate place to salute tex, who is among the most prolific, serious and vital Ethics Alarms commentators. As his comments are often in an advocacy or adversarial mode rather than an expository one, his percentage of  officially recognize commentary excellence is less than it should be considering the consistent quality and frequency of his participation here. He has long made Ethics Alarms better and sharper, if perhaps scarier for first time swimmers in these waters, since thanks to tex (and others), the tide is swift and merciless.

I hope he realizes how much I value  and appreciate his thoughtful and vigorous contributions.

Here is texagg04’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Hero: Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins.”

There is a presumption given the weight of military Commissions combined with the added weight of the Oaths of Office, that barring any obvious corruption, the officers in charge are not corrupted. Whereas in the civilian world, the presumption that so much burden lies on the state and the accused’s innocence until proven guilty, that even a hint of amiability between defense and prosecution is enough to worry about corruption. Continue reading

Ethics Heroes: The Community of Middlesborough, England.

COX_funeral_3524163b

Thomas Cox, a British World War Two vet who served in the Royal Pioneer Corps, died at the age of 90 with no known surviving relatives.

Hoping to give Cox the final salute he deserved, the Royal Pioneer Corps Association  posted an appeal on its Facebook page asking for people to attend his funeral. The plea was shared among veteran groups, military groups and others, and when the day came, hundreds of strangers to Cox were on hand to say farewell and thanks to the old soldier. Many of the mourners at the service in Middelborough, Teaside sent flowers and wreaths as well.

They didn’t do this for the family, for there was none, and Cox was beyond caring. They came out of respect for a generation, a pivotal moment in human history, and to assert that we are all part of a larger family, though we usually don’t behave that way.

There’s not a lot more to say, is there?

Mission accomplished.

“The Longest Day,” Darryl F. Zanuck, D-Day, And Us

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Today is June 6, the anniversary of the Allies’ invasion of Normandy, the audacious military strike that changed the course of history. I’ll be interested in seeing how it’s commemorated this year, 71 years later, especially by the news media. A lot of Americans under the age of 40 know almost nothing about it, or worse, the values it represents to the United States.

Fortunately, there is an easy and entertaining way to teach a young American about what happened on this day 71 years ago. That is to have him or her watch “The Longest Day,” producer Darryl F. Zanuck’s epic film based closely on historian (and sole credited screenwriter) Cornelius Ryan’s 1959 book. (You can get it at Amazon, here.)I usually find understanding military battles nearly impossible; written accounts completely confound me, and few movies about any battle make a serious effort to explain the tactics and strategy without reducing the facts to pablum. (I remember how much my father, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, detested the big budget movie of the same name, which he found outrageously sloppy, and which he summarized as “Henry Fonda won the war.”)

Not “The Longest Day,” however. Since seeing the movie with my father as a kid, I have learned a lot about what was left out, but the movie is remarkably clear and accurate about what happened and why without being either too detailed or too simplistic. It’s also just a great, inspiring movie.

That we have “The Longest Day” is entirely due to the courage of one of Hollywood’s most dynamic, flamboyant and successful studio moguls, Darryl F. Zanuck. The original producer of the adaptation of Ryan’s book (which is terrific ) gave up on the project when 20th Century Fox refused to allow him an adequate budget. Zanuck, who was still producing films but no longer ran the studio he had built,  bought the rights, and was determined to do the story, the event, and the men who fought the battle justice by mounting a production almost as ambitious as the invasion itself. Continue reading

KABOOM! The Michael Brown Memorial

Brown memorial

Normally, as is the usual Ethics Alarms tradition when a story causes my head to explode, I would begin with a graphic representing the moment when reading a news item about unethical conduct so shorted-out my cranial wiring that my skull did an imitation of Dante’s Peak. The cause of the eruption, in this case, is even more disgusting than some of those bloody pictures, so I’m posting a photo of that instead. Now, assuming you have an ethics compass that doesn’t spin wildly due to a manufacturing defect, your head has exploded too.

KABOOM!

I have to hand it to the good people of Ferguson, Missouri. They have officially disproved the chestnut, “You have a right to your opinion, but you don’t have a right to your own set of facts.” The late Michael Brown—I’m sure you’ve heard of him—is being honored with his own memorial in the town, like military heroes, local martyrs, long-time community leaders, and distinguished men and women born in communities and who honored them by their accomplishments. Apparently the city is under the misconception that Michael Brown fits one of these categories, despite conclusive evidence to the contrary certified by the U.S. Justice Department, which was desperate to prove that the Gentle Giant was a pure as the driven snow. Thus Ferguson is anointing Brown with icon status, poisoning the values and the culture of the city from the moment the memorial is dedicated.

How sad, how wrong, and how stupid. Continue reading

Maybe The Best Reason To Remember April 15…Number 42

jackie-robinson

A lot has happened on April 15.

Leonardo De Vinci was born…Abraham Lincoln died…Apollo 13 had the accident that almost destroyed it, but that triggered one of the great triumphs of the space program…Lee surrendered, ending the Civil WarThe Beatles disbanded…I didn’t get my taxes in on time….

I would argue however, and will, that as culturally important as any of these events was that sixty-eight years ago, in 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play major league baseball in the modern era. This represented a cultural change that allowed the United States to take a giant step forward toward healing the self-inflicted and almost fatal wound of slavery, and it took a man of surpassing courage and character to do it. (Two men, really: the other was Dodgers GM Branch Rickey.)

Today all MLB players will wear Robinson’s number 42 to honor him. If you haven’t seen the movie “42, or if your children haven’t seen it, this is a good day to get a sense of what Jackie went through as he broke the color line.  You can check out Robinson’s baseball stats here,  and learn about the civil rights work he did after his playing career, in the too-short life that was left to him here. He’s in the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor, of course, and his entry there has more about his life as well as some good links.

The main thing is, remember him.

Many years ago, I had a conversation with a close friend—smart, accomplished, engaged, educated, about 26 years old at the time. She had no idea who Jackie Robinson was. Nobody, then, now or ever, should reach adulthood in the United States without knowing and understanding what Robinson did, and our nation’s debt to him. There is an ethical  duty to remember, and to respect.

Thank you, Mr. Robinson.

Thank you.

 

Statue Ethics: “Hey Lucy, I’m Ho…OH GOD NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”

Lucy statueIconic comic actress Lucille Ball was born in Celoron, New York, and in 2009 the town’s residents commissioned a statue to honor her. It was designed to show the comedienne performing one of the most famous of her routines on “I Love Lucy,” the “Vitameatavegimin” bit.  For some reason, however, the sculptor either decided to portray Lucy as a creature from Hell, or had never actually seen a picture of Ball and just guessed, badly, at what she looked like. The result, which a sighted “Let’s Honor Lucy” committee member should have rejected at first glance, now stands in the town park, an eyesore and an insult to Ball’s memory.

Now some of the residents are trying to get the town to junk the statue, and rallying Lucy fans to put pressure on the town leadership to act. My question is, what took them so long? Six years of this incompetent abomination is six years too long. A memorial is ethically obligated to honor its subject, not insult and defile her memory. Would the public tolerate a Lincoln Memorial where Abe was sculpted to look like an ape? Would it have stood by at the unveiling and said, “Well, okaaay, I guess we can live with that…I guess. I mean, its paid for and all”?  What’s the matter with the populace of Celeron?
Continue reading

Bergdahl Desertion Ethics

BoweSo Bowe Bergdahl is being tried as a deserter! Fancy that—and yet Susan Rice, the President’s National Security Advisor, told the nation, as the President was trying to pretend his decision to trade terrorists for the disturbed American POW wasn’t the cynical effort to overshadow the then raging VA scandal and to tamp down veteran groups’ rage that it was, that Bergdahl  “…served the United States with honor and distinction…”

Either Rice knew this wasn’t true—and if she were competent in her job, she would have to, wouldn’t she?—and was lying to the American public, or she didn’t know whether it was true or not, but asserted that it was true anyway, which is also lying to the American people. She is, as we already know, willing to do this—lie. And her punishment from the President, who promised transparency, for such a high profile and embarrassing lie? Nothing. What does this tell us? It tells us that Barack Obama doesn’t put a very high priority on being truthful with the public that elected him..

You know, I don’t object to making a prisoner trade to free an American soldier, even an awful one like Bergdahl, if that is the reason why it is done. I can accept it if our leaders level with the public, as in: “Sgt. Bergdahl is far from a model soldier, and may even be facing charges. But he is an American citizen, and we do not abandon our own. Even a flawed American soldier is more precious than five terrorists.” These leaders, however, don’t level, because they fear that if they did, the full disgrace of their incompetence would be known. Just as Obama doesn’t hold Rice accountable, the news media and the President’s party don’t hold him accountable for this putrid, contemptuous treatment of the American people, and Democrats allow incidents like this to rot their values from the inside out.

That’s the revolting culture that the charges against Bergdahl confirm, for those not completely rotted. Continue reading

A Presidents Day Celebration (PART 1): I Love These Guys, I Really Do. Yes, Every One Of Them.

Hall of the Presidents

I have a lifetime love affair with the Presidents of the United States.

I love these guys, every one of them. The best of them are among the most skilled and courageous leaders in world history; the least of them took more risks and sacrificed more for their country than any of us ever can or will, including me. Every one of our Presidents, whatever their blunders, flaws and bad choices, was a remarkable and an accomplished human being, and exemplified the people he led in important ways. Every one of them accepted not only the burden of leadership, but the almost unbearable burden of leading the most dynamic, ambitious, confusing, cantankerous and often unappreciative nation that has ever existed. I respect that and honor it.

I have been a President junkie since I was eight years old. It’s Robert Ripley’s fault. My father bought an old, dog-eared paperback in the “Believe it or Not!” series and gave it to me. It was published in 1948. One of Ripley’s entries was about the “Presidents Curse”: every U.S. President elected in a year ending with a zero since 1840 (William Henry Harrison) had died in office, and only one President who had dies in office, Zachary Taylor, hadn’t been elected in such a year. The cartoon featured a creep chart—I still have it—listing the names of the dead Presidents, the years they were elected, and the year 1960 with ???? next to it. When Jack Kennedy, the youngest President ever elected, won the office in 1960, my Dad, who by that time was sick of me reminding him of the uncanny pattern, said, “Well, son, so much for Ripley’s curse!”

You know what happened. (John Hinckley almost kept the curse going, but Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, finally broke it.) That year I became obsessed with Presidential history, devising a lecture that gave an overview of the men and their significance in order. My teacher allowed me to inflict it on my classmates.  Much later, Presidential leadership and character was the topic of my honors thesis in college. When I finally got a chance to go to Disneyland, the first place I went was the Hall of Presidents. When the recorded announcer said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Presidents of the United States!” and the red curtain parted to show the audio-animatrons of all of them together, it was one of the biggest thrills of my life.

Today I will honor our past Presidents with some of my favorite facts about each of them, trying hard not to get carried away. Is it ethics? It’s leadership, which has always been the dominant sub-topic here, but yes, it’s ethics.  I know I’m hard on our Presidents, as I think we all should be: supportive, loyal, but demanding and critical. I am also, however, cognizant of how much they give to the country and their shared determination to do what they think, rightly or wrongly, is in the country’s best long-term interests. File this post under respect, fairness, gratitude, and especially citizenship. And now…

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Presidents of the United States!

Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The Dartmouth Cheating Scandal

DartmouthSixty four Dartmouth students have been charged with cheating in a special religion and ethics class that was designed for student athletes. The details can be found here.

1. The reports quote the professor as saying,

“Part of the reason I designed this course was that I had the sense that some athletes coming here to Dartmouth might have felt just a little bit overwhelmed or intimidated academically. I wanted to design a course that would appeal to their interests and allow them to have an early success in the classroom, and I’d hoped that they would be able to build on that success throughout their time at Dartmouth.”

Translation: The students were accepted for their athletic prowess, and this was a baby-steps course just for them.

Why is Dartmouth admitting students who need such phony courses?

2. An admittedly non-challenging course to allow athletes an easier route to graduation sends the clear message that integrity isn’t valued at the institution. The professor’s expressions of disappointment and sadness are either naive or disingenuous. The university was cheating to keep them in school: why should he be shocked that they would cheat in return? Continue reading

Case Study In Cultural Ethics Rot: “Bin Laden Shooter” Robert O’Neill

Dead, but still helping to corrupt our culture...

Yes, dead, but still helping to corrupt our culture…

Do you remember all those World War II, Korean War and Vietnam veterans who published books and gave interviews taking personal credit for the successes of the United Armed Services? No, neither do I, because there weren’t very many. The ethical culture of military organizations has always been that the unit is what matters, not the individual. For a soldier to seek credit, accolades and celebrity through his own disclosures was regarded as disgraceful conduct, and a betrayal of military honor and tradition.

Those values, and the important larger cultural values that they reinforce, are crumbling rapidly. Former Navy SEAL Robert O’Neill, one of many U.S. special forces members to storm Osama bin Laden’s compound on May 2, 2011, confirmed to The Washington Post that he was the unnamed SEAL who fired the fatal bullet at the terrorist leader. His decision to make himself an instant celebrity and speaker circuit star comes nearly two years after another Seal in the mission, Matt Bissonnette, published his account of the raid, “No Easy Day.” The Post says that O’Neill has endured “an agonizing personal struggle, as he weighed concerns over privacy and safety against a desire to have a least some control over a story that appeared likely to break, with or without his consent.” There is no struggle if O’Neill accepted that fact that his ethical obligation is to shut up, and not dishonor his colleagues, his profession and his country by choosing celebrity over preserving a vital ethical standard.

Will future Seals jeopardize the success of their missions as each tries to deliver the “money shot” that will literally result in millions? Why wouldn’t they, now that soldiers are absorbing the American culture’s obsession with cashing in and becoming famous as the primary objective of human existence? Like all ethical standards, the tradition of soldiers neither seeking individual credit nor wanting it had strong practical reasons for its existence. A military unit is the ultimate team, and no team can function at maximum efficiency if the members regard themselves as competing for glory. Continue reading