Why Shouldn’t Baseball Star Jose Abreu Be Deported?

No,no,no! Not “passport to eating,” EATING A PASSPORT!

There was a trial, still ongoing,  in a Federal court in Miami last week, where sports agent Bartolo Hernandez and baseball trainer Julio Estrada were tried before a jury for alien smuggling and conspiracy. Prosecutors say they operated a ring that took Cuban players from the Castros’ island to other countries where they could established residency and sign lucrative Major League Baseball contracts.  The big surprise in the trial came when star Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu told a Miami federal jury Wednesday how he ate his fake passport while flying to the U.S. to cover up the fact that he was arriving illegally as a prime participant in the smuggling operation.

Abreu said he ordered a beer on an Air France flight from Haiti to Miami and used it to wash down the section of his passport showing a false name with  his photo. The reason the unique meal was urgent? Money. Abreu was about to  miss an October 2013 deadline that would forfeit the $68 million agreement he had in place withe White Sox.

“If I had not been there on that particular day, the deadline, then the contract would not be executed and would no longer be valid,” Abreu told jurors. “We had to be in Chicago to sign the contract.”

Ah. Then that’s all right, then!

Abreu the was American League Rookie of the Year in 2014. He  testified under a grant of limited immunity, meaning he wouldn’t be prosecuted if he told the truth on the witness stand.  Jurors learned that the slugger got the fake passport in Haiti, where he and his family had escaped to from Cuba by speedboat in August 2013. One of the associates of Hernandez and Estrada—naturally, the smugglers got a cut of Abreu’s contract—obtained the fake passport and booked the Air France flight, telling the ballplayer to destroy the document on the plane. .

He did not tell him to eat it. Continue reading

Trump, Master Of Rationalizations, Scores A Perfect #4 AND A Perfect #5!

Former District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry attends a news conference on the steps of Washington's city hall Monday, July 6, 2009. At the news conference Barry's attorney Frederick Cooke said Barry vehemently denies the allegation by Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, and that he's confident the stalking charge will be dropped. Barry, 73, stood behind Cooke but said nothing. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Somewhere, Marion Berry is smiling…

This is juuuust the beginning…

I have noted before that our President Elect never expresses any ethical awareness, and uses rationalizations exclusively to explain and justify his conduct. This is typical of say, 12-year-olds, but is less common among professionals in responsible positions.

Trump just authored a classic example, following the expression of concerns about his conflicts of interest, which are massive, unavoidable, and which should have been addressed seriously long ago, like in a Presidential debate, and at length. Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton and various journalists felt it would be more helpful to their cause to spend time talking about what Trump had said about an over-weight Miss Universe and in a private conversation with Billy Bush. How did that work out for you, guys?

Now various lawyers and ethics experts are saying that Trump “must” sell off his business holdings because his company’s myriad business entanglements will cast many White House decisions under a cloud. The President Elect has a neat answer for them, to wit:

“The law’s totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”

— Donald Trump, interview with the New York Times, Nov. 22, 2016

Bravo! This is a perfect expression of Ethics Alarms Rationalizations #4, and #5

4. Marion Barry’s Misdirection, or “If it isn’t illegal, it’s ethical.”

The late D.C. Mayor and lovable rogue Marion Barry earned himself a place in the Ethics Distortion Hall of Fame with his defense of his giving his blatantly unqualified girlfriend a high-paying job with the DC government. Barry declared that since there was no law against using the public payroll as his own private gift service, there was nothing unethical about it. Once the law was passed (because of him), he then agreed that what he did would be wrong the next time he did it.

Ethics is far broader than law, which is a system of behavior enforced by the state with penalties for violations. Ethics is good conduct as determined by the values and customs of society. Professions promulgate codes of ethics precisely because the law cannot proscribe all inappropriate or harmful behavior. Much that is unethical is not illegal. Lying. Betrayal. Nepotism. Many other kinds of behavior as well, but that is just the factual error in the this rationalization.

The greater problem with it is that it omits the concept of ethics at all.  Ethical conduct is self-motivated, based on the individual’s values and the internalized desire to do the right thing. Barry’s construct assumes that people only behave ethically if there is a tangible, state-enforced penalty for not doing so, and that not incurring a penalty (that is, not breaking the law) is, by definition, ethical.

Nonsense, of course. It is wrong to intentionally muddle the ethical consciousness of the public, and Barry’s statement simply reinforces a misunderstanding of right and wrong.

Continue reading

So It Has Come To This: Criminalizing Burps In Middle School

At  Cleveland Middle School in Albuquerque, a persistent class clown, age 13, kept burping in class, followed by the usual titters from his classmates.

I was in class with one of these characters in the 8th grade, and I must admit, his burp was something: loud, long, low, and seemingly inexhaustible. He was yanked out of class, he was sent to detention, his parents were called, he was suspended, and eventually, without too much conflict, he learned to cut it out. (They never caught the guy who shouted “HOG!” in a raucous voice during study hall.) Apparently this method was beyond the abilities of the  Cleveland Middle School staff to execute.

The teacher, Ms. Mines-Hornbeck, called the police, who arrested and eventually cuffed the boy. Principal Susan LaBarge and Assistant Principal Ann Holmes  not only suspended him for the rest of the school year, but allowed the criminal justice process to proceed, with the boy being processed for the charge of  violating a New Mexico statute, N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-20-13(D), that reads…

No person shall willfully interfere with the educational process of any public or private school by committing, threatening to commit or inciting others to commit any act which would disrupt, impair, interfere with or obstruct the lawful mission, processes, procedures or functions of a public or private school.

That’s right: arrest and criminal prosecution for burping in class.

None of the staff at the school, apparently, had an ethics alarm go off that induced them to point out that the year long suspension was an unethically harsh punishment, and the criminal charge was tantamount to child abuse. I remember that in the fourth grade at Parmenter School in Arlington, Mass, my friend Timmy Russell was moved to leap to his feet during a math lesson and do a ten second imitation of Elvis singing “Hound Dog.” Everyone laughed, including the teacher. Then, that burst of childish energy over, she went on with the lesson, because she was a confident professional.

In New Mexico, 2016, Timmy would have broken the law. Continue reading

Transparency, Causation, Eggshells, Trust : Seven More Ethics Issues In The Eric Garner Case

jigsaw-puzzle-record

1. There is near unanimity in the response to the non-indictment by the Staten Island jury in the Eric Garner case. In light of the graphic video, it is hard to see how there wasn’t probable cause to indict. The coroner verdict of “homicide” would see to provide sufficient evidence all by itself. However, in the absence of the complete record of what the grand jury heard and saw, nobody can be certain that this was a miscarriage of justice. However, given the context of the case and its deleterious impact on faith in the justice system, that is no solace and scant mitigation. As in Ferguson, it is prudent and essential that the public see what the decision was based upon. It is true that those who are determined to see injustice, bias and racism will do so regardless of what the evidence shows–again, as in Ferguson—but the only evidence that has been made public, the various videos and the officer’s testimony–only makes the non-prosecution more suspicious.

2. Can the non-prosecution be justified? If so, the only reason I can see would be lack of proof of causation. Causation is tricky, and  juries get confused about how to analyze it. Since it is fair to assume Daniel Pantaleo did not intend to kill Eric Garner, the issues are a) whether his actions during the arrest were negligent, and b) whether they were the proximate cause of Garner’s death. That his conduct was negligent is not enough to sustain and indictment—that negligence had to be the reason Garner died. Remember, he was not choked to death. The medical examiner ruled that Garner died from a collection of factors: compression on his chest and throat, the position he was forced into, his obesity, weak heart, and asthma, all causing asphyxia.

  • If Pantaleo’s actions alone would not have caused Garner’s death, then it could be legitimately argued that he was not guilty of a crime. The other officers were given immunity for their testimony, which seems like either a bad decision by the district attorney, or intentional sabotage of the case against Pantaleo’s. If it was the collective action of the police that caused Garner’s death, it would be unjust to make Pantaleo the sole officer punished. If some of the testimony from the unchargeable cops made the case that it was another officer, or several, who really caused Garner’s death, that would explain the no indictment result.

In the widely seen video of the arrest, Pantaleo can be seen with his arm around Garner’s neck as Garner is taken to the ground and for some time thereafter, but in watching the video it’s difficult to determine whether Garner was in fact choked. And if he was, it did not appear it was long enough even to render him unconscious, much less kill him…I saw nothing excessive in the manner in which the officers subdued Garner. He was neither beaten with batons nor even punched. To me, it appeared to be a fairly typical scuffle with a large man who had clearly demonstrated his unwillingness to be arrested peacefully.

He misses the point. The question is whether the take-down was excessive for Garner, not some theoretical average arrestee. It is true that with a normal, healthy subject, what the officers did would not typically cause death….but Garner was obviously not normal, nor healthy. He was morbidly obese, and 350 pound middle-aged people tend to have the kinds of heath issues Garner in fact had. Nobody would argue that an elderly woman or a ten-year old girl or someone in a wheelchair should be manhandled like that. Such treatment was negligent for Eric Garner, and the deadly result could and should have been anticipated.

It is true that the officers couldn’t know that Garner had a weak heart and suffered from asthma, but it doesn’t matter: the rule in negligence is that “you take your victim as you find him.” If your negligence is the proximate cause of someone’s death, the fact that it wouldn’t have caused anyone else’s death is no defense. This is the so-called “Egg-shell Skull” rule.

Garner was an egg-shell perp. Continue reading