Illinois’s Death Penalty Ban: Defensible Decision, Indefensible Reasoning


Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn  signed legislation abolishing capital punishment in the state and commuted the sentences of the 15 inmates still on death row to life in prison without parole.

I disagree with the decision, and have stated my reasons for not abolishing the death penalty here and here. Never mind: this is a topic on which ethical and reasonable people can disagree with honor. But if one is going to abolish an important law enforcement tool, the official justification for it ought to be coherent and persuasive, and not just facile rhetoric. That, unfortunately, is what Gov. Quinn gave us.

Here is the relevant segment of Quinn’s statement after signing the bill into law during a private ceremony: Continue reading

Now THIS Is Hypocrisy: Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.)

Rep. Capuano says it's time...

Ethics Alarms has expanded its tutorial subject matter. We began by helping the satire and metaphor-challenged understand what does and didn’t constitute incivility ( putting Sarah Palin in a Victorian satirical song, no; calling Republicans Nazis, yes) and now will add the elusive concept of “hypocrisy” to the course list, for those, like Rush Limbaugh, who are confused about that as well.

Today’s lesson: Democratic Representative Michael Capuano of Somerville, Mass. When Arizona loon Jared Loughner killed a little girl, a judge, some other Arizonans, and grievously wounded Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Capuano was one of the Democrats who joined with some shameless voices in the media to suggest that the madman’s rampage was provoked by hot partisan rhetoric….specifically conservative rhetoric, since the victim was a Democrat. Continue reading

Now THIS Is Incivility…

During the recent eruption of a national obsession with civility in the wake of Jarod Loughner’s shooting rampage—odd, because his actions had nothing whatsoever to do with civility—it became disturbingly evident that most journalists have only a vague sense of what incivility is. For example, using shooting or death metaphors and imagery are not uncivil. Criticism, even strongly-worded criticism, is not uncivil. Calling lies lies is not uncivil, nor is suggesting bad motives for official actions, if the critic believes that bad motives are involved. The fact that intense and passionate condemnation of an individual’s or a group’s actions angers or inflames others does not necessarily mean that the inciting words were uncivil, or even inappropriate.

This, however, is incivility.

Unethical Quote of the Week AND Unethical Apology of the Month: Rep. Steve Cohen

First, the quote:

“I said Goebbels lied about the Jews, and that led to the Holocaust. Not in any way whatsoever was I comparing Republicans to Nazis. I was saying lies are wrong…I don’t know who got everybody’s panties in a wad over this statement.”

—–Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), in his initial dismissal of criticism over his rant on the House floor regarding Republican characterizations of the health care bill.

This quote is really remarkable, for it is hard to pack so many kinds of dishonesty into so few words.It’s hard to know where to begin. Continue reading

Speaker Boehner’s Sensitive/Cowardly Removal of Harmless/Violent Wording in Response to a Trumped-up/Genuine Problem

One of the characteristics of a true Ethics Train Wreck (or ETW for short) is that it eventually reaches the point where unethical and ethical responses to it are indistinguishable. The Tucson shooting ETW officially reached that point today, when Speaker of the House John Boehner apparently yielded to the complaint that referring to the health care reform law as “job killing” was inappropriate in light of Jared Loughner’s near-murder of Rep. Giffords along with killing or wounding 19 other victims.

In a post on his official blog, Boehner referred to the law as “job destroying” and “job crushing,” an apparent concession to critics like Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree, who argued that the House bill called the “Repeal the Job Killing Health Care Law Act” should be renamed something without “killing” in it, “for Gabby’s sake.” By doing so, the Speaker of the House gave credibility to an argument that… Continue reading

Unethical Web Post of the Month: William Rivers Pitt

I had been unaware of the existence of a writer named William Rivers Pitt before yesterday, and I now I will look back on those days of naive and blissful ignorance with nostalgia and deep mourning for innocence lost. The face of unreasoning hate and bigotry is always ugly, but one seldom encounters such purple-complexioned, vein-popping, spittle-spewing fury on the web, especially from a published author with a vocabulary exceeding “Deliverance” levels. I had been aware of the website Truth-Out, a hard Left commentary site that I now know exercises no editorial discretion whatsoever.

Mr. Pitt’s rant is entitled “The Wrath of Fools: An Open Letter to the Far Right,” which, if it were written by anyone with a history of the relative moderation of, say, Richard Cohen, Nancy Pelosi or Bill Maher, I would assume was satire. Continue reading

Marketing the Glock and Corporate Social Responsibility

Dr. Chris MacDonald has a thoughtful post on this topic on the always excellent Business Ethics Blog. “The social benefits of selling handguns may be fundamentally contentious; in other words, reasonable people can agree to disagree,” he writes. “But I doubt that the same can really be said for marketing moves designed, for example, to foster the sale of high-capacity magazines (ones that hold 33 bullets instead of the usual 17).”

You can read the whole article here.

Tucson Aftermath: Don’t Let The Barn Door Close On Freedom, Please

In the wake of Jared Loughner’s attack, the “barn door fllacy” is in full operation as intensely, and foolishly as I’ve ever seen it. Everyone from social reformers to yellow-bellied Congress members are proposing changes and suggesting “dialogues” aimed at stopping Jared Loughner’s completely unpredictable conduct, which, they seem to forget, has already occurred. Almost always, when everyone rushes to lock the metaphorical barn door after the horse is gone, they make the barn and everything around it uglier, less useful, more expensive, and less respectful of basic human dignity and freedom: witness the TSA’s outrageous new pat-down procedures, designed to stop 2009’s exploding underpants terrorist, who was unsuccessful. Continue reading

Ethics Dunces: Rush Limbaugh and the Spinners

No, Rush Limbaugh and the Spinners isn’t a new singing group. It is a chorus, however, of graceless, cynical or malicious commentators who are determined to re-cast the President’s well-chosen, non-partisan and healing words in Tucson into something they can use as ammunition in exactly the kind of destructive wars of rhetoric that Obama properly condemned. Continue reading

Blood Libel Ethics and the U.S. News Media’s Integrity Dead End

First you make a baseless, inflammatory accusation–the Big Lie. Then you attack your victim for how she responds to it.

The news media’s self-destructive obsession with discrediting Sarah Palin has reached its ethical nadir, and with it any reasonable hope that U.S. journalism, as currently practiced, will be returning to credibility and respectability within the foreseeable future. Continue reading